Sunday, November 1, 2015

Saints by choice. . .

We hear always the wisdom that the office should seek the person and not the person the office.  It sounds so good but no one would be President unless they had the gumption to run for it and suffer all kinds of evil and give into all kinds of temptation along the way.  We say that about Bishops as well.  No one should seek to be a Bishop but the office should seek the man.  What does it say then that St. Paul says If anyone desires to be a bishop (episcopus) he desires a noble task?  So it might follow that saints likewise are less those who seek to be saints than those whom the church recognizes as saints.

Counter culture icon Nadia Bolz-Weber (who is less and less counter and more and more a reflection of culture), suggested that saints are accidental and surprising.  According to Bolz-Weber, “what we celebrate in the saints is not their piety or perfection but the fact that we believe in a God who gets redemptive and holy things done in this world through, of all things, human beings, all of whom are flawed.”  It sounds good.  Accidental Saints, by the way, is the title of her newest book of essays.  But there are no accidental saints.  And saints do not choose sainthood.

Saints are saints by choice but the choice belongs to God.  It is the marvel of God's grace and mercy that He did not come to pat the righteous on the back but to save sinners.  It is the surprise of a lifetime to find that which brings joy to heaven is not the holiness of the good but one sinner who repents.  All Saints' Day traditionally separates the big from the ordinary, leaving them to All Souls' Day, tomorrow.  In reality such a distinction is ever harder to make.  The Church does not make saints and people certainly do not make themselves saints but God and His gracious choice makes holy who is unclean, righteous who is impure, forgiven who is guilty, alive who is dead.

We give thanks on this day not so much for the saints themselves but especially for the God whose choice called them, gathered them into His arms in baptism, enlightened them with His Spirit and His Word, sanctified them by clothing them with Christ's righteousness, and kept them by feeding them Christ's flesh and blood.  This noble company of saints cheers on the ongoing work of God who does for us what He did for them.  This mighty army wears the scars of their battles for the sake of Him whose scars redeemed them.  This blessed pilgrim throng has reached the eternal shore but does not forget those who still journey to the end and outcome of their faith.   Thanks be to God!

Bolz-Weber says "we all are equally as sinful and saintly as the other" and surely this is true but it is not the main point.  Saints are not esteemed in comparison to those around them but for the grace of God whose mercy rescued, redeemed, restored, and re-formed them.  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23).  Yes, but this verse does not comfort us that we are neither worse nor better than others.  Our comfort and its power lies in the fact the God has chosen us, elected us unto salvation, redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil, and made us what we were not -- His own that we might live under Him in His kingdom now and forever.

Some would claim we make too much of saints and others complain we make too little of them.  Surely all of us would agree that it is too easy to dismiss the radical grace of the incarnate God who suffers to relieve our suffering, dies to kill our death, and lives to give us His life.  This is the core and center of All Saints' Day.  What God has done!  Now, how then shall we respond to Him who died that those who live might not live for themselves but for Him?  Let us not only say yes to God (the fruit of the Spirit) but let us also say no to self, to evil, to unrighteousness, to selfishness, and to disobedience (for this is also the fruit of the Spirit).

In the lives of the saints of old we see God's choice, the Spirit driven "yes" of faith in their response, and the fruit of the Spirit teaching them to love what is good and right and true and to despise all else (even their own flesh).  We used to call it mortification of the flesh.  You cannot have a saint without that anymore than you can have one without God's choice and declaration and mercy.  A sobering thought on All Saints' Day.

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