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Saints

by Frank Schaefer

based on Luke 6:20-31

When we think of All Saints Day, we often think of canonized saints; Christian heroes and heroines, that are no longer with us--good people, but dead people.

I vividly remember the conversation I overheard during our confirmation retreat at the Gretna Glen camp this year. One of our kids told a boy from another church group: "you know, the guy that had this building named after him (the Henry N. Funk Program Center) goes to our church." The boy’s answer was: "yeah right . . . everybody knows that people who have things named after them are dead."

The more I think about it, the less I’m surprised at that reaction. We tend to "canonize" our loved ones who died. The longer they’ve been dead, the better person they seem to become. And generally speaking, when we talk about the past, we often refer to it as some sort of "golden age," no matter how dreary it may actually have been.

The interesting thing is that while we tend to reserve the expression "saint" to the ones who went before us, Paul actually addresses the Christians at Corinth as "saints" (1Cor. 1:2--"agiois" Greek equivalent to the Latin "sanctus" the root for "saint"). And let me tell you, he did not do that because they were a congregation full of mother Teresas and Billy Grahams. Every time I read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I say (with relief): "and I thought WE had problems at OUR church?" The church at Corinth would have been kicked out of the Methodist Conference a long time ago; the services were chaotic, there were false teachings, cliques, divisions, adultery, the list goes on.

Well, if Paul calls the Corinthians saints, it can only be because of their potential to become saints--their calling. And that’s actually how the NRSV translates it: "called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . ."

Did you just hear that? Are we in a place where we call on the Lord Jesus Christ?" Yes, we are. If you are calling on that name in this place or in any place, I got news for you: you too are a saint--a saint in training maybe, but still some sort of saint!

Ok, everybody, listen up: even those who have already dozed off: I got good news for us this morning: If we take 1Corinthians 1:2 seriously, then we have all just received a promotion. Congratulations: you are now a saint!

Did you ever get promoted? Some of us who are here this morning have recently been promoted at their work place. What is one of the first things you did, when you got promoted __? (Allow for answer . . .) What I have in mind by asking this question is a "job description." Is it reasonable to say that one of the first things you do after getting promoted is look at the new job description?

So let’s look at the job description of the position of "saint." What‘s it mean to be a saint? What does a saint do? (Have people go over the Luke passage again and use easel to list points: e.g. be just stewards; empathetic counselors; intercessors (even in behalf of our enemies); motivators, philanthropists).

Ok. Quite a lofty job-description. What’s the thing you ask about next? What are the benefits, right? (In fact, many would ask that question first). Here are the benefits: co-heir of the Kingdom of Heaven, lots of food, lots of reason to laugh, joy, and other, unspecified "great rewards" (I love surprises, don’t you?). Wow--all great benefits!

A question that I have is: "can we fulfill the job description?" Is it doable? Hmm . . . let’s look at . . . say . . . being a philanthropist. All I have to do is, give anything I own to anybody who asks. Hmm . . . what if someone asks for something I really need, or that my family really needs--surely Jesus cannot mean "just anything!"

Moreover, what if the person who asks is . . . an alcoholic? Can’t give him or her any money, right? They may even cash in McDonalds coupons I may give them, or trade food items for alcohol. There must be a time for "tough love," right? Surely Jesus cannot mean "just anybody?"

And what about that "offer-the-other-cheek" business. No way Jesus is saying here that we can allow others to walk all over us. There must be opportunity to express our own anger too. We can’t keep it bottled up or else it’ll give us ulcers. Surely Jesus didn’t mean "just offer it" as much as he meant "offer it to make a rhetorical point."

And as far as just stewardship is concerned. Who is to say what constitutes "riches." There must be opportunity to build up equity in this day and age of insecurity . . . and for retirement (who knows whether we can rely on the social security plan). Surely, Jesus didn’t mean just "rich" as much as he meant "stinking rich!"

Surely, Jesus couldn’t have been that black-and-white. He must have known that things are never that simple . . .or actually: difficult.

And the answer to all of the above is: no, no, no, and NO! The gospel is that radical. There is no room for rationalization, look at the one who drew up this job description. Did he literally fulfill all of these points? You know the answer!

But . . . then, who can be a saint? Reminds me of the question the disciples had: "then, who can be saved?" They asked this question after Jesus told them: "it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye then for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven."

So, who can fulfill the job description of a saint? I don’t know. The only thing I can do in response is repeat Jesus answer: "what is impossible for humans is possible for God."

Personally, I don’t like that answer, I suspect nobody really does. We human beings want easy answers, or, at the very least, we want doable answers. We want to know where to go, and how to realistically get there. Yet, all Jesus gives us is: I can’t tell you what to do or when to do it; it’s up to God--God can do it! God can transform you!

So, what can WE do? How about just . . . keep an open mind!

Paul says it like this in Romans 12: 2: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good, and acceptable, and perfect."

It vexes us that we have NO CONTROL over how to get there, doesn’t it?  Jesus is saying: it’s humanly impossible, so . . . trust God and keep an open mind!

We humans like to have a goal, work toward it and as we achieve it we like to enjoy our achievements. The way Jesus put it is: you will always stand in need for transformation, no time to rest in your achievement. If we think we have arrived, God makes us aware of another area of change and personal/spiritual growth. Again: keep an open mind!

Whoever said being a Christian is easy? It’s not. It’s one of the toughest things. It’s a call to be radical. A call to be so open-minded that God can actually change you in a radical way. It’s not for the faint in heart. It takes a lot of struggle, but in the end its worth it. Not just to our own benefit, but because our lives will make a difference--just like Jesus’ life made a difference.

How can we fulfill our job description as saints?
Yield to God and . . . keep an open mind!
Allow yourself to be transformed by God . . . so: keep an open mind!
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . " That’s all, saints. Amen!


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Frank Schaefer, for JavaCasa Resources and the Desperate Preacher's Site, 1999