A SERMON ON WHAT IS A SAINT? Jenny Scott, November 3, 2013.
When Paul wrote the letter that is commonly referred to as Ephesians, he was likely not only writing to one particular church community, but intended for the letter to be read by many of the churches in the Roman province of Asia. When Paul addresses the Saints, he was not just addressing a few super-holy individuals, but he was addressing entire church communities. Paul did not see saints as a few who had their spiritual lives all sorted out in a way uncommon to most, nor should we today consider saints to be only a few within the Christian community. Instead we should see, that by being taken up into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection, we have all become saints. So what is a saint? The Greek word that is often translated “saint” is hagios. In the most basic sense, this word signifies being separated out, consecrated, or set apart for God. Paul, in the beginning of our epistle reading for the day, speaks of being “destined according to the purpose” of Christ “so that we may live for the praise of God”. I have no intention of tackling the idea of predestination today but I think that we can agree that Paul is saying here that we, the saints, have been set apart, picked out by God, for a purpose. This idea of being set a part, for a purpose is not new to the Christian community but is a theme that flows throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Abraham was told that he would be blessed, but this blessing was so he could be a blessing for all nations. Israel was given freedom from the Egyptian oppressor, but not simply so they could live a free comfortable life. Israel was intended from the beginning to be a nation that would serve God and illuminate God’s kingdom so all nations could see and be influenced by it. We are set apart, made sacred, not so we can simply experience God’s rich blesses, nor so we can feel like we’re part of the in-crowd. In our reading from Daniel today we hear the promise that the Saints will receive the kingdom. But do we believe that it’s simply about receiving the kingdom or is there more? is there a purpose for this? If God is the ruler of this kingdom, then it may be helpful to see ourselves, the saints, as the royal subjects or servants to the king. It is from this place of realizing our identity as saints and experiencing the rich blessings of the kingdom, that we shall respond. We have a duty to serve God, serve each other, and to serve the world in hopes that all can receive the rich blessings of being within God’s kingdom. There are many ways that we can live into this purpose of being subjects to God and saints who aid in God’s desire to make the kingdom visible in our world now. I will out line just three that I found emphasized in our readings from today’s lectionary. First we are to Go Forward in knowledge. Paul, in Ephesians, prays for the saints of the local church communities asking that God gives the saints the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that God may be known better” He continues by saying “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Paul does not suggest that we be blind, ignorant subjects within God’s Kingdom, but instead that we are gifted with a wisdom that can begin to make sense of the Kingdom, with all its hopes and power. Paul asks for wisdom and an understanding of the kingdom because it is so completely different from that of the world around us. Again and again scripture points to a upside-down kingdom. As we read in our gospel reading, This is a kingdom where the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the persecuted and the despised are the ones who are blessed. We are to try and know this upside down kingdom so we, who are set apart, can participate in the actualization of God’s kingdom now. Beyond going in wisdom, we are go together. Paul, at the end of the reading, calls the saints, the body of Christ. Nowhere does he say “bodies” of Christ. The saints make up one body.
Page |2 We live in a culture that bombards us with ideas of individualism, and the church has often fallen in to this mindset. Yet through the liturgy here at St James’ we are reminded that we are not simply individuals, but that we are part of God’s one body. We are invited to use the holy water at the entry into the sanctuary as a means to remember our baptism, which was a baptism into the one church. During confession, the pronoun “we” is used because we are praying with and for each others’ sins and forgiveness not just our own. When we come forward to receive the Eucharist, we kneel together and share from the one cup. Examples of acting as one body extend beyond the church walls. The Chicago marathon was a few weeks ago. This is one the largest marathons internationally with over 40,000 runners. One man’s story stood out to me from this year’s race. Maickel Melamed from Venezuela lives with muscular dystrophy, which was the result of complications at his birth. He was not expected to live beyond a few days, but his body did the seemingly impossible, and fought for life. He continually tries to accomplish the impossible every day. While walking is a slow, tedious process, he set out to finish the Chicago marathon and finish he did, in 17 hours. Yet, Maickel would not have been able to accomplish this on his own, but was aided every step of the course by a team. One person on his team reflected on the event saying,: “As the hours started to add up … his step loosened up, his team became more and more protective of him, and their love, support and concern for him more and more palpable. Oscar, one of his coaches, would line up his steps from behind to continue to support his rhythm, while Federico—the other coach—was in front of him, feeling the ground under his feet and communicating non stop with Maickel, onto where to step, how high or low to step, what grade, focusing his vision, keeping him awake, with strong yet loving words of encouragement.” Making real God’s Kingdom here on earth, is hard work. But the beauty is that we don’t have to do it alone. We have a whole cloud of witnesses, a whole communion, a whole body of fellow saints available, so that together, we can be used by God for his Kingdom’s purposes. So we are to go in knowledge, go together, and thirdly go in love as Saints seeking the kingdom. Love is more than a feeling or an idea, love involves concrete involvement. love is to be active. Paul speaks of praying for and giving thanks for the churches he wrote to. These are two simple acts of love that we can do, expressing our thankfulness and praying for one another. But I challenge us to look at the gospel passage for an all too brief discussion of what may be one of Christ’s hardest yet most important commands. Christ, after painting a picture of what the kingdom is like, by explaining who is to be blessed, goes on to give us directions on how to make this kingdom actualized. He tells us to love our enemies, and then goes into detail of how this may look in various circumstances, ways of doing love in action. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Saint of the 20th century who spent much time preaching and living out this idea of “loving thy enemy.” His life was constantly threatened and he was witness to great injustices and yet he continued to preach love and act it out. In his work, he addressed his enemies, the segregationalists, by saying, “one day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” MLK had a vision of reconciliation and he saw that it was to be accomplished through love. He believed that empires built by force fall, but the kingdom built on the foundations of love will last for eternity. And by acting in love, we are not only living out the truth of what the kingdom is about, but we are actively making space for others to join us in the kingdom. We are God’s saints, the servants of his Kingdom, and we are set apart for the purpose of actualizing His kingdom on earth now. By going forward in knowledge, going together in unity, and going with love as our foundation, this purpose may be continue to be fulfilled. With all God’s saints, those throughout history, those in the future, and those surrounding us today, let us pray, “His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” •