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All Saints' Sunday Sermon
Luke 6: 20-31

November 6, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Most of us are more familiar with the version of The Beatitudes which is found in Matthew than we are the version found in Luke. There isa number of differences between them: for instance, in Luke, Jesus delivers these words not in a sermon on the mount, but in a sermon on a level place, or on a plain; in Luke, the blessings are fewer, and speak to a more physical situation rather than spiritual – blessed are you who are poor now, rather than blessed are the poor in spirit. Finally, instead of calling the crowd the salt of the earth and light of the world, after pronouncing blessings upon the most materially vulnerable of society, he follows up with words of woe to those who are rich, happy and powerful. It can be troubling to us here today, but we shouldn’treally be surprised at it – early in this gospel Mary sings a song of praise where many of these same themes are stated: the powerful are brought down and lowly lifted up; the rich are sent away empty and hungry filled with good things.
In coming down the mountain in Luke’s account, Jesus is accommodating the crowds in ways that the other religious authorities of his day would not. They would never think of moving among the common people, out of fear of becoming unclean or impure. But Jesus has a time of prayer on a mountain, and then he comes down to the plain, down to the low, level place and comes amongst a great multitude of people from all over Judea, Jerusalem, the coast of Tyre and Sidon. The crowds came to listen; they also came to have their illnesses cured and demons cast out, and their needs met from Jesus’ abundant power. These people are vulnerable in the extreme, and Jesus knows that. So rather than invite them on a spiritual pilgrimage up a mountain, or beckon his disciples up the mountain to talk about the people, Jesus comes down into their midst to talk with them, and to meet them in their vulnerability and need.
Even though this version is much more challenging than Matthew’s version, I also find it much more meaningful as a text for All Saints’ Sunday as well. While we all have our own definition of what it means to be a saint, according to God it means to recognize your vulnerability – not to be perfect, or to be different, or to be particularly pious or zealous – but to be vulnerable … and out of that vulnerability, to turn to God in need.

That may also help us understand Luke’s juxtaposition of blessings and woes. On this All Saints’ Sunday, we remember those we have loved and who have moved to the Church Triumphant, especially those who have done so in the last year. When we think of those whom we have entrusted into God’s eternal care, we cannot help but think about death itself, and the fact that none of us is exempt from death, or from loss or grief. Garrison Keiler once said that everyone who attends a funeral looks around at least once during the service and wonders, “Who is it going to be next?” We are all dust, and to dust we shall return. So, on this day as well as on Easter Sunday, we share again the fulfillment of the resurrection promise in the midst of the reality of the presence of death.

And so, this setting of the Beatitudes stands as a reminder that as we dwell in our vulnerability, Jesus comes. As we consider the reality of the fact that we will all die one day, Jesus does not require us to climb any mountains or ladders to reach him: he comes to us, just as he came down to that plain to be among the crowd in Luke 6. Even as we live in the reality of our need for and dependence on God in our lives for everything, Jesus speaks words of promise and hope to us – yes, promise and hope even to us who might find ourselves identifying with those who receive the woes in this passage.

When we speak of All Saints’, we are ultimately speaking about the church. The church, at its best can be a place where we are reminded that vulnerability is not something to shun or deny, but it is the very place where God has promised to meet us. Whenever we are in need or broken, grieving or ill, Jesus comes into our midst. We will soon confess in the creed that, “for us and for our salvation, Jesus came down from heaven.” When he came down from heaven, he came to heal and save all of us in our vulnerability.

The three people from Clinton Heights who died this last year – Vern, Elaine and Bob – each knew times in their lives of poverty and riches, hunger and fulfillment, grief and laughter. Vern and Elaine were in their 90’s, and Bob was only about a year away. During these last years, we walked with them in their vulnerability as their bodies aged and failed gradually. Jesus met them in those places where they needed him most, and now they dine at the heavenly banquet table and experience the joy that all of us seek in our lives. The other saints who we will include in our prayers today – the names of your family and friends - God met them in the plain of their want and vulnerability so that they could make it through this great ordeal of life and join him finally on the mountain. As children of God, all of us are made in his image, sinful though we may be. In our sinfulness, we mostly need God’s love and grace to confront us where we are, to remind us of our dependence upon God, and our inability to traverse this life either without each other or without the community of saints on earth, which is the church.
Saints are not especially more pious or perfect, but they are the ones who live on the plain, to whom Jesus comes to remind us of our need for God and the promises of God’s presence for healing and salvation. Lest we judge among each other, we must always remember that we are all made in God’s image, and God intends for all of us to be healed and saved.

On Tuesday, many of us will go to the polls to vote in the election – or, maybe you already have done so through the mail or the early voting center. The thing that I think makes these times more contentious is the fact that our candidates are not able to admit their vulnerability. Imagine either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton doing that! Or imagine each of them making a statement that the other person is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image! I believe that to be true, just as I believe that all of us are in the same boat. We are all saints of God – people who God created and who Jesus comes amidst to live and to heal.

No matter who wins in any of the elections in two days, God will be with us in the midst of our poverty and riches, hunger and fulfillment, power and weakness – because no matter where we see ourselves in those descriptions, we all live together on the plain of life. On this All Saints’ Day, we celebrate with the whole church on heaven and on earth that God came to be with all of us vulnerable people to heal and forgive us. Trusting in that message, and looking forward to the time when there is only one church, reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. May we celebrate the Saints who from their labors rest, and those who are still alive, loved by God and used by God to do great things for all of God’s creation. May it be so, in the name of Christ; Amen.