Many churches today are celebrating what is called All Saints Sunday. It is a tradition that dates back to the seventh century when Pope Boniface IV had the church celebrate the martyrs who had died for their faith in Rome. Through the years the tradition has changed some so that today we don’t just remember those martyred for their faith but all those who have gone before us. Many congregations today remember their faithful members who died in the past year and yet whose memory and witness will live on for years to come.
The word saint really has two distinct meanings. The first is the official designation or title given to men and women for their extraordinary lives of faith and service. People like St. Peter and St. Paul who we read about in the Bible and maybe soon both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II will be referred to as saints. The second meaning of the word is what we find in the New Testament where saints are not extraordinary people of faith, but very ordinary people who simply strive to live their lives with and for God. This is what I want us to consider this month as we look at what it means to live the life of a saint. How do we as very ordinary people live out our faith today so that we can be seen as saints tomorrow?
To shape our thoughts this month, we are going to look at the four categories that a person has to pass through to officially become a saint in the Catholic Church, this process is called Canonization and includes people being examined as a servant of God, being heroic in virtue, being blessed and as someone whose prayers have helped bring about miracles. So we are going to define the life of a saint as someone who is a servant, heroic, blessed and a person of prayer.
Today we are going to start by considering what it takes to be a servant of God and to do that we are going to look at a story of Jesus that shows us three necessary steps to being a servant. Let’s look at John 13:1-2a, 3-5.
The first thing we need to do to be a servant is stop and see the needs of the people around us. Jesus and his disciples had already gathered at the table and since there were no household servants to wash the feet of the guests and none of the disciples wanted to stoop that low and do the job, they all gathered around the table with dirty feet. Now for us, this might not be so bad because our feet are tucked away in shoes and safely slid under tables, but this is not what it was like in Jesus’ day. They all wore sandals, the roads were dirty and at dinner they would be lounging on pillows and mats on the floor which meant they were close to their feet and the feet of others.
Jesus washed the feet of the disciples because he saw the need for their feet to be washed. If they were going to enjoy this meal together, which was not only the Passover meal but the last meal Jesus would have with his disciples before his crucifixion, then someone was going to need to do something. Jesus saw the need and someone who has the heart and mind of a servant sees the needs of others.
The second thing Jesus shows us about being a servant is that a servant doesn’t look to someone else to meet the need that is seen but meets that need themselves. Jesus could have asked one of the other disciples to wash everyone’s feet and he would have been totally justified, after all he was not only the son of God, but he was their master and leader. But as a servant, Jesus doesn’t push the work off onto someone else, he does it himself. Jesus takes up the towel and basin and begins to wash the feet of his friends. A servant doesn’t look at the needs of others and decide it is someone else’s responsibility or job to meet that need – they are willing to do it themselves. A servant doesn’t look at others to work, but looks at himself or herself to say, what can I do to meet this need?
And the third thing a servant does is actually work – John 13:4-5. There is a lot of action here. Jesus gets up, takes off his robe, ties a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin and begins to wash feet. He works. A servant’s life isn’t filled with good intentions and great plans but actual work and that work often is repeated in different ways over and over again. So there are really just three steps to becoming a servant,
• see the need
• don’t look at others to meet the need – look to yourself
• do the work
Now let’s look at two saints who followed this path set out by Jesus and became servants of God themselves, this is from Acts 3:1-5. Peter and John see a man in need. In fact, the author of Acts makes it a point to say that Peter and John looked at him. It says they looked straight at him, other translations say they looked intently at him. They not only see his need for money, they see the deeper need he has for healing. So they have the first step down – they see the need.
Now look at Acts 3:6. Did you notice that Peter and John don’t look for someone else to meet this man’s need. They don’t tell the people to give the man more money, they don’t ask someone else to pray for his healing and strength – they look at themselves and offer what they have. They didn’t have silver or gold, but what they did have –faith and trust in God and His power – they were willing to offer. Too many times we look to other people to meet the needs we see because we don’t believe that we have what it takes to help or make a difference, but we do. We have what it takes to meet the needs we see around us and if we step out in faith – God will use. It might not happen as instantly or miraculously as it did here, but God will use us if we are willing to meet the needs of others.
Now this all leads to the third step, look at Acts 3:7. Peter did the work, he reached out and took the man by the hand and the man was healed. Again, all the planning in the world is no good if we aren’t willing to act. Peter and John were willing to act and this moment led to more acts of service and faith during their lives.
So to live the life of a saint we need to serve and that means first seeing the needs of people around us. So what needs do we see? Now that is a loaded question because there are countless needs all around us. There is hunger, thirst and the need for basic medical care for more than a billion people in the world. There is injustice and child slavery taking place across the globe. There is the need for education and sustainable agriculture and businesses to lift people out of poverty. There is need for basic human dignity and hope for people around the world.
The truth is that there are so many needs that it often overwhelms us so we look away. So let’s start smaller. What needs do we see around us right here in our community, schools, church and home? Are there people in need of companionship and encouragement? Do we see people in need of food and housing and jobs? Are there children and youth who need mentors to help with school, sports and music? What specific need can we identify. That is what Jesus did. When he wanted to teach us about being a servant he didn’t tackle world hunger or poverty, he just washed the feet of his friends. Jesus saw a specific immediate need that he could meet in that moment. So we need to ask ourselves, what specific immediate need do we see in this moment? Where can we start?
Once we identify the need we need to stop looking at someone else to meet that need and look to ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that I think this is our greatest problem. We are always looking to someone else to solve the problems. We assume someone else will bring in food for the food bank so we don’t need to. Someone else will support the Faith Centre or the Church so we don’t need to give. We think it is someone else’s job to visit those who are alone and lonely so we don’t do it, someone else will fill a shoebox, so we don’t take one. Many times we see the needs around us and around the world but we just assume it is someone else’s responsibility. Each time we say it’s not my job we aren’t stepping out as a servant and we aren’t allowing God’s power to flow through us.
What if Peter and John had said it was someone else’s job to help the man at the gate? Not only would the man not have been healed, but Peter and John would never have had the experience of seeing the power of God work through them. That’s what happens when we say no. People aren’t served but we also fail to experience the power of God working in and through us. We miss out on that awesome experience.
So we have to take responsibly for the needs we see and then we have to just step out and work. Maybe it starts by bringing in a can of fruit cocktail and cranberry sauce. When we do this we will feel energized and helpful so that maybe we then feel like we can fill a shoebox and then sign up to help with the Christmas Dinner. All of this service might lead us to volunteer at the food bank, which then leads to a mission trip to Red Bird Mission or maybe even Sierra Leone. We have to start somewhere. We have to do something if we want to be a servant and live the life of a saint.
Let me end with a final thought about who we need to serve. The obviously answer is everyone, but let me offer us 4 circles of people to think about serving: our family, our friends, the family of God and the friends of God. I believe that our first responsibility to serve is our family. God has placed us in families and as parents we have a responsibility to serve and care for our children and as grown children we have the responsibility to serve and care for our parents. Brothers and sisters have a responsibility to serve one another when we can and so service might need to start with our family. Even if our family is broken, awkward and dysfunctional, it might be where God is calling us to serve.
Beyond our family we all have a circle of friends that we need to think about serving. What needs do we see in our friends? How can we serve those with whom we choose to spend our time and with whom we we live and work and play?
And then there is the family of God, the church. What needs do we see here? Is it a need to serve the children or our shut-ins? Is it a need to support the church with our money or time? Again, if you think that it is someone else’s job to keep the church going with time, money, prayer and work – you are wrong – it is our job so if we see or hear about a need, are we willing to not look at anyone other than ourselves to meet that need. A few weeks ago someone here heard about the need to visit someone who was in the hospital and so he didn’t look to anyone else to do the job, but went himself to visit and that visit was a blessing. God used this man in powerful ways because he showed up at the right moment, it was all God’s timing. Are we willing to actually step out and do what we see and hear needs to be done in the life of the church?
And then the largest circle is the friends of God, but the truth is all human beings are friends of God. They may not be friendly toward God, but God loves them all and so we are called to serve them all. This circle might not be the place to start serving because the problems are big, but we cannot overlook this circle. There are big problems in our world that God is asking us to meet and if we are servants we won’t look to others to do the work, we will find ways to do it ourselves.
Living the life of a saint starts by being a servant of God which means seeing the needs of others, not looking to someone else to meet those needs but being willing to meet them ourselves and then stepping out in faith to do the work. Let’s be the saints of tomorrow by living the life of a servant today.
Living the Life of a Saint ~ Servant
1. Jesus teaches us what it means to be a servant when he washes the feet of his disciples. Read again John 13:1-17. What new insights do you see about being a servant? Who has “washed your feet”? What did that experience feel like? Give thanks for those who have served you.
2. Being a servant begins by seeing the needs in others. What specific needs do you see in:
• Your family
• Your friends
• The family of God (the church)
• The friends of God (the world)
3. Don’t look for others to meet those needs, look to yourself. How can you specifically meet the needs you identified in:
• Your family
• Your friends
• The family of God
• The friends of God
4. The life of a servant is not a road of good intentions and well thought out plans but action. What action can you take this week to serve:
• Your family
• Your friends
• The family of God
• The friends of God