Sunday, March 12, 2017

Changing your title for someone else's

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

A brown envelope with a crown on it plops through your letter box. It looks terribly official. You have to fill out one of those important forms, and it looks like if you fill it out dishonestly, you might be breaking the law. What are you going to put for your title? Mr? Mrs? Dr? Dame? Or St?

Are you ready to put St as your title? Try it now. How does it sound?


The fact of the matter is that anyone who is a member of the Church is precisely that – a saint! Yet, none of us would dare put that as our title on official forms, would we? It makes us uneasy. It sounds presumptuous, over-confident, holier-than-thou. We also feel that if we possess the title of St, then we have a lot to live up to.

Well, we do have a lot to live up to!

As he writes to the Church in Thessalonika, St Paul is concerned with sanctification. The word literally means to become holy, to become a saint. St Paul says, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour”. God wants us to be saints!

For St Paul, sanctification and justification (being made right with God) are practically the same thing. In writing to the Corinthians (the first time, before they got stroppy with him), St Paul says,
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
We are washed through the waters of baptism where we are forgiven our sins. We receive the Holy Ghost who sanctifies us and gives us faith by which we can be justified. When we are washed, our eyes are cleansed too and we can see the extent of evil in our lives that we have been committing almost unknowingly. Yet as we receive the Holy Ghost through baptism, and have His influence in us fanned into flame by our confirmation, we are separated from these sins and thus, as our faith becomes ever stronger and stronger, so do we become ever more and more capable of being righteous in Jesus Christ. We become perfected through our co-operation with His grace.

St Paul is saying to us that we should be what we are – Saints! We should not act like evil doers because, if we are evil doers, then we can’t be saints!


Of course, we still do tend to sin, even after our baptism and confirmation, and the other sacraments. Neither baptism not confirmation can be repeated – you don’t get a second shot! They don’t need to be repeated. St John reminds us that, through these sacraments, we have been given within ourselves that stream of Living Water by Our Lord. Our duty, during Lent, is to reach into that Living Water, to drink deeply and wash ourselves anew. We need also to look and see the ways in which we can block that holy stream from welling up within us. Forgiveness is readily available to simply anyone who turns to Our Lord Jesus Christ – no exceptions!


However, we must remember. St is not a title – at least it does not belong to us and we certainly can never be worthy of it. St can only ever point to God. We are only truly sanctified if we live our lives responding willingly to the Holy Ghost. It is His work in us that can sanctify us. All we have to do is turn to Him and say, “yes!” to whatever He has in mind for us.

You are washed, you are sanctified and justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Do you still feel awkward in putting a St in front of your name? Why’s that?

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