I can see them in my mind’s eye. Connie, Doris, Lyn, and Judy, who when I was a teenager and frankly not always happy to be at church, always greeted me with a hug and a smile. And there was Erwin, a curmudgeonly yet kind old man, who taught us all how to be acolytes, and was always there before everyone else on Sunday morning. Helen Mayer, who made the best fudge I have ever tasted and always gave me a taste of it! And Pete, who traveled with my dad and me in tow into that mysterious place called the boiler room, forever working to keep the heat and hot water going in the sanctuary and building next door.
Saints who welcomed this pimply teenager and loved me unconditionally and made sure I knew that I mattered. I don’t know that I consciously realized and acknowledged the welcome and love they gave to me then, but I certainly see it now. And I definitely did not see their work or the work of countless others in that faith community called church as work of the resurrection then. But I certainly see it now.
And they were saints who were just ordinary, struggling people. Lyn never did manage to stop smoking, and it broke many of our hearts to watch her breathing get more and more ragged as the years went by. Connie swore like a truck driver when she wasn’t at choir practice and even once in a while when she was.
Being a saint isn’t dependent on being perfect. In fact, perfectionism can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help. Being a saint is possible because of the God who, as we hear in the book of Revelation, is making a new heaven and a new earth by coming to dwell among us mortals. To bring us to the streams of living water so that the thirst we may not even have known we had, can be quenched.
God sent Jesus to come and dwell among us mortals as an embodiment of that living water - to become one of us so that we might all come to know unconditional love and welcome and learn how to share that love and welcome with others. And because Jesus shared the same flesh and bones and sinews as all of humanity and yet was also God, all the struggles that we know in this life have the potential to be redeemed. Transformed. Not because God waves a magic wand and all of our human problems are suddenly gone. We might wish for that, but it’s not how it works.
No, it’s more like when a young girl is struggling with Asperger’s, a form of being on the autistic spectrum, and the people around her keep encouraging her, and then she discovers a passion for environmentalism and suddenly she is protesting on the steps of her country’s Parliament building and then the world comes to know her as eight-year old now nineteen-year old Greta Thunberg – advocate and activist, raising not only awareness in her own country, but around the world regarding climate disruption. Greta’s family are Lutherans, by the way.
The resurrection work of Christ came in the shadows and the struggles and brought forth a new creation in and through Greta, just as God in Christ is seeking to bring forth a new creation in each of us. Some of the greatest works of art – books, paintings, music – have come through people who were in the midst of great turmoil and struggle. This is a resurrection work, and God in Christ intends this resurrection work to get into all of our business. We may never be famous like Greta Thunberg, and we do not need to be, in order to have a deep and important impact in this world.
The people I named from my church growing up, who met me and so many others with unconditional love and welcome weren’t famous, and their lives were full of sin and brokenness just like everyone else, but by Christ’s work they were saints nonetheless, changing the lives of those around them.
"Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” -- John 11:40
Jesus looks at the crowd around him, after he has raised Lazarus from the dead, and says, “unbind him.” Jesus, who does the heavy resurrecting work – who brought Lazarus back to life after he had been dead and sealed in his tomb for four days; Jesus charges the crowd around him and us - the community – to take off the grave clothes. Unbind one another. Remind one another that we are not alone. Meet each other as children and teenagers and adults and remind each other that these struggles of our lives and this world are but the beginning of the birth pangs.
Do we feel insecure and lonely or depressed? Do we have different ways of learning and interacting with the world like Greta Thunberg? Do we feel that much of what we try to do simply fails? We are not alone in our feelings of brokenness or differentness! Let us meet one another with a welcoming love and a genuine willingness to participate in the resurrecting and unbinding work of Jesus right here in the midst of our imperfect lives with our imperfect selves.
This is the work of saints: that others might come to know of Christ’s unconditional love and welcome for them, and that changed by this love, we might go forth as change agents for the sake of the world. From boiler rooms to climate change protests, and everywhere in between. Amen.