Sinning Saints

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October 30, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire

God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us.”

– Saint Paul, Romans 5:8

In our confirmation class recently, we learned a phrase in Latin: Simul iustus et peccator, which translates “simultaneously justified and sinner.” The sinner part is pretty clear to us all, even the confirmation students didn’t have to think long or intently to figure that out. The part that’s difficult for us to wrap our little brains around is the “justified” part—sometimes we call this “being a saint.”

saints

This causes problems for us because for most, saints are people like the disciples Saint John, Saint Peter, Saint Paul or people from the early church like Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint Francis of Assissi. There are modern people that we are okay with conferring sainthood upon as well, probably the most popular being Mother Teresa. (We won’t include Drew Brees in this list, even though he is the Saint who brought a Super Bowl Championship to New Orleans.)

So what does it take to reach sainthood? Does a person have to be really, really pious, always go to church, do lots of good deeds, be kind to animals, and pray for their wayward children? In hundreds of country music songs “Mama” would fall into this category of sainthood. Does a saint have to perform miracles? Or more specifically, do they have to perform three, documented miracles?

The short answer is “No.” For far too long we have had a misunderstanding of the name Saint. A saint is a person justified or made right with God. How is one made right with God? Is it through stellar church attendance, amazing acts of charity and generosity, long and pious praying, or unexplainable miracles?

No.

ONE THING was done that justified both you and me and everyone for the whole of human history, and that was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his death, Christ destroyed the power of sin, and put all our sins to death. And by his resurrection, Christ broke the death-grip of the grave and it’s terrible power over all of us. Because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we have been freed from sin and receive God’s grace and forgiveness. How this actually works can get very complicated and academic, but for me it is enough to know that God has done all this out of love and the desire to save us from the literal grave-pits we dig for ourselves by the awful things we do other people, to the world God made, and to God.

Therefore, we are all of us called Saints, not because of what we’ve done but because of what Christ has done. We are saints because God calls us saints, and what God says becomes reality, just think back to that day when God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light, after all.

Martin Luther Monk, Priest, Professor, Reformer

Martin Luther
Monk, Priest, Professor, Reformer

In two days, October 31 and November 1, we see an interesting combination of our simul iustus et peccator. On October 31 we celebrate the Reformation of the church, when Luther and others stood up to call people back to God’s Word and Will for the church, away from the sins and abuses of the church. And on November 1 we celebrate All Saints’ Day, which includes those beloved people who now belong to the Church Triumphant, those who have died and now see God face-to-face. In our congregation  we have laid to rest four faithful members of the church, but praise God, we have added eighteen new members to this family of faith through baptism and transfer from other places! God’s church is still growing, and we still have a mission—we are the saints who are called to go marching out into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for calling me a saint. I stand in awe of your love, grace and mercy that was shown as Christ died for me, a sinner. Guide me in bearing witness to your gracious love as I go about my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Pastor Ben serves at St. Mark Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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