Monday, November 5, 2012

Saint and Sinner

1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [3] And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously justified and sinner, or Simultaneously saint and sinner as we say in English because we like alliteration. It is one of the catch phrases of the Lutheran Reformation, a phrase that really sums up the doctrine in one nice little nutshell. Simul iustus et peccator. I make confirmation kids memorize it in Latin. Never hurts to have a few phrases like that, makes people think you are smart, even if you don’t know or understand a lick of Latin. It actually helps retention of a concept to attach it to a phrase in another language. Simultaneously saint and sinner. That is our reality in this world. Never finished with being a sinner until dead in the grave, but the sinner never winning out over the saint. Still a saint, not because of our actions, but because of what Christ has done for us. Our salvation in him secure because you are a child of God.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.
God’s children now. This is who we are. It is perhaps hard to believe. I know many who would not believe it. Many. Perhaps we think God’s children would behave better than our own children. Perhaps we believe God’s children would be better behaved than we are? You are God’s children now. That is you are saints, you are coheirs of grace and eternal life with Jesus Christ. You are God’s children. He has made you his own in the waters of baptism. It is there he sanctified you, it is there he adopted you, it is because of this you pray with the words “Our Father.”
The world, our flesh, the devil, would never think that it could be that easy, that simple. I have a hard time getting around it myself sometimes. It can’t be that simple. We are saints because of what he has done? It doesn’t matter that I‘m a sinner? The world cannot bear to hear that. The saints and sinners that make up the church can’t hardly fathom it. I find it even more incredible the way legalism lingers in the souls of the faithful, how it resurfaces everywhere. Constantly comes back around. Constantly.
I find myself studying church history intensely these days. I find it fascinating. Tell you the truth, I’ve become fascinated with the sins of the saints. I don’t know why. I guess were always fascinated with the sins of others, perhaps more than ours. There is always the temptation there. To look at someone else’s sins in order to justify your own. Your sins are never as bad as the other persons. Though I do take great comfort knowing that the heroes of the Bible were sinners like me, guilty of so much. David an adulterer and murderer. Samson an whoremonger. Not so much that I think their sins are greater than mine gives me comfort, as the fact that God yet still considered them saints, his children, protected them, comforted them, saved them, and used them. And used them. He still used them for his purposes, still found them to be his servants. I think it is inherent in the sinful condition of man that we cannot help but think the other guy is a greater sinner than us. For fun, I like to think of Samson looking at me and judging me for my sins, thinking he is better. Sometimes I think he has a point. Saints and sinners. No what I find fascinating about the sins of the saints in the early church, is not that they sinned, but the reaction of the world around them to the sin. What it was that their society found acceptable, what the church at that time found acceptable, and doesn’t find acceptable today. Why it was that things we find to be nothing at all, were great sins in their day, and things we find to be great sins were no sins at all in their day. This is the court of human opinion. It is not a court a Christian can bow to. And yet it is the court we as sinners do bow to. The early church found usery, the charging of interest to be a great sin. We calmly walk by a payday loan and think nothing of the exploitation of the poor that goes on there. The early church, well of the fourth century, thought it necessary that a man divorce his wife to become a bishop or what we call a pastor. Today there are those in the church who think a man’s wife leaving him is grounds for removing him from the office. And I think both ideas would be silly if they weren’t dealing with something so grave. But this is the sinner. And the sinners of the world would have you adopt their standards to earn the title of saint.
For instance, we would not today call St. Augustine Saint, if he had done the honorable thing and married the mother of his child, rather than kicking her to the curb and moving from Milan to Africa upon the event of his baptism. I read the passage of his “confessions” one of the best works of Christian literature ever written, dealing with what amounts to a divorce, and I shudder. Nevertheless, saint he was, saint he is. Child of God. But not for the reasons the church assigned him this title. The church thought he earned it, partially by divorcing, partially by writing great works of theology that tamed rampant confusion in the church. He did some truly marvelous things really. But that is not why he is a saint. He is a saint because he was baptized, because he hoped in Christ, because Christ purified him forgiving him of his sins. Saint and sinner. It is who we are. It is who you are. It is who I am.
No the world will look at us, and not see it. For what we will be has not yet appeared. The world sees sinners. It is perhaps who we see. Looking ourselves over, there would be something wrong if we did not see sinners. We see our selfishness. We see our greed, thoughts of ill will, hatred and lust. We see it all. Perhaps we look back on sins we committed in the past, horrified. Perhaps we even try to make up for them by doing great things. We never do, we just tarnish the great things with sinful motives that leave us empty and hollow inside.
What we will be has not yet appeared, but when he appears we shall be like him, because we will see him as he is. Brothers, sisters, it is the great now and yet not yet. We are, and we shall be. We are children of God now, but the totality of what this means has not yet manifested itself. Today we still deal with sin in our lives, we still await the death of this flesh. But what we will be, is coming, will come, will appear because of what we are even now, children of God by his grace. In the end he will appear and we will become as he is, sinless, perfect and having eternal life. Because our hope is not in us. Our hope is not in the things that this world would have us hope in, but our hope is in Him who is pure, and hoping in him we purify ourselves with the forgiveness of sins that he gives. Yes, it is faith, faith in Christ that justifies, that sanctifies, because faith hopes in him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this sermon! Nicely put.

Sue J in NJ
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