A Holy Life

All Saint’s Sunday: What is a Holy Life?

Ephesians 1:11-23

November 3, 2013

Pastor Kim Blocher

 

This is our annual observance of All Saint’s Sunday.  In the New Testament  “saints” is the most commonly used term for Christians.  However, even on my best day, I have trouble thinking of myself as a saint!  How about you?  I guess the good thing is that my sainthood is not dependent on my behavior.   It was a gift from God at my baptism.  “Saints” literally means holy ones and was used to refer to Jesus’ followers because they were considered consecrated by God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.[1]  We are all saints by virtue of being sons and daughters of God.

In one of the greatest moments in scripture, God declares to Abraham and the people of Israel, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”  This is the foundational covenant, or promise, on which we stake our lives and our faith.  We should be humbled by the amazing love that calls this promise into being.   God has come down to earth to be in relationship with us.

There is  a two stage process of growth in that relationship.  First we are “justified” in God. It’s like setting the margins straight in a word document…we justify the margin.  In baptism God is saying  “you’ve been made right with me and I will be your God.”  Justification is how we become a Christian.

The same God also makes a command “you shall be my people.”  We are to grow as Christians, grow in holiness, in this covenant relationship with God.  We call that sanctification as we mature in our understanding of exactly what it means to live a holy life.

It is one of life’s great truths that each relationship in which we engage, changes us.  We certainly know that is true of marriage.  Anyone who marries and expects to continue living the same way as when they were single, will be sorely tested in that expectation!

Paul said of his baptism, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  That new relationship with God changes us because God does not leave us as God finds us.  God begins a work in us that is never complete in this life.  We evolve and grow.   Justification has to do with becoming a Christian, sanctification with living out the Christian life.  In justification we receive God’s grace by faith.  In sanctification by God’s grace we become active servants of God and neighbor.   As justified Christians we are now maturing in the Christian faith.

What does it mean to be a mature Christian?  It is not about perfection.     We are not now and we never will be perfect.  The question we need to ask ourselves is “are we growing?”   Is your Christian life a matter of holding onto what you already learned or are you willing to risk what you’ve already learned in order to come to a new understanding of God?  Are you willing to explore new ways of loving God and other people?

To be a Christian is not to have arrived at some state of Christian existence.  It means constant growing pains.   It is not to be something.  It is to become something.  We never arrive…but we are always on our way.  So you can see that we never outgrow our need for God’s justifying grace.   We will make mistakes and get discouraged along the way.    We will continue to sin.  That backsliding is primarily because we have so much trouble seeing ourselves as God sees us.  We cannot comprehend the depth of God’s loves for us.  That love is transformative.

You may know the old fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.  A wealthy merchant lived in a mansion with his three daughters, all of whom were very beautiful.  But only the youngest, named Belle or “beauty, is kind and good.   The merchant eventually loses all of his wealth in a storm at sea, and he and his daughters must therefore live in a small farmhouse and work for their living.

The merchant is returning alone from a trip and seeking shelter, he enters a castle. He finds inside tables laden with food and drink, which have apparently been left for him by the castle’s owner. The merchant accepts this gift and is about to leave when he sees a rose garden and recalls that Belle had desired a rose. Upon picking the most lovely rose he finds, the merchant is confronted by a hideous ‘Beast’, which tells him that for taking his (the Beast’s) most precious possession after accepting his hospitality, the merchant must stay his prisoner forever. The merchant begs to be set free, arguing that he had only picked the rose as a gift for his youngest daughter. The Beast agrees to let him go only if the merchant will send his daughter to live in the castle in his place.

For several months Belle lives a life of luxury at the Beast’s palace, being waited on hand and foot by invisible servants, having no end of riches to amuse her and an endless supply of exquisite finery to wear. Yet eventually, she becomes homesick and begs the Beast to allow her to go to see her family. He allows it, if she will return exactly a week later. Her sisters are jealous of her and trick her into staying longer. Belle begins to feel guilty about breaking her promise to the Beast and uses a magic mirror to see him back at the castle. She is horrified to discover that the Beast is lying half-dead of heartbreak near the rose bushes from which her father had stolen the rose.   She immediately returns to the Beast.

By the time Belle finds the Beast he is almost dead, and she weeps over him, saying that she loves him. When her tears strike him, the Beast is transformed into a handsome young prince. The Prince informs Belle that long ago a fairy turned him into a hideous beast by a spell–and that only by finding true love, despite his ugliness, could he break the curse. He and Belle are married and they lived happily ever after together.

It is only when the Beast discovers that Beauty really loves him in all his ugliness that he himself becomes beautiful.  In Paul’s experience it is only when we discover that God really loves us in all our unloveliness that we ourselves start to become godly.

Paul calls this transformation “sanctification”.  We grow into the beautiful person that God knows us to be—the one that is already right with God.  Being sanctified is a long and painful process because we really prefer to be who we want to be.   Most of the time the beast was OK with being a beast.   The human instinct is toward self-centeredness; not God –centeredness.  It is more than possible for us to be at peace with our sinful nature.

But little by little the forgiven person starts to become a forgiving person.  The healed person starts to become a healing person.  The loved person starts to become a loving person.  God does the work, really. We just need to get out of the way and let God be God.

Behind the sacrament of baptism is the promise of Christ to make us new so that we can begin to live beyond the former barriers that keep us from full relationship with God and others.  Jew and Greek, male and female…we are all equal in God’s eyes and in God’s love.  The limitations and divisions of the old creation have been overcome.   The spell is broken and we are free.   The sign of Christ’s presence in our life is when we live this new life of freedom.

You may have heard the term “unfunded mandate.”  This is when the government requires you to do something but does not give the resources with which to do it.  Public schools and local governments are very familiar with this term.  When God said, “I will be your God and you will be my people”, this is not an unfunded mandate.   God has given us all we need to fulfill this command.  It is called the Holy Spirit and it is at work within us and through us.

God does not stop with loving and forgiving us.  God is at work with us, accompanying us every step of the way and enabling us to do the things we could not do on our own.  Justified by grace and sanctified by the Holy Spirit we shall be God’s people and God will be our God.  Each of us can live a holy life worthy of our calling.  Saints of God, may the eyes of your heart be enlightened, and may you know the hope of the glorious inheritance to which God has called you.  May you know today the immeasurable greatness of God’s power and the riches of God’s amazing love.

Notes:

For the insight of using the Beauty and the Beast story….I am indebted to Frederick Buechner in his “Beyond Words” entry on sanctification.

For many of the theological insights regarding justification and sanctification, I relied on Shirley Guthrie’s Christian Doctrine.

 


[1] Guy D. Nave Jr., Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol 4, 231.