Sermon preached by Fr Jeff Parker at St. Luke’s Enmore, 3rd November 2019
Daniel 7:1–3, 15–18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:1:11–23; and Luke 6:20–31
Today, even though we haven’t been through a long and serious investigation into our past, our character and miracles we have performed, we celebrate our sainthood. I like to remember this by greeting others at the peace with the title “Saint” – so there will be Saint John and St Christine, Saint Amrit, Saint Stuart, Saint Alfredo etc… you get the picture.
For today we celebrate all saints, and a biblical reading of the word leads us to understand that all of those who are baptised and live the life of a Christian person, especially in a non-Christian setting, which is basically the situation for our world today, are saints.
Paul writes to the saints in various places and the book of Revelation is full of references to the saints, meaning the people of God who endure and remain faithful. So, to all of you saints here today, Happy All Saints Day.
The question to all today is “Do you feel very saintly?” and the answer is known only to yourself of course, but it may just engage you in a bit of self-reflection. Our typical Anglican self-deprecation would probably lead us to say in reply, “No, of course not” – but the fact that you are here today does place you among the faithful at least – so that’s a pointer in the right direction.
The Gospel reading for today comes from St Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount – we refer to it as the Sermon on the Plain. It’s quite similar to Matthew’s beatitudes but it has some important additions. Not only do we have beatitudes, when Jesus pronounces blessings on various people who struggle, but also, we have these phrases beginning with ‘woe’.
4 ‘But woe to you who are rich, … 25 ‘Woe to you who are full now, … ‘Woe to you who are laughing now, … 26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you,
One of the theologians I read on these matters has an interesting way of looking at Luke’s blessings and woes.
“Blessed” has become a very churchy word with little meaning for most people. “Happy” is another common translation of the Gk word makarios, but he recommends that we should think of makarios as “unburdened” or “satisfied.”
Jesus also addresses people who are the opposite of the first groups: the wealthy, the satisfied, the laughing, and the acclaimed. To all of these he cries out, “Woe!”
In this context, “woe” functions as a sharp contrast to “blessed,” yet the Greek word ouai does not mean “cursed” or “unhappy.” Certainly not “damned.” So once again, even though Luke is teaching in his gospel about the dangers of wealth, he is not saying that a rich person is in terrible trouble with God for being rich.
Like the English word yikes, it is more of an attention-getter and emotion-setter than a clear pronouncement of condemnation.
Jesus promises relief to some groups, to those people who travel rough roads through life. To others, to people who find existence rather enjoyable or at least a lot easier than many, he says, “Look out!”
What makes a Saint a saint then? We shouldn’t breathe too easily even if we are not so worried about those ‘woes’ any longer because Jesus still has some rather tough things to say.
If we are to live in a world where there is peace and shared prosperity, human beings can grow and thrive and the creation is cared for as it should be„ a world inhabited by God’s people, the saints, then we are given some pretty tough assignments as individuals and communities.
Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you. In every organisation I have ever been a part of, there are people who simply can not work together. I could speak forever on this with a thousand examples. But I don’t need to do that as you all have your own examples. I remember when I was involved in local government in Newcastle, a reporter who had a mission to attack my side of the Council wrote the most horrendous lies about me on the front page or on page 3 of the Newcastle Herald. Lies always hurt, and sometimes more deeply than others. How could I love him? You would have your own similar instances. If you don’t then you should thank God every day for that. Now I can pray for him. I couldn’t then.
Let’s take up our Sainthood, and in a brief moment now, identify someone that has hurt us in the past, even the recent past, and pray just a short prayer for them. (pause) Thank you saints.
The other actions Jesus describes there are also difficult and counter cultural. But we can work on making them a part of our personal make up over time. It’s not nice to be stolen from, but how many of us have a book on our shelves that someone lent us years ago? In my own case I have striven to become generous of spirit and I try to live in that way. I truly believe now something that I always thought was Christian propaganda used at the time when people made their giving pledges and that is that when we are generous, the blessings we receive in return are much greater. That has absolutely been my experience. So, Jesus’ words about the virtue of generosity have become a sign of my sainthood in that gospel sense and I thoroughly recommend it.
When I look at the reading from Ephesians, the word that most connects with the idea of the Saints is that of inheritance. I believe from my research that in New Testament times, not many people had money or possessions enough to leave their family a substantial inheritance as we would define it. They were more interested in looking after their immediate needs in terms of food and shelter and looking after their animals and gardens and property if they had any.
So, when we are reading about inheritance here, rather than thinking of a pot of gold at the end of a loved one’s life, which was never going to happen for many of the author’s readers, rather we can think of the other things we inherit.
What did you inherit from your parents? Your blue eyes, maybe your love of reading, maybe the ability to argue a case, or your love of sport or perhaps your skill in gardening, your green thumb? Think, what did you inherit from your forebears that has been so important in your life?
That’s the kind of inheritance we read about in Ephesians. Only we inherit these wonderful things from God and from Jesus because of our Sainthood.
At our baptism we receive the sign of the cross onto our person and the priest prays these words:
Pour out your Holy Spirit in blessing and sanctify this water so that those who are baptised in it may be made one with Christ in his death and resurrection. May they die to sin, rise to newness of life, and continue for ever in Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we give you praise and honour in the unity of the Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
This is the inheritance of the Saints, our inheritance in God, to rise to newness of life, and continue for ever in Jesus Christ our Lord. What more could we hope to inherit? We and all people will leave our earthly wealth and possessions behind when we move from this life to the next, but the Saints, the faithful who endure, will inherit the glorious new existence far removed from the troubles of this world.
It is indeed a day to celebrate that we with all the saints, both celebrated and unknown, and especially those who struggle in this life, are called to sainthood and are accepted by God as such. I have met so many saints in my time, nearly all of them lay people. It has been one of the great blessings I have received in my 25 years of ministry. We, the saints, are called to live extraordinary lives for God and so many do; the rest of us are working towards that. Lives of amazing generosity, extravagant forgiveness, and wonderful heartfelt service freely offered.
We remember and give thanks for all those who are no longer with us in this life and we pray that all the saints may continue to pray for us, the Saints of St Luke’s Enmore.