Note: This sermon is written with the intention that the entire passage from Luke (6:20-36) will be read as the Gospel lesson for the day.
As we approach two months since the attacks on our nation that began September 11 we are still sorting out what has changed in America, and what will need to. While most of us have been spared the truly horrific experiences, we feel uncertain about the future, fearful of further attacks, and anxious about things we cannot anticipate.
In every era the people of God have faced violence and uncertainty. While there have been times of peace and prosperity, history always records their end with upheaval. And through it all the people of God have lived lives worthy of their calling, faced the things of this world, and in many cases overcome them with their own witness to God's desire and love for the Creation.
The Scripture passages we have for today sweep us up into a majestic calling to sainthood, and conclude with a reminder that life in Christ demands a new way of seeing the world, not merely escaping it with cheap religion.
The writer of Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom) knew human beings well. The call to "Set your heart right and be steadfastâ¦in time of calamity" (Ecclus. 2:2) is certainly a call we need to hear today. And then, just in case we don't get the message, the author reminds us in verse 10 that no one who trusted the Lord has ever been disappointed. What a call to faithful living!
We have each known people who lived their lives with a sense of calmness and hope, even when beset by danger, deprived of their livelihood, threatened by enemies. You can think of your own examples, and they will enrich your soul by remembering them today and offering their names in thanks. The brave people who lived their last moments on the planes that crashed on September 11 are recent examples, but they are added to a host of many who died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon bravely trying to save others.(If the reader has access to any of these stories this would be an appropriate place to include one or two).
Next we are moved by Paul's prayer for the Church in Ephesus, for the saints, the believers to whom he wrote in love. Paul asks that they be prepared for the "riches of the glorious inheritance among the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). Then follows a majestic picture of God who has put "power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places" (vs. 20). The hearer can see in the mind a picture of what the power of redemption can be. What solace to those who ache over loved ones tragically lost. What joy to know that there is a power "far above all rule and authority" that conquers our fear and restores us to wholeness and strength.
Many have commented in these days that Scripture has had much to offer to each of us as we try to comprehend evil and death among us. The source of that Scripture is what the saints cling to, the faith they have in God because they know God has acted to redeem his people.
Finally, we come to the Beatitudes, passages that proclaim the great reversal destined for all who hunger while others rejoice. Cast as woes rather than blessings in Luke these passages are troubling reminders that we live in an unjust world where those who cry out for justice (the saints) are often mocked and dismissed as unrealistic or trouble makers. Sainthood is not just for nice people, it is for those who have labored for justice and peace for all people, often with no recognition but ridicule. The saints seek not to be spoken well of; they seek rather to serve their God who demands justice and righteousness between all people of the world.
And then comes the passage we would least like to hear at this time. Jesus tells us to "love your enemies and do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27). The passage concludes by telling us that even God is kind to the wicked. After what we have endured from people we deem wicked, this is really too much. But is it? Do you recall an experience when you hated someone continually for a period of time? What did it do for your life? Did it not cause as much pain as anything else? A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" The grandfather answered, "The one I feed"
Saints are courageous because they insist on not letting hatred and evil gain control of their lives. They are faithful because they know without trust in God they are weak and subject to whatever befalls them. Today the Church exists because they persevered with God, and the Church invites each of us to join their joyful company.