The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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January 2017

Called to be Holy

Sarah Eynstone

An article written by Sarah Eynstone for her parish magazine last month. We are grateful to the parish for allowing us to reprint it here.

How would you like to be remembered? If you want to be remembered as a kind person you’re likely to try to be kind or if you want to be remembered as successful you’re likely to apply yourself with determination to the tasks in hand.

But what if someone said, ‘I don’t want to be remembered at all’?

At the beginning of last month we remembered all those ordinary people who lived Christ-like lives; those saintlike people who don’t merit a saint’s day of their own, who are not sufficiently distinguished to be  remembered as individuals but who nevertheless show us what it means to live as Christ did. So, what does a saintly person look like? What must we do or be if we want to be like them, to take our place in the company of the saints? Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man’.

This doesn’t sound appealing. Personally, I don’t want to be poor or hungry, or reviled or weeping. I’d like to be rich and to have people speak well of me. But what I think Jesus is saying here is that all those things we hold so dear, that we’d like to be remembered for, may be taking us away from Christ rather than towards him. The Kingdom of God is a place where all the ordinary values are turned upside-down. This may mean that Christ turns upside-down our religious views as well and our ideas about what it means to be holy.

We’re often led to assume that being saintly can be equated with being good: performing some exceptionally charitable acts or being committed to spiritual disciplines such as fasting and prayer. But so much of what Jesus says points to the unlikely nature of sanctity. The people he calls to be his followers, the people with whom he spends a lot of his time, are the people shunned by the religious, the people of high status. In Jesus’ world saints are found among unexpected people, people who, if they were in an identity parade, would not be picked out as obvious saints.

This is enormously encouraging because it means that sainthood isn’t a status reserved for a few exceptionally ‘good’ individuals. Holiness is our common calling. We’re all invited to take up our place in the company of saints.

If we believe that God created us as unique bearers of the divine image, then this is likely to mean that we’re each called to a particular sort of holiness. There is no single identikit saint, but there is a rough template – and this template is Jesus Christ himself.

So, what are the characteristics of the lives of the saints? The beatitudes, the ‘blessed are’ statements of Jesus, create an image of godliness as an honest awareness of our own sinfulness. To follow Christ means to look to him as the ideal of goodness and to know that in the light of his glory we fall short. But rather than being a source of depression or paralysing guilt, in admitting our sinfulness we encounter the grace of God.

Sanctity is not about being ‘good’, or about the absence of fear, guilt, emotional scars and painful memories. Instead it’s about allowing God’s grace to work through these things. Sainthood isn’t a status that is earned, but a gift of God which is given to us when we least expect it. Accepting our sins and failures creates space within us for the Holy Spirit to act. It also means that we’re likely to be compassionate rather than judgmental towards those who sin or are in pain.

‘Going deeper into God’, as the diocesan mission statement asks us to do, might lie in admitting our sinfulness – both as individuals and as a church. Rather than seeking success we may be a more authentic witness to Christ if we spoke about our vulnerabilities, shortcomings and our need for God.

One Roman Catholic monk, James Martin, writes about sainthood as ‘a lifelong call to draw closer to God, who wants nothing more than to encounter us as the people we are and the saints we are meant to be.’
God loves us just as we are, but he loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to stay that way for ever. The feast of All Saints invited us to consider our call to holiness which takes place in the every-day muddle of life.
Sarah Eynstone
St John the Baptist, Aldbury

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