Old Testament Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm Psalm 149
Epistle Ephesians 1:11-23
Gospel Luke 6:20-31
“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true ... and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
A multitude gathered. All sorts of people have come seeking truth, seeking salvation, seeking God. Much like this morning, all sorts of people have come to praise God, seeking to grow in the knowledge and love of God, seeking to reconcile ourselves to God and one another through Christ.
Jesus sees the crowd. He must know their suffering. They are oppressed by the government, struggling to survive, barely making ends meet. They are Pharisees, tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans ... sinners all. Today they are young, men and women, black and white, straight and gay, democrat and republican, all sorts of people, as different as can be. Yet all are seeking salvation. All long for a glimpse of the kingdom. Even if at the end of their worldly rope, all have a glimmer of hope.
Jesus offers hope. Blessed are the poor, hungry, weeping, and rejected, for they will inherit, be filled, have joy, and be included. These blessings should come as no surprise. Scripture consistently speaks of God’s preference for the poor and oppressed. We might take these blessings as hope, but we would only be scratching the surface. When Jesus is describing the kingdom of God and all its mystery, we are compelled to go deeper.
Jesus sees the crowd, but he looks up at his disciples. When Jesus says ‘Blessed are you’, he is addressing his disciples. They have certainly experienced these conditions ... they left all they had to follow; they traveled the road with Jesus, not knowing from where the next meal might come; they have likely felt anxiety, fear, and sadness along the way; and along with Jesus, they have most certainly been rejected.
Jesus is not speaking to an abstract group of less fortunate. Jesus is not offering nice platitudes, a prosperity gospel, saying what the people want to hear. Jesus is revealing the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus is describing the grand reversal of the world humanity has created against the kingdom to which we are invited. In the Magnificat, Mary prophetically pronounced the kingdom her yet to be born Son would usher in ... one where the rich are sent away empty and the powerful brought low, and the poor lifted up.
Jesus is describing the spiritual attitude of those who believe. God does care for the outcast and downtrodden, but these blessings are more than a glimmer of hope for a change in fortune. For those who have left behind self-serving and self-satisfying ways, and accepted the Good News offered, and died to self to be resurrected with Christ, Jesus speaking to us, and is teaching us how to live.
God is upsetting the measure of the world. Those considered outcast and deprived of full membership, even and especially if because of our proclamation of faith, are welcomed by God, with full inclusion. “Yours is the kingdom of God!” Not “yours” in terms of dominion and rule, but in acceptance, invitation, and availability. Jesus offers a series of woes as a counterbalance. When scripture uses the word ‘woe’, it suggests what follows is the road to destruction, despair, and death. Woe to the rich, well fed, happy, and those approved by others. The woe is not because they enjoy these circumstances, but because these things are likely their consuming pursuit. They have left no room for God. They seek their own ends by their own means, and do not realize their dependence on God. Life in Christ and in the kingdom calls for a new set of norms:
Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Turn the other cheek. Give to those who need. Forgive those who steal, and give them more. ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’.
It is a challenging prescription. These are hard pills to swallow. Yet this is the example Jesus sets before us. During our time in this earthly body, we are called to follow Jesus’ example ... to love God and love one another. The rest we are figuring out as we go. Through the Spirit, we are being perfected in Christ. None are perfect, but God continues to mold and shape our clay, and God is a patient potter. We continue to lean into God’s life, striving to live in God’s compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love. It takes a lifetime and more. Perhaps this is why our inheritance of the kingdom is not fully realized in this life, but in the next.
Paul encourages us with the spiritual blessings offered in Christ. Jesus in his humanity ascended to the throne of God, ‘above all rule and authority and power and dominion’. The mystery of God’s plan is being revealed, to re-unify all reality with God. The first sign is the reception and realization of the Holy Spirit, a promise of our future inheritance. Thus is the nature of our salvation ... we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. We are called, and expected to live in accordance with that calling, until we die. And when we die, life is not ended, but changed. Jesus made a promise, that he goes to prepare a place for us, so that where he is, we may also be. We will never be abandoned, for Jesus also promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Today we remember and celebrate the communion of saints ... all those we love and see no longer ... for they are not gone, but transformed. They have been reconciled to God and others in the communion of saints. Their life continues. If the veil could be lifted, if we could see clearly, we would see the full Body of Christ ... saints cheering for us, praying for and with us, propping us up, supporting us in our life in Christ. We continue to live for the praise of God’s glory, in this life and the next.
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though they die. And everyone who has life, and has committed themself to me in faith, shall not die forever. Amen.