I Thessalonians 2:9-13
When I was a young boy, growing up among the Baptists, I used to hear my dad and other pastors refer to folk in the church as “saints.” I heard phrases such as “I’m going to visit one of the saints of the church this afternoon,” or “she was truly a saint” or “when one of the saints of the church speaks, you better listen.”
I always found the phrase curious. We Baptists didn’t have official saints like the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, but certain people seemed to be set apart as special. Moreover, I thought you had to be dead to be a saint, and most of these people were alive and well. In my dad’s church, they were often farmers, homemakers, teachers, and merchants. They were regular folks, often with dirt under their nails and wearing threadbare suits.
Who would see them as saints? How could they be called saints and could I become a saint, too?
They were pretty ordinary people, and I was just a kid trying to stay out of my parents’ way, get good grades, and play baseball. But, I wonder – could all of us in this room be saints in the making? Could we be more than we imagine – angels beneath our exteriors and messengers of God despite our youth, age, educational level, and past histories.
In greeting to the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul begins with: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.” He uses similar words in his greetings to churches in Colossae and Corinth.
In the letter to the Thessalonians, there is counsel for the would-be saints of the first century – live a life worthy of God, who calls you to glory. Jesus’ response to the religious leaders portrays holiness in terms of humility and service, and care for others as an equal not a superior.
Could you be a saint? Perhaps, the typical stereotypes of sainthood really aren’t all that helpful – saints are portrayed as completely serious, often frowning, and never breaking a smile. They are often seen as killjoys and enforcers of God’s ever-so-serious rule book when the laughter or music gets loud. Like some of the ministers, priests, and nuns portrayed in the media, these saints hate fun, and want to prevent anyone else from having fun, too!
You may be a saint in the making and not know it! I think saints are people who love God, live humbly, follow their vocation, bring joy to the lives of children and elders, and take time to bathe their senses in the beauties of the Earth. Remember Jesus once said, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Saints believe that heaven can be here, and then act on it, doing their best to make this world heavenly.
Perhaps being a saint is about living a life worthy of God. This doesn’t mean performing miracles or being perfect, but worthy of God’s trust and the love we’ve received. In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says we are the temple of God, and that our bodies are the temple of God, and then counsels us to glorify God with our bodies. This phrase, too, is a little mysterious; but I believe it means, “You are sacred, your body is sacred and holy, and with all your fallibility, you can do good things with your hands and feet and lips and sexuality.”
I believe that saints in the making take seriously the affirmation – God is with us and constantly guides us. I believe that each moment of the day, God is providing us with possibilities and inspirations to make our lives and the world more beautiful. When we pay attention and act in accordance with God’s way, the world becomes a more beautiful place, and God’s way is more alive in the world. When we turn our backs on God’s way, we prevent God from doing all God can to make the world the best place it can be.
It may go back to the Jewish mystical comment, “when you save a soul, you save the world.” The world is interconnected; we are all related deep down, and if one part is broken – one cell in the body damaged – the whole remains incomplete. When we make this moment a holy one, when we greet a neighbor as a child of God, when we help one another, we make the world more holy and bring health to the body of Christ. And, this happens at church, with friends at school, with children and grandchildren and brothers and sisters. Our saintliness isn’t perfection but our desire to bring more love into the world, to welcome the stranger, and to do something beautiful for God one moment at a time.
Saints always live as if God is right next to them – not out to get them or indict you for your imperfections and moral lapses – but sharing the journey, and saints always act as if God is watching, that what they do makes a difference to God, and that in any moment we have the choice to bring beauty or ugliness into the world and into God’s life. Saints fall, but they pick themselves up, knowing that God uses our imperfect lives to do something wonderful, if we place ourselves in God’s care.
So, my friends, let’s try to be saints. Let’s reach out to the lonely; let’s say a kind word; let’s speak up for the neglected; and welcome everyone as God’s child…then you will live and love beautifully and rejoice in the good life God is giving us all. You will be a saint!