SERMON 10/30/16 St. John’s Clearwater, FL “All Saint’s Day”
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ps. 149, Ep 1:11-23 and Luke 6:20-21.
As our church year comes to a close in just a few weeks, and we enter a new year beginning with the season of Advent, the church shifts her attention to the feast of All Saint’s, and undoubtedly this time of year we teach about stewardship. Pastor Kathy tells me that over the past few weeks, your leadership has been emphasizing that stewardship is about using all our resources for the honor and glory of God, including time, talent and treasure. You all have also been encouraged to recognize God’s generosity to us, and how we respond in gratitude to God. Each day, we as saints respond to God’s abundant grace, out of the abundance God has bestowed upon us. As saints, each one of us also responds to God’s love by our loving response to our neighbors.
In Luke’s gospel today, we find Jesus’ disciples gathered around him and he is taking a moment to teach them. What a crew he chose: Peter (the bold and yet, first to run disciple), James and John, (the two who wanted seats of honor, over and above their fellow disciples), and there were others just as notorious (a tax collector and a zealot, just to name a few).
Jesus seems to call some incredible characters into the Communion of Saints, doesn’t he? This group of followers, and we the generations who have come on the scene much later, have not been nor are we saints of perfection, which are often depicted on television or in the movies. No, we saints are a ragtag, motley, and imperfect group, who try to get it right, but often fall short. Nonetheless, it is this recognized and embraced messiness of Christian community that makes it so beautiful, hopeful, and reflective of God’s grace in action.
The Beatitudes we hear Jesus share with his disciples in Luke’s account was challenging as well as instructive, but it sure did not make his newly minted apostles believe that following Jesus would be comfortable, easy, or that following Jesus comes with low expectations. Being a saint ain’t easy my friends.
Jesus teaching, with its blessings and woes is today, as counter-intuitive to our culture, as it was 2000 years ago. Jesus sums it all up with this phrase, “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.” This is a command of Our Lord, and not merely a suggestion or a corny saying that looks impeccable engraved on pewter statues, silicone bracelets, or framed artwork.
No, when Jesus commands us to “Love our enemies, ” I believe without a doubt, he literally means it. However, “loving enemies” is not something of great value in a competitive, destroy your opponent, and push your own agenda kind of world. Just imagine what the political advertisements would be like this year, if the politicians really followed Jesus command to love your enemy. Now, imagine how we might react, if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemies. How might we react if one of our Facebook friends posts something negative about our favored political candidate, if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemy? Would we ignore it, like it, send a nasty comment, or remind the friend how much their friendship matters despite your differences. Imagine how we might react to the injustices in our culture, if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemy? Would we ignore it or respond by standing with the oppressed. How might we react if someone in the congregation has hurt us, spoken wrongly about us, or simply ignored us, if we really followed Jesus’ command to love our enemy? Maybe you say, Eric, I do not have any enemies.
According to that scholarly search engine Wikipedia, the word Enemy, “is an individual or a group that is seen as forcefully adverse or threatening.”2 In other words, any person or group that is seen as a threat, according to this definition, is an enemy. Our natural response when threatened is either to run away or to put up our dukes and fight. Jesus says that we should resist our natural response of “fight or flight,” to go against our sinful nature, and choose to respond in love.
We all at some time in our lives have experienced situations when others have challenged our need for power and control, and we have been threatened by that. I imagine we too have challenged others as well and they were threatened. Each one of us if we are honest can acknowledge that we have inflicted pain on others, but Jesus says that we should “not hit back.” Jesus says that we should love. Now Jesus does NOT say that we should remain in an abusive, injurious, or violent relationship or association, nor does he say that we should NOT stand up for the least, lost and lonely and speak truth to power and challenge injustice. He does say, “choose love, choose to be a saint.”
Being a saint is a little risky and dangerous these days, especially in these volatile times in our country. Polarization and divisions among us abound. Fear has often entered, where hope once reigned. Now more than ever, we saints need to follow the command of our Lord, and love our neighbors. We saints must not participate in our nation’s emerging “like for like,” “eye for an eye,” “destroy the other guy” mentality, because that has nothing to do with love, and honestly, it is not of God.
We saints must enact love with responses that include: “Doing good, blessing others, and praying for others.” We must show up in our society and respond to injustice, racism, xenophobia, or any other plague that pits one group of God’s people against another. We saints must, in our own faith communities, show incredible resilience and commitment to love one another, to address internal conflict honestly, and to work toward reconciling, healing, and restoring within, so we can go out into the world and do the same with integrity and love.
The truth is my friends; we all are both, saints and sinners. We know in our hearts that each one of us has a great capacity for grace, mercy, and love. At the same time, we all possess the capacity to inflict pain, create harm, and wound one another. When we accept this paradox that is within each of us, our only hope is in Christ, who reminds and lovingly demands that we resist fear, hate, and division, and just “choose love!” In the midst of the challenges of community life, God calls for our “best efforts,” our best sainthood efforts, which “sums up the divine character (merciful even to the ungrateful and wicked) and the obligation on disciples to imitate this indiscriminate mercy for all. “1
“Love your enemies?” Is it an old adage that has lost its place in today’s culture? Is it merely a trite saying we learned in Sunday school? No, it is a reflection of the divine character so “exaggerated and provocative (in) quality.” 1 Love your enemies, “is a command in search of elaboration, dialogue, and discernment. It provides direction, but (it) leaves the itinerary to the travelers.” 1 Loving enemies is a response to the unmerited grace given to us by God. God’s abundant grace flows to, and through us. We, who have without deserving, been blessed by God are called in everything we have and in everything we do, to respond in kind with love. Being a saint requires us to respond to God’s love and to choose love in all things.
So, what is the Good News in the midst of a life fraught sometimes fraught with the paradox of threat, pain, uncertainty and wounded-ness? We sometimes travel the journey of broken hearts, and often times, sit exposed to the rawness of wounds made fresh through the actions of others. We always have before us, the choice to follow the path of Jesus Christ, which is self-giving love. Like the first apostles, those saints of old, Jesus’ leaves his mission of reconciliation, mercy, grace, and love, God’s mission in the world to us.
We can only continue that mission by God’s grace enabling us to incarnate generous acts of love, which in the words of Jesus include: doing good, blessing each other, and praying for each other. In a world fraught with injustice, hatred, and even in times when we witness publicly displayed personal attacks on others by those for whom we should really expect better, our witness of Christian love is needed now more than ever. My friends, as followers of the one who came among us, lived, died, and rose again for all of creation, we must as he did, choose to respond with abundant, radical, and overwhelming love.
1 Carter, Warren. “Love Your Enemies.” Word & World 28.1 (2008): 13-21. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 1 Nov. 2013.