All Saints’ Sunday – Luke 6:20-31
I’m a bit anxious about today’s sermon. I know what I want to talk about and I have a few ideas about what I will say, but I am not sure how it will be heard or received. Given what’s happening in our country today it feels like a risky topic. I want to talk with you today about our presidential election. I may upset some of you but that’s not my intention. I don’t want to upset some of you. My preference would be to upset all of you. My hope is that today’s gospel would challenge all of us to choose a different way, to think differently, to do differently, and to be different.
In a couple of days we will have elected our next president. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “I’ll be so glad when it’s all over.” I’ve not only heard it, I’ve said and I’ve meant it. Maybe you have too. But I’ve quit saying that. I don’t say it any more and it’s not because I don’t mean it but because I don’t think “it,” whatever that is – our fear, anger, prejudice, regrets, disappointment, frustration, agendas, or hateful words – will end when we choose our next president. “It” will not end until we choose to end “it,” until we choose to be different. And I wonder if we will choose that. Do we really want it to end?
As painful and difficult as this whole process has been I think this election holds before us a great opportunity. I don’t mean the opportunity to elect Mr. Trump or Mrs Clinton. I mean the opportunity to seriously look at ourselves. This election has become our self-portrait, and I don’t like what I see. If we’ll let it maybe this is an opportunity to reflect on who we’ve become as a people and what we are doing to ourselves, each other, and the world. Maybe it’s the chance to do to things differently.
I don’t blame Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton for causing this. I don’t think they have caused this. They have added to it, but they didn’t cause it. They simply took and used and manipulated to their advantage what was already there, which is what we’ve asked and allowed them to do. That’s how the process works. They took advantage of what we gave them. And if we want things to change we have to change that. What we gave them is that we take all of this so very personally and then we turn it into winners and losers. And if after Tuesday night all we can talk about is who won and who lost the election we will have missed an opportunity to do and be different.
Everything has become so personal. “He’s not my president.” “She’ll never by my president.” “My side lost.” “My side won.” “My agenda was approved.” “My issue is more important than yours.”
If any day calls into question the way we have over-personalized our lives and world it is today, All Saints’ Sunday, the day we remember, celebrate, and give thanks for the communion of saints. Their lives show that all lives are connected and interwoven. “Our life and our death is with our neighbor,” St. Antony said. “If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”
And yet we are too often willing to take even this day and divide it into winners and losers, saints and sinners. I just don’t believe that’s the truth. The truth is we are both at the same time. Ask any of the saints we remember today and they would be the first to tell you they have fallen short. And yet we continue to play out in the church our need for winners and losers – those who are good and those who are bad, those who are saved and those who are damned, those who are right and those who are wrong, those who are orthodox and those who are heretics, and it goes on and on. And it’s not only in the church. The attitude that creates and maybe even needs winner and losers is at the heart of what we are doing in our country and world.
Even in today’s gospel (Luke 6:20-31) I suspect we hear blessing and woes as being about winners and losers. It’s blessings for the winners and woes for the losers. But I don’t think that’s at all what Jesus is saying or intending. I think Jesus is really just describing the way into the kingdom. Do you remember playing the hot and cold game when you were kid or playing it with your child? Somebody would hide something and then direct others by saying, “You’re warm. Yes, you’re getting warmer. Oh, now you’re cold. You’re ice cold.” It was a way of telling the players if they were close to or far from the hidden object. What if blessings and woes aren’t categories of people, judgments, or the basis for a to-do list? What if that’s Jesus saying we are either warm or cold toward the kingdom, getting close to or moving away from it?
When Jesus says we are blessed maybe it’s because we are willing to not cling to the status quo. We refuse to settle for the world as it is. We are looking for and moving to the kingdom. We know ourselves to be poor, hungry, empty, and grieving and we want something else for ourselves and each other. We recognize there is another way, a different way of being, and we are willing to let go of what is in order to create room for what can be.
And when Jesus pronounces woes on some it’s not because they are bad people and undeserving of the kingdom. They’ve just moved away from it. They are clinging too tightly to what it is. It’s as if they are saying, “I got mine, close the door. I’m full. I’m rich, I’m happy. I’m laughing.” They have mistaken the fulfillment of their personal needs and satisfaction for the kingdom. If they are to be winners then some have to be losers. But what about the others? Don’t they matter too? Is there not enough in the kingdom for everyone? I think Jesus says there is. I think that’s the witness of the saints today.
When we divide the world, our nation, each other, our politicians, this election, and the kingdom into winners and losers we’re telling Jesus, “You’re just wrong. There isn’t enough to go around. Some can get it but others can’t.”
I don’t want to live like that. I don’t think you do either. At its best I don’t think that what America wants. And I don’t think that’s really what Mr. Tump or Mrs. Clinton want; at least, that’s what I want to believe about them.
I believe we can change, if we want to. It won’t be easy. It will mean facing some hard truths and some difficult choices. The election of our next president is not the most difficult decision of this political cycle. Tuesday night may be the end of the election but it is just the start of the really hard decisions. The days of difficult decisions are ahead of us not behind us.
I don’t know what we as a people will choose but I can tell you this. I do not want to stand with the Republicans and Mr. Trump. And I do not want to stand with the Democrats and Mrs. Clinton. I want my stand, my first allegiance, to be with and for Christ. And that means I will have to make some difficult decisions. So will you if that’s where you choose to stand. So will America.
We will have to recognize and admit that America’s way is not always or necessarily Jesus’ way. We will have to tell the truth about ourselves and confess that our ways are not always or necessarily Jesus’ way. We will have to decide whether we are first a Jesus disciple or a party patriot, because one is not necessarily the other. We will have to face the ways in which the gospel of Christ calls into question our own beliefs, our ways, our agendas, our issues, our desires, our opinions, our actions, our words, and those of our party. And we cannot forget that there is another reign and sovereignty “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:11-23).
That’s the place I want to stand. That’s the platform I want to back. And that means making difficult decisions.
What do you do when you have to make a difficult decision? How do you choose? What guides your decision making?
Those were the questions a friend of mine once asked his spiritual teacher. My friend said his teacher sat in silence for a few moments and then he spoke only one sentence. He said, “I just try not to add to the pain of the world.” If we could do that. If we could just not add to the pain of the world. It would be a huge step forward if we could just not add to the pain of the world. Surely we would hear Jesus say, “You’re getting warmer.”
We may not have all the answers. We may not know how to fix everything. It may be more than you or I can do by ourselves. But can we at least not add to the pain of the world? That’s where Jesus is taking the disciples in today’s gospel (Luke 6:20-31). He gives them a vision of the kingdom and describes discipleship in terms of blessings and woes and then he says this:
But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
In every one of those situations there is already an existing pain: enmity, hatred, cursing, abuse, violence, nakedness, poverty, need. We can see all this and more in our world, our nation, our politics, and in our lives. We have some difficult decisions to make. We can add the pain of the world and take vengeance on our enemies, hurt those who hate us, slander those who curse us, get even with our abusers, return violence for violence, and ignore the naked and needy. Or we can choose not to add to the pain of the world – to love, do good, bless, pray, choose nonviolence, clothe, and give.
That’s the decision before us and it’s the decision that will remain Tuesday night regardless of who we elect. I wonder what we will choose. I wonder if we can at least pray for Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton and I don’t mean pray that one would win and the other lose, or that one of them or even both of them would just go away. I mean that we would pray for their well being and that of their families, that we would ask God to bless them and give them all the good things we want for ourselves and our loved ones. If we can’t do that we are living a faith of winners and loses and we are adding to the pain of the world.
“But I say to you that listen…” do not add to the pain of the world.
Let’s not add to the pain of the world. For the world’s sake, for our nation’s sake, for your sake and my sake, for the sake of our children, let’s not add to the pain of the world.