In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one, Amen.
Today’s readings are all about being a saint. Now, being a saint is open to absolutely everybody. Not many of us, probably, will be painted in icons like the ones behind me here, but some of the people, possibly even some of those listening to this, will end up being painted in icons and celebrated on the walls of our Church. Now, if you go into church, and you look at the walls, and the walls are surrounding you with icons of the saints, and up in the dome you have the angels, and Christ Himself looking down upon you, and a magnificent choir over in the corner, and a priest who is able to talk intelligently and simply so you can understand him, and people to your right and to your left who are engrossed in prayer, or at least are not chewing gum and are silent, then it feels easy to be a saint, to worship in that situation, to feel right with the world, and to have the peace that earlier on in Matthew’s gospel the Lord says that He will give to his apostles and disciples.
But the reality is actually quite different from that. The reality of a saint’s life, as it says in Hebrews in this chapter that we are reading [chapter 12], and I’ll read it to you, it says this: “Let us run with endurance, the race that is set before us.” Saint Paul is talking about the sin that so easily ensnares us. But that word endurance, and running a race, is very important. Sometimes it is so difficult to maintain faith. So difficult even to say the most simple prayer. You have to drag yourself into your icon corner or your prayer corner. You have to force yourself to open your Scriptures to read them. It is an agony of doing things.
For some people the agony is a good deal worse. They are surrounded by those who hate them, and are wanting to kill them. For other people it is a long, long, long drip, drip, drip effect, of a family that does not understand what they are doing, who arrange things to happen when the family knows very well that this person needs or wants to go to church, and they find themselves separating themselves from the people they love most. The endurance, day after day after day, of doing the good, Christian thing, of working for others, of being self-sacrificial. It is easy to be, or appear to be, holy, when absolutely everything goes your way, and people put you on a pedestal and say how wonderful you are. But what is really, truly, heroic, is that endurance, that patience, and humility, to keep on going even though everything looks to be going wrong, where you are where you don’t want to be, where you have nothing nothing nothing nothing, where you don’t enjoy your job, where you are lonely, where you are sidelined, where people look down at you, possibly down at you because of your faith, where you’re frightened because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, when even you’re sitting at the side of the road with a gun pointed at your head, or in some terrible cases where people have had their heads cut off. When you are in that situation, that is when we endure. We keep on running that race, despite what is happening to us.
It’s a long, long race, as well. It can be boring. It can be frustrating. It can be lonely. It can seem as if everybody else has run on ahead, and it’s just you, plodding along, going along, trying to avoid the potholes in the road, and the edges of the curbs. But you keep on going. You just carry on going. And when people look at you and knock you, deride you, and say, ‘Look, just give up for a bit, just relax, enjoy life around you, lighten up, see what everybody else is doing, enjoy taking time off. Come on, come with us, come our way,’ you don’t. And you carry on going the way of the Cross. You endure, and you endure, and you endure. And you leave behind all those weights, those sins, that drag you back, and keep you materialistic, that make you think of things and people and honor and recognition as more important than maintaining that one thing that is important, that is, focusing your entire life on the Lord Jesus and nothing else and running the race that He began in you, the race of faith, and He will end in you, that race of faith, one way or another. You don’t end it yourself. You continue right up until the end, whatever end that might be that the Lord has in mind for you. And that of course is what the saints did. Some of them, by agonizing long hours in a cave alone on the side of a hill in prayer, others in a terrible bloody mess at the side of a road on top of a hill, like St. Alban, the first martyr of this country, or St. Stephen, stoned to death. Others by daily looking after their children, looking after their grandchildren, doing the work to the best of their ability, continuing, continuing, continuing, loving, loving, loving, unendingly, until the day comes when they curl up their toes and go to join their ancestors in their graves. That is the way of the Christian life.
We sometimes have wonderful experiences when we can go into a beautiful temple offered to God, and see the wonderful iconography, hear that choir in the corner, listen to the priest and his eloquent words. But most of the time, our Christian life is an unending battle fighting Hell. While we’re doing it, taking one step at a time, plodding on towards Christ, trying our best to get to the end of that enormously long race, that goes on for years, and years, and years ahead of us. And that is where true heroism lies. Not to worry about those people who want to drag you back. Not to be concerned about the events that appear like a big hole in front of you, dark and frightening, but you run round them, or leap over them, or go through them, and you come out the other end, and keep on going, not being afraid when you see what the finishing post is going to be about, but putting your trust in God, and leaving, like Saint Peter, everything behind, everything, with the knowledge that the Lord will compensate you a hundred-fold, more than a hundred-fold, infinitely, with His very own presence, at the great Judgment, when you stand before Him and the apostles.
So, on this day, when we celebrate the saints, remember that sainthood is actually open to you. It is a long road, terrible endurance, an agony of life. But it takes but one step at a time. Take the step. Join the road. Pick up your Cross. Leave everything behind. And follow Him. Amen. [Asking your prayers.]