If the Church is to be anything, let it be this, a House for All Sinners and Saints. That's actually the name of one of our congregations in the Denver area, founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Nadia is not your 'typical' pastor. Covered with tattoos that bear witness to her faith she is in high regard throughout our church, and much sought after as a guest preacher. But this is not about her.
To be a "House for All Sinners and Saints" is about following Jesus in "the Way". It's about the type of community that gathered around Christ, and which remains to this day. It's about following Jesus.
Sunday we will remember Jesus entry into Jerusalem, mounted on a donkey, and heralded by his followers who shouted out "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!" Palm branches were spread on the road before him. Great anticipation abounded. And yet the path he was on led not to the palace, but the cross. And the invitation, a simple but ominous "follow me".
The Cross, a place for Sinners and Saints. As we stand at the foot of the Cross, we are both sinner and saint. It is for our sins that Jesus died, and in that death, we are redeemed.
Holding these two, together, has been a challenge for all of us who have followed Jesus in the 2,000 years that have passed. At times we are confronted in the most challenging way with our sinfulness, and this sinfulness is evidenced throughout the life of the Church. At other times we fancy ourselves to be righteous, even to the point of looking down on those who are not like us. "Simul justis et pecator" is how Martin Luther understood the life of faith. Simultaneously Saint and Sinner.
Who is welcome? Who is welcome, here?
Our human tendency, especially for those of us who are 'religious', is to ask the question "Are you righteous enough to be part of the Church?" The real question we should be asking is "Are you sinful enough to be part of the Church?" We are in the business of forgiving sinners, and if you have no need for forgiveness, you have no need of a Savior.
Of all the things Jesus was criticized for during his life, the one that stands out is that he freely associated with the outcast and sinners. From the tax collector who was part of his inner circle, to the prostitute who anointed his feet, Jesus loved the unlovable. Even, Judas who betrayed him with a kiss, was one of the disciples he loved. Such is the grace of God.
"The Way" leads us to the Cross, and from the Cross, to the empty tomb and the redemption and new life that is ours in Christ.
Sinners and Saints, the people of God. It's not that some are sinful, and others saintly. We are all both.
There are times I wonder how a person such as I could end up being a pastor. I don't feel very holy. I have struggled with my sinfulness in many ways. I could hardly recommend that you 'follow ME!" Believe me, you don't want to be where I have been, and too often, remain. And yet I have also experienced forgiveness. And so I bear witness. I can preach about God's love and forgiveness because I need it, and have experienced it myself.
Who is welcome here? Well, in a word, you. You are welcome here. Not because you're righteous, but because you're not.