“Back to the Source: COMMUNION OF SAINTS”


November 5, 2017:  Rev. Anna Fulmer

In the Apostle’s Creed, we say, “I believe in the Communion of the Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.” But when we say the Communion of the Saints, what do we really mean? Who are “the saints?” Often, when we hear about saints, we think of Catholic saints like Mother Theresa, St. Francis—we think that saints are these superhuman people, holier than thou, who are better than us somehow. When we hear about saints, we assume that they are very pious people—we couldn’t possibly be saints—more like sinners! But what if I were to tell you that we are all saints—all of those who proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord. What if I were to tell you that according to Martin Luther, one of the pre-requisites to being a saint is to also be a sinner? Today, we are going to explore this phrase, the communion of the saints. So let us hear our Scripture, from 1 Corinthians: 1:2-9.

When someone does something really nice, I often will exclaim, “You are a saint!” And I must admit, I am using saint wrong—because being the communion of saints is not about being good, or getting everything perfectly right. You don’t have to have a halo above your head all the time to be considered part of the communion of saints. Paul both here and throughout his writings never uses saint singularly—he only refers to saints. To be sanctified is to be holy, to be set-apart together as a new people, a new society who proclaims Jesus Christ is Lord. We are not a saint on our own—we are saints because we believe and trust in Jesus—and that puts us into a whole new group.

We don’t act saintly, like the communion of saints on our own—we need each other. The Corinthians didn’t always act like saints—like God’s community. Paul is writing them because he knows there are divisions and disagreements among them. Usually, when I am not happy with someone’s behavior I launch into my complaints. But here, Paul first shares the good, his gratitude. What’s funny is that Paul is grateful for the Corinthians gifts—normally we aren’t grateful for other people’s gifts—usually we are jealous of what others have. What also is strange is that we know that the Corinthians are divided, and here Paul is talking about how great the community’s gifts are. You would think he would be focused on what they are lacking—unity. But here he is focused on the gifts God has given them. He is saying what he hopes they will be, what they can and are, but are not always. It’s telling your child, “you are smart, you are kind, you are important”[1], even when they are not always smart, kind, or important. You tell them these things, so that they believe it and in turn become it. You will it into being with your words.

Here at the beginning of his letter Paul reminds the Corinthians of their calling to be saints with all of those who believe throughout the world. Many of the Corinthians disagreements were about spiritual gifts, and whose were better. And as we all know, we all fall short. And so Paul does something brilliant. He tells them that together they are not lacking in any spiritual gift—what they do not have, others have, and it is together that they can do God’s will. He tells them without directly saying it, “Stop it guys! You need each other!” Together you are called to be saints. Together you are enriched in Christ Jesus, together the testimony of Jesus is stronger. Later, Paul will develop this image into the body of Christ—the hand and the head need each other to be the body—so it is with us—we need each other, we need all of the spiritual gifts in this place to live out our calling to be God’s saints.

So you might be thinking, great! We are all saints. We are saints because we have faith in Jesus…great! We need each other, we need to work together. We do a pretty good job of that. Our job is over. Let’s go home! It is true we are justified by God’s faith alone. But faith, and God’s faithfulness to us leads to action. We cannot separate our faith from our living. There is no such thing as Christian faith without living a Christian life. Sanctification is all about how we become God’s people. To be God’s saints, to be sanctified, we have to live like we are God’s people.

Bonhoeffer often talked about cheap grace. He describes cheap grace as, “Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”[2]

I think Bonhoeffer here, is telling us what it means to be part of the communion of saints. Being part of the saints is not easy. It is going to cost us something. It is not a social club with benefits. It requires us to sacrifice our money, our time, our lives, our selves for the sake of others. It requires us to follow Jesus—and that has always been hard. To be a part of the communion of the saints means that we cannot follow Christ on our own—we must work together—even with people that we do not understand or like, or have much in common. To be a part of the saints means that we cannot become complacent in our faith—we must constantly ask, “am I being challenged, am I growing, am I using and growing God’s gifts? To be a part of the communion of saints means that we are becoming something…we are not already there. We have more to work on. Whether we are 9 or 99 to be a part of the communion of the saints means that we are set apart, not because we are “special” but to fulfill God’s purpose—to do God’s work. To be the body in the world.

In our baptism, God chooses us. God calls us his children. But it takes a lifetime to learn how to LIVE as God’s child. It might seem like an impossible task. And on our own, it would be. That’s why we have a communion of saints. That’s why we do not rely on our own abilities, our own faithfulness. We trust and rely on God’s faithfulness. We work to be God’s saints, in gratitude, because God is faithful. In the end we are not blameless or perfect because of who we are—we are indeed sinners. But on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are blameless and strengthened because Christ has already paid for our sins.

On this day, as we celebrate All Saints Day we remember all of those saints, all of those followers of Christ who have gone before us. They were not perfect. They were human and sinners. But they are indeed saints because of Christ, because God is faithful and lifted them up, and helped them to believe and live as Christians. They had various gifts. Maybe they used their gifts to teach you in Sunday school, maybe they used their gifts to raise you, maybe they used their gifts to give you legal advice, or listen, or pray for you or to love you or to make you laugh. As we lift up their names, we remember them in all of their goodness and in all of their flaws. And remember how God uses each and every one of us to fulfill his purpose in the world. And as we remember them, maybe we can sing in our hearts, one of my favorite songs about saints, that old gospel song: When the Saints Go Marching in How I want to be in that number. When the saints go marching in.” Friends may our lives be lived in gratitude for all God has done for us. Let us go marching out into the world to live together as God’s saints.

[1] Kathryn Stockett

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.



1 Corinthians: 1:2-9


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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


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