This is a sermon that I delivered on 10/27/2013. It is not academically cited or proofread for academic purposes. If you have questions about this, please contact me here.
Sermon Title: Saints Today
Primary Scripture Reference: Luke 6:20-31
I think that a defensive military is the best way to solve many problems.
I believe that violence only breeds more violence, and I know Jesus explicitly condemned the use of violence.
And so, when what I think differs from what I believe, which mode of decision making should I rely upon?
Some problems are easy. My beliefs are how I see the world, and what I think is often colored by what I believe. But some problems are dilemmas, and dilemmas occur when how I think does not cooperate with how I see the world.
When what we believe to be true is not what we expect to be true, we have discovered a paradox.
In what ways, during the past week, have you discovered such a paradox? Were there any profound moments during the past year when your faith has been subverted by something that you expected?
Sometimes, this happens to me when I think about space. I always believe in and trust God, and I rely upon God’s interaction with me throughout the week, but sometimes, when I think about space and the utter immensity of it, and the tiny size of our planet, my thought temporarily subverts and preys upon the doubts in my belief.
I have come to believe that these paradoxes are good for our faith, but only if we take them seriously. These paradoxes – when our belief and thought seem different – may lead us to new understandings of our faith. They may be sources of joy, or of deep questioning, or of new insight.
Our gospel lesson today, the beatitudes, are paradoxes. Blessed are those who weep, for they will laugh! Blessed are the hungry, for they will be filled!
Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God!
These things don’t make sense in any typical ways.
We Christians are often the guiltiest of not believing these things. When people are sad or mourning, we rush to cheer them up. And this is a good impulse! We assume sadness is painful, and we know what it feels like to feel pain! But this is where the paradox is: when we rush to cure the deep sadness we think is bad, we might negate our belief in redemption and resurrection that is profoundly good.
And how can the rich, and the full, and the laughing be marginalized? When we trust too deeply in what we think, when we become too comfortable with the things we have; when they are taken away, our belief in God’s ways are diminished. When our prayers for certain things go unanswered in the way we expect, the god we expect – a false idol – evaporates from our mind and is replaced by nothingness.
I wonder if this is because the God we know is like the tip of an enormous iceberg? We cannot possibly know the depth and breadth of God’s movement throughout this universe. But when we lose belief in the limited God our thoughts have contrived, the paradox comes true that we think too small and powerless the immeasurable God of eternity.
And so a reading of the beatitudes is very appropriate for a celebration of All Saints.
Many might think of Saints as people we pray to for very specific intercessions. Many also might think of Saints as the winners of the 2009 super bowl. But I think of Saints as living paradoxes.
Saints are often martyrs. Remember that our faith is centered around the ultimate act of martyrdom – that of Jesus Christ – that of God who was killed because of his non-compliance with the world’s way of thinking, only to prove God’s way of thinking eternally true.
Remeber also that our own John Huss was martyred because he acted upon the belief that all people are welcomed to God’s embrace, even if he thought that he would rather live a comfortable life as a parish pastor.
This past week, a pastor named Mark Driscoll, age 43, who has tattoos and is hip to the current trends, and who is the senior pastor at the 15,000 member Seattle Mega Church “Mars Hill”, author of six books, and founder of the mega church network “Acts 29”, wrote an articled titled “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist.”
But I think that Pastor Mark is so popular because his theology seems to lack any sense of Christian Imagination. His theology seems to be distinctly of this world. I wonder if new believers prefer it when their theology conforms to their existing way of thinking and seeing the world?
Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.
And Jesus said,
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
I’ve come to believe that Jesus, God, dreams of a world – heaven and earth – that is animated by perfect peace which comes from ultimate reconciliation. Some call this Sholom – the hebrew word for peace.
And while, in this lifetime, revenge violence seems like an obvious and easy way to exact rightness and justice, our call is to live a life of faithfulness.
Shane Claiborne, a theologian in Philadelphia, wrote a response to Mark’s article. He wrote:
The way of the cross is problematic to fight-club theology and the theology of imperialism, power and might. It was offensive even to Jesus’s own followers who begged him to call down “fire from heaven” on their enemies, and who continually digress to the logic of the sword. Fight-club theology is nothing new, but it is always sad, and it is a betrayal of the cross.
Jesus is Life. He died to conquer death. His blood was shed to stop the shedding of blood. His sacrifice on the cross was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. It was the final triumph of life over death, of love over hatred. There is no need for more blood. In fact, we can even say that when we shed the blood of another, it is a offense to the cross.
We can call Jesus crazy, but we dare not call him a pansy. The nonviolent love that we see on the cross is not the sentimental love of fairy tales but it is the daredevil love of the martyrs… and it teaches us that there is something worth dying for, but nothing we should kill for.
As we celebrate All Saints, we should think of the millions of saints who have been role models for us. Many of these saints have been canonized and the broader Church remembers them with festivals. Most of these saints were quiet, humble saints known only to those they touched – grandmothers, neighbors, teachers, spouses – but remembered, nonetheless, each time we celebrate Communion together; remembered, nonetheless, in our moments of loneliness, and in our moments of joy.
Sisters and brothers, if we ourselves hope to be saints – which is our vocation – we can only be saintly by using our Christian imaginations. We cannot live according to the world’s way of thinking. Sometimes, what we believe in the fiber of our being and what we think at the top of our head will be different. And that is ok. Embrace that, live into that, and wrestle with that.
But, I also think that sometimes we’ve heard this type of thinking – to be in this world but not of this world – used to confirm worldly way of thinking. I wonder if a key to determining what is Christian and what is wordly is this question: Does my theology care for and act compassionately towards people? Or is my theology used for frightened, self-interested gain?
Many of the saints died that an authentic way of being Christian might continue. They surrendered themselves as fertilizer for a garden of goodness. Many of the saints lived in ways that showed others a better, more in touch way of living – God’s way. They responded to God’s call to live as saints, so that you could respond to God’s call.