Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on All Saints' Day 2015
Start Date: 1st Nov 2015
Start Time: 11:15


The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster

Is there a difference, do you think, between being good and being holy? I think there is and this is the day to think about it as we focus our attention on all God's saints. You may say this is a good day to be holy.

What do we mean by the saints?

We can think of the saints in four differentways. First, there are the saints in the New Testament, the men and women who were close to our Lord Jesus Christ and his immediate followers, the apostles, the evangelists and the first Christian martyrs. So, here we are thinking of St Peter and the other apostles who were called by Jesus to followhim during his ministry on earth; St Paul and his companions who were called to spread the Gospel of salvation, the Good News that in Christ, sin and death had been conquered and a way opened to eternal life in him; St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and the other martyrs who shed their blood inloyalty to our Lord.

The second group we might call the saints identified not by our Lord himself in the flesh or by those close to him but recognised by the Church through the ages. Here we are thinking of the great holy men and women of history, leading figures in their own time, who exerciseda powerful influence on the developing unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church in their own day. We here think of our own saint, whose Shrine is behind the high altar, Edward, King and Confessor, and of the great Christian teachers, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Theresa of Avila,and martyrs, St Ignatius, St Alban, St Thomas a Becket. These and many others are those whose names we could easily know and whose feasts we observe with special recognition probably on the anniversary of their death, that we call their heavenly birthday.

Then the third group would be that greatcompany of men, women and children, recognised as saints by the Church locally or in their own day, but who do not feature in the calendar of the universal Church and whose names are probably unknown to us, though they may come into focus for us at some point for various reasons. The dictionaries ofsaints with entries organised on their feast days can reveal to us their often wonderful stories of devotion to God and of sacrificial living. All Saints' Day is largely their day, when we recognise them all before God and give thanks for their heroic example. We also pray that we may be able to followthem in godly living.

Fourth is that great company of people who have not been officially recognised by the Church but are known to God and have been given the grace of entry into heaven. They now see the face of God and know God as from the very beginning they have been known by God. We rejoicefor them and with them and ask humbly for their prayers.

St Paul often also talks of the local Church as the saints in a particular place. For example, Paul begins his letter to the Philippians in this way, 'Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are inPhilippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'

This brings the story close to us. The saints are not simply to be found in old story books or in the stained glass windows of our churches. The ordinary holy people of God—thatis you and me—are called to be saints. St Paul starts his first letter to the Corinthians like this, 'Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to besaints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.' 'Called to be saints.'

So, how does that work? And what is the difference between being good and being holy?This is what I mean. You can strive to be good, but you cannot strive to be holy. In other words you can really work hard at being good and you will probably be good, with a few lapses, most of the time. And people will probably say, 'What a good person that is. How well he or she has done.' You keepon working at it; you concentrate hard on doing what is right; and you will probably be pretty good.

But that is a world away from being holy, which is categorically different. You can strive to be good but you cannot strive to be holy. It is really about being self-conscious. To be good, you haveto be aware of yourself, focused on yourself. You have to try to see yourselves as others see you. So everything that you do is about pleasing, impressing, being rewarded, even if only by yourself—a metaphorical pat on the back. It is really about you.

Holiness is about God—fixingyour attention not on yourself but on God. That means being un-self-conscious, conscious only of God. It is about a relationship of love in which God means everything to us. And holiness is a gift from God, a gift from God's very being. We can see this when Jesus says to his disciples, 'You did not chooseme; I chose you.' This is quite difficult for us to grasp. And it has been quite hard for the Church to understand over the years. This difficulty has led to sharp disagreements and to false interpretations.

In the beautiful Collect for today we heard earlier, we can see clearly the teaching thatit is God not us who chooses. 'Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.' The 'elect' means those who have been chosen by God, his chosen ones, holy and beloved. Wrongly interpreted it can lead to people concludingthat there are others who are not chosen by God—those who are in and those who are out. And if we begin to think of some as being out who are out by God's choice, then we can conclude that God must have decided from the very beginning that these would be out and must therefore have decreed forthem everlasting damnation. This leads by quite a short route to ideas like slavery and apartheid being acceptable. This is the wrong interpretation.

What the idea of the 'elect' means, what Jesus meant when he said, 'You did not choose me; I chose you' is that we must see God's love for us, God'schoice of us, as entirely gift. There is nothing we can do to deserve God's love, God's gift, God's choice. We must receive it as an undeserved gift. No striving; no merit; no distinction; no goodness even. Just pure gift: God's choice of us; God's love for us.

But we have to receive the gift andit is a gift with consequences. We are not just to bask in the warmth of God's love, like a sea-lion on a beach. Jesus, when he had said to his disciples, I chose you, went on to say, 'And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.' God has chosen his saints to work for him, chosen usto work for him, not for our self-satisfaction, but for his glory and the advancement of God's kingdom on earth. And that is not altogether an easy road.

We are to travel his road, to follow him wherever he goes. That means to the cross. The saints are not goody two shoes. Jesus said to his disciples,'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.'

Our Lord calls us to be holy as he is holy. His gift to us is his life for ours. His gift to us is that we should be holy. Our loving gift in response is to focus our gaze on him alone, not onourselves, and to follow him wherever he leads us, through the waters of death to everlasting life in him, to all the joy and glory of heaven.

'You did not choose me; I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.'

© 2018 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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