Author Eric Elnes, pastor of Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska, reflects in the Huffington Post on the “accidental saints” he witnessed at the memorial service of his friend and mentor, Phyllis Tickle, and his thoughts on the imperfection of humanity and of Jesus. During the Passing of the Peace in the Rite I service (held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tenn.),
I was surprised to see a friend of mine leave her pew and cross to the opposite side of the sanctuary to pass the peace to another friend. What made this gesture surprising was not the length of the traverse but the fact that, as far as I’m aware, these two have not spoken to one another for the better part of a year after a major disagreement ruptured their relationship.
He draws parallels to a story from the Qur’an, in which God asks his angels to bow down before the imperfect humans he has created. They refuse at first:
“They will commit mayhem and evil,” the angels exclaimed, “even murder!” In response, God said, “I know things that you do not.” That stopped their complaining. While they could see no reason to bow down to humanity using their own wisdom, they respected God’s wisdom and choice to create us. Therefore, they honored God by bowing.
The only angel who does not bow is Satan, and he is thrown out of heaven for the sin of “self-righteous indignation.”
Jesus was human, and the Gospel of Luke says that he was baptized for the repentance of sins, which is in opposition to the idea of a sinless, perfect Christ.
I’m not trying to convince you one way or another about Jesus’ moral state. I just find myself drawn to the idea that Jesus could be both a sinner and a savior. As far as I can tell, being “fully human,” as every orthodox Christian claims Jesus was, includes struggling with sin (as the orthodox deny). While it may seem counterintuitive, I trust Jesus – and God – a lot more if Jesus struggled with the human propensity to sin. Why?
Recognition of each other as beloved and as worthy brings us into closer relationship with God and with each other:
As I witnessed my two estranged friends honoring Phyllis Tickle last Friday afternoon by passing the peace of Christ to each other, I believe that they honored God even more fully than Phyllis. For they showed that, as deep as the divide between them may be, it is not deeper than their desire to act toward each other in the same way God acts toward us, as revealed by Jesus, the beloved sinner-savior of God. In this simple yet fierce act of grace, they became for each other what Nadia Bolz-Weber might call “accidental saints.”