November 6, 2016

November 6, All Saints Sunday, Gretchen Rehberg

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

All Saints Sunday, and this morning we hear Luke’s version of the Beatitudes and the words of Jesus as he continues to teach his disciples just what it means to follow him.  words which at times simply sound out of reach and impossible for me – love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

This year we have All Saints Sunday two days before a presidential election.  the vision of how a follower of Jesus is to live might seem out of reach and impossible, but we need to hear these words today – Love your enemies…

All Saints Sunday, and so it is safe for most of us who are of the more Catholic bent to simply give thanks for the witness of the saints of years past who have modeled an exemplary life, and then having given thanks, to go about our daily work continuing to think that this way of life is simply impossible for the average Christian.  The “non-Saint” follower of Jesus.

The Episcopalian who embraces the more Protestant side doesn’t quite have this out, for of course the more Protestant understanding is that all followers of Jesus are “saints.”  But it is too easy then to think that if all who follow Jesus are saints – then saints is simply another term for Christian, not anything different from another word, nothing we really have to be too concerned with, in fact why would we even celebrate such a thing as All Saints Sunday?

And it is exactly this tension between the more Catholic and the more Protestant understanding that allows the Episcopal Church to be able to say why All Saints Sunday is so important that it is one of the few great Feast days of the Church year that actually takes priority over the normal Sunday observance.  Because in fact we are all called to live lives of the saints, and some people have lived this life in a way that is a more visible example, lives which we can look to and draw inspiration from.  Lives which seem out of reach to us – but because we are reminded that all of us are called to be saints – lives which we must believe that in fact we can reach.

Which means that love your enemies line – we can do that.

It might seem impossible, it might seem out of touch with reality, it might seem like something only a great Saint could do – and yet this day we hear the words of Jesus speaking to us, and the words down the ages of people who have followed Jesus – “you too can do this, you can live a life which is the life of a saint, the life of a follower of Jesus, the life of love.  Love even for your enemies.”

And this life of love is a life we live together.  For we follow Jesus together.  In our worship we say we join our prayers with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven – we join our voices with all the saints who have gone before, with the saints living today, with the saints yet to come, for we are all one in Christ.  We do not have to live this life alone.  In fact, I would say that we cannot live this life alone.  Only together can we follow Jesus in such a way that we can truly live into this life, the life which loves our enemies, does good to those who hate, blesses those who curse, and prays for those who abuse.

Is it easy – of course not!  But it is holy.  It is the life of the follower of Jesus, the life we are striving to live.    And this day, once again, we claim our place in that long line of saints and say that this day, this year, this moment is our time.  We are here, we are present, we are stepping up and claiming our place in the family of God.

We do this in many different ways, one way we acknowledge  our place in the family of God is to commit to being part of this community.  Today we are asked to offer our annual giving pledge for the work that will be done this coming year by our parish. I hope that you will join with me in offering a pledge to the parish.  And I will say to all of you that while it is true that I will be leaving as the rector here, I am still offering a pledge of support for the work that we do.  For I am part of this community, part of the family, and so I will give my support to the work of the parish community.

Jesus spoke words of beatitudes, blessings, and he spoke words of woes.  Luke reminds us that life is not always happy and pain free.  There will be times of mourning, there will be times of laughing, times when we are full, times when we are hungry.  In all those times, the question is for all of is how will we respond – will we stay together and follow Jesus together?  Will we remember that the life of a follower of Jesus does not depend on everything going the way we want it to, and that even when our enemies exclude and revile and defame us we are to love them and bless them and pray for them?

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

I cannot always to this.  In fact, I usually cannot do this.  But I can be part of a community of followers of Jesus who are trying to do this.  In that community on any given day there will always be one person who can do this, who can witness to the love of Jesus to the rest of us.  One day that will be me, one day that is you, and some days it is only those who we name and celebrate as saints in heaven.  But those saints are also part of our community and together this community can always do this, for we follow Jesus together, love together, witness together.  We are not called to live this life alone.  And thanks be to God, we don’t.

All Saints Sunday – a great feast day indeed.

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