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Sinner or Saint?

October 30, 2017

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23: 11-12

This blog is being published on Halloween Eve, the day before devils, ghosts, goblins, vampires, and all sorts of scary sinners roam the streets threatening to trick folks if they don’t hand over a token treat.   The day after Halloween is All Saints Day, a festival day set aside by the church to remember all known and unknown saints; it celebrates the bond between the living faithful and those believers who have gone before us. Bob and I were married on All Saints Day.  It was a good way to remember that our vows were witnessed by the ones dear to us who were in the “Church Triumphant” (heaven), as well as those in the church on that sunny November morning.

The back-to-back- celebrations of Halloween and All Saints Day is a fitting time of year to give some thought to saints and sinners. Some say that sinners are more fun than saints, but the truth is that we are all sinners. In exposing the corruption of the day, Micah shows the character of God, who hates sin, but loves the sinner.[1] Micah knew that he did not have the power to carry out his ministry, but that God would provide the energy and power he needed: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.” (Micah: 3: 8). Yet, as filled with the power of the Spirit as he was, Micah taught that the Lord requires you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

Like Micah, the psalmist pleads his “cause against an ungodly nation“ (Psalm 43:1a).  And like Micah, he knows that he will be rescued when he is in the presence of God: “Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold . . . Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (excerpts Psalm 43:1-3).  God’s holy mountain was the temple in Jerusalem where he would meet God. Both the psalmist and Micah knew that when you are going through a period of darkness, pain, doubt, and despair, the way home is to follow the light of the Holy Spirit and to rest in his presence.  St. John reminds us that the darkness of sin will never overcome God’s light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

And even though we seek to follow the light of Jesus, to follow his example–our sin prevents us from following him perfectly. Yet we are inclined to toot our own horns and to elevate ourselves. We sometimes think that we are better than we are.  Jesus warns: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 11-12).  World leaders are not usually known for their humble natures.  French President Macron recently declared he will govern France like Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods.  When we think that we are god-like, when we fail to recognize our sinful selves, we fail in our ability to follow Christ, who set the perfect example of humility.  Following Christ is not declaring that you are god-like, but just the opposite—imitating Christ’s humility.  We often ignore our shortcomings and rule our homes, teams, projects, businesses, agencies, and other organizations without regard to others. But Jesus’ example shows us that true leaders are servants. They recognize their own failings, seek input from others, and do not put themselves above others.  Jesus’ teachings are not just good theology; they are also good practical advice.

Paul continues providing practical advice that will help us get along better with others: “We urge you, brothers and sisters, to do more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4: 10-12).

Sinner or saint? Believers are both. You are a child of God, who hates your sin, but loves you as his dear child for whom he gave his Son, and sent his Spirit to guide you along a safe, healthy, and productive path. Acknowledge your failings, seek to follow his lead, and he will give you the energy and the power you need to accomplish the tasks before you.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost are Micah 3: 5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-12; Matthew 23: 1-12.

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