1 Corinthians 1:4-5 (NRSV) I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him,[1] with a passion for worship that includes the gifts God has given us, with a passion to care for one another and be distinct from the world around us; a passion to be  the Church that is Pennside Presbyterian Church and not a business where the bottom line is all that matters.

 

I give thanks to our God always for you because of what the grace God has given in Christ Jesus is doing in you and through you. 1 Corinthians 1:8 (NRSV) He will … strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.[2]

 

God is at work in us. We are pilgrims making progress. We are saints by the grace of God; we are a “risk-taking fellowship” set apart for “the end” (the purpose of God); we are Pennside Presbyterian Church, a particular community of faith in a particular place at a particular time whose life together points to the reality of the Church, the body of Christ that is universal and transcends place and time.

 

God is faithful. We care called to be saints. God will strengthen us to the end.

 

W    WE ARE CALLED TO BE SAINTS

We Protestants cringe at the word “saint.” We’re not Roman Catholic. We don’t pray to and through great Christians of old. We respect Calvin and Luther, but we don’t pray to them. They’d be mortified, if they weren’t already dead. 

“Methinks we doth protest too much.” We cringe not because of our neighbor’s views but because of our own: Our own view of ourselves and of what it means to be a “holy one,” a saint. It seems prideful, even sacrilegious, to call ourselves a saint. We’re still sinners. We may not beatify, but we look at Pope John Paul II and ourselves, and we see the difference.

Try looking at sainthood a different way (a Biblical way): To be a saint isn’t a status; it’s a purpose. It isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. We aren’t saints who’ve arrived. We’re called to set out from where we are to be saints. We’re called to be saints, because by God’s grace, we will become “holy ones.” God’s call makes the difference; God’s call make us different; God’s call transforms us into saints.

One writer described the difference a calling makes: When I was a child, playing hide-and-seek outside in the waning daylight of a summer evening, inevitably our front door would open and my mother's voice would call, "Jack, time to come in!" I would go on with hide-and-seek as though nothing had happened. To anybody passing by, I looked no different from my playmates. But I was different; I had been "called in"; everything was changed. In a similar way Christians -- who may appear no different from others -- have ringing in their ears God's summons to believe and to obey. Henry Thoreau said that some march to a different drummer. Christians do not hear a different drumbeat; they hear Jesus' distant but clear voice saying, "Come, follow me." It sounds over the whir of the lathe, the cry of a baby, the clink of coins, the curses of enemies, the whisper of success, the roar of the crowd, the nagging of conscience. [Come, holy one, follow me].

Fritz Graebe was a civil engineer with the German army in World War II. He said that after witnessing the mass murder of Jewish civilians in the Ukrainian town of Dubno, he heard his mother's voice, saying, "And Fritz, what would you do?" He was not disobedient to that inner call. Fritz Graebe contrived to save the lives of hundreds of Jews. [Come, holy one, follow me].[3]

Holiness isn’t a status; it’s a mission. Saints aren’t superior; we’re ordinary folks who answer the call to “Come, follow me;” ordinary folks whom God is transforming into something extraordinary. We’re not there yet. God isn’t finished with us yet, but God is at work and by God’s grace, we will get there from here. We are called to be saints.

W       GOD WILL STRENGTHEN US TO THE END

We’re on our way. We’re not there yet. We have a ways to go. God is faithful. God will strengthen us to the end. We will make it.

 

Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians by looking at what God has done for them. God’s work is always a reason to give thanks, even when saints show that they have feet of clay.

 

Once upon a time, we conspired together to conceal our heroes feet of clay. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was never pictured in his wheelchair. John F. Kennedy’s indiscretions went unreported, as did the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s.

 

Perhaps it was Watergate, but at some point, the time changed and revealing (and reveling in) our heroes feet of clay became an essential task for our historians’ and journalists’. Failure to do so would result in becoming the subject of such an expose.

 

How ironic that in this season of epiphany, when we celebrate the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, that we note the damage done by these revelations! These revelations have demeaned and diminished our heroes. Some pseudo-scholars have even attempted to subject Jesus to such treatment!

 

It’s only epiphany and already we’ve forgotten Christmas. Our thank you notes remain a work in progress; lights still hang from our gutters, and we’ve forgotten that on Christmas Day, God became human, fully human. God walked this earth with feet of clay. God knows that, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.[4]” (Alexander Pope).

 

God knows it. We forget, especially when our heroes prove to have feet of clay. We forget, when we prove to have feet of clay. “The greatest magnifying glasses in the world are a man's own eyes when they look upon his own person.[5]” (Alexander Pope)

 

We look and see our feet of clay. We see our weakness. God sees our strength. God sees what we shall be when we answer God’s call. God sees what we can do when we stand on our feet of clay, confess that we cannot do it alone, and ask God for the strength to serve.

 

In that moment, we discover that “God is faithful, even when we are not. God's grace calls to us even when we are most alienated from God.[6]

 

The movie The King’s Speech offers a remarkable example of God’s faithfulness giving strength in time of need. Colin Firth plays George VI, who reluctantly took the throne when his brother Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. George VI is largely overshadowed when the history of England is told, which is odd in that he was the king, but when you have Winston Churchill chomping on his cigar and making some of history’s greatest speeches in England, and you have Roosevelt in America, and Hitler and Stalin providing the dark counterpoint, it’s easy to be overshadowed, especially when these are some of history’s great orators and you stutter.

 

The King’s Speech tells the story of George VI’s struggle to overcome his stuttering and speak for his nation. As the movie’s ads declare, “Some men are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them.” “When his nation needed a leader, when the people needed a voice, an ordinary man would help him find the courage.”[7]

 

In an interview this week on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart noted the difference this change made. After Edward abdicated, he voiced support for Adolf Hitler. We forget that there was significant support for the Nazi’s in England prior to World War II. What kind of king would Edward have been in the war? What support would he have given Churchill? What would he have said as the voice of his people? But Edward wasn’t the king. He didn’t give the speech. George VI was the king. He found the courage to find his voice, and for the sake of the nation, as the voice of the people, he gave “the king’s speech.”

 

God is faithful. 1 Corinthians 1:8 (NRSV) He will … strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.[8]

 

We are called to be saints. We aren’t there yet. We have feet of clay, but God creates masterpieces out of clay. He breathes His Spirit into the clay and there is new life! We can depend on God, even when we do not trust ourselves. We can rely on God, even when we have our doubts about one other. God is faithful. God’s grace will keep us strong to the end. Amen.

 

 

 



[1]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

[3] http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=420&C=265

[4] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/alexander_pope_5.html

[5] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/alexander_pope_5.html

[6] Quote from a website.

[7] www.thekingsspeech.com

[8]  The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.