Here, by the grace of God, am I

A personal reflection for All Saints’ Day

According to legend, John Bradford, a 16th century English reformer,[1] destined to be imprisoned in the Tower of London and burned at the stake by Queen Mary Tudor, watching a group of prisoners being led to their executions, observed, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” Thereby, he gave to succeeding generations a succinct statement of acknowledgement that another’s misfortune, if not for divine blessing, could be one’s own. More particularly, that one’s providence is in God’s hands. More generally, that one’s fate, always subject to circumstance and chance, is not in one’s control.

Often my father, speaking of life’s travails, commented, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Later, as a student of scripture, I realized that Bradford, my father, and countless others had paraphrased Paul’s gratitude for having been called to be an apostle after having persecuted the followers of Jesus: “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”[2]

This spirit of righteous recognition is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”[3]

Today, according to the calendar of Western Christendom, is All Saints’ Day. “Saint” is a New Testament title for a Christian.[4]

In Christian tradition, saints often are considered to be those like the first apostles who were martyred; though threatened with death, refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus. Yes, they and more are worthy of saintly honor. Yet I dare…do stand with them in saintly light because I, as they, am human. I, as they, am flawed. I, as they, am poor; impoverished in every way, except for being perfect in my imperfection. And I, as they, am one whom Jesus calls blessed!

Later, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”[5] This is radical; as in the Latin radix, “root.” In a spiritual sense, meaning a return to the origin of things, going back to the way God intended from the dawn of creation. In an existential sense, meaning extreme; beyond the reach of reason, surpassing any sane expectation. In a word, crazy!

Yet Jesus’ declaration is a description of who a saint is and what a saint does. Of saints who, here and now, live and work to fulfill the prayer, Our Father…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Even more, Jesus’ declaration is a description of who God is, and, still more, the way God treats us. God loves us; even when we are enemies; whether unknowingly or intentionally opposing God’s will.

And, in a world continually rife with violence and in the American political scene sullied with the vilification of parties and the demonization of persons, Jesus’ declaration of saintly living stands in razor-sharp contrast.

And, on this All Saints’ Day, remembering those in ages past, here, by the grace of God, am I, a saint of God, who, in my day and time, is called to do God’s will and, thus, bequeath a legacy of righteousness for those to come.

© 2021 PRA


[1] John Bradford (1510–1555)

[2] 1 Corinthians 15.10a

[3] Luke 6.20b

[4] For example, see Romans 1.7, 1 Corinthians 1.2, 2 Corinthians 1.1, Ephesians 1.1, Philippians 1.1, Colossians 1.2

[5] Luke 6.27b

#saintsofgod #thywillbedoneonearthasitisinheaven #lovemyenemies #jesusteaching #godslove

2 thoughts on “Here, by the grace of God, am I

  1. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for these thoughts on All Saints’ Day. I’m glad to hear you claim the title “saint,” for so I believe you are, from all that I know of you and your deep conviction to live the law of love, as God, through Jesus, has enjoined us to do. As I think of to whom that appellation should be applied, I find myself getting caught up in your statement about its being a term for all Christians. And then I find myself getting caught up in the question of who is a Christian, a question that I think becomes murkier and more difficult to answer, at least for me, with every passing day. The last thing I want is to have to decide who can claim that name, although my sense is that it takes more than simply stating that one is a Christian to actually BE a Christian.

    My issue is not that I want to take away the name from anyone who claims it, but I wonder if it is not acceptable to apply the term “saint” to a lot of people who would probably never think of themselves as Christian, but whose lives demonstrated or still demonstrate that they actually should be included in those who are considered “saints” in the sense in which you used the term in your post.

    This is one of the difficulties I have with continuing to identify myself as Christian. I have come to know a lot of people to whom I would apply the term “saint,” but they are not Christians in the meaning that the world would apply to the word “Christian.” I’m sure there is theology that has struggled with this dilemma, but I have no real grasp of it.

    I’d love it if you can shed some light on these questions, Paul. I have a feeling they will become more important as time goes on and people become less willing to identify themselves with particular religions but choose to embrace attitudes and behaviors that arise from some unnamed wellspring of faith and conviction nonetheless.

    Thanks for entertaining my always questioning mind, dear Paul.

    Love,

    Karen

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  2. My beloved Karen, your explorations and your questions arising therefrom always stir my mind and heart, my soul and spirit with delight.

    As for your ruminations about the appellation “saint” and to whom it applies (and, perhaps, does not apply!), I believe that the Apostle Paul, who most frequently in his epistolary addresses, referred to the recipients of his missives as “saints” both from spiritual/existential and aspirational points of view. As for the former, it was…is God’s imparted Spirit which…who grants us the state of saintliness, thus, making what is not and cannot be manufactured by human will (for it is principally, only of the divine nature) an aspect of our human beingness. As for the latter, though, yes, saintliness, as given by the Spirit, is part and parcel of human existence, we still need live into that state of being fully, faithfully, freely. And that — the living into it — is a daily, moment by moment labor of love…

    Another way of saying this, I think, is that saintliness is an element of what can be termed realized eschatology; that is, a now-in-this-realm-of-time-and-space (partial) realization of that which, in its fullness, will be known later or at the “eschatos”, at (the) last day of the fulfillment of the destiny of the human soul.

    I also recall an olden definition of saint: Not a perfect person (for what human, by any definition of perfection, is?), but rather one in whose living the divine light of love shines through. That works for me!

    Love

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