One thing I love about Church in the Cliff is that the conversational format allows for dissent and dialogue. As soon as we began our series on saints, questions were raised: “Isn’t canonization really a political process?” “Is anyone really a saint?” “Aren’t we all saints?” Another thing I love about Church in the Cliff is that everyone came along for the ride. We raise questions, talk about them, and then see where it takes us. In this case, it seems to have taken us, completely unplanned by Genny and I, back to the beginning.
We began by adopting the Catholic definition of sainthood – dead, miracles – but the New Testament doesn’t seem to support that understanding. The word translated as saint (hagios) simply means “holy one.” It usually refers to believers, Christians. It is a standard component of the greeting in most of the Pauline letters, e.g., “To all God’s beloved in Rome who are called to be saints.” There is much discussion of the needs of the saints, the care of the saints, and support of the saints throughout the NT. There is even a little discussion of what it might mean to be a saint.
One clue is that root word meaning “holy.” When the text refers to “the holy ones” it is translated as saint. However, the same word is used to refer to Jesus, to God, to the Holy Spirit, to the city of Jerusalem, to the interior of the temple – to anything that is set aside for God. It is contrasted with koinos, which often means “profane.” These interpretations set up a binary in which it is hard to locate ourselves. The holy is the exalted realm of the wholly other; the profane is queers and booze and musicians. (So maybe it’s not so hard to locate ourselves.) But there is another way to understand koinos that might open up a little space: it is the common, the everyday, that which we share together. The holy stands apart from the everyday, not because it is better or more real, but because we experience it as set apart, as something different that acts on us and changes us. It is not an end-point, but an opening, a crack in the everyday through which we see ourselves and world differently. What does that mean for us, then, the holy ones?
Well, it can mean a lot of things. In traditional theological terms, it might mean that we are counted as holy even though we are clearly not. That can be good news for many of us, but I think there is more to it. For my mind, this marks it too much a position of favor and privilege. Instead, the holy ones are not those who have arrived, but those who have committed to a kind of open space in which we might encounter the other – and the Other. In that space we are transformed, little by little, as are those we encounter there. We become that open space where others can meet themselves and God. The holy ones, the saints, are those who open themselves up to the world and to God, to “abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thess. 3:12).
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the call of sainthood, the priesthood of all believers, and the responsibilities that come with calling ourselves holy.
Grace and Peace,