In the movie, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, reporter Lloyd Vogel asks Joanne Rogers what is it like to be married to a living saint. In the movie, she replies, “If you think of him as being a saint, his way of living is unattainable.” In a real-life interview with Heather Catlin, Joanne Rogers explains why Fred Rogers should NOT be seen as a saint: SHOW CLIP He “worked very hard on the hard things of life…he wanted to be inclusive…he walked the walk.” Perhaps that is a good definition of a saint – one who works hard on the hard things of life, and walks the walk of faith and service.
Lives worthy of the calling
The New Testament uses Greek word, “hagioi,” which we translate as saints or holy ones. The writers of the books of the New Testament assumed that conversion, a commitment to living as a person of faith, led to a moral renewal, even a transformation. A new Christian would begin to show the fruits of the Spirit’s work within the soul which would grow as faith grew: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is what the writer of Ephesians means with the phrase, “A Life worthy of the calling.” A Christian would continue to grow in faith, showing through the qualities of Christ int heir words and actions that this was a follower of Jesus.
Early Christians knew what was expected, of course. They had a two year training program before they were even provided with the words of The Lord’s Prayer! One didn’t just DECIDE to become a Christian, it was a calling to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to devote one’s life to God’s service. The process of becoming a Christian required serious commitment, including quite a lot of time, and changes in lifestyle that we often uncomfortable.
Taking on a life of service often means giving up something precious. St. Francis gave up not only wealth, but family and friends in order to live on a former pig farm with anyone who needed a place to live. When his father denounced him, locked him in a dungeon and sued him in the Palazzo Communale, Francis stripped of his clothing and handed it back to his father. He proclaimed,” Up to now I have called Petro Bernadone my father, but as I am resolved to serve God… I will say ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’ instead of my father ‘Pietro Bernadone.’” Rather dramatic – also undoubtedly painful.
Salem Massachusetts was shocked in the mid-18th century to learn of a sailor who was a victim of leprosy. They arranged for him to live on a farm 20 miles out of town. As others came in with the disease, they too were taken to the farm. The entire community was later moved to an island offshore. The question arose of who would care for these sick and dying men. Dr. Charles Parker, who had been tending them announced that he would give up his medical practice and go and live on the island. “Why?” he was asked. “I’m a Christian,” he replied. “How could I do less than what I know to be right?” He left his wife and children for three years to minister to the leper colony until they were moved to a leprosarium in Louisiana.
Even for ordinary people – truly serving others means giving up some of our self-centeredness and sometimes some relationships as we begin to live according to a different set of values. To live lives “worthy of the calling.”
This doesn’t come naturally to us. We’re more like James and John -- and their mother. Jesus’ exaltation sounds good. Sign us up! We are tired, after all, of being the people that are largely ignored -- until election time when some candidate wants our vote. We are tired of the “daily grind” of too many hours for too little appreciation. Thrones in glory? Yes, please!
But Jesus stops us in our tracks with this unwelcome new instruction: to be great you must be a servant. To be first, you must be a slave…Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for many.” Jesus is reorienting the definition of leadership. Definitely not a top-down model here – it’s being wait staff at a meat and three. Pick up your dishcloth to wipe food toddlers tossed around. Pick up a basin and towel to wash dirty feet. Jesus redefines what it means to follow him. To follow Jesus is to serve others, just like he came to serve us. Lives worthy of THAT calling.
Team – Community
Jesus’ followers do not go it alone. There is companionship in a community of people devoted to God, and following the path of Jesus. Each person offers their gifts for the common purpose of building up the body of Christ and reaching out to love and serve the world. Unity is one of the defining characteristics of the Body of Christ.
“Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” as Ephesians says. We are to speak the truth in love, with our purpose always to build up the body of Christ, to grow into Christ-like living, and to build each other up in love, as each part of the body serves in its own way.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful? The early church was characterized by its love for each other and how it loved others, so much that people in that time remarked on it!
Each person in the early church looked for the place where their gifts could build up the community and they offered them freely. It still happens in Montgomery, AL. Frazer Memorial Church encourages every member to be in ministry. It is a part of the membership process to discern where they have a passion that meets a need – and begin their involvement before they join the church. In the fall of 1986 and spring of 1987 we went down to Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church. Rev. Dr. John Ed Mathison, author of our devotional book, was the lead pastor at the time. He asked the church regularly, “How is your serve?” Before COVID, they listed hundreds of ways that people could be in service of the church and community. The church was on the move in their community, and everyone had somewhere to serve.
Our church might not have hundreds of ways, but we do have opportunities to serve – even in the pandemic. RIGHT NOW Housing Forward is looking for volunteers to help on-site and with meal prep off-site to serve our homeless in the community. RIGHT NOW there are opportunities to help with video editing of worship services, even if you have never done anything like that before! RIGHT NOW you could help plan and set up the sanctuary for filming our Advent/Christmas services, or help plan a luminary walk outside on the church grounds for Advent. RIGHT NOW you could provide an inter-active ZOOM lesson for our children and families. RIGHT NOW you could help with messaging to share our witness with the community. RIGHT NOW you could help with the tech parts of our ZOOM worship, even if you’ve never done that before. RIGHT NOW you could make a meal and take it to some of our front-line workers and their families. RIGHT NOW we have opportunities to serve. One of our members recently said, “It’s good to know that my skills can help the church. We all need to do that.” Teamwork is a part of serving. ALL of us have gifts needed to strengthen the whole. Where can you use your gifts and passion to help others to build up the body of Christ? How is your serve?
Our service moves into the community too! Being segregated from those in need stultifies our souls. When we care for our neighbors, we serve more graciously, share more generously, until we get to God’s dream where everyone has enough. “Everyone take less, and there will be room for one more,” as Dorothy Day’s mother often said.
Everyone can serve. “We don’t have to be heroes. We don’t have to do big things, but to live each day in love, doing little things, learning to welcome one another, particularly the weak and those in pain.” And we don’t have to serve alone – we are a part of a Team – a Community.
Being a servant will change our world-view.
If you ask people when they felt most content or satisfied with their lives, you will hear stories about serving others. We find great satisfaction in knowing that we have made a positive difference in the world somehow – God has apparently wired us that way. Our experiences of service also change how we see the world.
The rise in popularity of Alternative Spring Break can only be explained this way. Why else would growing numbers of college students across the US, and now the world, sign up for a week of hard work building or repairing houses, fixing parts, and painting schools? Despite 25 hour bus rides, cold showers, rats and bats and garbage with food as irregular as they have experienced in their lives -- they can’t wait to do it all again. The week creates an experience of people working together to build up the human community, even to be the church in a hands-on way. Mission trips are the same. On the way, the concerns are about food, privacy, giving up luxuries and whether or not they will have cell phone service. But afterwards – it’s stories about how their lives were changed, how they want to share more with people in need, and how they felt God working through them during the week. Service changes how we see things.
Albert Einstein. After many years, Albert Einstein replaced the pictures of Newton and Maxwell on his walls with pictures of Mahatma Ghandi and Albert Scweitzer. When asked why he had done this, he replied that he had discovered that it was service, not science, that makes the different in life. “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”
Lives of service are a visible witness. It is a powerful thing when the role of the servant, exemplified by Jesus, becomes visible and lived out in lives of faith – other see. Lives are changed – including our own. One saint said later in her life, “I find that as I have grown in faith and years, I truly do need less. The joy comes in finding that I can share more with others.” The saints we celebrate today were witnesses to us. Their acts of service touched our hearts – some may have even changed our lives.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by
How many diplomas we received,
How much money we have made,
How many great things we have done.
We will be judged by
“I was hungry and you gave me to eat,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was homeless and you took me in.”
Service changes how we see things. It changes lives – including our own.
We see, in the lives of our saints, patterns of service and self-giving. They’re ordinary people used by God to touch the lives of others. Generosity, kindness, self-giving, humility and those fruits of the spirit show who they followed. We see patterns in their lives of joy and meaning. We have even experienced God’s love through them. We celebrate our saints. And we pray that we also might grow in our faith, to live lives worthy of our calling, to be reflections of the Lord we serve.
We sing a song of the saints of God,
there are hundreds of thousands still; the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in planes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; for the saints of God are just folk like we may we live to be saints too.
1. The story is based on the interaction between Tom Junod of Esquire magazine and Fred Rogers.
3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W7eF26jzEA. This clip is found at 1:02.
5 New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary vol. XI, 419.
6 Otto Karrer, ed. The Little Flowers, Legends, and Lauds, 12.
7 Tertullian commented on this. “In the early Church, Tertullian tells us that pagans were struck by the witness of
Christian love. “See how they love one another!” they would remark.” 160-220 AD.
8 Jim Forest, Love is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day, 77.
9 Jean Vanier, founder of the l’Arche movement.
10 New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, vol XI, 424-5.
11 Mathison, Treasures, 227.
12 Mildred Thomas.
13 Teresa of Calcutta. Quoted in Howell, Servants… 137.
14 Lesbia Scott, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” words lightly adjusted.