I don’t know how many of you have seen the Broadway musical and motion picture, "My Fair Lady." It is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, "Pygmalion." It is about a brilliant professor, Henry Higgins, who transforms a humble flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into an elegant English lady. In the midst of her brilliant transformation, Eliza falls in love with Henry Higgins, but he treats her only with disdain.
Towards the end of the play, she expresses her complaint to their mutual friend, Colonel Pickering: "You see," she says, "Really and truly apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not in how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will."
Think about this story for just a minute as we consider the fact that today we celebrate All Saints Day in the life of the Church. It is the day in the Church year where we remember the saints–those who have gone onto eternal glory and those who are among us now who have profoundly impacted our lives–particularly our lives of faith.
For many, when the term saint is mentioned, they think about a person who has exceptional morals or who had done extraordinary things. They think about a Mother Teresa, a Pope John Paul II, a Peter, a Paul, a miracle worker, a person who volunteers all of their spare time to help out at soup kitchens, food pantries, or other charitable organizations. Rarely do we think of the person sitting right next to us as a saint. No. We know too much about that person. We know too much about his or her past. We know what he or she does on the weekends or how he or she treated us with just a touch of anger at some point and time in our lives. We know how they don’t keep their lawns perfectly manicured; how they spend money frivolously; how they could do so much more to help others but they choose not to. No, that person couldn’t possibly be a saint. She is just a simple flower girl, never a lady: or, in Christian terms, that person is a sinner not a saint.
One might think that with such an attitude, these folks would think more highly of themselves than they should. One might think that those with such an attitude would consider themselves above the people they think about. However, I would submit to you this morning, they probably don’t. They probably look in the mirror and say, “I am no saint either. I do not do enough good things. I am no Mother Teresa. I am no St. John. I am no St. Francis of Assissi. I’m not the most horrible person in the world, but neither am I so great. I get angry. I get frustrated. I say things I shouldn’t say. I do things I shouldn’t do. I know my limitations and my imperfections all too well. I am no saint. I am a sinner.” I am just a simple flower girl, but I really am not a lady to return to the opening illustration..
This is where we get with either/or thinking. This is where we get when we start thinking in terms which are not necessarily Christian. For the orthodox Christian faith proclaims that we are not either a sinner or a saint. The orthodox Christian faith proclaims that we are both a sinner AND a saint. Consider that very, very carefully, and then consider its implications.
And as you consider it, listen once more to the words of 1 John. Words that we heard earlier this morning: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
John holds up this balance very well. We are children of God NOW. Not later. Not when we are finally brought to perfection. We belong to Him NOW. Yet, we have not reached perfection. We have not been fully purified. That will take place slowly and surely in a process called sanctification. We are in the process of being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. God has claimed us NOW, but we are not there yet.
And that raises and interesting question for me: how am I then called to treat others? How am I called to look at them? What am I called to emphasize about them, and how am I supposed to relate to them? As simple flower girls? As ladies–going back to the original story?
Let me try to shed some light on this question with another story. It is a story I have told before, but it bears repeating again and again and again.
Back in the mountains of Tennessee, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, Who's your daddy? Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?'
He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid
going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. 'When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. Little Ben had heard good things about this preacher how he was kind and non-judgmental. He heard that he was compassionate and full of the Spirit.
Before long, Ben decided he wanted to check this preacher out. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' Ben liked the things he heard in that church. He liked hearing about a God who loved and forgave. In fact, on one particular Sunday, Ben was so caught up in the message that he forgot to slip out early. Before he knew what was happening he got caught up in the crowd.
Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?'
The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church
looking at him. This was the question everyone was dying to receive an answer for. Ben expected harsh words, condemnation. But something very different happened.
This new preacher looked deeply into Ben’s eyes. With a great big grin, the preacher said, “Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now, You are a child of God.” With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, “Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”
Perhaps I should tell you that little boy went on to become the governor of Tennessee. Perhaps that is relevant to the story. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps what is most important was the way the preacher thought to look at Ben. Whereas many could only see him as an illegitimate son of an unwed mother, this pastor saw him as a child of God–and worthy of love, respect, care, concern, and compassion.
Each of you are worthy of such things as well. Each of you have been adopted in the waters of baptism and have been claimed as God’s children now. No, you are not perfect, but God’s not done with you yet. He loves you dearly. He wants you to know that, and He hopes that you will treat one another with the same love He gives you. For that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.