A sermon for All Saints Day, Luke 6:20-31
There is a certain absurdity in what we are called to live into in terms of our faith, our lives as Christians. We have Christ today speaking blessing and woe, and I do plan on touching upon this, but I want to jump ahead to the end paragraph of our gospel lesson today:
“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. 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. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This is absurd.
This is a lot.
This is so very hard.
It’s not that we haven’t heard this verse in many different ways, that we’ve missed the point on the surface, that we haven’t picked up on the sense that we are called to love, to do good, to bless, to pray, but the level that is expected really puts us to the task.
In this moment we receive a call in our faith that is at its heart, rather absurd if we stop and think about it. The depth of this call seems to go against our very nature. This certainly goes against the culture we live in, the societal norms that we have inherited. Even in a nation that often encourages the public declaration of a “Christian” faith, Jesus is calling out woe to us as we do it for personal gain, for personal satisfaction, rather than living into the absurdity of that same faith we are proclaiming as our own.
Why do I say this call to faith is absurd?
Well, when was the last time you truly lived into this call?
I think we all try, but it is really hard to make this the full expression of our being.
I certainly fail miserably at this call, and if I’m honest, it’s probably closer to a daily occurrence than an exception.
I can get very frustrated. I like to call it passionate, but sometimes I have a hard time honoring the other person, of loving my enemy when they stand in direct opposition to what I feel convicted and called to be doing. I cannot serve Christ by only serving a certain group or population. I can only serve Christ through serving all in and through Christ, of loving and praying and blessing those who would stand obstinately in my way, but gosh that is a hard ask sometimes.
And the call that Christ puts before us today doesn’t stop here.
We are called to empty ourselves.
To give everything we have.
To take those forces that would fight against us full on the face and offer the other too just to make sure they get it all out of their system.
To know that it is only through a complete emptying of ourselves, a complete giving of ourselves to Christ and to Christ through all that we offer to all who have a need.
And when we do this, we are reviled.
When we do this, we are defamed. Our name, our person is cast down, disparaged, spit upon.
That is our day of celebration, for that is the day we join hand in hand with the prophets that have come before us, who experienced the same as they fully gave themselves over to God in the service of the faith that they possessed.
We aren’t Christians for our own personal gain.
When that becomes the focus of our faith, to be a Christian, to look like a Christian, through work that is designed to increase our public profile, through an identity that is designed to bring us personal gain, then we are living as the false prophets of the past and present. Those false prophets are forgotten as quickly as they are held up because there is neither substance nor loyalty to their brand.
We are Christians for our own personal gain, but gain after this life, not for this life.
And, we aren’t alone.
In our collect today we mention how God has “knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship,” and we are part of that expression of the faith. We do not have to go it alone in the absurdity that is the call of our faith, the call to live outside the societal norms of our day and time, we have a long history of faithful Christians that shine a light onto that path and remind us that we engage in work that is two millennia old.
The saints that have come before us have left a legacy and a blueprint for what it means to live into the absurd call of faith that is following Christ. We have the “big S” Saints that have reflected the light of Christ, the movement of the Holy Spirit at work in our world, that we continue to hold up as examples for all Christian believers. From St. Stephen to St. Francis to St. Catherine to St. Teresa to St. Nicholas, to name just a few, there is a history of followers of the way of love that inspire and inform our own journeys of faith, and that give us fuel to engage in the absurdity that is a call to give so fully of oneself.
We also have the “little s” saints that are the holy people in our history and today that also share that same reflection of the holy to the world. From Martin Luther King Jr and Jonathan Daniels to Tomas Merton or Lillian Trasher we have many famous holy people that also shape and inform our understanding, but we also have those “little s” saints in our family, in friends, teachers, clergy, in our community, our neighborhood, in the face and action of a child or of a friendly stranger, there are saints all throughout our lives that make a lasting impact on our lives in the reflection of the holy that we receive from them. These glimpses of the holy fill us with the strength and courage and knowledge that we too can engage in the call to follow Christ to extreme lengths, and to know that we will not always meet the high bar that has been placed, but we will certainly work so very hard to even come close.
This is where our practice of stewardship comes into consideration.
In supporting the work of this place, in supporting the opportunities for our own members to learn and grow in their faith, in providing opportunities for ministry that invite others into this place to see the holy reflected back into their lives through the people that are here to serve, we honor the lives of all saints that have come before and we promote the reality that God is still present here in our daily lives, that there is a place where faithful people are gathering together to try and live into the absurd call of Christ that we hear today.
Which is not to say we’re perfect or that we even reach that bar more often than not.
I certainly don’t.
But, we try.
And in our trying, we turn to all those saints that have gone before and know that we can model our lives in such a way as to make a greater impact if we do give into this call. We begin to learn that our faith is truly all we need in order to live into the call that we have received. We begin to understand too, that it truly is only with the help of other faithful believers that we can ever hope to accomplish what has been left for us.
St. Stephen’s is a place where you are supported in trying to live into the call that Christ has left for us. Together, we, as a collective gathering of faithful believers who have determined to live a life of faith together, together we are able to accomplish that which is absurd. Together we are able to fully give of ourselves so that others may be touched by the holy in their lives. Together we are able to support one another when we falter. Together we are able to move past those that would tear us down and live into a reality that is greater and bigger than anything that any one person or group of people could ever bring down.
For that is what our faith and stewardship is about: being a collective body that has come together to support one another through this place, so that all may be touched by Christ, so that we may know that Christ is always with us in this work.
As you submit your pledge statement today know that you do so in support of a place that is part of you as much as you are a part of it, and together we all are able to reach for that standard of absurdity that Christ calls us into.