Saints vs. Sinners
Sermon delivered by Shirley Lin on November 01, 2009 at Vegas Taiwanese American Presbyterian Church
(In Chinese, translated by Ken Sun)
Good morning. I hope you are all doing very well. Thank you for this opportunity to preach today. Today is a special day in the Church: it is All Saints’ Day. You might think it’s strange for me to talk about Saints, because, as Presbyterians, you don’t generally talk about Saints. But, Saints have existed throughout the history of the church. Sainthood is an important concept of our church.
You might be surprised to hear me say that. After all, when we speak of Saints, we typically think of the Catholic Church. We think of the way the Church holds someone in a special place for doing something extraordinary. This is the same church has a process and reasons to canonize someone.
For example, we have all heard of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was a nun who lived in Calcutta, a very poor Indian town and served its people. She gave her entire life to serving the poor and the sick. She was a wise woman who sacrificed her life for Christ.
So—here’s what we know about Saints.
1. They’re dead
2. They are not normal people, like you and me. They have sacrificed and done something extraordinary. In other words, they are HOLY.
This discussion of Sainthood thus far shows that the Church is exclusive—only certain people can have this extraordinary status. And it’s not likely every day people like us can achieve that status, because we do not lead perfect, holy lives. We have limitations. We allow fear into our lives. Like in our confession, we do not live up to the life that God has called us to live.
Clearly, people think of Saints as being in another category, often in a position that we are not a part of. But, what does God think? Does God love the Saints more than God loves the rest of us?
If we look at the today’s reading, we receive our answer. The language of Isaiah is inclusive. He emphasizes that the Lord God is there for ALL people—not just the “Extra holy” ones. God is there to bestow blessings upon ALL people, protecting all people from harm, comfort all those who are sad, and save all of us from death.
This is more like how we understand Sainthood—that God is not biased. God is WITH ALL God’s people. In our theology, a saint is a believer. That means you and me. But, unfortunately, this is not how the Church encourages us to think about ourselves.
What happens often when we come to church, we are reminded about our sinfulness—how—we cannot help but sin! This is something that began from the dawn of time, with Adam and Eve. There is nothing we can do about it. When we get so down about ourselves—that we are inherently broken, sinful creatures, it can be hard to have hope. God knew this. God observed this from his people.
This is why God’s been in the business of providing hope since the beginning. Hope is why Jesus came down to earth: so that we know that we are not alone, and that, despite our badness, God is always with us.
Sin is what causes us suffering. I imagine that it is something you are familiar with—after all, you live in a city whose nickname is Sin City. This is the place that one comes to indulge. The commercials I see on TV advocate Las Vegas as a place where you can come and be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do.
Paris may be known to the rest of the world as the City of Lights, but I’ve seen the Strip. It shines. It is bright, and it brings together the best of the world—Paris, New York, Egypt, the Roman Empire just to name a few. There is no other place like this in the world. But, in those commercials, there is nothing about this place that is real, including the people who live here. But you are real. We are real. And we cannot run from who we are. This city shines, like you shine, because God created us to shine.
Like this city, we are more than merely sinners. We are Saints too. It is when we shine, or, witness to the greatness of God and follow God’s command as God has given them to us, that we become Saints. This is a small church, in a small community. This is a community that has suffered many losses and setbacks.
My mother told me that in Las Vegas, housing prices have fallen by more than 50%, close to about 70%. Many people here have lost their jobs. This is hardly the time to celebrate, rejoice, and be glad. This is a time of fear—the future is unknown. What will happen to us? What will happen to our families?
In times of uncertainly we look to God for comfort. And comfort we get. Our future is secure—God will feed us food and drink. God will allow us to forget the dark cloud of the current economic times. Of course, it is hard to believe. It is hard to see God sometimes, especially when we are down. I mean, how does God support us when we are suffering?
There is a story of a young man, who had this exact question. He had just finished his Bible Study on exactly this topic. All night, he had heard stories of others who had heard the voice of God talking to them. This young man prayed earnestly to God.
"God.. If you still speak to people, speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to serve your wishes."
As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought, to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, "God is that you?" He didn't get a reply and started on toward home.
But again, the thought was there, "Buy a gallon of milk."
The young man thought about how he'd heard that not all those spoken to recognized God's quiet voice inside of one's mind. Then he said, "Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk."
It didn't seem like too hard a request to fulfill. He could always use the milk himself if nothing else. So he stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home.
As he passed Seventh street, he again felt the urge, "Turn down that street." "This is crazy," he thought and drove on pass the intersection.
Again, he felt that he should turn down seventh street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down Seventh. Half jokingly, he said out loud, "Okay, God, I will."
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn't the best but it wasn't the worst of neighborhoods either.
The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, "Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street." The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep.
He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. "God, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid."
Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the car door, "Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to do as I wish. I guess that will count for something, but if they don't answer right away, I am out of here."
He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man's voice yelled out, "Who is it? What do you want?"
Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and t-shirt. He looked like he'd just gotten out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn't seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep.
"What is it?"
The young man thrust out the gallon of milk. "Here, I brought this to you," he said nervously.
The man took the milk and rushed down a hall way speaking loudly in Spanish. Then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face.
The man began speaking and half crying, "We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn't have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk."
His wife in the kitchen yelled out, "I ask Him to send an Angel with some milk. Are you an Angel?"
In response to hearing this, the young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man's hand. He turned and walked back toward his car as the tears were streaming down his face. He knew that God still answers prayers and that God still speaks to people.
This is not a personal story, but I know many people who could tell me a personal story like the one I just told you. In fact, you might have experienced it or know someone who has experienced the presence of God in their lives. When we experience God and respond to God’s calling for us, it is often a double whammy. We are called to witness to the way God cares for us and we are simultaneously cared for by God’s presence. It is a great privilege and honor to be called by God to serve as much as it is a privilege to hear God’s call.
Yet, it can still be very difficult to put our faith completely in God’s hands, allowing God to guide us, allowing ourselves to make difficult decisions knowing that things might get harder because of our decision. This is a small church. There are many worries in the church, and each of you have your own worries outside the church.
But it is at this time that we remind ourselves that we are Saints, not only sinner. We are the children of God. We wait for Him to guide and lead us through the good times and the bad times. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation; let us trust in His goodness and guidance. May you all be encouraged by the presence of God and have faith in your own sainthood.