Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Isaiah 60:21 - “The Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer And/Or the Feast of St. Every Believer”

Lenten Midweek
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Today is the Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer. As you can see on the insert, St. Vincent is celebrated today, because he died on April 5, 1419. He was from Spain, and was a missionary to Aragon, Castile, Switzerland, France, Italy, England, Ireland, and Scotland, often converting many Jews along the way.

Why is he called a saint? Well, first of all, he was said to have been miraculously healed by God after which he spent 21 years as a missionary. Along the way, he supposedly had the power to heal people by miracles. Because of this, in 1455, Pope Calixtus III declared him to be a saint. So St. Vincent Ferrer is a saint, because of his actions, his good works, and because of the word of a pope.

Because the saints celebrated with feast days in the Catholic Church seem to have gotten to be saints by their good works, well, that’s maybe why many of us have gotten confused along the way on just what it means to be a saint. We say to someone, “Oh, you’re such a saint,” after they do something nice for us, and again, it seems that the only way we could be saints is if we can prove it by our actions. We say, “Oh, I’m no saint,” meaning that we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, meaning that by our actions, we couldn’t possibly be saints.

So whether you grew up Catholic or in this very Catholic town or just because of the popularity in our culture of the Catholic teaching of the saints, maybe you got confused, thinking that you could only be a saint through good works.

For me, it wasn’t so much of the Catholic Church’s teachings that got me confused. Rather, it was the radio. The song “Sanctify Yourself” by the Simple Minds was hit song during the time I was in Confirmation. If you were paying attention to the music of the 80’s, maybe you remember this song. (play clip)

The song says “sanctify yourself, set yourself free.” As you can see on your insert, “sanctify” means “to make holy.” The word “saint” comes from this same word and means “holy ones.” So Simple Minds are saying, “Sanctify yourself, make yourself holy.”

While I knew what my pastor was saying in Confirmation about the Holy Spirit is the One who makes us holy, while I knew this, still it was all confused in my head. The Simple Minds song was saying that I needed to make myself holy. I had to take control, take charge, change my life, work to make myself righteous.

Then you can add to the confusion if you search the Internet for the phrase “sanctify yourself,” besides just the lyrics to the Simple Minds song, you’ll also find a quote that supposedly comes from St. Francis of Assisi. The quote, as you have it on your insert, says, “Sanctify yourself, and you will sanctify society.” If I make myself holy, I will transform society around me, making my community more holy. Again, it comes back to making ourselves into saints by our good works.

All of this can give you quite a head trip. All of this can make you feel unworthy, because you look at your life and you know no one is ever going to think that you’ve done enough good works to be considered a saint. You hear about the saints of Catholic Church, and they seem so much holier than you. You hear Simple Minds sing “Sanctify Yourself,” and you doubt you could ever make yourself holy. You hear that St. Francis quote, and you realize you’re not good enough to transform society with your holiness. This can all do a number on you—and then you come to a Midweek Lenten service where the pastor declares that today isn’t just the Feast Day of St. Vincent Ferrer, but it is the Feast of St. Every Believer. St. Every Believer. Everyone who believes is a saint and is celebrated.

You are all saints, and I’m declaring today is your feast day. Try it on for size. Put “saint” in front of your name—St. Mitch, St. Layton, St. Carlee, St. Megan, St. Amanda.

Why can I say that you’re all saints? Because God said you are saints. As you see on the insert, the prophet Isaiah shows that God will declare us to be saints. Isaiah chapter 60, verse 21 says, “Your people shall all be righteous.” God will say that we are all righteous, without sin, holy, innocent, free. God Himself says you are saints, and I’m not going to argue with Him. As Martin Luther explains,

Martin Luther, Lectures on Isaiah, Luther’s Works, Vol. 17
Apart from Christ there is no righteousness before God, even if there is righteousness before the world. But apart from this Light there is no righteousness before God. . . When we speak of ourselves as baptized and enlightened by the Word, we are not sinners but saints and spotless through Christ, so that we can gratefully boast that we are saints. Thus all godly believers are righteous and saints. In ourselves we are sinners and ungodly, but by the illumination of Christ we are righteous and saints.

Just based on ourselves, based on our actions and lives, we are sinners, completely turned away from God. But through faith in Christ, we are saints—spotless, holy, righteous, innocent. If we try to say that we’re not saints, we’re denying what Christ has done for us. When I call you a saint, or when you call yourself a saint, it’s not about your good works. It’s not saying that you’re better than other people. No, when I call you a saint, or when you call yourself a saint, you are recognizing what Jesus has made you. Jesus has made you a saint in God’s eyes. Celebrate that today, because through faith in Jesus, we are all saints—every single person who believes.

Going onto the back of insert, though, if we’re all saints, then why do some people pray to the saints? The teaching of Scripture is clear: we are the saints of the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, as I said before, the other teachings you hear will try to mess with your mind, will try to throw you off of the true teaching of Christ.

On the backside of the insert there’s a quote from a magazine published by the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, a shrine to the Virgin Mary near St. Louis, Missouri. In explaining why they encourage people to pray to the saints, the magazine says,

From Oblates, a publication of National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
Why do we—and why should we—pray to the saints now? First, we believe that their search for holiness—for oneness with God—in their earthly life has brought the saints close to God now in death. Second, we believe that the humanness of the saints—their great virtue, and their sinfulness—makes them accessible to us.

This sounds logical and kind of sounds comforting. God is big, scary, distant, holy, and the ultimate judge, so if we could find a way to talk to God through someone else, maybe that would be better. Maybe the saints have a more direct line to God and they would be more likely to understand me in my humanness. This all sounds logical. . .except what is said about the saints has already come true in Jesus Christ.

We don’t need the saints to be our human connection to God; we have this connection in Jesus—the true Son of God who also became truly human. The Augsburg Confession reminds us of this when it says,

The Augsburg Confession, Article XXI: Worship of the Saints
The Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intecessor. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayers.

To trust in any saint for help as if trusting in Christ wasn’t enough is to commit idolatry. We are to trust in God alone. Jesus promises to hear our prayers. Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father and ask for our needs in His Name. Jesus never tells us to pray to the saints, to those who are dead.

More than just idolatry, when we hear that people pray to the saints, we again are being led to believe that those saints are somehow more holy than we are because of their good works. But remember: you are all saints of the Lord. Today is the Feast of St. Every Believer. You are saints, you are holy, innocent, righteous, and free through faith in Jesus Christ.

So tonight I’m standing here as your pastor reminding you that based on Scripture, we are a congregation that upholds the Lutheran Confessions. In the Lutheran Confessions, we reject the idea that we can be holy by our good works. And we reject the idea that we should pray to the saints.

We reject these things, but not just so we can tell your Roman Catholic friends that we think they’re wrong. The reason to reject these teachings is because they threaten our faith. We reject any teaching which makes us doubt that we are forgiven, innocent, holy, perfect, free, righteous, and saints in Jesus Christ. We reject any teaching which starts to put our focus on our actions as a way to bring us closer to God rather than seeing that it is God’s action which brings us closer to Himself.

I’m standing here rejecting these false teachings about the saints, because I want you to celebrate tonight that you are a saint of the Lord. God’s Holy Spirit has worked faith in your heart, and so now when God looks at you, He sees the holiness of Jesus in you.

Of course, sometimes we don’t feel very saintly. We look at our lives, and we think: “Yeah, right, I’m a saint. Look at me. I don’t do what God wants me to. I’m sinning all of the time. God couldn’t possibly think that I’m a saint.” We doubt what God has said about us, because we forget that there’s two things going on in our lives: there’s what God has said about us and there’s what our lives are still like.

Look on the insert at the quote from Romans 7:25: “I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” On the one hand, we believe in God and serve Him in our faith. Yet, despite our faith, we still sin. We’ve got both saint and sinner going on at the same time. Of course, we don’t feel very saintly—not everything in our lives is very saintly.

It’s like Luther said, “In a word, there is no need to quarrel about the way we live, for we gladly and freely admit that we are not as holy as we ought to be” (Church and Ministry III, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41). In other words, just because we say we are saints doesn’t mean we think we’re perfect. No, as Christians, we realize that we’re far from perfect. We sin all of the time; we fall short of God’s goal for our lives. But it’s not in our actions that we’re saints; it’s in how God decides to view us. He decides to see Jesus in us instead of our sin.

So if you don’t feel very saintly, Luther says,

Lectures on Isaiah, Luther’s Works, Vol. 17
Just hold tight, even if you are oppressed and persecuted and your thoughts and conscience trouble you. You may know for certain: “The Lord is my light”; you may know for certain that all who have this Light are righteous, even though we are sinners.

Knowing that you are saint doesn’t come from looking at what your life looks like. Yes, if you have good works, that might show that you’re following God’s Word, but knowing you are a saint, knowing you are sanctified, holy, righteous, innocent, perfect, pure, and free, that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. He is your light, and His light shines through your faith.

Hopefully by now you could already answer this last question: would I be more saintly if I was in full-time church work? NO! It makes me so uncomfortable when people imply that I must be more godly, more holy, more saintly, more connected to God because I’m a pastor. In fact, just the opposite, I often think God put me in the ministry, because He was afraid if I was doing something else with my life, if I wasn’t having to do Bible study everyday for my job, that I’d be likely to drift away.

Look at what the Augsburg Confession says about Monastic Vows, the vows of monks and nuns:

The Augsburg Confession, Article XXVII: Monastic Vows
It was claimed that monastic vows were equal to Baptism, and that by monastic life one could earn forgiveness of sin and justification before God. . . .They also claimed that more merit could be obtained by monastic life than by all other states of life instituted by God — whether the office of pastor and preacher, of ruler, prince, lord, or the like, all of whom serve in their appointed calling according to God’s Word and command without invented spirituality. None of these things can be denied, for they are found in their own books.

The Lutherans are clear: they reject the idea that by being in full-time church work that someone is more holy, getting extra forgiveness from God. And they are clear in saying that all vocations, all jobs, all kinds of work can be ways to serve God.

We don’t get our saintliness from our actions; we bring our saintliness with us to our actions.

I am not a saint at the end of the day, because I spent the day being a pastor. Instead, I am a saint at the beginning of the day through faith in Jesus, and then I take my saintliness with me as I work as a pastor.

You aren’t a saint at the end of the day depending on your actions. You are a saint in the morning because of your faith in Jesus, and you bring your saintliness with you in whatever you do: waitress, banker, student, homemaker, retired, unemployed, laborer, factory worker, management, boss, CEO.

Because of this, then, you and I are no different. We wake up in the morning, and we are saints of the Lord. We are saints in Jesus Christ, and we take our saintliness with us, serving God through whatever vocations we have.

In everything we teach, we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Every Believer, we celebrate that we are saints, holy, innocent, perfect, forgiven, righteous, and pure through faith in Jesus Christ. You are all saints of the Lord.