We Need More Saints

August 16, 2013

Martin B. Copenhaver

"Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." - Hebrews 11:29-38

We Protestants need more saints.

In this context, I do not mean saint in the way the Apostle Paul used the term as inclusive of all of the people of God.  Rather, I am referring to individuals of faith whom the church points to and says, in essence, "Pay attention to these lives.  Take inspiration from them.  Try, as you are able, to follow their example."  I am thinking of Frederick Buechner's definition:  "In God's holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief.  These handkerchiefs are called saints."

Sometimes, when I listen to Protestant preachers (which, of course, includes me), it can seem as if we have concluded there are only a small handful of people whose lives reflect God's glory.  The Roman Catholics have over 10,000 canonized saints.  By my count, we Protestants have as few as five:  Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonheoffer.  Of course, these individuals are great examples of faith.  They are saints, to be sure.  But when their names are invoked so often, and other examples drawn upon so seldom, it does not help us envision the range of ways one's life can reflect God.

So I envy the Roman Catholics their saints because they have many people of history to whom they can point.  To be sure, some of them are rather quirky (like Saint Neot, who did his daily devotions while neck deep in a well and, thus, became the patron saint of fish) and others whose qualifications for sainthood seem rather thin (like Simeon of Stylites, whose chief accomplishment seems to have been sitting on a pillar for decades at a time).  But the sheer variety of saints in the Roman Catholic tradition stretches the imagination to encompass the multitude of ways a human life can manifest the Holy Spirit.

Who are some of the saints you have encountered recently?

Prayer

God, give us more saints.  We need all the inspiration and instruction we can get.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of Village Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.
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