See what God sees as blessed, not the world, and you will be. Act as God acts as holy, as you are set apart, and you will live as a saint.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
All Saints Sunday, year C
Text: Luke 6:20-31
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Don’t trust what you think these words mean.
We sing of blesséd saints today, and hear “blessed” and “saint” and think, “that’s not me.”
We think “saint” means perfect people, always kind, loving, good to all. “She’s a real saint,” we say, and know what we mean.
We also hear “blessed” in a particular way. People are blessed if they’re doing well financially, their families are in health, they have good jobs. If things are going well for them.
But God-with-us, Jesus the Christ, says that for his followers, neither of those words mean that. And every saint whom you remember today who is in the life to come, every one for whom you lit a candle, every capital letter S saint listed in our worship book for commemoration, every one of them would tell you what Jesus does today. So trust the blessed saints, not the world.
It’s also important that Jesus is speaking to his disciples today.
All the blessings and woes and challenging actions are insider-directed. These words aren’t meant for all, only for those who have chosen to follow Jesus, to walk the path of the reign of God.
That means Jesus isn’t making patronizing, blanket statements about poverty. He’s looking at poor people who are his followers and saying, “you are blessed.” When he says “woe to you,” that’s not condemnation, it’s empathetic compassion. But again, Jesus is specifically talking to some of his wealthy followers, saying it’s hard to be a disciple with that burden.
And Jesus isn’t prescribing a way of action for all toward those who hurt them. He’s saying to these couple dozen women and men following him at this point, and to you and me and all who are followers, if we want to follow the path of the reign of God, this is how we will live and act and pray.
Today Jesus says “blessed” for followers of Christ is a way of seeing and valuing differently, and “saint” is a way of acting differently.
Jesus uses the word “blessed” (which also means happy, and even lucky) this way:
He sees his impoverished disciples and says, “lucky you. Happy you.” The world says “blessed” people have wealth and possessions and security. Jesus says, “that’s not how I see it.” So he says to his wealthy disciples, “that stinks for you, and makes following me hard.”
Jesus sees his disciples who are perpetually hungry, and says, “lucky you. Happy you.” The world says “blessed” people always have enough, and more, of what they want. Jesus says, “that’s not how I see it.” So he says to his disciples who do have all they want, “that stinks for you, and makes following me hard.”
Jesus sees his disciples who’ve experienced rejection or abuse for following him, or who’ve been harmed by others, and says “lucky you. Happy you.” The world says “blessed” people are always liked by others, have a good reputation. Jesus says, “that’s not how I see it.” So he says to his respectable disciples, “that stinks for you, and will make following me hard.”
If you’re following me, Jesus says, you have to completely re-define who and what you believe are blessed. You need to see as God sees, what God believes is the way of happiness and blessedness.
These new eyes lead to living with joy and hope on the path of God’s reign.
Jesus isn’t promoting poverty or hunger, or abuse. He’s saying, “my values are different.” So he says to his poorer followers, “you lack wealth, but you have God’s reign in your life. You’re physically hungry, but I fill you up inside with strength and hope in all things. You’ve been hurt or abused, but you are always my beloved.”
And he’s saying to some of his other followers, “the risk with your wealth is that you’ll think it’s your savior. You’ll depend on it, seek it, worry about it, and you’ll end up having nothing to show for it. And if you always get what you want when you want it, you’ll focus only on getting more, and you’ll make that your priority instead of God’s abundance shared with all. And you’ll be hungry in the places that really matter. And if people talk well of you and you’re popular, beware. You’ll value that so much you’ll base your decisions on it, not on what God needs in the world. And you’ll miss everything of value.”
Jesus warns you: Wealth easily becomes an idol. Fullness easily shapes priorities. Being liked easily drives decisions. And that means missing living in the reign of God and being a part of God’s healing.
Now, a saint is literally someone who is holy, which literally means “set apart for God’s work.”
Being a saint isn’t being perfect, always happy, well-behaved. You are anointed a saint in baptism and set apart as God’s holy child to make a difference in the world. Being a saint is acting as God acts.
So to those of his disciples “who will listen,” Jesus says: Be the person who ends the existence of enemies by loving yours. Who ends the cycle of hatred by doing good to everyone who hates you. Who blesses and prays for even those who curse and abuse you. Who ends the cycle of violence by not retaliating when others harm you. Be the person who ends the cycle of retribution by giving away even more when someone steals from you. Who ends the cycle of greed by giving to everyone who begs from you. Who ends the cycle of “they did it to me first” by doing to everyone exactly as you would have them do to you.
All that kills our world can be traced back to these patterns.
Multiply payback, hatred returned for hatred, inability to share goods, by seven billion people and you get the world we live in.
You and I and all the saints are set apart to start a new way of living. To live as God lives. To offer ourselves, body and soul and all that is ours, to breaking the cycles of evil and pain that are destroying this world and our lives and the lives of all of God’s children.
And don’t worry about everyone else, Jesus says, just focus on you. “Live as I’ve set you apart to live, as my saint, and you will bring healing and hope to where you are. That’s all I ask.”
Today, trust the blessed saints as you consider Jesus’ words.
Every saint whom you remember today who is in the life to come, every one for whom you lit a candle, every capital letter S saint listed in our worship book for commemoration, every one will tell you the same as Jesus: See what God sees as blessed, happy, and you will find joy and hope in your life, no matter the circumstances. Act as a saint, as one set apart for God’s work, and you’ll be a part of God’s healing life in this world.
Trust these saints in this, too: you’re not going to be perfect. You can see as God sees, but you’ll have blind spots. Times you forget and look at the world in the old way. Don’t fret, these saints say to you. We all had days like that. Trust God’s love for you, and God’s Spirit, and your vision will clear up.
And you’ll have times you don’t turn the other cheek, or decide not to give to those who ask of you, times you cling to hatred or anger at another. Don’t fret there, either, they say. We all had days like that. Trust God’s love for you, and God’s forgiveness, and you’ll be set on the right path again.
See as God sees. Live as God lives. And you’ll know the joy of God’s reign. You are a blessed saint, after all. God says so.
In the name of Jesus. Amen