June 24, 2018
“Saint” is a word that has always intrigued me. Over the centuries the “organized church/” has used this word to designate certain individuals – people who have made significant spiritual contributions. The Catholic church has it’s saints, of course, but so do many others. I like to use the word when I introduce scriptures. Sometimes I’ll say, “The Gospel According to Saint John.” Or I’ll use the word to refer to the various characters we encounter in the scriptures. “The conversion of Saint Paul.” “The call of Saint Peter.” That sort of thing.
The other way we think of the word has to do with those who have passed on from this life. We sometimes refer to people as “My sainted aunt so and so.” Or we talk about the “company of saints,” meaning those who surround us with Jesus in heavenly realm. That’s how we think of that line in the Creed. We say “…I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins…” We think that means a “heavenly group,” don’t we?
Well, the interesting thing about that word is that it is not used in any of those ways in the Bible. In the Bible, the word “saints” is more equivalent with the word “believers” than anything else. The letters of the New Testament often begin with words like these. “Paul, the Apostle, to the saints at the church in Ephesus.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But I’m going to say it again. In the New Testament, the word “saints” means “the believers.” And what that means is that we, the people of the church, are the saints! It’s like the song we sang last week at the first service. “We are the Saints, we are the children, we’ve been redeemed, we’ve been forgiven, we are the sons and the daughters of our God!” Do you see?
The problem is that too often we think of ourselves as the saints the other way. We are not really “saints,” we are not really “spiritual” people, until we “go to our glory.” We’ll be saints “some day.” But, in the meantime… We’re not so sure. And that affects the way we try live out our faith – or fail to! We fail to live as the “spiritual” people of God, striving forward, seeking to grow, fighting the good fight.
That’s why this scripture is so important. Saint Paul is talking about “equipping the saints” for the work of the ministry. That’s what leadership in the church does. Yes, we who are in positions of leadership strive to “equip the saints.” And that doesn’t mean just the “leaders” themselves. They’re not the only ones being “equipped for the work of ministry.” It is all the saints. It is all the people! It is all of us!
Paul tells us here that God gives “spiritual gifts” to his people for that purpose – “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” To build up the body of Christ. (And we are that, too! The “body” of Christ!) And “build up” here does not mean so much “increase in numbers” as it does “build up” as in “strengthen” – as in what a person does who goes to the gym. This is about strengthening our faith.
Then here’s the goal he gives us for all this. We work together “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity of faith, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” As I told the kids at camp this week, the goal for every Christian is to be like Christ! Can we even imagine a world where more people lived like Jesus?
That’s our goal. Yes we elect people today to lead us to that goal, but it’s not just them who are the saints. It’s not just them who are equipped for the work of ministry. It’s not just them who strive to “grow into the fullness of Christ.” It’s us. It’s all of us. “We are the Saints, we are the children, we’ve been redeemed, we’ve been forgiven, we are the sons and the daughters of our God!”
Eternal God, help us to know that we are the saints. Help us to know that we are your children. Help us to strive to move forward, to fight the good fight, to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Help us to look always to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Help us to know your spirit is within us, giving us strength for all these things. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.