Saints: Called to do the Impossible*

On this day the Church throughout the world celebrates the saints of God.  While we know from scripture that all of us – every baptized believer – is called to be a saint, set apart and equipped for the service of God, on this day we take encouragement in those who have gone before, those who are now at rest and who have joined that great cloud of spectators, praising God and cheering us on as they eagerly await the time when God will make all things new.

Of course, the Church remembers hundreds of saints throughout the year. If you have one of the lovely church calendars, you see that, most days, there’s the name there of someone who, while certainly not perfect, served God faithfully, repented when they missed the mark, and left a legacy of faithful service for the Church to follow.  (In fact, if you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to Google those names; every one of them is an encouragement, as each of them shows us an example of what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of a messy, broken world.)

But this feast of All Saints makes the point that it’s not just the recognized heroes of the faith who are part of that great cloud of witnesses.  No, the vast majority of the saints of God are ordinary people like you and me who sought to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and flowing out from that, loved their neighbour as themselves.  The great news of this day is that it’s not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that are at rest, praising God and cheering us on; no, every faithful Christian: that caring, Christian Grade 2 teacher who patiently spent the time to set you on the right path; that faithful, cheerful old man who always made time to speak to you, to let you know that you mattered, and to give you a word of encouragement; that stranger, in your life for mere moments, whose actions showed you God’s love and mercy at the exact moment you needed it – though they had no idea the impact it made; even that faithful, prayerful great aunt, raised in the depression, who kept her tables covered in plastic,  lovingly covered every chair to protect the fabric, and insisted that you always use a coaster, who taught the whole family, by example, to really know that every single thing you have is a blessing from God: all of them are saints at rest. 

Today we celebrate, and focus in on the examples and encouragement they are to us who are still running our race, and we thank God for those who, in every age, show us what it means to live by grace and to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

How do we follow their example?

First, let me offer this brief statement.

Saints are called to do what is humanly impossible,
not to earn a reward,
but to imitate Christ
with their abundant, over-flowing life.

Saints are called to do what is humanly impossible. 
And we are all called to be saints.

I think it’s important, especially in extraordinary times like these, to be clear about this. 

As we know, this pandemic isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon that we started running without even knowing where the finish line might be.  Are we nearing the end?  Are we only half way?  What surprises lie around the next corner?  We just don’t know.

Some have the instinct, the gut reaction to feel the adrenaline pumping and jump into action, caring for those around them; some have the instinct to retreat and conserve emotional and physical energy, not knowing what the future holds.  But listen to this: as Christians, as those called to be saints, we are called to do what is humanly impossible.

Jesus said “give all that you have and follow me”, and the disciples, like the rich man, got depressed and said ‘Lord, are you sure?  That’s a hard saying.  What’s the point?  Who can even be saved?’  But Jesus looked at them, calling them away from focusing on their own weakness, and said “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.[1]

The saints aren’t those who have mustered up all their own strength to serve God. 

The saints aren’t those who are ‘trying their best’ or ‘giving their all’ in a difficult situation.

No, the saints recognize, right off the bat, that the task in front of them is absolutely impossible. 
The saints are those who know, right from the outset, that there’s no way I can do this. 

The saints are those who see what needs to be done, who sees the road laid out before them, and instead of taking a deep breath and giving it their best, they know, they even embrace, deep down, that ‘with man, this job, this task is going to be impossible; so it can’t be me, it’ll have to be God working in me, for with God, all things are possible.’

So much of the Christian life is simply and absolutely impossible on our own.  It’s not natural for the poor to feel blessed, for the meek to inherit the earth, for those who seek righteousness to be satisfied in an unjust world, for those who are persecuted to rejoice and be glad.[2]  With man these are impossible.  You’d wear yourself out trying, and wind up bitter, anxious, and depressed.  It’s only with God’s help that we can follow in Christ’s footsteps.

And, you know what my friends?  Thanks be to God, we’re doing the impossible!

Let’s be honest: we’re a small church filled with grey heads and little kids.  This time last year, we had just started our Kids’ Club and Community Dinners, and a lot of those parents who were reaching out were asking “where’s the Anglican Church?”.  Young people, parents living in this small town had never even noticed that we were here.

And now – in a pandemic – we’re doing the impossible. Bellies are filled.  Walls of isolation and despair are broken down.  Mountains of crippling debt that keep people enslaved are cast down as they access the money they are due.  People are finding the support they need.  People are finding hope in a time when it’s easy to give up.

The Saints are called to do what is humanly impossible – because it’s not us. 

Seriously, we’re having trouble meeting our budget.  We can’t feed the poor, we can’t free people from debt.  For us, that’s impossible.  But with God – all things are possible.

You know, that’s something I wish I could tell more people, but those who aren’t Christians just don’t get it.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear “wow, I don’t know how you do it.  Where do you get the time?  Do you ever sleep?  I barely have energy to get out of bed”.  But learning to be a saint isn’t about being a hero, or pretending to be perfect.  It’s not about drumming up energy and drive and purpose within ourselves.  It’s the exact opposite.  God presents an opportunity and we say, “I don’t think we can do that”; but if it’s God’s will, he will make a way, and before you know it we are doing the impossible. 

The Saints are called to do what is humanly impossible…

…but not to earn a reward.

All of the saints throughout the history of the Church point to this one reality: they – and we – don’t love God and neighbour to earn God’s blessing or the hope of heaven.  No, we just don’t have it in us to earn God’s favour; the second we start doing good, our pride kicks in, and suddenly we’re not serving others, but ourselves.[3]

No, as we read this morning, the saints at rest aren’t singing and chanting “we did it, we did it”.  Not at all.  It’s the opposite.  The saints are singing and cheering “salvation belongs to God.”[4] It was impossible, but God did it!  To God be the glory, great things he has done, and thanks be to God, he even let someone like me be part of his plan.

We don’t do it to earn a reward…
…but to imitate Christ

Jesus said to all the saints: “take up your cross and follow me”, “if you try to save your life, you’ll lose it; if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it.” 

It’s only as we lay down our dependence on ourselves, as we lay down our worries and anxieties – and even our hope and dreams – about tomorrow, and commit to simply live faithfully here and now, we find that the cross – the burden that demands our everything – is so much lighter than the load we were carrying before. 

The saints don’t do the impossible because of their heroic strength or courage or self-lessness.  God does the impossible through them simply because they’re willing to follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

Even our tiny-but-growing church can produce great things if we’re willing to just follow where he leads, instead of trying to predict the future or direct the path ourselves.  We know, and can trust, that whatever we do for our neighbours in Jesus’ name – a meal, mitts for cold hands, an encouraging word, an invitation to come and see what God is doing – is done for Christ, serving him to his glory. 

And, as we serve God that way, as saints doing what is humanly impossible, not to earn a reward, but to imitate Christ, we find that our who life takes on a different shape.

God didn’t say “serve me, try really hard, and fall into bed, wiped out at the end of the day”.  No, that’s the world’s message.

Jesus came to bring abundant life; the message of the Gospel is that our cups can run over, as God’s love for us spills over into our love of God spill, and that spills over into love of our neighbours.  The “blessedness” of the beatitudes, the freedom from hunger and thirst and the weariness of the heat of the day isn’t just something that awaits us when we die.  No, the saints learn that, as we imitate Christ in worship and giving and serving, we find ourselves with more, not less. 

In my own life, on the busiest days, the days with the least time, the more I stop and pray, the less I have to be anxious about… and it all gets done, to God’s glory. 

When I’m tired and want a break, when I offered my tired self to God instead of dwelling on whatever real complaint I might have, I find rest, and might even find the energy to get away, get outside, and get some fresh air.

And, when I know there’s simply nothing more I can do, that it’s impossible for me to help those around me, and instead of trying my hardest, instead of cooking up a solution, I simply offer myself to God’s service, suddenly, God does the impossible.

With God, all things are possible.

In these absolutely tiring, anxiety-causing times, we praise God for the example of those who have gone before us.  None of us have walked this path before.  But, thanks be to God, countless saints have served God through plague and pestilence, and have given themselves, allowed themselves to be used to God’s glory in times far worse than these.

It’s my prayer that, through this, generations will learn anew what it means to trust in God, to simply give up trying our best, to give up trying to earn God’s love, and simply follow Christ and let God use us to do more than we could ask or imagine.

To God be the Glory, now and forever more.  Amen.


[1] Matthew 19:23-37

[2] Matthew 5:1-12

[3] Article XIII of the 39 Articles of Religion

[4] Revelation 7:10

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