Imperfect Saints, Part of a Bigger Story

Preacher: Jenn Hosler

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Date: January 15, 2023

Today is our first Service Sunday. Several people are serving in-person at our Sunday respite for asylum seekers in DC today, helping newly arrived families get the clothes and toiletries they need. We also had the same amount of people request addresses to send cards or emails to folks within the congregation. Still a couple more folks RSVPed to say they were interested but could not make it this Sunday, and several more people beyond that were traveling for the long weekend. Thank you for responding, for trying this new thing with us, even if it might be outside of your comfort zone.

I want to share with you this morning from the scriptures that Jessie read for us (I hope you clicked the links), focusing especially on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. The Apostle Paul writes a long letter to the early church in the city of Corinth. Many Christians are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, which is a beautiful scripture about love. Probably fewer people know that the early church in Corinth was a bit of a hot mess. Paul’s letter is long – he spends time working on their theology and their social relationships. Despite all the difficult topics that Paul is about to get into, he starts of with greeting and gratitude.

Paul identifies himself and a companion, Sosthenes, who is mentioned elsewhere as a former leader in Corinth. Basically, Paul says, “hi, it’s me Paul – and Sosthenes is with me, remember him?” He then proceeds to greet the early Christians with some important reminders of who they are, while also setting the tone for some of the themes in his letter.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

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.

Paul says he writes to the church of God in Corinth. Paul makes clear that these are not just random folks part of this weird little religious group, not just people who show up for prayer or worship: these are people who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. As I said earlier, the church in Corinth is kind of a hot mess. More specifically, they are dealing with braggarts and boasting and divisions, unhealthy sexual practices, questionable theology, and more. Yet despite all the issues (which Paul will get to eventually), Paul starts out by reminding these Christians, this church, who they are in Jesus. Sanctified. Made holy, set apart for God in service. Not only that, but the Corinthians are also even “called to be saints.” The word saint here is not designated for the select holy few. In Scripture, the word saint is used even for the messed-up Corinthians and Paul would have also used it for you and me. Paul is writing to people sanctified in Jesus, called to be saints. Not only that; these imperfect Corinthian saints are also part of something beyond their little city. They are agents in God’s cosmic story and part of a bigger picture. Paul explains the Corinthians are part of the Jesus movement alongside everyone, in every place, who calls on the name of Jesus.

When we think about our own congregation and all the people who make up our church, do we remember that we too are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, part of a bigger story alongside everyone else who calls on the name of Jesus?

Paul continues his letter introduction and gives thanks for the church in Corinth. He writes,

“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 gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Jesus] 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 whom you were called into the partnership of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.?

Paul says to this fledgling and messed-up church in Corinth, “I thank God for you. Remember, the grace of God that comes through Jesus is indeed at work in you. God’s working through you and people are learning about Jesus through you. Plus, you are not alone in this work; God has given you gifts so that you can be part of God’s work revealing Jesus in this world. Jesus will keep strengthening you. You’re not in this saint journey on your own; God is transforming you in holiness. God is faithful and you are continuing the work of Jesus.”

Paul gives thanks for the Corinthians. As I am sure you all know, when things are not going well, it can be hard to be thankful. When relationships are not as smooth as they should be, when there are unaddressed issues, when there are factions or conflicted priorities or any number of concerns that a church faces, it can be hard to be thankful. I am sure that the church in Corinth stressed Paul out. Despite his commitment to shepherding them through difficulties, Paul might not have always thought about the Corinthians with the most charity. I don’t really know, of course, but as a church leader, I can imagine Paul giving some exasperated groans when he heard reports of how things were going down in Corinth. And yet – Paul opens up his letter giving thanks to God for the Corinthian church. They are God’s people! God is working in Corinth. It’s messy, they are messy, but the theological truth is that the Corinthian Christians are still sanctified, made holy, set apart for God’s service, even called to be saints, serving and proclaim Jesus as they figure out what it means to be the church together. Paul gives thanks.

I want to share a quote I found particularly meaningful, as we think about our church here at Washington City Church of the Brethren. Richard Hays (1997) says, “Even though the Corinthian church is riddled with problems, Paul offers a word of thanksgiving to God for the very community that he is setting out to correct. Despite all present difficulties, he sees this church as the work of God in the world, and he discerns in their midst gifts for which God is to be thanked” (p. 20). Hays shares an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together:

“If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty, if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ… What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God… The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases” (Bonhoeffer, pp. 29-30). According to Bonhoeffer, Christian community is “not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (p. 30).

 Sisters and brothers, siblings in Christ, I thank God for you, for your presence in our community, for your faith in Jesus, for the gifts that God has given you and the ways you share them with the church, for the work that God is doing in and through your life, and through our common life together in this church. Let us remember that we are sanctified, called to be saints, people set apart to serve God and part of a bigger story together with all who call on the name of Jesus. God is faithful and will strengthen us to the end. AMEN.


Hays, R.B. (1997). First Corinthians. Interpretation. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

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