Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Strange Good News for the Saints of God

(A sermon preached on All Saints' Sunday at All Saints' Church, using Luke 6:20-31 on 11/7/2010)

All Saints' Sunday is a joyous day, and a GREAT day to be at a church named All Saints'!

It is the day that we, as the hymn goes, "Sing a song of the Saints' of God". Some of the "Saints" we celebrate are those who are remembered for special service. That would include some people from New Hampshire like Philander Chase, born in Cornish, NH in 1775 who served in the church as a clergy person for years, before becoming the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, while attending seminary, heard the call of Dr. Martin Luther King and traveled to Selma, Alabama in the summer of 1965. He was killed as he shielded a 16 year-old African American girl from a bullet fired by an angry white man.

All Saints' Day is not just for those who ended up in the history books: we are all called, by virtue of our Baptism, to be Saints of the Lord. All Saints' is not just our feast day of our church, but is the celebration for everyone, of everyone.

This morning, however, we have strange Good News for the Saints of God:

(Jesus) looked up at his disciples and said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Some wish list: being poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. At least in Matthew’s version (5:3-12), much of it gets spiritualized:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Matthew’s version we can say okay to: in them we hear the spiritual side of the blessings.

Luke does no such thing, and puts a strange truth in our face.

After all, the truth is that the poor would not choose to remain so. Those who are hungry would like something to eat. Those weeping do not wish to remain overcome by grief. And there’s no doubt that it’s painful for our souls to be hated.

Jesus does what he always does throughout Luke’s Gospel. He brings words or hope, healing where he can, and a constant reminder of the presence of God. The good news is that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and the defamed are blessed: that’s counter to the conventional wisdom, which said that their afflictions were signs of cursing from God. Those in trouble, and those pushed to the outside are well aware that they do not have the power to control all things. Jesus states, without a shadow of doubt, that they are God’s beloved no matter what judgments other people make about their life’s situations.

Jesus, however, has more to say:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Here’s some more truth: in general, Jesus’ words here are about us. While it is true that this economy is tough for many of us, most of us know where we will be sleeping tonight. Most of us will eat something today. Most of us will not be weeping constantly today, and few of us are hated and despised (or at least, there is someone who loves us and speaks well of us).

I’m pretty sure that Jesus doesn’t want us to suddenly become poor, hungry, weeping, hated and defamed. I think, however, that it’s very easy to believe the conventional wisdom that the good things found in our life: our homes, our food, our reasons for laughter and the good words people speak of us, are blessings from God. When we think of these, we often can’t help but say that we are blessed. And, after all, we are blessed. But what really makes us blessed? Are we blessed by what we do? Are we blessed by what others say about us? Are we blessed by what we have? If our ability to do, if the good things people say, and if the things that we have disappeared tomorrow, wouldn’t we likely assume that we must have done something wrong? Why is God doing this to me (or at least allowing it)? What have we done to be cursed?

We are easily seduced by the lie here: that God’s blessing is shown by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. When things are good, and compared to most of the rest of the world, things are good, we tend to think that we have the power to control all things in our life. There’s not much need for God if that’s true.

We miss the truth that we are God’s beloved not by what we do, what others say about us, and by what we have. We are God’s beloved simply in our being.

Finally, Jesus has these words for us:

But I say to you that listen:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What we say and what we do does indeed matter, but it’s not about earning God’s love or securing a place in heaven. Instead, it’s something even bigger.

Using this text yesterday at Diocesan Convention, Bishop Robinson said that we know a living God who loves us and enables us to do all sorts of things.

We are, however, faced with a decision: We can be admirers of Jesus, or we can be disciples.

In truth, Jesus doesn’t need any more admirers. What Jesus needs are those willing to give up some of their blessings for others. And, ironically, Jesus says that we will be cursed if we don’t use our blessings.

I happen to agree.

God desires wholeness for all. God yearns for a world where no one is poor, hungry, hated or defamed, and through all of us God is working to make this vision, this dream for the world, a reality.

Clearly, we’re not there yet.

I think Jesus is suggesting radical action on our part. We are to say and do things and ultimately live our lives in a way that counters the usual.

As Christians, the things that we have often called blessings: things like our time, our abilities, and our money, are to be used in Jesus’ name towards reconciling God’s beloved, in other words, for everyone.

I believe that this is living life as a Saint of God. And fortunately, the afore mentioned hymn reminds us, that there are people out there willing to live their lives this way:

You can meet them in school or in lanes, or at sea,

in a church or in trains, or in shops or at tea,

for the Saints of God are just folk like me

and I mean to be one to.

Blessed be the Name of God. Amen.

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