These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Happy All Saints Day! Or at least All Saints Sunday. All Saints Day proper was back on November 1, but thanks to a provision in our Prayer Book, we are allowed to observe this principal feast day both on its actual date and on the following Sunday -- which is today. So happy All Saints Day again!
This feast ranks right up there with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost in terms of prominence, for it is the feast for all the saints -- whether known or unknown -- that have graced the world with their presence across the history of the Church. All Saints is specifically for that remarkable class of Christians who’ve lived extraordinary lives of devotion and holiness: the “capital-S” saints, so to speak. All Souls Day, which immediately followed on November 2, is for the rest of the faithful departed: all of our deceased loved ones who, like us, lived ordinary lives of Christian discipleship, with all the quirks and vices that we all have. But since the saints themselves are included in the great host of the faithful departed, it is fitting that we take a moment during our Sunday observance of All Saints Day to pray for the souls of our departed loved ones too. Our prayers for them this morning is that they may progress further into their eternal repose. And these prayers are not merely about our fond memories of those who have passed from among us, though they certainly include them, for our prayers actually work to the benefit of their souls. When Christians pray for the faithful departed, our prayers come from the divine gift of charity that has been poured into our hearts. And this charity, this love of God, is the bond that unites us together as members of the Church, whether living or dead . Because Christ is risen, death makes no difference to the unity that we share as those who are united to him, “for charity which is the life of the soul, even as the soul is the life of the body, has no end” . It is charity that has knit us together “in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord,” in the words of our Collect.
But back to All Saints. I’m going to try to talk about the saints in a way that can help us think about stewardship, since we’re kicking off our annual Stewardship Campaign today too. It might be a bit of a stretch, but I think there’s something there that we can work with. So here we go!
One of the main things about the saints is that they are inspirational figures for us as Christians. Next to Christ and his blessed Mother, they are our role models for what the Christian life looks like in practice. The saints show us just how powerful the grace of God actually is in people’s lives. They show us what is possible when ordinary human beings like you and me devote themselves entirely to the love and service of God. They have forsaken their sins and renounced whatever distracts them from their sole focus on God; and they’ve done this so consistently, with such a radical cooperation with the grace that God has given them, that they are nearly transparent to the presence of God within them. They have “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) to such an extent that it really is the case for them that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). In short, the saints are those who have so fully conformed themselves to the pattern of Christ that Christ is practically all that is left to see in them.
So the saints are aspirations for us all, because every one of them started at the same place that we all do: as sinners in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God. But they received that grace with such humility and devotion that they eventually became saints worthy of remembrance and even veneration. The saints are a constant reminder that the call of Christ is simply to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Not that this was ever to be a standard that only the most gifted people could achieve by their own ability, of course. This perfection is only achieved by participating in the perfection of God: the perfection that God has shared with the world by sending his only-begotten Son. But perfection is a high challenge, nonetheless, impossible even. No human being could ever attain to it on their own. But now that this perfection has been given to us as a gift from God, it is possible -- as all things are with God. And the saints are the proof of this possibility.
What this means for us, to quote one writer, is that “there is absolutely no justification for the very common idea that sanctity [or] perfection, is only required of certain classes or individuals in the Church….” . We miss the point about the saints if we treat them like professional athletes or musicians: people who have such rare talents that the rest of us can only marvel at their performances. In Christ, the holiness of the saints is possible for every man, woman, and child -- no matter their intelligence, ability, or personality. For the holiness of the saints is simply the holiness of Christ that shines within them. “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us,” St. Paul says, for “our competence is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). So, as that one writer summed it up (Bede Frost, if you’re curious), “there is but one Christians life, one Christian sanctity, to which all Christians without distinction are called” . And this sanctity that we are called to, this perfection, “consists in the loving union of the will with God, a union...made possible by a right use of His gifts” 
Now, I said at the beginning that I would try to wrap in some stewardship while talking about saints. And this quote gives us just the bridge that we need to go there. Bede Frost said that our union with the will of God is “made possible by a right use of His gifts.” Which is simply to say that our union with the will of God is a matter of stewardship, for the right use of God’s gifts is just what stewardship is! Before it’s about our finances or the material needs of our parish or anything else, stewardship is about holiness. And holiness is about everything. When we think about stewardship in terms of our financial support of the church in particular, we are only focusing on one small part of what’s supposed to be an entire life of stewardship. “What have you that you did not receive?,” St. Paul asks, and since the answer is ultimately nothing, then there is no part of life that isn’t a gift from God -- a gift that should be used rightly. As you begin to prayerfully discern what God is calling from us for the coming year, allow that discernment to extend over your whole life. Because, chances are, you’re more likely to arrive at a clearer sense of God’s will for your support of this parish when you’re already discerning the will of God for all the gifts that he has given to you. On the flip side, if we restrict the scope of stewardship to just the pledge card we fill out once a year -- while neglecting it everywhere else -- then we probably won’t come to a reliable sense of what God is calling from us.
There’s no way to ignore how challenging all of this is, whether it’s the holiness of the saints or the demand of faithful stewardship. But that’s how things go for Christians. When it comes to stewardship, we are called to an act of faith and hope; we’re asked to look beyond that which is practical towards that which is perfect. It is for own good that God calls us to part from some portion of our wealth for the ongoing life and worship of the church. This stewardship season is yet another opportunity to grow in holiness, to walk the way of the cross towards perfection.
And when it comes to the saints, there’s no denying that that when we’re walking down that way of the cross, they can seem so far ahead of us, so unreachable. And it’s hardly a surprise, then, that Christians have always been tempted to create elaborate justifications for an easier, more comfortable version of the Christian life. Mediocrity is far more respectable than holiness. But as we heard in our reading from Revelation, the saints are those “who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great tribulation is simply this mortal life that we’re presently living. It’s the here and now. It’s the constant struggle between the flesh and the spirit; between virtue and vice; between temptation and devotion. Day in, day out. The saints endured the struggle with fear and trembling -- and usually a good bit of poverty too. Their struggle was the bath in which their robes were washed. Their lives were like a permanent baptism. But they have come out of it all and now they find themselves “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” -- the place where there is no more hunger because there is no more fasting; no more suffering because there is no more scorching heat; no more tears because there is no more penitence. For he who sits upon the throne shelters them with his presence.
We have not yet come out of the great tribulation. The narrow way of the cross still extends far ahead of us past the horizon, and the distant call of our perfection can often seem as faint as a whisper. But Christ sits upon his throne in glory, and his presence with which he shelters the saints shelters us even now. His gifts are plentiful and they abound right in front of us. May God give us the grace to use them rightly -- like the saints did -- that we may strengthen our union of our wills with Him and all of the saints who rejoice in their perfection. Amen.
 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Question 71.
 Bede Frost. The Art of Mental Prayer. 26-27.
 Ibid. 27.
 Ibid. 27.