I wrote this for tomorrow's newspaper.
This is a good month for me. Last week I celebrated my 44th birthday. Next week my wife and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. A few days before my birthday we celebrated Thanksgiving. A few days after our anniversary the neighbourhood streets will be teeming with costumed kiddies out for trick-or-treating and I'll be able to sneak some of my favourites out of my kids' bags as well as snacking on the leftovers that we don't give out. There are a lot of good things about October.
But as I write this and look out the window it's grey and overcast. It's been raining on and off all day. I'm wearing a sweatshirt for the first time in months. We've had the furnace running for a couple of weeks. The leaves are falling from the trees. Gardens that were very recently lush and green with a splash of colour here and there are getting kind of wilty and drab and dingy looking.
September still had hints of summer but now it's fall. I'm not saying fall is bad but I'm already missing the warmth of summer, a season that is just too short up here. And I know that a long winter is around the corner. Not that winter is all bad but I could do with a lot less of it.
I guess I just have to learn to take the good with the bad in any season and any month. In the summer I do complain about the humidity when it gets so oppressive that I can't sleep and the slightest physical activity gets me so sweaty. As long and cold as the winter is, there is real beauty in a landscape coated with a newly fallen snow, the kids having a ball playing in the snow, and winter does have Christmas after all.
We have to take the good with the bad. Lutheran theology often talks about tension and paradox, about two "words" required to proclaim truth. We are saint and sinner. Creation is good and fallen. The Word of God is law and gospel. Jesus is human and divine. We live in and with these paradoxes.
I know I'm a sinner. Even though I'm a Christian, even though I'm made right with God by God's grace, I'm still a sinner. And no matter how hard I try I'll never stop being a sinner. But that's okay because God's love and mercy and forgiveness are big enough to deal with my sin and because of that God accepts me and I am also a saint. Saint and sinner, both at the same time.
Maybe that's what some people don't get. The people who see a church full of hypocrites. There may be some, but the hypocrites are the ones who go around sinning yet they deny that they're sinners. They're only fooling themselves because everybody else knows they're sinners.
We've got a sign out in front of the church. One side lets people know what time church is on Sundays. On the other side I put a message. I try not to be too cutesy or clever, instead trying to put up something inspirational. Once the sign said FOR SINNERS ONLY. Okay, so that borders on the cutesy, but those three words contain a profound truth. The church isn't for perfect people. If it was then there would be even fewer people in the pews than there already are.
No, the church isn't for perfect people, it's for sinners. It's for people who need saving. It's for people who need blessing. It's for people who need forgiveness. It's for people who know hurt and need healing. It's for people who need a welcoming and accepting community of faith, a community of other sinners looking for the same thing.
The church is not for perfect people. The church is for people who desire a relationship with a perfect Saviour. Just as any month or any season is a mixture of good and bad, in the same way people who are being saved are a mixture of good and bad, saint and sinner. That goes for me. That goes for you. That goes for my church and your church and the church across town. So I thank God that his love and mercy and forgiveness are big enough for all of us.