A Reversal of Fortune to Celebrate – A Sermon for the Feast of All Saints, Luke 6:20-31

U-turn_icon.svgNothing has power to change us, confront us with reality, open our ears to a new truth, or turn our life in a different direction like a reversal of fortune can; a time when our world is turned upside down or the day we realize we are going backward not forward. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in today’s gospel. It’s what he is always doing. The gospel of Christ reverses business as usual: preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to prisoners, offering sight to the blind, and setting the oppressed free. Look at Jesus’ life and you will see one reversal after another. The Christian life and faith are based on reversals. Reversals are at the heart of the four beatitudes and the four woes we just heard read.

Those who are poor, hungry, or weeping; those who are hated, excluded, and slandered can expect things to get better. Their situation will be reversed and they will be blessed. They will be given the opposite of what they have now. Likewise, those who are rich, those who are full, those who laugh, those who are popular and respected can expect to lose what they now have. Their situation will also be reversed. Woe to them. (Luke 6:20-31; The Feast of All Saints).

What are we to make of all that? Is it simply a redistribution of wealth and resources? Is Jesus making poor people rich and rich people poor? So what happens then? Do the newly rich then become poor and the newly poor rich? Does Jesus love malnourished people more than those who have enough to eat? Does he prefer our lives burdened and broken by loss and sorrow? Is there no place for joy or laughter? A good meal? None of that makes sense. It just doesn’t. So if that’s not what Jesus is saying, then what is he saying? What do you hear in his words?

We cannot hear Jesus’ words as only materialistic. This world and our lives are more than just the things we can touch, own, use, or eat. Neither, however, can we soften his words to the point they no longer challenge and empower us to see and live differently. That’s just more blah, blah, blah, and we’ve got more than enough of that already.

Jesus really is not distinguishing between spiritual and material lack or spiritual and material abundance. It must be both. It’s got to be both. How could it not be? Jesus is human just like you and me. He’s got needs just as we do. Some are physical, some emotional, and some spiritual. He is both body and soul; so are you, so am I. He is both material and spiritual; so are we. That means our lives are a mixture of needs too, some met, some unmet. Within each one of us there are parts of our life that are rich, full, abundant and other parts that are empty, broken, grieving. It’s not one or the other but both at the same time.

That’s why the blessings and woes of today’s gospel should not and cannot be seen as a final judgment or a system of reward and punishment. They’re just not. They are not even at odds with one another. They are most emphatically God’s way of saying yes or no to where and how we find meaning in our lives. Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that why you and I showed up here today? That longing for meaning is in the priorities we set and the choices we make. It drives our life. Every blessing and every woe, every yes and every no, is Jesus’ response to our search for a life of meaning, significance, and value. As every good parent knows, sometimes we tell our children yes and sometimes we tell them no. Both responses are grounded in love and both for the well being of our child. So it is with God, our Father.

When we’re too comfortable, too satisfied, or too secure, whether spiritually, emotionally, or materially, Jesus says, “No, that’s not the way,” not because we are rich, full, or happy but because we can too easily become self-satisfied. We think we’ve got it all. We’ve arrived. The problem is that our life then becomes small and self-contained. There is no openness and receptivity to a new meaning for our life, a new way of living, or a new way of relating to those around us. We have no need to see beyond ourselves, to love the person next door, or to work for change that makes a difference in the lives of others. Woe to us when we are convinced that we have no needs beyond the things of this world. Woe to us when we are convinced that we have no need to grow and change.

Jesus promises blessings when we are empty, weak, or grieving, whether spiritually, emotionally, or materially, not because there is any inherent value or goodness in poverty or misery but because our heart is softened, our eyes are open, and we desire something more. In those times we know there has to be something other than the values and objects of this world to rule our lives, provide meaning, and establish identity. And we’re right. In those moments Jesus says, “Yes, blessed are you.”

There is a gift in the reversals of both the blessings and the woes, in both yes and no. They are a means by which God calls and guides us into the life we want, a life of authenticity, meaning, and goodness. That’s what all the saints understand, those of the past and those here today. They know this. They believe this. They trust and live in the tension of the reversals God brings to their lives. For it is in those reversals that we discover life in the midst of death, darkness illumined, and our own humanity to be the place God invests his life, his love, his concern, and his actions.

Saints embody in this world the reversals of God. You and I embody those reversals. We strive to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who abuse us. We may not always get there but the desire to love, do good, bless, and pray is always within us. So remember this. We do not become saints because we successfully loved, did good, blessed, and prayed. It’s just the reverse. We strive to love, do good, bless, and pray because we’re already saints.

That means we stand as prophets of reversal to the world’s fortunes and as witnesses to the life-giving reversals of Christ. This day is not only about the saints we name and remember. This day means nothing if it is not also about you and me. Yes, this is their day, the great saints of the Church, but it is also your day and my day. This is our day. This is the Feast of All Saints not some saints. So as we look at, rejoice over, and give thanks for the lives of the saints there is one more reversal to see and celebrate. It’s the reversal that happens in our baptism.

Synaxis of the Saints (source)
Synaxis of the Saints (source)

Do you remember that day? Has anyone told you what happened? What was it all about? What does it mean that you are baptized? Why do you care that your child or grandchild be baptized? What’s the significance of our baptism? It means that you and I are included in the gathering of saints. You belong. Your child belongs. Your grandchild belongs. I belong. You are one of them and I am one of them. We are the saints of God: rich and poor, full and hungry, laughing and weeping, respected and ridiculed. That’s why we renew our baptismal vows on this day; to remind ourselves of who we are. The difference is not that some people are saints and others are not. The difference is that some already know and rejoice at knowing themselves to be a saint.

All those saints of the Church, the ones we named in the litany, the ones we asked to pray for us? All those saints that are particular and unique to our lives, the ones whose names we will read with love and gratitude and for whom we will stand? They are our teachers and guides, our companions along the way. They encourage and cheer us on. They pray for us. They nurture, support, and love us. They are here with us not just today but everyday. The Church holds them before us this day as a mirror showing us who we are and who we are to become. They are the aperture through which we see our own divinity, the beauty of our life, and the holiness of our being. They stand beside us and we beside them as God’s holy people. That, my fellow saints, is a reversal of fortune we all need and long for. That is the reversal of fortune we celebrate this day, this holy day of All Saints.


  1. Mike,

    Thank you for this message. I didnt follow the lectionary passage for today, but I, too, did a sermon for All Saints. My text was Jobs I Know That My Redeemer Lives. Its on my blog: http://lawrencewebb.blogspot.com

    I havent been in touch lately. Chasing too many rabbits. It sounds as if your/our guv is even crazier than usual with his treatment of women!



    1. Lawrence, thanks for your All Saints sermon. We have that Job passage this coming Sunday. All Saints is such an important and powerful feast day. We join our voices with “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven” to praise the glory of God’s name. We are one with all who have gone before and those who will come after us.

      I hope you all are well.

      Peace be with you,


  2. How empowering to know we are all saints, connected to God and all those who have influenced our lives -Saints here and now, not “out there”, supernatural. Thank you for such an inspiring sermon.


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