Have you ever felt like you had an impossible job description? Maybe it was as you were entering the workforce? Maybe it was a summer gig you had as a teen? Maybe it’s your “job” as a parent, or a grandparent, or a friend to someone who is just being really difficult right now?
There was a job my friend was looking at recently. It was for a “Strategic Innovator.” The role description was for a ‘strategy champion’ who would be responsible for “client strategy, managing the start-up team, providing relationship management between the incubator corporation and the team.” They were looking for an “Innovator with on-demand creativity”, “An Engineer or executor” who would oversee “Account/Relationship Management”, “Sales/Lead Generation”, someone who would “Attend key strategy discussions both to initiate and challenge ideas”, “Build and maintain relationships with clients and take part in the sales process”, “Set out work streams for the start-up team and manage the work process”, “Assist in creating the overall strategy and delivery methods” and “Build innovation strategies with clients and pollinate them to the team.”
Engineer. Executive Administrator, Salesperson and Manager—someone who could be in the boardroom AND on the storeroom floor, simultaneously. It sounds like a job description for cardiac arrest!
I’m reminded of the film, Bruce Almighty. A burnt-out reporter (played by Jim Carrey) is given divine powers after he complains to God (played by Morgan Freeman) that God should be fired for failing to live up to his job description. So, for one week, God gives Bruce all of the powers of the Almighty. Bruce uses his newfound power to get his job back, to enact revenge on a local gang, and, of course, to impress his girlfriend. But, then Bruce starts hearing the prayers of everyone on earth. He realizes that he can’t keep up with his own needs, nevermind the ‘asks’ of every other person in the world! So, he creates an “auto-reply” system where every prayer uttered to God is automatically answered with “yes.”
You can imagine the chaos from there. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what happens next.
Impossible job descriptions. This is a time of year when we remember some people in the Christian church who we, perhaps, think of as having impossible job descriptions. I’m speaking of the saints, those who have lived lives of incredible sacrifice in service to God. Today is All Saints Sunday, when we remember the lives of all who have been named saints in the Christian church, many of whom were martyred, those who professed faith in Christ even when facing torture, persecution, and death. It’s custom in some churches on this day for copes to be worn in the procession, symbolizing the robes of the ones spoken about in the Book of Revelation, who endured great suffering and stand before the throne of God with the lamb as their Shepherd, guiding them to the springs of the water of life as every tear is wiped from their eyes.
On days like All Saints Sunday, we imagine, perhaps, that an ordinary person such as ourselves could never be a saint. We’d prefer—I know I would—to avoid suffering, rather than commit our lives to it for the sake of our faith. When we think of the saints, we imagine them more as heroes—as accomplishing something so totally other to what we might be able to accomplish in our lifetime. The Rev’d Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, famously said that as Christians we are called not to be heroes, but to be saints. He writes,
The hero steps up and makes everything turn out right. . . . [T]he hero is always at the centre of the story. By contrast, the saint may be almost invisible, quickly forgotten. . . . The saint is always at the periphery of a story that is always really about God. . . . [T]he hero’s story is always told to celebrate the virtues of the hero. The hero’s strength, courage, wisdom, or great timing: these are the qualities on which the hero’s decisive intervention rests. By contrast the saint may not be strong, brave, clever or opportunistic. But the saint is faithful. The story of the hero is told to rejoice in valour. The story of the saint is told to celebrate faith.
He continues: “[I]f the hero makes a mistake, it is a disaster. By contrast the saint expects to fail. A hero fears failure, flees mistakes, and knows no repentance: the saint knows there is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.”
Finally, of “the 64 references to saints in the New Testament, every single one is in the plural. Saints are never alone. Heroes have learnt to depend on themselves: saints learn to depend on God and on the community of faith.”
I’m always encouraged that, at our annual service for All Saints at St Clement’s, we remember those whom we love who have died in the past year by reading out their names during the prayers of the people. We also remember all who have died on the Tree of Life memorial installation. This is indeed a day to remember that references to saints are never made to one person alone, but to the great company of the faithful departed.
You don’t have to be a hero to be a saint, and you certainly don’t have to live the life of a saint on your own. Jesus makes the job description for sainthood pretty clearly in the Beatitudes. He calls simply for experience in the following areas:
Have you ever felt depressed? Then, you are a saint.
Have you ever grieved the death of someone you loved? You are in the company of such a great cloud of witnesses.
Have you ever sought patience beyond what should ever be expected of a person?
Have you ever wished so badly that an unjust situation would be brought to justice that you were willing to dive head first into the situation yourself just to see if there was some way you could do something for the people who were hurting?
Have you ever had to show mercy to someone who didn’t deserve it?
Have you ever had to live with the mistakes of your past exposed for the world to see so that you could heal?
Have you ever been caught in the middle of a conflict between two people you love?
Have you ever lost friends because you did the right thing in an impossible situation?
Have you ever been lumped in with people who do hateful things in the name of Jesus simply because you, too, wear the label “Christian”?
Rejoice and be glad. Great is your reward in heaven. Blessed are you.
The Rev’d Dr. Sam Wells, “All Saints”, accessed online on 03 November 2023 at https://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/all-saints/