Grace Presbyterian Church
November 6, 2016, All Saints’ C
A Sermon for the Sunday Before Election Day
(and Every Other Sunday)
November 1 is, in some more liturgical Christian traditions, observed as All Saints’ Day. (Since in most years November 1 does not fall on a Sunday, many churches will observe it the Sunday following, which is today.) The day is one for commemorating those “saints” who have gone before us in the faith and who, in the words of the Book of Common Worship’s liturgy for the Service of Witness to the Resurrection, “have kept the faith, finished the race, and who now rest from their labor,” who “having lived this life in faith, now live eternally with you.”
I do not know that this congregation has made much of All Saints’ Day in the past, but it might be something we find meaningful going forward. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a number of those who have been members here over the decades have joined the Church Triumphant, and others will in the years to come. Just this calendar year we have mourned the passing of Lorena McAlpine, Ron Nunn, Lynette Ramer, Larke Nunn, and just this week Judy Attaway; all of these have played a role of note in the life of Grace Presbyterian Church. It would be a shame if we did not give our respect to those who have done so much in the life of this congregation for fear of being “too Catholic” or of learning something new.
(prayer for the deceased)
But the occasion of All Saints’ Day is not merely for commemoration of those departed saints, but also for learning from them and the example they lived among us. To be clear, this is not to be a lionization or beatification of these very human predecessors in the faith; the liturgy quoted above (which you’ll hear me use on virtually every such occasion) also reminds us that each of these departed members is “a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.” It would be misguided of us to claim a perfection they did not have (a fact which they now know so well); rather we are to learn from their example, faults and all, and be moved by that example to live into all that Christ calls us to be.
What today’s scripture shows us is that “all that Christ calls us to be” is a monumental challenge, one that would (if we took it seriously) require us to reorient our entire life together as the body of Christ. Being a saint is tough.
The first portion of the text is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. We heard the more familiar version from Matthew in today’s responsive reading for comparison. You probably noticed that Luke tells the story a bit differently; Luke’s “blessings” are a lot more concise, less elaborated, and less watered down – for example, “blessed are you who are poor” in Luke’s gospel, not just the “poor in spirit” that Matthew cites.
Luke’s “blessings” sound familiar if you know Matthew’s “blessings,” but are rather more direct and to the point (blessed are you, not those), perhaps we might say “less spiritualized” – very earthy, very real conditions that Luke records Jesus as describing and calling “blessed,” conditions that challenge our ability to grasp what Jesus is saying. The poor, those who weep, those who are hungry, those who are hated don’t look blessed to us. But they are “blessed” with Christ’s favor, and if we truly want to be followers of Christ, not just nominal “Christians” but real followers of Christ – it is our calling to see them as Jesus sees them.
If Luke’s “blessings” make that difficult, Luke adds a parallel series of “woes” that Matthew, for whatever reason, does not record. These “woes” truly challenge our ability to “see through Jesus’s eyes.”
It simply doesn’t compute for us to think “woe to you who are rich,” particularly since our society is geared to revere and even idolize them. To say “woe” to those who laugh now, or those who are full, or those who are well-liked and respected, just doesn’t make sense. But we miss the point; those who have grasped and shoved and grabbed and held the best the world can give have obtained exactly that; the best that the world can give, which is nothing but the foulest refuse next to the grace of God. Woe indeed to the embracers of foul refuse.
Again, this is not “pie in the sky, by and by” stuff; this is where Jesus calls us here and now, even if that requires complete upheaval of the way we live and relate to others. And there is no part of our lives excepted from this.
As if that weren’t enough, Luke then adds a “greatest hits” list of The Hardest Things Jesus Ever Said: “…love your enemies…”; a version of “turn the other cheek”; “…give to everyone who begs from you…” (I routinely fail this one); “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Again, not pie-in-the-sky stuff; here and now, this is Jesus’s instruction to us.
Now for those of you wondering where the title of today’s sermon comes in…right about here is the spot. Of course this kind of turned-upside-down life is supposed to affect us when we mark those little circles on those ballots Tuesday. Again, no part of our life is exempt; this really is how Jesus is teaching his disciples to live every part of every day. Our “political life” (so to speak) is equally under the mandate to see as blessed who Jesus sees as blessed; to love our enemies; to do unto others as we would have them do unto you. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Christ, we don’t get to take Election Day off.
At the same time, we don’t get to take any other days off either.
We might just find, if we take Luke’s “blessings and woes” and other recorded instructions seriously, that every day of our week looks different. It might make a difference in our weekends outside of the church, whether they be spent at the stadium or ballpark or golf course or coliseum, and might even upset the way we decide which of those to choose. It might even cause us to have to pull back from how we spend our evenings. It could just possibly mess with how we spend our days at work, or even what work we do. It might just, if we really follow through on it, cause us to have to speak up where we might just be more comfortable staying quiet when injustice is done, when the poor are shafted yet again to make life yet easier for the rich, or what little food the hungry have is yet again taken away. And we just might find ourselves “blessed” in ways we might never have imagined, and would frankly rather have done without, if only Jesus hadn’t opened his big mouth and Luke gotten wind of it and written it down. We might even have to rethink how we say “God bless you” to one another, if we know ourselves to be more caught up in the “woes” than the “blessings.”
Blessed are you? Woe unto you? Being a saint has never been easy, but saints have never been more needed, on Election Day and every other day.
For the saints before and among us, and what we might learn from them, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal):
#326 For All the Saints
#550 Give Praise to the Lord (Psalm 149)
#506 Look Who Gathers at Christ’s Table!
#729 Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
Credit: agnusday.org. Is it the devil in the details, or ... ?