“Saint” is a word with mixed connotations. On the one hand, we use it to refer to those dear, beloved and often long-suffering people who just keep plugging away, doing what needs to be done with extraordinary grace, the kind of people who lead us to say things like, “I don’t know how she puts up with him; that woman is a saint.” On the other hand, we have the vague suspicion that sainthood is a matter of long-suffering, and probably boredom, and that saints are themselves vaguely boring. Billy Joel sang, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; sinners are much more fun…”, and he’s not alone in that assessment.
One of my favorite things about being Lutheran is the theological assertion that, as humans, we are simul iustis et peccator, literally “at once both justified and sinful” but popularly translated as “at once both sinner and saint”. On the surface, this seems to be one more place where Luther is embracing paradox, but in fact it’s not. How can one be both a sinner AND a saint? Because a saint is nothing more and nothing less than a sinner made holy by the grace of God. In other words, not only is it eminently possible for a sinner to be a saint, sinnerhood is actually a prerequisite for sainthood.
I like to think of it this way: somewhere, God has a kitchen, and in that kitchen, amongst the bottles of quarks and bags of atoms, the containers of Higgs boson particles and mason jar full of dark matter, is a cookbook. And towards the back of that cookbook, somewhere between the recipes for “RHINOCEROUS, WHITE” and “TREE, ASPEN”, is a smudged, well-worn, dog-eared page that reads as follows:
Sinner, 1 ea.
Grace of God, infinite*
Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Repeat continuously.
*Note: this ingredient comes in no smaller amounts.
Thus, sainthood isn’t (necessarily) a matter of long-suffering, or of boredom, or of boringness. “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us,” Saint Theresa of Avila is reputed to have said. And all the sinful saints of God said, “Amen.”