|Trinity Adored by All the Saints, |
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spanish artist, ca. 1400
Think for a moment about the people given you in this life, to know and to love, sinners and saints. The temptation is to draw distinctions between those two categories, and assume that out there in the world (and in here in our lives) we are either sinners, or saints. The reality is that we are both, and neither, at once. Easy enough to say? You might even be nodding your head now and wondering why you are wasting time on "Father Obvious" and his ramblings. Or, you might have just jumped ahead in your thoughts and nodded assent to the concept...."Why yes....saints can sin....and sinners can be saintly!"
Don't get caught in that trap. You see, even then we are applying standards to others, and drawing distinctions between humans as we think God is relating to them. All well and good when you are trying to elect a king or queen for the homecoming dance in High School; but when we are talking about who gets to dance before God's throne when eternity bear its fruit, we have to cede discernment to the Almighty. Frankly, I am too tempted to condemn to perdition those who I think deserve it...and welcome to sanctification those whom I deem worthy. Sure I might welcome the Holy Spirit to the discernment....but in truth my own guts will also have a large part to play. As much as St. Peter is entrusted with the keys to unlock heaven to all, and inasmuch as a rector I am entrusted with keys to unlock the doors to my little church....I know right now that my endorsement is driven by my own mood and prejudices.
So, check your list: who on it qualifies as sinner? Who on it qualifies as saint? Want to step back from that list for a moment? Courageous enough to hand it over to God, altogether?
I thought so....well, I am working on handing mine over to God. That is, if I can just figure out how to ease my resentment over x's way of doing y over, and over, and over again. I am sure they think the same of me.
Saints and sinners....oh what entanglements these labels create. Saints are the worthy, the washed and purified. They are the first-class souls who were righteous enough in life to be blessed with challenges of service to the Almighty that caused the bells to ring with celebration in heaven upon their eventual arrival! Oh, the sinners! Those whose contempt, even worse their apathy, for the will of God earned them passage (at BEST) in steerage. The worst, well...the worst are condemned to eternal exile from God.
We all know which category we aspire to be placed in when God opens the great Book of Life at the end of the age. We all know which category we hope we are not listed in, at the same time.
But here's the deal.
Increasingly, I feel that the distinction between who is sinner, and who is saint, is at best a human projection on our own hope that what we DO will impress God ENOUGH to love us in spite of our failings.
Reading scripture, I see testimony of a God who adores creation, and the created beings in it, with complete and utter enjoyment. God LOVES the work of God's hands. God loves US. God calls us good, calls all of it good...and then rests and gazes with love upon it.
God loves us so much as to give us the great freedom to love God and each other back.
A rules driven person, which admittedly I am not, would take umbrage now. "Without rules, without knowing right from wrong? Without identifying between righteousness and sin? That is madness!" Yes, amorality is madness. It denies responsibility to those with whom we are in relationship. It discounts the love I have just offered witness to between God and the beings that God created.
I am not obviating sin....not discounting righteousness. I am in fact doubling down on their import and effect in our lives. You see, without the label of either sinner or saint, the stakes get higher in word and deed. We are challenged to live fully into each and every present moment, every "now" we are gifted with in this life in the sure and certain knowledge that NOW is the time to love God with my whole being. NOW is the time to love my neighbor as myself. NOW is the time to be focused on how to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving them as I love myself.
I can't rest on my laurels. Those come from past efforts. I can't procrastinate and say I will honor God later, my neighbor tomorrow...because there is no tomorrow. It has not happened....and to be true we must admit: tomorrow is and always will be....tomorrow!
So, that gives us?
Now is the challenge. Now is the ordeal. Now is the moment to bear witness. Now is the moment to alter the trajectory of our lives. Now is the reality we are living in, and it is in the now that we meet God. Now is when we receive the full measure of God's love:
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. Beloved, 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. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.1 John 3:1-3If that is the case, then I suppose we are overdue with reassessing how we determine who is a saint and who is a sinner. Why? For in every sinner is a saint awaiting renewal and repentance. For in every saint there is a sinner redeemed; and with every passing moment the tables are always turning with every choice we make.
What does not change? God's immutable, incalculable love for us. Love not because we deserve it or earn it....but love because we are God's own handiwork and beloved in the light of God's revelatory gaze.