In the waters of Baptism, God has claimed us as God’s own children, joined us with the communion of saints and promised eternal life in the future and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives now. We belong to God now and forever. Because we belong to God, the Holy Spirit will equip us to live out the Beatitudes in Luke.
Vicar Emily Beckering, All Saints Sunday; texts: Luke 6:20-31, Ephesians 1:3-23
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Are there any who are poor? You are blessed because God’s kingdom belongs to you. Are you hungry or empty? You are blessed because God will fill you. Have you found yourself weeping lately? You are blessed because God will bring you laughter. Do people criticize you, hate you, or exclude you? Jump for joy because your reward is great in heaven.
But what if we are sitting with more than we need? What if we have full bellies, smiles on our faces, and other people’s praise tingling in our ears? Should we be worried? Have we somehow lost God’s blessing? Must we be poor, mourning, and hated in order to have God’s favor?
The poor, the hungry, those who are grieving or depressed: these are the people who, according to our standards, are at the very least, down on their luck. At our worst, we say that they are the ones who have failed, or floundered, or have caused their own suffering. Not so, Jesus says, there is a special place in the heart of God for these ones.
But the ones who Jesus warns, on the other hand, these are the ones who we believe have it all together! Wealth, success, influence, good times, the best parties, and the love and admiration of all. Who doesn’t want that? These people have everything! Or do they?
According to Jesus, things are not as they seem. Jesus takes everything that we think we know about life and about God and flips it upside down. We have lived our lives according to certain rules, expecting to find ourselves on the right side, come to find out that the ones who we think are cursed are not cursed after all and the ones who we are certain are blessed are not, in fact, blessed.
So when we hear Jesus speak the warnings, “Woe to you,” we may begin to squirm. Is that us? We may also be tempted to think that we must be of a certain status or find ourselves in particular conditions to be loved by God. We may wonder if God’s very blessing and love is conditional.
But Paul tells us something quite different in Ephesians. In the extended reading of Ephesians today, we hear just what God thinks of us. We hear just what the Triune God has done, continues to do, and will yet do for us. God the Father, out of great love for us, chose to adopt us as children. God the Son has bought us back from the power that death and sin once had over us, forgives us for our sins, and through him, we are given the promise of eternal life. God the Holy Spirit has sealed us with these promises and continues to empower and send us to do God’s work on a daily basis. It was God’s great pleasure to do this: God rejoiced at choosing to be in relationship with you and now no condition—nothing—can take away that relationship.
We are not saints, or holy or blessed because of what we have, have done, or hear said about us. We are part of the communion of saints because God has called us Holy and Blessed and claimed us as God’s own. Yes, God has made a decision about us. God has decided to be our God and that we will be God’s people.
To confirm this, we do not look to our bank statements, or our GPA, or the titles added to our names, or the amount of people who want to come to our parties, or whether or not our plans for ourselves work out. We look instead to the waters of our baptism, for it is here that we know for sure that our God is a God of love and mercy, a God who gives all of God’s self to those who have little, who turns weeping and mourning and shame into joy, who transforms our longing into fulfilled promises, our hunger into satisfaction, hatred into love and death into life. God washes us with these promises and says: “You are baptized in my name. I am your God and I will never let you go. All I have is yours and I give it to you freely and with joy and great pleasure because I love you.”
God is, was, and always will be your God so that no grave will ever be able to hold you: God will raise you and all the saints from the dead. And so, it is here in baptism that we are joined with Christ and brought from death into life; here that God claims us as God’s own children and makes us members of Christ’s church and heirs to our inheritance in Christ which is life with God in eternity and the seal of the Holy Spirit. With that seal, comes the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives now, forming us to live as Christ for the sake of the world. The Holy Spirit equips us to do all that Jesus asks in his sermon in the gospel for today.
Jesus is describing the life of the saints here and now. Jesus is doing for us exactly what was promised to the Ephesians. He is enlightening our hearts, showing us what it means and what it looks like to live out of his love, so that, as Paul writes, we may know the hope to which we are called, the riches of our inheritance as saints, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power in our lives. Jesus is not casting us aside for how we have been living; he is inviting us all back in: the poor and the rich, the hungry and the content, the mourning and the rejoicing, for he died for all.
In this invitation, as a loving parent, Jesus calls us back to his side to recall the promises that we have received in him. Jesus does not say, “in order to belong to me,” but “since you belong to me, live differently. Now that you know that you are mine, live as mine.”
Because we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with Christ’s cross forever, our very lives will be marked by Christ and his cross. Christ was poor, Christ was hungry, Christ wept, Christ was hated and rejected, and so shall we be.
Because we belong to Christ and the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we will accept with open arms the people who exclude us and rally against us. Because we belong to Christ and the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we will encourage those who criticize us. Because we belong to Christ and the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we will pray for God to care for those who discount us, offer our forgiveness to those who only deal out hurt, and give away freely from the abundance of what God has given us.
And this work of bringing us from death into life that God has done in our baptism continues to be lived out daily in the lives of the saints. In Jesus’ words today, the Triune God is at work once again to bring light where darkness has crept in and life where death has tricked us into feeling its icy chill. Here in this place, through Jesus’ words, God is putting to death the fears and behaviors that lead us to destruction, that cause us to wreak havoc on our neighbors and ourselves, and make us doubt the love of God.
When we hear, “Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated,” the Triune God is putting to death our assumptions about who is in, and who is out, where God is at work, and who has value. For those of us who have lived in misery, who know well the bitter taste of suffering, who are ridiculed, and ignored, and cast aside because we do not succeed in ways that the world values, for those of us who have begun to wonder whether there is any hope, the Triune God is putting to death the fear that we have been abandoned, and is raising up actual hope: you have a special place in the heart and in the life of God. Jesus is saying, “Nobody declares your value but me, and to me, you are precious, you are blessed, and you are mine.”
For those of us who have many friends and who find security in our comfortable lives, the Triune God is putting to death our assumptions that we have all that we have because we have God’s favor. Jesus warns, “Be careful who and what you let have power over you. Being rich or successful or influential or well-liked doesn’t make you count in my eyes. You are blessed, but know why. You are blessed because I have called you by name and made you my own: nobody declares your value but me and to me you are precious, you are mine.”
This is the promise that God gives not just to us, but to all, for everything will be gathered to God. Nothing and no one can take away this promise, not even our own tendency to live as if we still belonged to sin and death instead of to the risen Christ.
And so, may these tendencies to live as if sin and the fear of death still ruled us: that is, the tendency to accrue wealth and experiences for ourselves even though we are fully aware of those who are struggling, the tendency to meet our needs at the expense of others, to chase after approval and recognition no matter who we take down in the process, and the tendency to base our value on the world’s standards rather than on who God says that we are: may all these harmful patterns die. And may God raise us up anew, to live out of the Spirit’s power and out of the hope that our story does not end here, for we have a place in God’s story.
In the fullness of that story, an end will come to poverty, and hunger, and pain, and weeping, and hate, and we and all the faithful dead will be united with God. But here and now, God is in our very midst putting to death our harmful beliefs and behaviors and raising us once again by the power of the Holy Spirit to live as Christ—to fill and be filled by the hungry, to weep with the weeping, to return hate with love, to forgive and lift up before God those who hurt us, and to give of ourselves and our resources for the joy of being apart of what God is doing. When this happens, all around us the clouds part and God’s future breaks in now.
This God who chose to make us his own and freely poured out on us the gifts of eternal life, forgiveness, and the power of the Holy Spirit, this God who has made us saints and called us blessed, will continue to call us back, to put to death harmful patterns, to raise us again to live as Christ, and to remind us whose we are until that time when before the throne with all the saints in light, we will know in complete fullness, the God to whom we belong.