Called to be Saints

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:2
Date: Epiphany II + 1/19/14

We have celebrated the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the arrival of the Son of God in our flesh and blood. In His Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River He thereby intimately identified with us sinners thus beginning His salvific journey. As with two of John’s disciples to begin with Jesus has also come to us and invited us to follow Him. In the beginning of that following we, as with the first disciples, are mysteriously, maybe even unknowingly as with infant baptism, drawn to the Savior even though we don’t know completely what it will mean to be his follower, his disciple.

Before we go any further in the unfolding story of Jesus this year, however, it is St. Paul who urges us on, giving us a vision of the big picture, the really big picture of what is becoming of us as Christians. He wants us to see ourselves not just as individual followers of Christ nor even limited to a particular congregation, district, synodical or denominational fellowship. In the introduction to his first letter he calls the intended recipients, “the church of God that is in Corinth.” It has been observed that whenever Paul uses the phrase “church of God” he always has in mind the worldwide church, the universal church, the entire people of God called in Christ Jesus. It is because we cannot see this whole church with our eyes that it is an article of faith as we confess, “I believe in one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church.”

The “vision” first began for me as I was being awakened in faith in my later teen years for it fit the desire given me, even demand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ be something real, something not dependent on somebody’s particular interpretation of this or that but on the consistent doctrine of the Bible. I was also encouraged by the title that greeted us on the ordo or service folder every Sunday of my home congregation. You may find it sounds very familiar. For every Sunday we were reminded that we were there joining “The Worship of the Holy Church Throughout the World,” hearing (for the most part) the same scripture appointed for whatever particular Sunday it was in the Church Year. Today St. Paul says we are “called to be saints,” “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As was usual Paul begins his letter by identifying himself. He claims to be “called” or chosen as an apostle or proclaimer of and by Jesus Christ not on any human authority but “by the will of God.” So then he turns to his audience and claims that we, too, have been “called,” chosen by the will of God. Chosen to be what? “Called to be saints.”

“To the church of God that is in Corinth.” It is not the church OF Corinth which itself was a fellowship of house churches in different locations, but, again, the people of God called into this universal fellowship of faith.

He claims that you individually and together have been sanctified and called to be saints, God’s holy ones. That call happens in your conversion made certain in your Holy Baptism. It can happen through repeated awakenings as you discover God’s particular call to your particular vocation. Though we may certainly begin by considering God’s call of individuals to serve as “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” according to his list in Ephesians 4, let us not forget that it is also according to God’s guidance that you are, at various times, called to be a son or daughter, a wife or husband, a father or mother, a worker in any so-called secular vocation, sanctified and called to be saints, to serve in any and all those capacities bringing the holiness, that is the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus to each and every task. Our whole life is sanctified as we sing and remind one another in the old hymn:

With the Lord begin your task;
Jesus will direct it.
For His aid and counsel ask;
Jesus will perfect it.
Ev’ry morn with Jesus rise,
And when day is ended,
In His name then close your eyes;
Be to Him commended. (LSB 869)

But your individual life of faith and especially our worship is always with regard to the fellowship you have in Jesus, fellowship with God and fellowship with His people. Here again, at the end of our reading (vs 9), Paul has in mind and wishes to raise our hearts and eyes to the vision, the knowledge of the Una Sancta, the one, holy worldwide church of God. In this Church, he says, we receive daily the grace of God and are “enriched” in Christ “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” Those gifts are summed up in the words “all speech and all knowledge,” and it means spiritual, divine speech as in preaching, teaching and learning God’s Word, and spiritual knowledge which is firmly founded on God’s Word and believed on by faith.

It is this faith in this Word that binds the whole Church together as Paul continues to say in Ephesians 4, that the preaching and proclaiming of the Word of God is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:11-16).

Love. That’s what sums up and defines what it means to be called to be saints. Love of God and love of neighbor is the sum and substance of the Ten Commandments. Love is the heart and identity of God our Creator and Redeemer. Love is the primary fruit of the Spirit. Love is what characterizes us as members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the fellowship not only of the Church Militant on earth, but also with the Church Triumphant, all those who have gone before us in the faith.

It is this vision, the big picture, that sets us apart as God’s holy ones today even in the struggle of faith and at our last day when we will be free from sin, with the Lord in paradise, “as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”