Based on Luke 6:20-31
Robert Frost wrote that “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”
As true as this is, on this day, All Saints Sunday, we are more mindful than usual that the saints triumphant who have so much to say are indeed saying it. In fact, they are singing it. They are singing the promises fulfilled of the God who blesses the hungry, the grieving and the abused. Can you hear the singing of the saints? Can you feel the weight of their love for God and you? Do you sense the gravity of the grace in which they and we are steeped? Do you know that their faith now fulfilled in God’s radical generosity means to move each of us in that same direction?
I ask these profound questions because there are indeed some days when I am not listening. I ask these direct questions because there are days when we act as if pretend rulers of the day have something to say that we should follow. I ask because there are days when the rulers of the world mock the humble and repeat the lies incessantly that they—the privileged—deserve their satiation and more.
There are such days. But today is no such day. Today is one of those days with God means to reshape all the other days. Today is one of those days when we hear in abnormally dramatic and symbolic language that God rules by love and that those who don’t so rule are put under Christ’s clean feet. Today is a day—another great day—when the news of God’s kingdom forever is spoken from the ground, right where we live, and those who have gone before us are saying, singing, “listen!”
Listen to what? Listen to what the saints heard and hear still. They listened and followed; not perfectly, surely, but enough to embrace what God means to be normal: the loving of enemies, blessing of those who curse us; praying for our abusers; and being generous with our whole lives.
These are odd words for All Saints Sunday! They sound like laws, like “should and musts” again, impossible to do in any nigh consistent way. How do they connect with our warm remembrance of loved ones passed? How do they connect with saints? Or are they the litmus test for sainthood, which then should radically minimize their number? Is this yet another Sunday when even “progressive” Christians make laws of love and insert anxiety into our affections? There are ways as wrong as fundamentalist legalisms that would turn God’s good news of grace today into cause for despair, because we cannot just simply by our own reason or strength do perfectly what Jesus commands and then ever hope to be given an A+ thereby. So how do we correlate Saints and the ethics commended by Jesus today in “The Sermon on the Plain.”
Let me provide a clue. If you think loving your enemies and blessing those who curse you are ridiculous commands, then maybe you don’t understand Christian love. Because Christian love is an action, not merely a feeling. That means that you can dislike me and still love me. How’s that for freedom! You can have little affection for another, but still treat him or her with the respect due. Over time, it is that action of Christian love, God’s love, that changes the enemies and the cursers. And the one who acts with love gets changed too! Such is the job description of the saints that begins with Jesus’ own unification of action with compassion.
It’s a striking and real image, this sermon from Jesus as Luke records it. We know well of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Today lots of pilgrims go to a church on a beautiful hill overlooking the Galilee. As if Matthew knew that that place would and should become a “Kodak moment,” as the old phrase goes. Strangely perhaps, there is no such monument for Luke’s version of The Sermon on the Plain. As it should be. Sitting (!) there on the flat ground with his disciples, the one who came as Emmanuel—God with us—keeps on keeping with us. He speaks from the ground up. It is the position of a revered teacher, to be sure. It is also the position of speech whereby the energies of his words go through our earthiest parts and through our hearts before they reach our heads. Jesus speaks “feet first” “to you all that listen” that love and blessing are to lead our daily actions. And he among us from the ground, not at us or to us, because holy words exercise their compassionate power only when from below and among us. Jesus with us compassionately speaks, exemplifies, and leads the way. No “usual” authoritarian power there! Rather, it is the power that inspires and then proves itself by getting up and healing an occupying soldier’s slave. Radical grace—even when spoken in hyper-dramatic terms—is the pattern that God intends as the new normal. It is a new day of creation. And it will not be stopped.
Who are the saints? They are those who have experienced and lived the new normalizing grace of God in Christ. The saints are those who followed Christ into the resurrection life that begins even before death! Freed from their very selves once laden with worries and fears, the saints live freely in God’s active grace already—as do we all. Much more, because they have realized how graciously they have been acted upon by God, their lives are marked more by such doing. “The communion of saints” are not just the voices we remember who touched us once and have gone. They touch us still, not in a time gone by, but in another kind of time that embraces us with past and future altogether. And so Frederick Buechner writes so beautifully, “We might imagine ourselves on a fading shore as they move on to whatever shore may await them. But they carry with them something of us, as we do of them. And so, to think of them is…in some way, to see and hear them as they now are.” They act on and for us still.
We love because God first loves us, from the ground up. And the saints have their active part in inspiring us forward into God’s new normal. In God’s new normal, even the most comfortable can be moved toward compassion. And with the saints triumphant, we saints “on the way” still learn better how to love. They break Robert Frost’s rule. Having much to say, they speak, they sing, and they act with a clarity the world rarely sees. They sing with us and act for us finally to praise the lovingly invincible God whose reign and infinity of days hereafter already has begun. Amen
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX November 3, 2019