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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

All Y'all Saints

1 Corinthians 1:1-10
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church PCUSA
Sunday, October 30, 2005 – All Saints’ Observed

Are any of you into scrapbooking? Would any of you like to be into scrapbooking if you only had 1000 hours to look through the mountain of pictures in your closet? That’s the problem with looking through old photographs. What starts out as a one-hour project turns into a five-day walk down memory lane. You start passing pictures around to family members and saying, “Aww, look how cute you were when you were a baby. What happened?” “Look how much hair you used to have.” “Look how thin we were.” And some of the pictures that at the time we thought were absolutely horrible turn out now to be some of the best. A bad prom dress. A plaid leisure suit. A stuck-out tongue. After the pictures age a little, like a fine wine, the candid shots that caught us as we truly were often turn into the most beloved. To anyone else, that picture of you holding up two fingers behind your brother’s head might look silly. And it might look silly to you, too. But it’s not the pictures that are so valuable. It’s the memories. So one hour or sorting old photos turns to two, three, or four hours of refreshed memories. Looking through memories takes time.

But in another sense these memories give us time. The old photos remind us that life is so much richer, and deeper, than the surface of this moment. We have history. We have importance. We have a lifetime of experience and meaning. Pictures of grandparents and great-grandparents remind us that we’re all more than just our mere selves. These people whose faces we might barely remember are part of us. Part of them lives on in who we are.

When the Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians he addresses it to the people he remembers. He calls them, “Saints.”

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

Paul is addressing these mere mortals as “saints.” He says these mere church-goers are people “called to be saints.” Called by God Almighty. Called by Christ Jesus. Called by the Holy Spirit. Predestined, perhaps. The church at Corinth sounds like a great place. A place where everyone is enriched in Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind. A place where no one is lacking in any spiritual gift. Where they’re strengthened by Christ to the end, so that they’ll be blameless on the day of judgment. What a great church!

Except. Paul has a few pictures of these people in his mind. He’s heard reports. These people he addresses as saints aren’t all that saintly. The next sentences of his letter, the part we didn’t read, tell a fuller story.

For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Has Christ been divided? (Literally, “Has Christ been cut to pieces?”)

Upon closer examination, this glossy picture of heavenly saints has some problems. And the rest of Paul’s letter is an attempt to help them correct these problems. If these church people are, as Paul calls them, “saints,” then there must be more to sainthood than getting your picture on a stained-glass window.

Over the past weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time going through the archives of our church, getting ready for the birthday we just celebrated. We have a scrapbook that’s literally falling apart, and if any of you who are into scrapbooking would like to take it on as a project, that would be great. I especially love the earliest photos. The ones of Parson Larson leading worship at the C’est Bon dinner club. Legend has it that some of our best church members were found under the tables on Sunday morning. Nobody seems to remember if that’s true or not. Especially the ones who were found. Stories don’t have to be true to be good.

Jesus – and the Apostle Paul – found saints under tables, up trees, in doorways and alleys. They found people who were willing to say, “Yes,” to God, and to whom God said, “Yes.” Not a complicated transaction. Some were noble characters, and some were just plain characters. They became the saints of the church not because of anything they did or didn’t do. They became saints not because someone thought their picture would look good in a stained glass window someday. They became saints because God said so. Paul said they had been, “Sanctified in Christ Jesus.” So that even if he were mad at them, even if they were splitting into quarrelling factions, even if they were making faces behind each other’s backs, the picture still turned out. God’s scrapbook has some funny-looking photos. But still tells the story. And their story is our story. The story of the early church is the story of every church. Because they’re part of us. Part of them lives on in who we are.

Today we pause for a few minutes to think about being saints. The church, in its calendar, calls the day after tomorrow not “Some Saints’ Day,” but “All Saints’ Day.” We remember the people from our own histories. We remember the saints who have helped shape who we are. We call by name the ones who in the past year have transcended a limited, earthly sainthood, and have died in Christ, so that they might be raised in Christ. And, we take a moment to look around. Look around the sanctuary at the people who help make you who you are. Look at the saints who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” to say, “Yes,” to God’s good news. And take a good look at yourself, too. You’re here. You’ve said, “Yes” to God in whatever grand or simple way you can. The mere fact that you’re here, worshipping God, or at least trying to worship God, or at least trying to put the devils of this world out of your mind for few minutes so that God might fill you with something else. We’re scraps in the book of the church. And even if we don’t think we have anything to offer, God holds that photo, and treasures it. You’re part of God’s memory. And memories take time. But memories give time, too.

Memories give time. The promise in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that we have an eternity of time. Part of that eternity begins now. Part of that eternity is already within us. When we open up our Bibles and read about First Century saints, when we look around and think about Twenty-first Century saints. When we look at ourselves. We catch a glimpse of the eternity God will someday show us in fullness. We catch a glimpse of a family resemblance with the saints who are in heaven. We see the past. We imagine the future.

The Apostle said, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” And not just you or you, but all of you. All y’all got called. All of you saints. All the saints.

To God be the glory, forever and ever.