What's Tony Thinking

All Saints Day: Grace, Not Perfection


Reader Scott Freeman passed along Tish Harrison Warren’s fine reflection on All Saints Day — which is today, November 1.

I’m not sure how Warren found her way to the pages of the NYT on a regular basis, but she’s a most welcome addition. She speaks in a compassionate and contemporary, yet theologically substantive and orthodox, Christian voice.

In that voice she reminds us that saints are not perfect people. They are people like us — confused, selfish, and frequently grumpy — through whom God works — despite our imperfections. Here’s Warren.

” . . . saints are imperfect people. And this is what draws me to this day. Christians don’t remember these men and women because they were perfect. We remember them because, like us, they were broken, selfish and fearful, yet God wrought beauty and light through their lives.”

Warren goes on to speak of some of the strange and wild “saints” she has learned about through a study of church history.

That’s one way, or place, to learn about “the saints.” Another is your local church. One of the blessings of being a pastor is you get to observe, up close and personal, the way God works through the most unlikely people.

Looking back now, on a life in ministry, I feel like the writer of Hebrews, who in Chapter 11, goes on (and on) about “the saints,” one after another until finally exclaiming, “And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of . . . (and he rattles off a long list of additional names) “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness . . .”

I feel I could say the same . . . of so many men and women I’ve been privileged to know who in their own way conquered kingdoms, quenched raging fire, won strength out of weakness and more.

Not a one was perfect or flawless. But each and every one of them rose to the occasion, did their part, cursed the darkness with laughter, and kept on when their pastor (that would be me) was so often a man of “little faith.”

Warren once more:

“All Saints’ Day reminds me that God meets us, saints and sinners, despite our contradictions, and makes good out of haphazard lives. It tells me that all of us, even the best of us, are in need of unimaginable mercy and forgiveness. The church is ‘first and foremost, a community of forgiven sinners,’ writes the theologian Gilbert Meilaender. It is not ‘a community that embodies the practices of perfection’ but instead ‘a body of believers who still live “in the flesh,” who are still part of the world, suffering the transformations effected by God’s grace on its pilgrim way.’ Recalling the stories of saints is, in the end, a celebration not of perfection but of grace.”

That last line is just right. “Recalling the stories of saints is, in the end, a celebration not of perfection but of grace.”

We remember particular people, their courage amid fear, their beauty despite blemishes, the brokenness which let the light shine through, and we praise God for the way God works through all sorts of people, even you, even me. Hallelujah!

Happy All Saints Day!


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