11/3/2019 All Saints’ Sunday The text is Luke 6: 20-31.
20Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice 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.
24“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25“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.
26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
“God is good”, all the time! “All the time”, God is good!…Amen
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Welcome to “All Saints Day”. A Christian church festival celebrated on the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost. At least, this is the timing we Lutherans have adopted to observe this festival day. Although, All Saints Day was historically celebrated on November 1; which just happens to be the day after October 31.
This date incidentally began as All Saints Eve, then All Hallows Eve, and eventually evolved into Halloween.
The two days were initially combined into a single festival observed by the early Christian church. On All Hallows Eve (Halloween) the faithful gathered for church vigils to mourn the passing of the departed. The two-day celebration then shifted to All Saints Day, where the lives of those holy ones who had passed were commemorated. It’s apparent that the All Hallows Eve, or Halloween observance has taken on a rather different meaning from the original sacred intent. So, after the costumes are put away and the trick-or-treating is over, we fast-forward to the twenty-first post-Pentecost Sunday where we find ourselves this morning. On All Saints Day.
While we remember the lives of the faithful ones who have left us, we are reminded that we are firmly connected to them as joint inheritors of the promises of God’s kingdom. It’s just that the departed saints have moved a little bit closer to the Father by obtaining their heavenly inheritance, while we remain here to try to live into God’s ways for God’s kingdom on earth. Let’s not forget that we are all considered ‘saints’; simply by being faithful Christians, devoted followers of the Way of Christ. But before we get too carried away with ourselves, we must also remember that we, at the same time continue to be sinners. We are God’s disobedient, rebellious children simply because we are human. We are ultimately made saintly by the work of Christ on the cross.
Heaven and earth, sinner and saint, those who have departed and those remaining, Halloween and All Saints Day. God’s kingdom seems to be an assortment of opposite principles, behaviors, and perspectives. Throughout the gospels we encounter Jesus emphasizing the dissimilarity between the ideal truth of the kingdom of Heaven and the stark reality of our earthly existence. Jesus’ entire ministry focused on turning our understanding of truth ‘upside-down’. “The first will be last; the last shall be first”. “I came to serve, not to be served”. And this morning; ‘blessed versus woeful’. Let’s take a look at the ‘blessed’ and those to whom ‘woe’ is promised.
Luke uses the Greek word, ‘makarios’ to refer to those Jesus assures are blessed. Rather than receiving a sacred sort of blessing, Jesus tells them they will be ‘satisfied’ or ‘unburdened’. This is more akin to a reversal of the trials and tribulations they endured on earth; an elevation to completeness in God’s heavenly kingdom. Thus, we can be assured that our loved ones, those who have gone before us have been granted peace, comfort, and ‘blessedness’ in the many rooms in the Father’s house. No matter the conditions endured in this life, the life to come will be one of wholeness, of release from the brokenness that pervades the earthly reality. But what of those to whom Jesus promises ‘woe’? Again, let’s consider Luke’s choice of the Greek word for ‘woe’. It’s ‘ouai’, and is not translated as we might think, as ‘afflicted’ or ‘damned’. It’s a rather unusual term and is best translated as a way to express alarm or to get someone’s attention; rather like ‘look out!’ or ‘uh-oh!’. So, Jesus is not telling those who are well-fed, wealthy, and joy-filled that they will necessarily receive the opposite of these good things, but that they are already blessed with them.
They are being given a ‘heads-up’; an ‘ouai’, a ‘watch out’ warning so that they might be encouraged to mend their ways when considering how they treat their less fortunate neighbors. It’s given as a caution, a forewarning to live into the ‘upside-downness’ that Jesus persistently preaches. They, and we are instructed to love enemies, offer goodness to haters, and blessings to tormenters. We are to ‘turn the other cheek’, and give the shirt off our back. To treat others as we would have them treat us. Jesus has no intention of letting up on that whole idea of inverting what we think is the natural order of the world, of turning everything our sinful nature reveres, inside-out. We’re not being damned, were being put on notice that we are expected to act in ways which seem diametrically opposed to how we would behave if left to our own nature. Anyone who considers themselves to be one of the saints, one of those who chooses to follow Christ, is expected to follow Jesus’ example. And, whether this makes us comfortable or not, it does require that we settle info a life where ‘upside-downness’ becomes the norm.
And this is another example of the Lutheran conviction that the kingdom if God is ‘already here’, but ‘not yet’. And it’s up to us, the earthbound saints to live into the ‘not yet’ part. For, by doing so we honor the lives of those saints that have gone before. Those departed who are now blessed, the ‘makarios’ who dwell in the ‘already’ of God’s kingdom. In the dream/vision experienced by Daniel this morning, we are assured that no matter what happens in the world God’s kingdom will prevail. And Paul reminds the church in Ephesus, and therefore us, that all the saints will receive their promised inheritance.
And thus the connection is confirmed, between the ‘not yet’ and the ‘already’, the earthly and heavenly, and the faithful who remain here and those abiding in their eternal home. We are all included in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ that Paul alludes to in Hebrews; it’s just that many of us are ‘already’, while the rest of us are ‘not yet’ included in the kingdom of Heaven. And the best way for us to give honor to, and celebrate the lives of those saints who have gone before us, is to heed Christ’s warning to ‘watch out’. To avoid the threatened ‘woe’ by emulating the actions of Jesus; by feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, and consoling those who weep. In this way, we too are sure to be ‘blessed’.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we give you thanks for the lives of those saints who have gone before us. We are assured that our faithful loved ones abide with you and Christ Jesus in the many rooms in your house. Help us to live lives that are an expression of our willingness to acknowledge the upside-down nature of your kingdom. Continue to remind us of the woe we face should we neglect our responsibility to our neighbors; and prepare for us a room in your house, where way may restore the connections to those who await us there.
And in Jesus’ name the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.