I have spent half the morning looking for a note that I received this fall shortly after my mother passed away. It was a note from Dr. Ellsworth Kalas, a pastor and a longtime family friend. You may have heard me talk about Dr. Kalas before. He has preached at my family camp meeting every four years since 1964 and is one of the best preachers I have ever heard. More than that, though, he has been for me a mentor and an example of what a disicple of Jesus Christ looks like.
When I called him and his wife to let them know about Mom’s death, I left a message on their answering machine. A couple of weeks later, I got a note from him saying that they had been out of state and were so sorry to have missed my call and Mom’s service. Of course, I set the note aside in a special place so that I could read it again, and this morning I can’t remember where that special place is. Please tell me you do that, too.
Anyway, there was one sentence in his note that really struck me. Since I can’t find the original, I just have to summarize what he said: “As I reflect on my years as a pastor, I realize that the most important work that we do is to help God make saints.” After nearly seventy years of ministry (he is in his 90’s now), he has come to the conclusion that the primary job of the church is to make people more holy.
As I reflect on Dr. Kalas’s words, I realize he doesn’t mean that we are supposed to churn out people who are “holier than thou.” Our job is not to set ourselves up within the church as more saintly than people outside the church. The job of the church is not to draw perfect people inside its walls so that they can stay there. No, the point of the church is to help people become more like Christ. To become his disciples and not just church members. Holy people make a difference in the world. Saints are not saints for their own sake but for the sake of the world. That means that what matters most in the church is not growing numbers and higher budgets but greater humility, justice, compassion, kindness, hospitality, generosity and love.
In worship this past Sunday we blessed twenty-four young people who are beginning the journey of confirmation together. Over the next few months they’ll be studying Scripture, learning about the teachings of the faith, growing in relationship with each other and going out into the community to love and serve. They are on a path of spiritual growth. What about you and me? Shouldn’t all of us be on the path toward sainthood?
As we head into a new year together, I invite you to ask yourself, as I will be asking myself, “Where am I in my journey with Christ? Am I growing? Am I learning how to be a disciple and not just a church member? What would help me to go deeper?” Let’s begin asking these questions of ourselves and of our congregation and see where God takes us next.