Today we celebrate one of the best days in our church year–the Feast of All Saints. It’s our annual opportunity to remember all those who have gone before us–the famous saints like Mary the Virgin and Mary Magdalene; holy monks and nuns like St. Francis and St Claire; priests and bishops like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas; and kings and queens, like Edward the Great and Elizabeth of Hungary. We also recall those who aren’t saints in the strictest sense, but nonetheless were people of courage and conviction–like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King.
And we remember as well those who are less famous–not much remembered by the church at large, but who nonetheless had a deep and profound faith: our own loved ones, those who worked for the building up of the church, even right here in Wakefield, members of Emmanuel, who helped this parish to grow and flourish. Every culture, age, and place raises up its own saints, people whose hearts are aflame with the light of God, and who by their words and actions are able to draw us, as well, closer to God’s radiant light.
The church, typically, has come to see the saints as people whose lives are complete and have been received into God’s greater glory. But you know, in the Bible, all Christians are considered saints–those who have died, certainly, but also those still living and sharing God’s love with the world. Personally, I like this expanded understanding–saints are not only the few who have survived a lengthy canonization process by the Roman Catholic Church, but really are the millions of people who have loved God and witnessed to God’s love for the world with their words and with their lives. And so when, in the Nicene Creed, we confess that we believe in the Communion of Saints, it is this ever-expanding group that I think of–the well-remembered saints, but also people like us, even including us, right here, right now.
I wonder, can you think of any saints you have known personally? Are there people in your life, now or in the past, with a special ability to draw others into the heart of God? Who seem to put the needs of others before themselves? Or who stand up against oppression so that others can know the peace, hope, and healing that God intends for us all? Do you know anyone like that? Do you any saints?
For me, a few special people come to mind. Some have died, and some are still living. One, who comes to mind, is very much alive. His name is David Kiel. David was my church’s assistant pastor when I was in junior high and high school. (I’m sure he would object to being named a living saint, but since I’m standing here and he’s not, I get to name whomever I want.) David is a Texan, through and though. But for whatever crazy reason, he moved to cold and snowy Minnesota to go to seminary—maybe he thought that blizzards and below zero temperatures would build character and bring him closer to God. They say that suffering does that. However he got there, David came into my life when he was my church’s assigned seminarian—like Jessica was for us last year. And luckily, after he graduated and was ordained, the church was able to hire him full-time.
Pastor David (as we called him) focused a lot of his ministry on youth. We lived in a growing suburb, so there were always lots of youth. I think my confirmation class had 15 kids. And a few years later there were as many as 30 kids in each grade. Now, I don’t know if Pastor David liked youth work or not, but to me, he seemed like a natural. He was fun, funny, and he seemed to enjoy the kids he was ministering with. He even held youth events at his house on Sunday evenings—engaging in amusing banter with his wife Renee to entertain us. To be honest, I hated going to youth events, so my parents had to literally push me out the door (I think even locking it behind me). And since David and Renee lived just a couple blocks down the street, I had to walk to their house, even when it was 20 below outside. I usually had fun once I got there, but getting there was tough. (By the way, I would feel completely differently about our youth, who are not cliquish and are so much fun and accepting of absolutely everyone. I’d love our Emmanuel youth group! But that’s not how it was in Maple Grove—or “Maple Grave,” as I called it).
Well, I had a good, but not super close, relationship with Pastor David, until the summer of 1988. That’s when my life changed dramatically fashion after my father died suddenly after an accident. He was 38 and I was 15, just heading into high school. After that tragedy, Pastor David seemed to pay special attention to my brothers and me—perhaps at my mom’s request, or perhaps on his own, I’m not sure. Because he lived down the street he would occasionally drop in on us after school. Once, he came over and he tried to teach us how to cook dinner (with a Texas twist) for our mom—I’m not sure what it was, and I don’t think it turned out so well, but it was fun to have him there. He took us on a field trip or two to downtown Minneapolis for lunch. And he always seemed to ambush me when I got to church on Sunday mornings, waiting by the door, and asking me to acolyte because so and so hadn’t shown up. (The same kind of thing I do now!) Pastor David even brought me to his seminary in St. Paul once, which certainly planted a seed; although, it took a while to germinate and take root. In my junior year of high school he registered me for a high school students’ visiting day at the seminary. What’s really funny about that, though, was that before attending that event I thought I might be interested in the ministry. Afterward, I was certain it wasn’t for me. But you know what they say, never say never.
Like all people, even saints, David isn’t perfect. I remember once he got so upset with my rowdy confirmation class that he slammed his fist on the table, broke his wristwatch, and stormed out of the room and just left us in there for an hour, wondering what to do next. But on the whole, he was kind, generous, and patient. In a very real way, he helped me understand that God hadn’t died along with my father. What’s more, he helped me to feel and know that God was there for me—not so much up in the sky beyond reach, but through the people around me, in the saints I knew, in people like David himself. Well, my senior year of high school he announced that he had accepted a call to a congregation back in Texas. From there he eventually moved to Utah, and then to Iowa, and now he’s in Texas again.
We’ve stayed in touch a little over the years. Not a lot, but from time to time. One of the most meaningful times in my life was when he flew from Utah to Boston in a very snowy January to serve as one of my presenters for ordination. I always felt that if I ever were ordained I wanted him there. And so he, along with Bishop Harris, and loads of other clergy, laid hands on my head, and asked for the Holy Spirit to enable me to perform the ministry that God was still in the process of dreaming up. David and I were both a long way and a lot of years from the time when our lives intersected in “Maple Grave,” but the chords God had woven years earlier when my father died so tragically were unbroken. And I can say with certainty that I would not be up here this morning, as your priest and rector, if it weren’t for David Kiel. For me, he will always be one of the most special saints in my life, just as I know you have special saints in yours.
You know, we often say that “so and so” is no saint, or that we are not saints. When we do that we make a disclaimer about our lives or suggest that because we are not perfect, God wouldn’t choose us to spread his love. But this, really, is messed up thinking. None of the saints were perfect—not Mary, not Paul, not Peter or Francis. They were, and are, all human. But they also knew that in spite of their frailties or shortcomings, God still needed them. God still wanted them. God still used them–to live holy lives, to spread the gospel, and to shine with the light of Christ. And through their examples, they call us to do the same, right here, and right now.
Unlike most of the well-known saints, chances are that we will not find ourselves anointed king or queen; none of us, I suspect, are rich enough to endow the building of majestic churches like Westminster Abbey. In all likelihood, won’t die of poverty or starvation in the desert. And probably, none of us will be martyred for our faith. But if that faith tells us anything, it is that we don’t need to be rich to care for the poor and the weak, we don’t need to be powerful to share the love of God, and we don’t need to be kings to build the kingdom of God. On this Feast of All Saints, may we be inspired by the examples of the saints all around us, and then shine just as brightly with the light and love of God, in this place and every place we go.
Let us pray,
Eternal Father, the God not of the dead but of the living: We give you thanks and praise for all the generations of the faithful, who, having served you here in godliness and love, are now with you in glory; and we pray, enable us so to follow them in all godly living and faithful service, that hereafter we may with them behold your face, and in the heavenly places be one with them, and you, forever and ever; all this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell