Who receives the blessing?
All Saints' Day, Year C, Luke 6:20-31
Jesus offers his blessings today. He says, blessed are the poor, the hungry. Blessed are you who weep. We do not need to unveil who Jesus is giving these blessings to. It is obvious that these blessings may go to most of the people in the world. It is also clear that these blessings may pass by most of us in this congregation. Not many of us are poor, hungry, or weeping. Most of us are not excluded, reviled, or defamed because of our Christian beliefs. And to reiterate this point Jesus says, “But woe to you who are rich,” full, or laughing. Woe to you when all speak well of you. Let’s be honest, if we are not the poor or marginalized, or the persecuted our salvation may be less secure.
Christ gives us a map to follow. He says to love you enemies. When thinking of what an enemy is, we often go the extreme. We think of someone trying to do us physical harm but it can also be someone who is hostile toward us. The root of the word comes from Latin for not amiable, unfriendly. Though I believe that not many of us have people who are outright trying to harm us, most of us do have people in our lives with whom we are not amiable. One way that we may become closer to our enemies is by following the words of Michael Corleone. From the movie “The Godfather II,” Michael says “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
We often think of this as a shallow piece of advice in which we are to keep our enemies close so that that it will be easier for us to attack them. I’m not sure this is what was intended for this advice. This advice is more of a way to keep people we disagree within our sights. A way we can learn from people who may want to cause us harm; and yes, it may be a helpful strategy in knowing their motives, but by keeping them close we are allowed to have fellowship with them. It will build our character and strengthen who we are. To have our enemies close to us means that it will be easier for us to do good towards them. We will see them more as humans as less as other. This makes following Christ’s decree much easier. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you. Now unlike Michael Corleone, Christ tells us, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Jesus continues saying, if someone wants something illegitimately, give him even more. By giving people the things that they do not rightly deserve it shames them. Even if we do not see the shame it brings upon them it will be there nonetheless.
Living into these words of Christ is what separates the saints from the rest of us. People who live their lives in such a way have been thought of as greater than the rest. It is obvious why; each of us knows how difficult it is to live our lives in a way that exemplifies Christ.
The Episcopal Church has a few lists of saints. In the short list, Saints are given their own Major feasts days, such as St. Stephen, St. James, and St. Mary. Then we have a long list of others, of optional observance, which include early church fathers, theologians, and others who continue to influence us today, even though they have died long ago. The list even includes modern examples such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These saints have brought something special to our faith even though in some real way they are not vastly different from you and me. They found a way to live their lives in Christ and within their community beyond. Even though they are not perfect and have visible flaws, we see them as exemplars of a faithful life. It is saints such as these, yet whose numbers are untold and whose names were not record in history, that we commemorate on All Saints Day.
Once we get beyond the saints of Major feast days and optional observances we are left with the rest of us who visibly struggle with living out our faith. We know, as do the people around us, that we are not always living our lives in Christ to the best of our abilities. These people, the ones who are just like you and me, who have died yet questioned their salvation; the ones who were praying and holding up hope, that through all of their flaws and faults and by the grace of God and Christ, that they will have eternal life. A life where there will no longer be death or morning, crying or pain. These are the people who we commemorate on November 2nd, All Souls Day.
Let’s be honest, we as a nation and as individuals, do not attend church as much as we used to. Not many of us would have come to church on Sunday then on Tuesday for All Saints, followed by yet another service on Wednesday for All Souls. Because All Saints day is such an important Principle Feast we have the ability move it to the Sunday after Nov. 1st, which we have done today. I wonder if it is because there are so many of us who struggle with our faith and that we know the struggles of faith that our loved ones who preceded us in death had, that we do not want to miss the opportunity to commemorate them as well. I wonder if it is because of this, that we have the desire to combine the lesser feast of All Souls Day with the principal feast of All Saint Day.
Our faith holds up the idea that we will become resurrected in the last days and be joined by the entire body of Christian people who have died before us; in which we become part of the great communion of saints. I do think there should be a distinction between the Saints who have exhibited faithful qualities in which we strive to better ourselves and pattern our lives after them compared to the multitude of the rest of us. I am not sure that the great Saints had fewer questions about their faith or salvation then we do, but nonetheless they have achieved great things in this life. They are visible examples of which we should hold them up and celebrate them as faithful examples of Christian life.
Remember that we are part of this group. We are called to live our lives in a way that models Christ; in a way that lets our gifts shine like the saints. We are to be bold and courageous as we go fourth in to a broken and difficult world. So that even if we are not the poor or the hungry, the abused or the ones who weep; we can still be a blessing to all. We can love our enemies. We can stand up strong against those who are not amiable to us and know that what they do or says does not change who we are. For through our faith in Christ; we are children of God, acceptable in His sight.