Are you a “saint”? You probably would hesitate to call yourself a “saint.” I’m sure you don’t write the word “saint” in front of your name when you sign things. “I’m no saint,” you probably would say. “A saint is someone like Mother Theresa – you go and live in a third world country somewhere and dedicate your life to helping others – that’s a saint. The Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul – those guys are saints – the real good people. But me, you say, no way. I’m definitely not a saint.”
Today we are celebrating “All Saints Sunday.” In the early church, Christians used to set aside certain days throughout the year to remember certain leaders, and they called those leaders “saints.” It was a good thing – you learned about the lives of some of those Christians from the past – you looked at the example they left behind – remembering a saint. But during the first several centuries of the church things got out of hand as far as saints were concerned. People were beginning to elevate the saints to positions that God never intended them to be. Instead of praying to Christ, people began praying to the saints. At that time in history, people were afraid of Christ, because he was portrayed by the church as a punishing judge. The saints seemed much kinder and gentler. And so the people began to ignore Christ and started putting their trust in the saints.
And so it’s no wonder that today, you resist the idea of being called a “saint.” “I am definitely not a saint,” you would say. Today, I’m here to disagree with you – according to the Bible, you ARE a saint. Being a saint isn’t about what you or I do or don’t do but about who we are in relationship with God. That’s also true of being a sinner. Sin is the self-centered failure to trust God. Adam and Eve’s problem wasn’t just that they broke one of God’s rules. Their real sin was their desire to be “like God,” relying on their judgment rather than trusting God’s word.
Martin Luther describes Christians as “simultaneously saint and sinner.” Luther redefines “saint” as a forgiven sinner. We are called saints not because we change into something different but because our relationship with God changes as a result of God’s grace. Luther said: “The saints are sinners, too, but they are forgiven and absolved.”
Let’s say that we have a committee here at church, called the “Saint Committee.” And their job is to determine if you should be called a “saint” or not. And so this committee goes into your house while you’re not home, and sets up hidden cameras. They set up microphones all over your house. If you work they set up surveillance equipment at your work. They bug your phone so that they can listen to your conversations. They follow you around, take pictures of you, and take notes on everything you say and do. Then, after gathering all this information, they meet as a committee, and the chair of the committee says, “Well, what you have learned about so-and-so? Is that person a saint?” What do you think they would say, after observing your life so closely? “He’s no saint,” one of them might say. “I’ve listened to his conversations. I’ve watched what he does. He’s not a saint! He’s a sinner!”
It is true, that we are sinners, and we have more than earned that title in our lives. If our all of our conversations were taped, and we were watched every day, we would be embarrassed by what other people would see in our lives. And yet, this is not how a person becomes a saint. If it were, then there would be no such thing as a saint. All of us have faults and all of us are sinful. Everyone is sinful. The good news is that we are not called a saint based on what we have done or what we will do.
So how one does becomes a saint in the eyes of God? The answer is found in the Book of Revelation, chapter 7. Verse 14 is the key verse – the secret to becoming a saint: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s how a person becomes a saint – by washing your robe and making it white in the blood of the Lamb.
In the Bible, “your robe” is your life and it becomes white or pure because it is washed in the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you realize that you have already done that once today? At the beginning of our service, you confessed your sins to God. And after confessing your sins, you received the forgiveness of sins. And it wasn’t some general statement about how God is nice and loves everybody and forgives everybody. No, the forgiveness of sins you received was a special kind of forgiveness. It was forgiveness that was earned by Jesus Christ, when he shed his blood on the cross.
You see, a “saint,” as the Bible defines it, isn’t one of those good people that you could never be. A “saint” is someone who realizes that he or she is a sinner, and then washes his robe in the blood of the Lamb. That’s how you become a saint – believing that the blood of Jesus Christ takes away all of your sins.
Again today you will be receiving Holy Communion. In Holy Communion you are receiving the very body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. Right here at the altar rail you are again washed in the blood of the lamb and in the eyes of God you are a “saint”.
This past week I was at a conference and one of the speakers was seminary professor and theologian Dr. Walter Taylor. Taylor described the time when he was leaving for Scotland to take a sabbatical and finish writing a book he was working one. The first leg of the trip from Columbia to Dulles Airport went as planned, but as the plane taxied on the runway to take off to London Dr. Taylor had a heart attack suffered as the result of a coronary blockage followed by an irregular heart rhythm. 50 percent of all victims of this kind of heart attack die, but Dr Taylor learned that two nurses on the plane performed CPR and twice used the airplane defibrillators to shock him back to life. After just three hours Walter Taylor was in an intensive cardiac-care unit at Reston Hospital where he had gone from independent traveler to a totally dependent hospital patient. He found himself four hundred miles from home, knowing no one; flat on his back in a hospital bed with IV’s and assorted tubes crawling to and from this arms and chest. His college and wedding rings had been taken off along with all his clothing and everything that gave him outward identity was gone. He thought to himself whom am I. His family still back in Ohio and wondered if he would live or die, during the night. Who am I he kept asking himself. Then it came to him that he was a baptized child of God, and as such he was a saint in God eyes. He could place his life in God’s hands knowing that God would be with him and that he could trust the promises of God whether he lived or died.
There are the saints in heaven, and today, we thank God for them. We remember their example of faithfulness that they left behind for us. It’s a useful thing to recall and to talk about the saints who are in heaven, described in the Book of Revelation. But it’s also useful to remember that there are the saints on earth – those who are here today and believe in Christ right now. That’s you. And so today we also give thanks to God that he has also made us saints and invites us into His kingdom.
I think this is what it means to be a saint — to recognize that God has called us by name, chosen us before the founding of the world, and promised to do great things through us for the sake of all the other saints God loves so much. We might seem like unlikely characters for God to choose and use, but anyone who is even a little bit familiar with the biblical story knows that’s pretty typical of God.
And so maybe, on this All Saints Day, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how much God loves us. This is why we can face the loss of our loved ones we remember on this day — because we know that God has loved and still loves each one of them and so has brought them over from this life to new and abundant life with God. And this is why we can go out into this week and face the challenges set before us. And so I can call you all saints not because of what you have done but because of what God has done and will do in and through you. Amen
Pastor Tom Knoll