© John M. Connan
Just how saintly do you feel? Do you expect other people to recognise you as saints? Do you regard yourself as a saint: Saint Joan of Doncaster East; Saint James the Less of Ringwood North?
Most of us could only believe it some form of overweening pride – or mental aberration – to call ourselves saints.
We know we’re not saints. We certainly don’t wear haloes. We know what sort of people we are. We know what our behaviour is like. If haloes or horns were our form of headgear, it’s more likely to be horns for most of us than haloes.
We know what to do: we just don’t do it.
He was the diocesan visitor. It was a small village school in the south of Ireland.
“Now, tell me,” he said, “what would you do, if some of them people from the hills were going past your house with their cart loaded with their goods. Suddenly a wheel fell off and all their goods spilt to the ground?”
The hands shot up.
“Well,” said the eager lad he chose, “we’d help unload the cart, put the wheel back on, and reload the cart for them. Then we’d invite them in for a cup of tea.”
“A splendid class you’ve got there,” the diocesan visitor said to the class teacher afterwards. “The things they’d do to help!”
“In fact,” said the teacher, “they wouldn’t do a damn thing. They hate them buggers from the hills!”
We know what should be in our lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we are saints, the fruits of the Spirit would be in our lives.
We don’t feel like saints. We don’t act like saints. We don’t call ourselves saints.
But the New Testament does! Those who follow Jesus, those who are his - Christians – are called saints.
Almost invariably Paul addresses his letters to the saints: (Romans 1:7; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1.) Peter writes to “God’s elect” (1 Peter 1:1). John, the author of the Book of Revelation doesn’t use the word “saint” but those about whom I read at the beginning of the service – those heavenly beings “clothed in white” – were simply the followers of Jesus: you and me: people like you and me.
Those who follow Jesus – Christians – despite the all too apparent lack of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in their lives – are saints! Despite our imperfections, our inadequacies, our failures, we are saints!
The trouble is we find we’re not free to be saints.
Australians have always believed themselves among the freest peoples on earth. We can do whatever we like – provided it’s within the law – and doesn’t frighten the horses! No one can deny us the right to live life the way we choose.
Yet we’re more shackled than we imagine – tied down by habits – held back by timidity and fear – led astray by undisciplined wants, desires and lusts. And even if that wasn’t true, our lives are very much influenced by what happens in the world around us - the recession we had to have – company failures – retrenchments – changing patterns of work.
We’re not as free as we imagine. Deep down we know it.
We know what we want to do. We know what we ought to do. We know what we’d like to do. We just don’t do it.
It’s not as though we’ve sold ourselves out to what have been called the seven deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth – though there’s a little of all of those in all of us.
It’s not as though we don’t try to live by the old Stoic virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance – there’s a little of all of those in all of us.
It’s not as though we don’t hold as our goal Paul’s list of nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We do try to avoid evil behaviour. We do try to live decent, honourable, caring lives. But when all is said and done, we find that what we’ve done isn’t what we intended.
We know what to do. We haven’t done it. We know what not to do. We’ve done it – again and again and again.
We’re not as free as we think!
We could blame our genes; the way we’ve been brought up; learned behaviours; cultural conditioning; original (or far from original!) sin: the fact is we’re trapped.
Escape from the trap is easy – so easy we’ve done it dozens of times – and found ourselves back where we began: trapped! Habits have us in their clutches. And we find ourselves doing things we had no intention of doing.
As for our good intentions – some we never do get around to. If it’s a matter of forgetting about selfish interests and self-interest, forget it! We’ll merely do the good, not the best.
How can we be free to be the saints God calls us to be? How are we gong to be able to move through the world sharing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? How are we going to fulfil our calling as saints?
I should have asked Les to read the good news in the 1st verse of the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia – the Celts: “Christ has really set us free” (New Living Translation).
When we really do enter into a relationship with Jesus, when we allow him to take control of our lives, when we model ourselves on him, call him Saviour and Lord – and mean it! – we are freed from those things that obsess us and enslave us. We’re free!
Some have been slaves habits that crippled their lives and personalities – even drugs and sex. Nothing else could break their dependence. Nothing else could give them power over their lives. No one else could defeat the power evil had over them and set them free. Jesus could and did – and does. We’re free!
If Christ has set us free, we are really free – free to be the saints God has called us to be. If that’s the way it is for us, it’s because we have begun to live under the control of God’s Spirit. When we open our lives to the Spirit, model our lives on Jesus, live close to Jesus, then we live by the Spirit, we live freely, we live as saints of God.
When I was in theological college my New Testament lecturer suggested Galatians 5:25 read this way: “You are saints of God. It’s time to start living as saints.” You can, when you live by God’s Spirit, when you have given power over your life to Jesus and he has set you free.
Until we understand that, all our striving toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all our good intentions for our own lives, all our best endeavours for justice, peace and social well-being will end in frustration, disappointment and disillusionment.
We do know what to do. We can do it – with the freedom we gain through Christ and the life we live in the Spirit.
You are God’s saints. You can live as God’s saints.