Is a person, who does good, a good person? Is a person, who does evil, an evil one? We hesitate because we are aware of the limitations of our knowledge and the relativity of our opinion. On the other hand we can not but come to condemn an action as evil, if it causes harm to innocent people. Usually we are careful to transfer the sentence over an action to an entire person: a good man, an evil man. People and their motives are too diverse and complicated.
In other write-ups we are less self-conscious. If someone is born in Portugal of Portuguese parents, lives there and speaks the local language, then no one hesitates to call such a person a Portuguese - as if this alone already says something about someone. Yes, even if the person is born and lives in Hamburg, the origin seems to be sufficient to characterize him: This is a Portuguese.
Obviously it makes a difference: You're good, you're bad, you're Portuguese. From here forth it is worth a closer sight at the greeting in today's reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul addresses the recipient of his letter. He do not call them good, he does not call them evil, he also not speak to "Corinthians" but only "to the Corinthian." On the contrary Saint Paul calls the letter recipients belonging to the church at Corinth "Saints". That would be the last thing we would say about a person who is here with us. It would be strange if I would speak to you: "Dear Saints, gathered in the church at Hamburg."
Allow me to use the addressing from the Letter to the Corinthians: Martin, by God's will, called to be auxiliary priest to Bishop Werner, successor of the Apostles of Christ Jesus, to the church of God which is in Hamburg - to them who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, the saints chosen by God.
Therefore it is not as in "good" or "evil" that we would call describe a person by their doings. It is also not as in "Portuguese", which is simply labeling a person. Whereas the Saints addressed by Paul are "called" in a vocation, "sanctified" and they are "gathering". Own actions and what happens to us comes together when Paul calls the Corinthians "Saints" - even though there is all sorts of grievance in the community, no doubt, if you continue to read the letter. Yes, we are Saints, but not in a sense that we pride ourselves with our achievements. On the contrary, it is awkward to us to be called "Saints", because none of occurs to be a Saint - in the common understanding of the word.
"Saint" is something that happens to us. Probably no one would have expressed it that way. But I am sure that this has happened to all of us: God touched every one of us in our lifes at one moment or an other. We can - maybe just once - experience or have an uneasy sense of something holy and saint happening to us: Such an encounter or such an experience is never trivial, accidental or just man-made, but it is God who acts toward us. And I am convinced that this is true for every human being. Lucky us that this has been pronounced in the Letter to the Corinthians.
3. Assembly of Christ
We should not skip the second point: Paul writes to the "church of God which is at Corinth". At that time, 21 years after Jesus' death, that was not a self-evident expression. "Church" has not always been the special term for Christians. The word originally meant a meeting bringing together the responsible citizens in a civil community. It's like people gathering in Swiss small Cantons in order to decide on common issues by applause or rejection. Paul writes to an Assembly of sanctified in Christ living in Corinth and the surrounding area.
The specialty of our meeting here is the sacrament that we celebrate. We execute the commandment of Jesus to break the bread in memory of him and to receive the risen Lord in the bread given to us. Christ himself is present in person. This is the Sacrament: The Saint among us, the Holy God in our midst. That's what we can not produce ourselves. This is God's very decision to love us in that way. Thus, the holy mass is not simply any Coming Together; it is the Assembly of Christ the Lord. Something enormously sacred happens. Something saint and holy arises because God has called us.
Therefore we can be called sacred, holy Saints. Christ has sanctified us through experience in everybody's life. The Assembly of the Church is holy and sacred because Christ is present in the holy bread, we can not 'make' ourselves - but we can do receive! We may do evil, without being simply Evil. Hopefully we do at least some good things, but we are careful about calling ourselves Good. But the one thing we can not make but only receive, makes us somehow sacred. It needs our 'Yes' and 'Amen' with which we receive the Body of Christ. God can give only if there are people who receive him. The Body of Christ - the Assembly of the Church - is sacred because God sanctifies us. That characterizes us as Christians, not that we presume to act sacred doings only, but we are ready to receive the Sacred and Holy. And this is the only way, the holy God can make himself visible in Corinth and in Hamburg. Amen.