Greg's Weekly Word: "saint"
I hear a lot about sinners
Don't think that I'll be a saint
- Justin Bieber, "Holy"
First of all, apologies for quoting a Justin Bieber song. But the notion of saints has been on my mind since we are coming up on All Saints Day (November 1st), when we celebrate the lives of those who have gone on to glory.
And the more I think about it (as much as it pains me to admit it), Bieber's not wrong. We usually don't think we will be a saint. Because we think of them as old (often dead) people who are - in the words of Frederick Buechner - "plaster saints - men and women of such paralyzing virtue that they never thought a nasty thought or did an evil deed their whole lives long." And we know that's not us.
And while that may be true, it's not biblical.
The word saint(s) appears in the New Testament more than 60 times, and none of them refer to extra special, extra holy people. Every time it shows up, the word refers to a group of ordinary Christians - to any people who have experienced God's grace in Christ and put their trust in him. Not people who are long dead, but fully alive and living in the way of Christ...or trying to, at least. In other words, people just like each and every one of us.
As Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in her book, Accidental Saints,
It has been my experience that what makes us the saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.
Saints are not perfect people, but sinners of God's own redeeming - people through whom God works to bring about redemption in our world. Which sounds like a big task, especially for sinners such as ourselves. It's intimidating, and overwhelming, and sounds impossible.
But Father Daniel Berrigan - a Jesuit priest who probably should be canonized as a saint - has some wisdom for us here. Berrigan dedicated himself to caring for the poor and oppressed, for bombed civilians in Vietnam during the war, for AIDS patients, and the list goes. He truly loved God and neighbor, and lived what most would call a saintly life. But he also reminds us of the importance of doing what we can. He said,
One cannot level one's moral lance at every evil in the universe. There are just too many of them. But you can do something, and the difference between doing something and doing nothing is everything.
In a couple of weeks, as we remember the lives of those saints of Augusta Heights we have lost this year, we will celebrate their lives. Not as perfectly pious saints, but as sinners of God's own redeeming; as people who did something for God.
And may we, too, do something for God in our lives, here and now. Not because we think we will be saints, but because we know God works through sinners. Maybe even us.