To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 1:7
The word “saint” is a curious word isn’t it? It certainly isn’t a common part of our vocabulary. Very rarely do we describe someone as a saint unless we’re being sarcastic or using hyperbole. When we think of a saint, we tend to picture a medieval person, removed from the world, enclosed within the walls of a convent or monastery, dressed in robes and a hood, wearing a cross and praying continually. We Protestants don’t quite know what to do with the word “saint” and unlike our Roman Catholic brethren, we don’t feel comfortable elevating any particular person above the rest, so we tend to discard the word entirely. Instead of St. Paul, we call him the apostle Paul or just plain “Paul.” Instead of St. Peter we call him the apostle Peter or just “Peter.” Now there’s something to be said about our reluctance to use this word. It’s good that we don’t elevate any human being above the rest, because we’re all equal before God. We’re all sinners, saved by God’s grace. But in our emphasis on our equality before God, I think we’ve lost something of the uniqueness of what it means to be God’s people. You see, what we’ve forgotten is that we’re all saints. Each of us is a saint. But what does the word “saint” mean?
First, sainthood isn’t something you do, it’s something you already are. When we turn to the scriptures, we find the word “saint” is used 60 times in the New Testament. It’s a frequently used word. Paul seems to be the most fond of using it to describe the Christian community. He refers to all people who believe in Christ as “saints.” In fact, about the only time the word is ever used is in the plural. This implies that if you truly believe in Christ, you’re already a saint. The word “saint” (in the Greek “hagios”) means literally a “person consecrated or dedicated to God.” The word for “holy” and the word for “saint” are one and the same in the Greek language. A saint is a person who’s holy, that is, “set apart for a purpose.” That’s what holiness means. It simply means one who’s “set apart to serve God.” You see, sainthood doesn’t come from doing great things. It doesn’t come from doing small things either. In fact, sainthood doesn’t come from doing anything at all. It’s being available to God for God’s use. That’s why sainthood isn’t something you do, it’s something you already are.
Second, saints are the tools of God. You know a church is something like a tool shed. One of the things I remember, growing up as a boy, was visiting my grandparents’ house in Austin. Every time I visited, one of the things I loved to do was go in my grandfather’s tool shed. It was a cute little wood frame house that Pa Pa built and painted. It was painted white, gray and maroon. Over the front door, was a sign which read “Ralph,” my grandfather’s name. As you walked in, you noticed hanging on the wall, were all kinds of tools for every job imaginable, most of it house painting equipment or gardening tools because Pa Pa was a painter and an avid gardener. The place smelled of dust, paint and sweat. There was something holy about that place, something that attracted me, something that I liked very much. Now I know what it was. Pa Pa’s tool shed was something like a church. The church is God’s tool shed with Christ’s name written over it. It contains several varieties of different tools. We, the saints, are the tools of God ever available for the master’s use.
Finally, saints aren’t perfect, they’re just faithful. Saints aren’t perfect people who no longer sin or make mistakes. They’re people who try to be faithful to Christ’s calling. Do you remember the bumper sticker some years ago that read, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”? Well we could paraphrase that by saying, “Saints aren’t perfect, they’re just faithful.” Saints are common, ordinary people who have faithfully dedicated themselves to the task of serving Christ. This service can take innumerable forms from organizing a dinner, to singing in the choir, to teaching Sunday School, to cleaning the church, to feeding the poor and the list could go on and on. Saints remain loyal in their service to Christ and the church through the good as well as the difficult times. I’m sure you could tell me of people, who over the years, contributed of their effort and time to build up this church. Some of you could tell me stories of the sacrifices people made in order that Trinity United Methodist might exist. These are the dependable people every church counts on to do what needs to be done. While some may shirk a task or complain about it, faithful saints quietly continue about the business of supporting the church through their time and efforts. They’re the great unsung heroes who do the innumerable, thankless tasks necessary in every congregation. Every church is dependent upon people such as these. They may not get the notoriety of others, but they’re here serving week after week, year after year. Saints. Every church has them. Sainthood means service and to be a saint is to be a servant. Saints are those who refuse to be placed on pedestals but who instead pour out their lives in service to others. I want to close with this last illustration. The story’s told of Oliver Cromwell who, when faced with a shortage of precious metal for coins, sent his troops out to find some. They reported that the only precious metal to be found was in the statues of saints standing in the corners of the churches. Cromwell said, “Well, then melt down the saints and put them into circulation.” Like those statues, saints are those slowly melted down in their service to Christ and others. And it’s through that service that they’re put into circulation for the Kingdom of God.
Sainthood isn’t something you do, it’s something you already are. Saints are the tools of God available for the Master’s use. Saints aren’t perfect, they’re just faithful. Are you a saint?
Sanctifying God, we thank you that we are your saints not because of anything we have done but because of what you have already done for us through your Son, Jesus. Through your Spirit, help us to become your tools ever ready to be used by You for the redemption of the world. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you consider yourself to be a saint? Why or why not?
- Is sainthood dependent on what we have done or what Christ has already done for us?
- If you were truly to understand yourself as a “saint” that is, as someone set apart to serve God, how would you live your live differently? In your family? At school? At work? In the church?