St Stephen Lewisham
Saints with L-plates
It comes as something of a shock to the ordinary person in the church pew to be told that he or she is a saint.
In fact, such people's first reaction to deny that this could possibly be so. "I'm not good enough", they protest.
And that of course is true. None of us is good enough to say or even think "Well, that's it; I can sit back and stop worrying, because God is satisfied with me as I am".
Remember the saying: "God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.
But holiness (which is what makes people into saints) doesn't begin and end with achieving a certain level of goodness. Holy is something which God makes us, something we become every time we put ourselves into his hands, whether it is in our private pray- ers, our Bible study, when we come together as his people on a Sunday to offer the sacrifices to him which he has both ordained and provided; most significantly of all, of course, we become saints the very moment we are baptized, when God makes us "mem- bers of Christ, children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. At that instant he turns us into "Learner Saints"
Think for a moment of a different sort of Learner. I mean the sort of person who is learning to drive a car.
From the very instant that that person first sits behind the steering wheel of a car with the intention of driving it, they become "a Driver" Of course they haven't yet learnt to drive, let alone drive properly as those red L-plates at front and back are there to show.
They cant be expected to drive on their own straight away. That is the point of having the person sitting beside them in the other front seat, the Driving Instructor.
But the fact remains, from Moment One, Lesson One they themselves are the driver. And from the first bumpy nervous starts, when they let the clutch in too quickly or forget to take the hand- brake off, till the end of the lesson they will continue to be "the driver"
Even when the lesson is over they will still have become "a driver" by virtue of the fact that they will have driven a car. That very fact makes them into something they weren't before. Before Lesson One they would have answered the question "Are you a Driver" by saying "No". After the lesson the answer is "Yes, but only a Learner Driver". But a Learner Driver is a Driver all the same.
It is much the same with being a Saint. All of us are saints, but we all are Learner Saints, saints with L-plates. The word "disci- ple", remember, means "Learner" and none of us, I would imagine, supposes that we have nothing left to learn.
That is why I am always urging every Saint to get themselves an Instructor (or "Spiritual Director") to help with the learning process. Whether one has a driving lesson in Holiness from a Spiritual Director once a week, once a month, or two or three times a year is much less important than that one is receiving regular tuition, having a lesson every now and then from someone who has made it his job to help people learn to drive better, to be better saints.
Now, if you've recovered from the first shock of discovering that you are already saints, albeit saints with L-plates, let me shock you again.
Not only are you already drivers, and intended by God to become
Advanced Drivers, and eventually Perfect Drivers, like his Son, Jesus Christ. God also intends that very early on in our driving career you should learn to become Driving Instructors.
It is a mistake to think that the clergy are the only people qualified to give instruction. think back for a moment to the idea of the driving lesson. It's when the lesson itself is over that the real learning process begins.
The law wisely insists that every learner-driver should be accom- panied by somehow who has already held a full licence for some time. And that is the person from whom you will learn the most: your mother, father, brother, sister or friend who sits beside you in the front passenger seat.
These people aren't formally qualified Driving Instructors like the person who gives the lessons and gets paid for it. But they are the person who "goes through it with you".
And because they know you and love you this makes them able to relate more easily to your particular needs where driving is concerned; more so than the person you pay but only see once a week for an hour or so at a time.
His job is rather more technical. He has to see that you know a bit about the theory of the thing; about the Highway Code; about how to behave in an emergency; about what to do if you have an accident.
All of that is important stuff: don't misunderstand me. But the real nitty-gritty of learning to drive depends firstly on actual- ly doing it, and secondly on the kind person who volunteers to "do it with you".
Now I know for certain that we have quite a number of potentially first-rate instructors amongst us here this morning at St Ste- phens.
I have talked to a number of them about this, and their reaction has always been the same. Firstly there is the shock, because it simply hadn't occurred to them that they were competent to teach anyone anything; but when, they have recovered from the shock of the suggestion, they are nearly always delighted to have been asked.
Remember, it's not a matter of having a lot of education or knowledge that counts. The idea is not to replace the parish priest, the professional driving instructor, but to put ourselves into the position of the kind Learner-Driver's Companion whose job is "just to be there", but who from their experience can teach the learner driver things which may lie beyond the parish priest's experience.
For that is what the Communion of Saints is all about. It isn't just a collection of expert drivers who club together to form a mutual admiration society. Nor is it like an emergency service such as the A.A. or R.A.C. who are there if you need them but you rather hope you won't have to.
No, the Communion of Saints is something alive, everyday and made up of ordinary people like you and me.
So our job as saints consists in two things. Firstly, of course we've got to go on learning ourselves: we are called to be per- fect, and perfection is a progressive thing. Remember "God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy."
But alongside with this striving for perfection, the Saints are called by God to be tutors to one another. that is where the
"Communion" bit comes in.
So when you shake hands with others at the exchange of the Peace this morning, just ask yourself this question: "Is this person with whom I am shaking hands the one whom God wants me to sit alongside in the front passenger seat?"
Because once you start looking upon everyone in this light, the odds are that God is going to say to you, "Yes Joan (or Poppett, or Delia, or Sharon, or David) that is the person I want you to be taking an interest in today."
And that indeed will be "today's L-Saint" for you to be taking an interest in with a view to helping them become better Christians, better Drivers; which will be one step on the way to the great moment when God will have enabled us to progress the point when we can cast aside our L-plates; that will be the day when, with the pure in heart, we shall see God as he really is.
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