Sunday, November 03, 2013

An hundred and forty and four thousand reasons to be a saint?

Sermon preached at St Augustine’s Church Canterbury on the Sunday in the Octave of All Saints.

Knock, knock!
After putting down your cup of tea,
and with a slight sense of irritation at being dragged away,
 you open the door to one of those
 door-to-door religious people.

she says with a cheesy smile on her face,
 “are you one of the 144,000 people
who are going to Heaven?”

Well, just how do you answer that one?


There are folk who do genuinely believe
that there will be only 144,000 people in heaven.

That does seem rather bizarre,
why such a precise number?

According to St John the Divine, the Lord says
 “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea,
 nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants
of our God in their foreheads.

And I heard the number of them
which were sealed:
and there were sealed
an hundred and forty and four thousand
of all the tribes of the children of Israel.”

Who are these hundred and forty and four thousand?

St John goes on to tell us that
there are 12,000 of each of the tribes of Israel:
Judah, Reuben, Gad,
Aser, Nephtalim, Manasses,
Simeon, Levi, Issacher,
Zabulon, Joseph and Benjamin.

To be a member of one of these tribes,
don’t we have to be Jewish?

Are we Gentiles not really eligible to go to heaven?


We do seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex
when it comes to people who get to go to Heaven,
those people whom the Church calls saints.

We can see this in our attitude towards the saints.

We can go overboard in venerating them,
bowing and scraping and preferring praying to them
instead of to God who loves us more
than they can ever do.

 Or we can loathe the whole idea of saints
because it creates an attitude of “holier than thou”,
separating us into being the sinners
and thus unworthy of the love of God.


We’d all be a bit shocked  if St Paul or St John Baptist
walked into our Mass now,
 principally because they are dead in this world,
 but we can at least identify them
as being truly saints.

We can’t identify the saints
who are in our midst right at this moment
because they have not yet died.

We only seem to be able to recognise
the saints when they pass from this world
 and into the next.

We read their lives and their stories and,
because they have been examples to us
 in following Our Lord Jesus,
we can be confident that they are indeed
with God in Heaven.
We have to be careful though
because we can easily start believing
that we can work our way into Heaven
by our own deeds.


Salvation comes only at the hands of God Himself.

We do not have to be Jewish
 in order to become saints
because Our Lord Jesus grafted us into the true vine.

We are Jewish by the Lord’s Jewishness
because we are one with Him,
and thus eligible to become one of the saints.

We look at the lives of the saints,
 not at what they did,
but rather about what Our Lord Jesus did in them,
what He inspired in them,
what miracles He wrought in them,
how He assisted people as they died
 for love of Him.

 Being an agent of Our Lord
 is not reserved to the clergy,
 it is open for all Christians
 to find Our Lord working in us.

This does not allow us the opportunity to boast.

There is no such thing as being “holier” than someone else.

The word “holy” is the same word
as the word “saint” which means “set apart for God”. 

Either one is set apart for God
or one is separate from God:
there is no meaning to the word “holier”.

Bishops, priests and deacons are not
more holy than lay folk
because “more holy” is meaningless.

 Indeed, history has shown that
many bishops, priests and deacons are far from holy
and there’s a good reason to believe that
there are more laity in Heaven than clergy!

As Our Lord says,
“To whom much has been given, much will be required!”
It’s also true to say that some saints
may not even be visibly part of the Church.

We may not recognise them,
but God does say,
“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
The word “Church” comes from the Greek
“kyriakos” meaning “belonging to the Lord”.

It is God who calls us all to be saints
and it is God who will decide who those saints are.

 The number 144,000 is a figurative number, not a literal one.

 St John says that the crowd of saints is
“a great multitude, which no man could number,
of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.”


We aren’t saints yet, because we’re not finished.

Our sainthood comes with our perfection.

We have to remember that
Our Lord Jesus Christ was not born perfect;
 He was born sinless, but not perfect.

His perfection came when He cried out
 “It is finished” upon the cross just before He died.

 In that very moment,
His perfection gave us the opportunity
 to become perfect too in Him.

Our whole lives strive for that perfection,
but we can easily lose sight of it
if we allow the distractions of this world
to divert us from the finish line.

 It is the saints who have been perfected in God
who cheer us on to the end.

It is the fact that they are still alive,
still cheering us on,
still supporting us with their prayers
beyond the confines of our perceptions
that helps us to focus on running
 the same race that they ran.

If we believe Christ’s promise for us
 that we will reign with Him in Heaven,
then we have to believe that
those who have gone before us
with the same hope
 have indeed been thus honoured
and we have the same opportunity
 to stand with them,
 rejoicing in the same presence of God for all Eternity.

As we say in the Apostles’ Creed,
We believe in the communion of the saints.

Are you one of them?

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