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Sermons

“Are Candles and Bells Enough?”

November 6, 2022 All Saints Day The text is Luke 6:20-31.

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20 Then [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. 23 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. 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, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I have quite unashamedly borrowed the greeting that Bishop Hazelwood employs when he visits churches throughout New England.  I’ve done this because it so very accurately describes what we all are.  I greeted the congregation this way just this morning; Good morning, saints, and good morning, sinners.  And as Martin Luther tells us, we are saint and sinner at the same time.  And while we’re always more than ready to accept that we are indeed guilty of sin, it seems that we don’t quite as frequently acknowledge our identity as being saints.  Now, before we get too carried away, Lutherans don’t consider themselves as being capital-letter “S” Saints.  I daresay there are no Saint Francis’s or Saint Paul’s among us.  But nonetheless, we all fall into the category of lowercase-letter “s” saints.

A Lutheran saint is a person who is justified by faith in Jesus apart from works and who continues to believe and trust God’s promises in Christ.  So, on this All Saints’ Day, I greet you again. Good morning sinners. Good morning SAINTS!  That seems a bit more appropriate for today, when we gather to honor all the saints; those who have departed from us and those who remain.  As we remember the lives of the faithful ones who have left us, we are reminded that we are firmly connected to them as we strive to live as inheritors of God’s kingdom.  As we struggle with the challenge of balancing lives of sainthood and sin.  As we acknowledge the duality of our nature; as beings unable to secure our own salvation, while rejoicing that we have already been saved, made holy, made to be saints by our faith in Christ.

And Jesus is fully aware of this saint and sinner reality of our human nature; he lays it out quite clearly in this morning’s Sermon on the Plain.  He is preaching to his disciples and the larger throng that is following him, eager to learn from him.  And I’m not really sure that the great majority of them were very happy as they listened to Jesus’ sermon this morning.  They were likely pleased with the “blessed are you’s”; I’m not so sure about the “woe to you” parts.  What about these blessings, these beatitudes, as they have come to be known?  Well, Jesus tells the crowds and us that we are “blessed” if we find ourselves being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated.  Perhaps, these conditions don’t make us feel all that blessed, don’t you think?  After all, we don’t like to imagine ourselves being in poverty, hunger, sorrow, or the target of hatred.

Maybe we should take a look at the word for ‘blessed” that Luke uses in the original Greek.  “Makarios”, lends itself more to being “fortunate”, or “privileged”.  In fact, one of the more recent bible translations records Jesus as saying “congratulations to you that are poor, hungry, in mourning, etc.”  Perhaps this is meant to assure those who are less fortunate that, besides receiving their reward in heaven, that they also find themselves not burdened by the weight of the false security of others.  Or, maybe it’s intended to acknowledge that the ones who are struggling are those most able to identify with others who are grappling with life’s pressures.  And lastly, perhaps Jesus is reassuring people who are struggling that their pleas are heard by God, and that it is God’s intent that they will be alleviated. 

And, as Jesus often does, he next takes the opposite view, what with all those “woe to you” declarations.  Again, let’s consider the Greek word that Luke chooses for “woe”.  It’s “ouai”, and it doesn’t mean “cursed” or “damned”.  It’s somewhat of an unusual term and is best translated as a way to express alarm or to get someone’s attention; rather like “watch out!” or “uh-oh!  Again, some present-day scholars think this word is best described as “yikes!”  It’s definitely meant as a wakeup call.       

In a sense, Jesus is giving the rich, satiated, laughing, and acclaimed ones a “heads-up”; a warning so that they might be encouraged to reconsider how they treat their less fortunate neighbors.  It’s given as a caution, an admonition to live into the abundant life for all that Jesus preaches is God’s will.  They, and we are instructed to love our enemies, offer goodness to haters, and blessings to those who torment us.  Jesus goes so far as to teach that we are to pray for those who mean us harm.  We’re told to to “turn the other cheek”, and give the shirt off our back.  To treat others as we would have them treat us.  All these commands reflect the upside-down nature of Jesus’ ministry.  Each of them encourages God’s people to act in ways that are not consistent with how the world behaves.  Love your enemies, bless those who would never consider blessing you, give your shirt to the one who steals your coat; the poor and hungry are “blessed”, while the rich and happy are given a wakeup call to be aware of, and alleviate their poverty and hunger.    

And while God’s will is for all people to fall into the category of blessed, the reality of this world is that there is a great deal of real “woe” to go around.  In many ways the Kingdom of God is already here, expressed by those saints who continue to believe and trust God’s promises in Jesus Christ as Savior.  Yet the kingdom has not yet come into its fullness; illness, accidents, old age, and human mortality still hold sway over God’s people in this world.  For many the blessings promised have not yet come to be.  But for those for who we remember and honor on this All Saints Day, for them the promise of the kingdom has been fulfilled.  The “woes” are no more, the struggles of this life have been replaced by the beatitudes that Jesus preached on the plain this morning.  Those who have gone to be with God are now rich, filled, laughing, and loved.  The saints who now rest in paradise have received full measure of God’s grace and mercy.

We will honor their memory in this world by the reading of their names, the lighting of candles, and the tolling of the church bell.  All these are appropriate ways to remember and commend them.  But the manner in which we continue to live our lives in this world, well, this is the way Jesus would have us honor their lives, their earthly sainthood.  Each time we aid the poor, feed the hungry, console the troubled, or speak well of the despised, we celebrate the memory of the departed saints.  For they are the ones who heeded the words of Christ and who served as examples for us to follow.  We are blessed if we acknowledge what they taught us and “woe to us” if we disregard the lessons of those who have gone before.  May the memory of those we honor this day live eternal.    

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, we give you thanks for the lives of our loved ones who have gone to be with you.  Strengthen us so that we might live our lives in ways that celebrate the saintliness of those we remember this day.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who secures for us the blessings of heaven; may we emulate his teaching in this world.

God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good. Amen.

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