Sermon Epiphany 2A 2017 “Called to Be Holy, Called to Be Saints”

“Called to Be Holy, Called to Be Saints”

A Sermon for Christ Reformed United Church of Christ

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

The Rev. Gayle Bach-Watson, Pastor

The Second Sunday of Epiphany      January 15, 2017


There is a story about two brothers who had terrorized the small town where they lived for decades. They were unfaithful to their wives, abusive to their children, and dishonest in business. They were loud, violent, and just plain rude to nearly everyone. One day, out of the clear blue, the younger brother dropped dead. The older brother went to the minister of the local church and said, “Reverend, I’d like you to conduct my brother’s funeral. And it’s important to me that during the service, you say my brother was a saint.”

The minister said, “I can’t do that. We both know he was far from that.”

The older brother pulled out his checkbook and said, with a menacing growl “Reverend, I’m prepared to give $500,000 to your church. All I’m asking is that you publicly state that my brother was a saint.”

On the day of the funeral, the minister began his sermon this way. “Everyone here knows that the deceased was a wicked man, a womanizer, and a drunk. He terrorized his employees and cheated on his taxes.” The minister paused for a second and then continued, “But as evil and sinful as this man was, compared to his older brother, he was a saint!”

We are all called to be saints. Perhaps, like the men in the story, we fail and fall flat on our faces in the mud, but we ARE all called to be saints.

Yes, it is appropriate to say that – we are all called to be saints. Because a saint, as the term is used in the New Testament, is not a especially pious Christian who has died and has been canonized by a high and mighty ecclesiastical council. The Greek word translated “saint” is “hagios”, meaning “set apart one” or “holy one”. And according to scripture, every Christian — whether well-known or unknown, leader or follower — every Christian is a saint. In the biblical sense, the most obscure Christian is just as much a saint as the apostles Peter and Paul.

And so, all of us here this morning, you and me — we’ve been called to be saints.

What is a Saint? Firstly, we should understand that Saints are not born, they are made. We are all born to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints yet and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, whereas we often and too easily give up.

We need the saints, though in a world of soundbites and short attention spans and 24 hour news cycles, we sometimes forget that we do.  The primary reason we need church is because of the two most oft-repeated phrases in our scriptures: “Do not be afraid,” and “Remember.” We are doomed without our memory.
We need the saints. And everywhere we look, they are all around us.
This, our church, is a very special building. There is something special about knowing this building will watch over us, thinking about the memories of generations hidden in the timbers of its frame. Our saints are hidden in the very bricks and plaster — they hallow these hallways; they are the very foundation of this building and this congregation. These who have worshipped here before haunt us in the very best way. These saints built the walls of this church, and they foretold the covenants we promise to one another. The stories we tell are their stories. They are the reason people have been coming together to this church in unity, in love, for hundreds of years. We live, and love, and worship here because of them.
We need the saints because our job is to become saints. The saints who have come before us show us the way by their example.

Saints are holy people. Holiness consists in both remaining spiritually close to God, but also living how God wants us to live. Both of these things are hard. In the Gospels we read of Jesus telling the people what it would mean to live holy lives. But he does not want us to be stained-glass saints, for we do not live in a stained-glass world. Saints may end up in stained glass, but they cannot be made of stained glass, for they usually live in the midst of the world and all its problems and difficulties.

And like the saints who have gone before us, when we fail we are called to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, stand up before God, say we are sorry, and go on determined to be better.

Yes, we are called to be holly. To call something holy is to say that it is God’s. For something to be God’s means that it is set apart for God’s purposes in the world, that it is filled with God’s spirit, that it is cherished by God. To say that we are holy as saints, then, means, that we belong to God. Our lives are a part of God’s purpose, we are empowered by God’s spirit, we are loved by God.

Sainthood is not something that is earned by an elite few who somehow live lives of extraordinary piety or miraculous virtue with superhuman sacrifice and then become saints. We are all saints from the day of baptism. Oh yes, we are still sinners, weak and human. Yet we are saints because we have been touched by God. Those saints of days past answered God’s call in extraordinary measure, they opened themselves completely to the gift of God’s grace with the support of Christian community.

And what of the saints in this present time? We need to be connected to the stories of our whole community, past and present, in order to understand how we too, can effectively minister and be God’s saints in the world today.

You and I are called to be persons through whom the light of love shines. We are called to discover in others the image of God. In baptism, we receive the light of Christ to be saints according to God’s purpose. And by the grace of God that is truly possible. And in Communion we gather in strength and conviction to continue on the holy way that God has set before us.

Yes, we are set apart, made holy in baptism and become members of the communion of saints. We are all called to be saints. We all ARE saints. We are God’s holy saints.

I would like to finish today by quoting the story of another Saint, one from the seventh century.

It is the story of a holy priest who served in a church that was surrounded by a very large, peaceful, and lovely cemetery. One night, at prayer, he saw a brilliant light in the cemetery. He rose and went out into the night, and there, hovering over the grave of a newly-buried man, a soldier, he saw an angel. At first afraid, he took courage and spoke to the angel who reassured him. The priest asked the angel why the newly-buried soldier was special, how he had come to merit the presence of the angel. The angel replied: ‘It is because not a single day of his life passed without him asking for God’s grace and forgiveness for what he had done or failed to do that day and then also asking for the grace and strength to do more and to do better the next day that he might walk in the light of God and that he might carry God’s light and love to all he would meet. And now he walks with God.”

May you and I pray that same prayer every day. And may we always walk with God. Amen.

With thanks and credit to Rev. Alan Smith, Rev. Robin Bartlett, Rev. Lorraine Dierick, Rev. Peter W. Nimmo and

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