Minister's Sermon - Friday 2nd November 2018
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenFriday 2nd November 2018

1 Corinthians 1:2-9 

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints… called to be saints… When Paul writes to “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,” he isn’t just writing to the special few. He’s writing to them all. So

he says all the Christians in Corinth are saints. That’s like me writing a letter in the Link to the Saints in Chandler’s Ford. You are all saints, the Christians in this place, called to be holy. That will sound like too great a claim for many of you - especially if you think of the saints as especially holy people or know the stories of some of the saints.

Last week, I learnt about Saint Ethelflaeda, one of Romsey Abbey’s Patron Saints. Ethelflaeda died around 1016 and was abbess of the Benedictine community before then. There are few facts, because it’s hard to determine them that early, and because legends have a habit of obscuring history. ‘Though the fact that there are significant legends suggests a remarkable woman for them to stick to. One of the stories about her is depicted in a wonderful, but contentious picture of her, in the Abbey.

On one occasion when it was her turn to read the lesson, a draught blew her candle out, but such brilliance shone from the fingers of her right hand that it gave a clear light to those around her and enabled her to read. What should we think of stories like this? Miracles that don’t seem to change very much. It’s not really a matter of whether it happened or not. That misses the point to the medieval mind. The story spoke to us about her spirituality, and dedication, of someone so faithful in reading the bible and speaking God’s word, that even her candle blowing out, would not get in the way.

While Oscar Romero was archbishop of the Church in El Salvador, he spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassination, and torture. His words came as a surprise to his church, because he was very conservative, when he was appointed archbishop. But he was deeply affected by the murder of a fellow priest a few weeks after his own appointment. And he developed into an outspoken social activist. He was murdered in 1980 while saying mass. And last week he was made a saint because of his “particular attention to the most poor and marginalized.”

For me, the measure of a saint, is the way they reflect the life of Christ in small ways as well as big. The introduction to Paul’s letter makes it clear that this is gift given to the saints. Given as grace. Given as gifts of speech and knowledge. Spiritual gifts given to enable them to witness to Christ in word and deed. And not just to those – like Saint Ethelflaeda and Oscar Romero – but to all the Christians in Corinth. Including those getting in the mess that Paul was writing to them to try and sort out. Because we’re so used to thinking of saints as the special people, the idea that Paul is writing to all the members of the church as saints, can feel strange. And when we translate this into our time, and suggest that all the Christians in this church are saints, that can feel even stranger. We want to resist the idea. Or perhaps apply it to those among us who seem particularly faithful or devoted. So, the idea that you or I might be a saint is just a little too much for some Christians. Yet that is the implication of what Paul writes. That doesn’t underplay the sainthood of Ethelflaeda or Oscar Romero. They act as examples for us. People noted for the way they embodied particular aspects of Christ-likeness. But in God’s eyes, they are no more important that each of us, and their witness acts as an invitation and a reminder of what faithful Christian life looks like.

Rather than talk more, I want to invite you to share in a meditation written by Kathy Galloway, in which you are invited to identify those who have been saints for you. Sit with your eyes closed if you wish, and if images of people that the meditation triggers come to mind, then notice them. So, that when we come to the end, you are able to give thanks for those who have been saints for you.

Sue Keegan von Allmen