There are things that I have gathered throughout my life that hold special significance. The heavy and effective depression-era quilt that my grandmother sowed with scraps of fabric that would not be valuable to anyone else other than my family. But I love that quilt, and used it everyday until the threads began to fray and holes appeared, so now it lives in a container on a shelf, but I think back to it often. When those holes first appeared, I felt guilty, like I had broken something valuable, but then I realized that it was special because it became part of my daily life. It is not valuable because it’s in a box high in a closet or because of its material value, but it is special because it lived with me, a constant reminder of where I came from as I discerned where I was going.
In the Episcopal Church, we very often find ourselves in a similar state, where we find that we value and set things apart not just because they are materially valuable, but because they have lived with us. In our parish, it is our hymn board, we think, that’s the oldest item in this space, original to the old part of the Nave, over a 100 years old. The value of that wooden sign is not its trade-in value, but how many times it has announced what hymns would be sung for Easter and Christmas. The oldest chalice and patten we have is from 1923, and though it is beautifully ornate and made of silver, it’s not those parts that make it special; it’s the way that cup, has offered the blood of Christ over and over and over again to generation after generation of Christians here in this holy space. It is blessed by its use. Our baptismal font is not special because of its age or beauty, it is special because of all the people it, whom with the water and the Holy Spirit, has welcomed into the household of God. The chalice and patten at the altar are not holy because of anything other than the way in which they offer God’s grace and sanctification. Again and again these items call us back to the foundation of who we are.
When it comes to lectionary texts, I have to be honest and admit that this week felt a little lack luster. Maybe it’s because it’s mid-January, and that’s just sort of the vibe or maybe it’s because for the past month or two we have been preparing to celebrate or celebrating feast days, but today we find ourselves back in green vestments, back in the normal flow while we prepare in the background for Lent to come. It is always peculiar to me when the lectionary set for a specific Sunday’s Epistle is simply Paul’s opening lines. Because to be honest, “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” rolls off the tongue as easily as “once upon a time” or “back in my day.”
But this week, on this ordinary Sunday, as we return to our normal flow, I’m struck by the way Paul addresses the people at the church at Corinth, “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” For this early church, Paul found it important enough to name in his opening lines this sanctification, even before his now iconic greeting in the name of Christ. There is a call in this Christian life to be sanctified, a calling to be saints of God, and I’m sort of enamored by the idea of where we find this sanctification.
I think any Christian, myself included, are wise when we remember that being a Christian is a life-long process, it’s not just a label we wear. And when our baptisms happened is important, but not nearly as important as how often we return to our baptismal call. Sanctification happens within us throughout our lives any and every time we ground ourselves in the foundation of our sacraments. When I joined a the Episcopal Church, one of the most significant things that swayed me was not the inclusivity, or the beauty of the worship space, or the fact that for the first time I could see myself, a woman, in a pulpit. No, the thing that truly swayed me the most was the opportunity to hold my pale and tender hands out as I kneeled at the altar rail. It was the chance to receive what I am—God’s beloved Christ, and to become what I receive—God’s beloved.
And the first time I served as a Lay Eucharistic Minister, just on the cusp of beginning to discern a call to the priesthood, it was not the vestments that lit something within me or even the very different perspective of sitting in the Sanctuary that tapped into the call I was discerning, it was my reflection in the chalice. Even still, it is this reflection that allows me to see myself most clearly: that I am sanctified and called to be a saint. It is the Eucharist that grants me the clearest opportunity to embrace that sanctification that Paul names in that early church at Corinth. It is every time we reaffirm our baptismal covenant or when we prayerfully welcome a new member into the household of God. Sanctification is a life-long process, that, at least from my perspective, is inherently and intrinsically woven into our sacraments.
On this normal, unexciting mid-January Sunday, my question for you is where do you find this sanctification? What in your life points you toward the path where God offers this holiness? Who in your life encourages you to embrace not your scarcity, but your sanctification? This year, in the Season After Epiphany, we will wear green vestments for seven Sundays. These seven Sundays are a gift, I think, to orient us to our sanctification. It’s time to let things settle after the holidays before we do a deep dive into Lent. These seven Sundays are an opportunity to ease into our sacramental foundation, but we can only do so when we return to this life-long process of embracing the sanctification that God offers, remembering that we are called to be saints.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 for Epiphany 2A, January 15, 2023.