Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and celebrate the saints who have gone before us. But if I were to ask you what makes a saint, I think we would be hard pressed to name it. I am intrigued by what I’ve heard about a heavily tattooed, foul-mouthed pastor whose emerging church plant has a worshiping congregation of over 200. Nadia Bolz-Weber is pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints, a mission congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado. She writes in her book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People,
“It has been my experience that what makes us saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners. . . . I have come to realize that all the saints I’ve known have been accidental ones—people who inadvertently stumbled into redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile.”
I recommend her book to you, as it was recommended to me by one of my saints, with the caution that the language may shock you.
When I hold how Nadia Bolz-Weber describes a saint with the gospel reading for today, I wonder if being a saint has something to do with the power to bring life out of death. If we follow Jesus, one of our tasks is to unbind one another. This is not a goody-two-shoes kind of fixing the people that we think are broken. All of us are bound in some way. Our task is to unbind one another.
Maybe you’re not feeling bound by anything this morning. That may be because someone, one or more of your saints has already shown you a path to freedom and abundant life. But for those who are not feeling fully alive, let’s talk for a minute about what binds us.
That we will fail
That we aren’t worth it
Behaviors—gambling, pornography, co-dependency, etc.
You’ll never amount to anything
You were not wanted
No one would want me if they only knew . . .
I’m not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, prepared enough
Illness, physical and/or mental ability, lack of resources, social location (age, race, gender, etc.)
Truly, it is God who raises and releases us from our fears, addictions, and killing messages. It is God who restores our lives. We may hear Jesus call our name, but those messages, fears, and addictions are called bindings for a reason. We have gotten so wrapped up in them, so tangled, that we can’t seem to get out, even when we know that freedom is possible. Often, we can’t remove the wrappings that bind us—we need the help of others. It is the work of the saints to help unbind one another.
Unfortunately the church is at fault for binding people with messages like:
You don’t belong here
That’s not the way we do it here
I know people who have been removed from leadership in a church because they got divorced. I know young people who were made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in a church when they discovered that they were gay. There was a time when I asked Steve to always wear jeans to church because I saw the way that people looked at those who weren’t dressed “appropriately.”
But I have also watched churches unbind people:
Offering a plate of food
Finding a place for the stranger and the new person
Welcoming and including people with disabilities
Can I tell you a short story? One church that Steve and I attended had a Sunday school class for young adults with Down syndrome and other cognitive disabilities. These young adults all sat together in one row during worship. Some were a bit disruptive, but the congregation never minded. The women of the church had a fall carnival as a fund raiser. One of the most profoundly disabled young came to the carnival with his father. We had never met any of this young man’s family because he was picked up and dropped off at home every Sunday. His father stood in a doorway looking as if he felt out of place and uncomfortable while his son made the rounds of the carnival by himself. When the young man got to the booth where you had to knock down a set of bowling pins, he was given three balls. The first two balls went wild. But the third ball found its mark and the pins went flying. The whole room cheered and he was suddenly surrounded by people congratulating him. The look on his father’s face was indescribable. But I think he was being unbound. Here was a place where his son was not only welcome, but loved.
The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to unbind us by claiming us as beloved children of God. We are commissioned to be people who love because we are loved, to choose because we are chosen, to forgive because we are forgiven, and to offer healing and wholeness because we have been made whole.
The church is the body of Christ calling people out of tombs and helping to unwrap them. Too often churches act like clubs with members and rules and secret handshakes that people only learn when they’ve proven themselves worthy. The church’s mission is to be more like an emergency response system that reaches out to those who are in crisis, providing care that unbinds, heals, and prepares people to expand the emergency response system. When we do our work well, miracles happen right before our eyes! It takes time and investment to help unbind each other. Our work centers on resurrection—it is always about the journey from what binds us in death to what frees us for abundant life. Anything else is unworthy of our calling to be God’s saints in a world of pain. Imperfect people helping to unbind one another.