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Join the Club

November 01, 2020
By Rev. David French

From the time roads and ditches have run together, preachers have been using them as metaphors. Ditches teach us that extremes can get you into trouble and avoiding them is a good thing to do. The Feast of All Saints is one of those festivals that is often seen from a ditch. In the one ditch are those who believe that saints are super Christians, people who were just plain better at living their faith than the rest of us. Some worship and pray to the saints. For them, saints take on godlike qualities. For some these saints are almost viewed the same way the Greeks viewed their gods. A god or a saint for health, wealth, protection, and on it goes.

Then there are the people who are trying to avoid that ditch and veer so hard the other way that they end up in the ditch on the other side of the road. They think things like, “We should focus on Jesus or the gifts of the spirit and just forget about the saints.” This is the ditch that leads us to think things like, “Isn’t remembering the saints sort of a Roman Catholic thing?” To which I would say, “No, remembering the saints is a Christian thing.” You see, if we end up in this ditch, we miss out on many of the lessons that God wants to teach us about Himself through His interactions in the lives of His saints. So, the question is, “How do we keep from driving into either one of these ditches?” And the answer is, keep your eyes on the Word of God as recorded by His apostles and prophets, that is, of course, the Bible.

If you look up the word translated as saint in a Greek dictionary, you find it means holy or morally pure. When Paul writes to the saints in Corinth, the Greek literally says to the holies in Corinth. When we translate that into English, we say to the holy ones or simply to the saints. The point is, God’s holy ones are the saints. But, even then, your thinking about saints is going to be colored by how you believe people become saints or holy. Is holiness some innate characteristic only possessed by a few? Is it something we can work on and, with time and effort, achieve? Is holiness a gift that we receive from outside of ourselves? It is important for us to understand just how it is that sinners become holy, and so, the saints of God?

The devil, the world, and especially our own flesh (pride, in this case), want us to believe that holiness is something we can work on. But then, every false religion in the world teaches that we must work out our own holiness, so the lie seems to be working … it’s at least popular. It doesn’t matter if it’s the five pillars of Islam, the eight-fold path of the Buddha, or following the golden rule. They may use different words, but in the end, they all teach that getting right with God depends on you.

Scriptures, however, speak about a different way of achieving holiness. The elder in today’s reading from Revelation wanted John to know just how a person is made holy. He began by asking John a question, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” (In other words, where did these holy ones come from?) The same elder gives us the answer just a verse later, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” What a beautiful picture this elder paints for John and for us with these words. In chapter 64 of the book of Isaiah [v. 6] we read, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment ….”

In today’s reading, this heavenly elder tells us that the blood of the Lamb removes that pollution making our garments white again. That is, it’s God’s lamb, the Christ’s holy and precious blood, His innocent suffering and death that removes the filth of our sin with its guilt that made them and makes us righteous and holy in God’s sight. Clearly God’s Word reveals it is not sinners who make themselves holy, but sinners who, by the grace of God, received the holiness of His Son through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith that makes us holy in His sight. And that actually sounds like the way we become Christians. That’s because it is, which means according to the Bible, all Christians are saints and all saints are Christians.

But if you think you’re nowhere near holy enough to be a saint … join the club. St. Matthew was a Roman tax collector. St. Philip doubted that Jesus could feed the five thousand with a little bit of bread and fish. St. Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. St. Thomas doubted that Jesus rose from the dead. St. Paul called himself the chief of sinners because he persecuted the church before the Holy Spirit opened his eyes by creating faith in his heart. Remember when Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, he had to scold them for quite a few serious problems. For example, they were abusing the Lord’s Supper. Paul wrote, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.” [1 Corinthians 11:20-21]. Now, I know we do things differently than in Jesus’s day, but can you even imagine staying at the Lord’s Table until you were drunk? What kind of a person does that? Well, according to God through Paul’s greeting in his letter to the saints, a saint was doing that.

You see saints aren’t perfect, far from it; but they were holy in God’s sight for one reason, their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It’s with this biblical understanding of saints that we begin to understand why we should celebrate the Feast of All Saints. It is proper and good that we praise God for the men and women of faith whose works of love inspire us and who have left an example of what a God pleasing life is for us. It’s good that we honor the work that God has done in them with His gift of saving faith. It is also good that we honor the work that God has done through their lives that affected the lives of the people around them. It’s good that we remember and honor especially those from among us who are now a part of the Church Triumphant.

You see, when we honor the redeemed, we are also honoring the Redeemer. The saints who are holy in God’s eyes testify to the One who is holiness incarnate: our Lord Jesus Christ. They remind us it is His blood that covers all sin, and so allows us to stand confidently in the presence of our Triune God. It is being baptized into His death and resurrection that gives us that white robe. It’s His Word and sacraments that will bring us into the throne room of our Almighty God where we will never again suffer or know sorrow.

My friends, while it is true that we and all who believe are already saints, the battle with sin still rages all around and within us. That is, being simultaneously sinners and saints means we are now living our great tribulation. But take heart, by His death on the cross, the Lord Himself clothes each of us with His righteousness, and one day He will shepherd us into everlasting life. And in that blessed place, we and all who have gone before us will live in the eternal joy that is the incomprehensible fullness of God’s holy presence. 

In His name, Amen.