Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Are the Saints?

All Saints’ Day
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
November 1, 2009
Matthew 5:1-12

In the 1960s Roger Moore played the secret agent style character Simon Templar in the TV show, The Saint. The introductory scenes would often end with someone referring to the Saint as “the famous Simon Templar,” at which point an animated halo would appear above his head at which point he would look at the camera or directly at the halo.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy to spot the saints of the world? Often in Christian artwork of the past certain people would be pictured with a halo over their head, as a visual way to say, Here’s a saint, give the honor that’s due him or her.

But we all know it’s not that easy. Some people you can tell easily that they’re no saint; look no further than infamous tyrants like Hitler or Hussein. Some people in your life may seem just as evil to you because you know their hideous actions or their dark secrets.

But if you look around at your fellow Christians you will see a lot of nice people. A lot of people that may as well have halos over their heads. But you don’t know their deep dark secrets, do you? You don’t see the way they treat their family members at home, do you? You don’t see them sneaking supplies from their work, do you? You don’t know what they’re really looking at when they’re on the internet, do you? You don’t see inside their minds and hear the thoughts they’re thinking as they talk to their neighbors and look down on them, do you?

If people did have halos over their head so that you could tell they were a saint, what would happen when you discovered their dark secrets, when you ended up on the receiving end of their unconscionable behavior? You would not see a saint but a hypocrite. You would think the halo needs to be replaced with horns. There’s a difference between the way we see people in real life and they way we see them in artwork.

Who are the saints anyway? Can we know who is a saint and who is not? God knows what is in everyone’s heart, we cannot. What we do know about everyone is that they are sinners. Every person born in history except Christ is a sinner. This makes it all the more dramatic that we have a festival in the Church Year called All Saints’ Day. Were these saints of old somehow more religious than the rest of us ordinary Christians? Were they more saintly? We know they didn’t go around with halos on their heads, but there are a lot of Christians throughout history we don’t honor as great saints of the faith because they were simply ordinary Christians like you and me. Most of them we don’t know because their lives weren’t recorded in history.

But we can easily name off many of the great saints of old because we know their stories well, Abraham, David, Elijah, Hannah, Peter, John, Mary, Paul, Augustine, Luther. Men and women God used to do mighty things for His great plan of salvation. We rightfully honor them because God has called upon us to honor those in authority over us and they were great leaders in the faith. We give thanks to God for them because He used them to give us examples of living in the faith.

There’s another reason we can also be grateful for and give glory to God. And that is that He used them. Specifically, He used people like us. Most of these people weren’t great people. Most of them weren’t already powerful or well-known people. Many of them were ordinary people like you and me. But even more to the point, every one of them were like you and me in that they were sinners. There were no halos over their heads by any worthiness of themselves.

All Saints’ Day isn’t a celebration only of the saints of the past. It is a celebration of all the saints. Those of the past and those of the present and those of the future. This is a celebration not of people who are really good people but of sinners who have been declared holy by God Almighty because of the righteousness of Christ. Jesus alone you can look at and see no hypocrisy or unworthiness or sin. Every saint, from the greatest to the least is blessed purely by God’s grace and mercy. That’s why each Beatitude starts off the way it does: “Blessed are those…” You are a saint not because you’re good or worthy, but because you are blessed. You are made a saint by God because He pours out His blessing upon you.

The word saint means “holy one.” There is one who is holy and that is God. How we are made holy is that God makes us holy, accounting the righteousness, the holiness, of Christ to us so that we actually stand before Him as ones who are holy, saints. This is the way it has always been done by God, with Abraham and David, Mary and Peter, and Augustine and Luther. And you and me.

Who are the saints? They are the ones who waited for the blessings of God and even now rejoice in them in their fullness in eternal glory. They are the ones who even now are waiting for the blessings of God in their fullness and trust that they will rejoice in them in eternal glory with all the saints of heaven. When Jesus says to us, “Blessed are you,” He is speaking that blessing as a fact. You are blessed. Even now you have the Kingdom. And even now you wait in this lifetime. You trust in your Savior for the comfort you will receive. You wait for the inheritance given you of the eternal Promised Land. You know you will receive righteousness in all its fullness even as you hunger and thirst for it in this lifetime. You humbly await that Judgment Day when you will deserve nothing but damnation from God but will receive mercy. You will see God face to face in eternity. You are called a son, a daughter of God by your Heavenly Father. You may rejoice and be glad even when you are trampled on for walking in the way of Christ.

Jesus speaks His Beatitudes to His holy people, His saints. Lutherans like to refer to Christians as saints and sinners simultaneously. In Christ there is not any sin or unrighteousness in us. We are saints in every sense of that word, we are holy. At the same time, we are wrapped up in this sinful flesh while we remain on this earth and so are completely sinful—there is not anything good within us in God’s holy sight. How is it that we are saints and sinners simultaneously? That we don’t fluctuate back and forth between the one and the other, that we’re not half saint, half sinner? That the eternal condemnation we deserve is exactly that, what we deserve and the salvation we have received is exactly that, purely what we have received?

The answer must always go back to Christ. He is man and God simultaneously. Fully God and fully man. God became flesh for sinners. Jesus was condemned in our place so that we may receive salvation. The sinless for the sinner. The eternal righteousness given to the unrighteous. The eternal Lamb of God slain so that sinners may be saints.

This is who you are. This is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes. Blessed are you. And it is so. In need of comfort? Come to His Table where He gives you the Kingdom. Hunger and thirst for righteousness? Partake of His Holy Meal, which is nothing less than His holy Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for you to eat and drink, for you to be satisfied, sustained; blessed in Him forever. Amen.


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