Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Blessed Are Those Through Whom God's Light Shines." A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on All Saints Sunday.

"Blessed Are They Through Whom God's Light Shines"

Matthew 5:1-16; Rev. 7:9-17


Jesus saw the crowds, and he went up the mountain and sat down, in the classic posture of an authoritative teacher.  He was teaching a New Law, casting a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.  It quickly becomes apparent that the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount turn the values of the world upside-down.
            Jesus begins this sermon with a list, but it isn’t a list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”  But if the Beatitudes are a description of reality, what world do they describe?  Certainly, not the one we’re living in now.  One of my colleagues puts it this way:
            “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says. But in our world, the meek don’t get the land, they get left holding the worthless beads. “Blessed are those who mourn,” says Jesus, but in our world mourning may be tolerated for a while, but soon we’ll ask you to pull yourself together and move on. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as being na├»ve.
            “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus, but in our world, those who pursue peace risk having their patriotism called into question.
            In the world we live in, it looks like we live by other beatitudes: “Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs. Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed. Blessed are you when you know what you want and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.”   If we’re honest, we have to admit that the world Jesus proclaims is not the world we have made for ourselves.[1]
Our lives as disciples are in need of transformation.  The church and our society--the world--is in need of continuing re-forming.
            Living in the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t easy.  It doesn’t come naturally.  It’s something we have to learn over time, as disciples.  We learn the ways of heaven in Christian community, where we encourage each other and hold each other accountable.
                       
            This morning we’re celebrating All Saints’ Day.  It’s about remembering those who have gone before us...  and who have shown us what it means to walk in the way of Jesus Christ.  It reminds us that we’re part of the “communion of the saints.” 
            So…on this All Saints Sunday--    GREETINGS to all you saints. 

            Does that make you squirm a little?   Most of us probably don’t think of ourselves as being very saintly.  We might be able to relate to what Nelson Mandela said when somebody called him a saint.  Mandela said, “I’m not a saint unless you think of a sinner who keeps on trying.”   I think that’s a good way to think of it.
            In some parts of the Christian church, saints are people who have lived exceptionally holy lives.  But in the Protestant and Reformed tradition, we’ve come to understand the word “saint” in a broader sense--in the biblical sense.
            The apostle Paul began some of his letters by writing, “To all the saints at Rome…or Ephesus…or Corinth”—even if he was going to spend part of the letter telling them how they’ve been failing in the Christian life and need to do better.  Their failures don’t keep Paul from calling them “saints.” 
As Will Willimon says, “A saint is any Christian, anyone whom God has called out to be blessed… baptized… different… distinctive.  Saints are those ordinary people who have had their little lives caught, commandeered by Christ in rather extraordinary ways.  And for that, Jesus calls them “blessed.”[2]
            Jesus’ teachings about how to live as his followers were handed down to us as a community of people called to live this way together.  It’s a radically different culture than the mainstream culture around us. We are called together to be the church, which is in the business of producing and equipping saints for their ministries.
It would be too hard to live this way as individuals.  But as part of a community of people who are inter-connected with one another, who support and nurture and encourage one another in living prayerfully and generously and hospitably, we can find ways of sustaining each other in the Christian life.

            Think about it.  You may be the only word from the Lord that some people will hear this week or ever.   So, you—you all-- are blessed and sent out into the world to be God’s word in a troubled, hurting, confused world.  
            You and I are called to embody God’s love and light to the people we meet who are sad… or lonely… or hungry… or just need a friend. 
            The GOOD NEWS is that you are not alone.  On this All Saints Sunday, we remember the saints who have gone on before us, trusting in the promises of Christ and the reign of God.  We are in a long line, part of a procession of people of faith who are rooted in the past and march on toward an eternal hope.   While we who are a part of the Communion of saints here on earth labor on for the kingdom of God, the rest of the Communion of saints, past and present, are cheering us on!

            In the Revelation that was given to John, we receive a glimpse that great multitude of saints:
“The redeemed are so numerous they cannot be counted. Who is among them? There is Steven who was stoned and St. Peter who was crucified. Martin Luther. John Calvin. John Knox. John Wycliffe.
There is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, triumphant over the Nazi gallows. There is Bishop Oscar Romero with the Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving still issuing from his mouth as he was killed for his activism against poverty, social injustice, and torture.
There is Martin Luther King Jr., still praying that his dream will come true for humanity.  Sister Dorothy Stang, who was killed for advocacy for the rural poor in the rain forests of Brazil. Egyptian Copts killed on their pilgrimages.  Hildegard of Bingen.  Mother Teresa.  The list goes on and on. We see a procession of the faithful… these witnesses, through whose lives God’s light shined.
So, I hope we will ponder, with one of my colleagues:  What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors, in how we live our lives?  What would happen if we stopped aspiring to the culture’s prizes of status and power and privilege?  What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice and mercy and humility?[3] 
The Beatitudes give us glimpses of what the world looks like when the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount is answered: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done…” 
What is the world like when God’s will is done? 
           
            Saints, the light of God shines through your lives.  It is not our light that is shining:  it is the light of God, shining through our lives.  So, let the light of God shine through you so that others may know God’s hope and peace and joy! 

To God who is able to accomplish abundantly
            far more than all we can ask or imagine--
            to God be the glory in the church... 
            and in Christ Jesus... 
            to all GENERATIONS...
            for ever and ever!  Amen!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
November 5, 2017



[1] Lance Pape, “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12, at Working Preacher,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2203


[2] William Willimon, “Saints, All of You” at www.chapel.duke.edu/worship/sunday/

[3] I am grateful to Sarah Dylan Breuer for posing these questions at www.sarahlaughed.net. Cited by Barbara Bruneau in “All the Saints and All the Hypocrites at REVGALBLOGPals.  https://revgalblogpals.org/2017/10/31/revised-common-lectionary-all-the-saints-and-all-the-hypocrites/