A few weeks ago, at our Diocesan Synod, during the Bishop’s Dinner, the Diocesan Award of Merit was presented to eight individuals. The Diocesan Award of Merit, sometimes called the Bishop’s Award of Merit, is one of those rare honours given to individuals whose contribution to our church and the wider community is deemed worthy of special recognition. Those who received the award this year, like those in past years, were people whose example of sacrifice and service, goodness and generosity, serves to inspire the rest of us. In my words that night I recognized the recipients of the award but also said that they represent so many more who contribute to the common good and who are also worthy of acknowledgement even if we cannot give an award to every deserving person.
Over the years I have met many incredible people whose life and witness make things better for those around them. Some of those people are widely known because of their profile and prominence, most of them are not widely known. It’s a bit like the Feast of All Saints that developed in the early centuries of the Christian Church. We all know the famous saints like Paul and Mary and Peter and each of them has their own feast day to remember them. But the Feast of All Saints commemorates all of the other saints whose names are not necessarily known and even if they were known there are so many of them that there are not enough days in the year to give every saint their own festival. The Festival of All Saints became a way to remember all the saints, greater and lesser, famous and not so famous, in a single celebration. And did you know that in our New Testament the word “Saint” simply refers to an ordinary member of the church engaged in Christian witness and service?
The Christian faith still produces saints – those whose life and faith reveal something of God to the rest of us – and some of them are quite famous but there are other saints who are not famous at all. I have had the privilege of working alongside many saints over the years. For them, sainthood is not about being popular or liked on Facebook or shared on Twitter, it’s about doing what’s right. I like to call them the Ordinary Saints of God and they are all around us. Ordinary Saints contribute to the welfare of all and to the glory of God in ways appropriate to their individual gifts.
The Ordinary Saints of our church are found in Altar Guilds and Sunday Schools, in ACWs and Men’s Groups, among Parish Visitors and Eucharistic Assistants. They are Greeters and Singers, Vestry Members and Servers, Lay and Clergy, male and female, young and old. They give of their time, treasure and talent publicly and privately, and sometimes all they can offer is prayer, and that is enough. They do it because of a generous heart and almost always without any pay or recognition other than knowing they are serving God by serving others. Most always, Ordinary Saints do not have to think too deeply about what they are doing because it just comes naturally. Many of them do not consider themselves volunteers but think of themselves as servants; servants with big hearts, who love because God first loved them. And if you really pressed them and ask why they give so much of themselves to others you will probably get an answer that goes something like this, “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Some years ago, when I was the rector of the Parish of the Good Shepherd in Mount Pearl the City called and asked for a list of our parish volunteers so that they could be recognized. I remember talking with the person who called me and expressing my concern about providing that list because I was certain I would miss somebody. But my greater concern was that many of our “volunteers” did not really see themselves as volunteers but as Christians trying their best to live out their baptisms.
And so, let us celebrate all of the saints today, known and unknown, famous and forgotten, ordinary and extraordinary, living and departed. Let us honor their good examples and may we each in our own way be Ordinary Saints to those around us. Perhaps you might even pick up the telephone or e-mail someone who has made a difference in your life and in the life of others. Ordinary Saints never seek praise for they are motivated by something far deeper but believe me when I tell you that once in a while even the Ordinary Saints of God appreciate a kind word of encouragement. I end with words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a favorite scripture of one Ordinary Saint I know, because of its encouragement toward service, faith and humility:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.