Sinner-Saints, Non-Violence, and God’s Promises [OR All Saints Sunday Sermon] Luke 6:20-31 and Ephesians 1:11-23

**sermon art: “Golden Rule” by Norman Rockwell, 1960. Original at Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on All Saints Sunday – November 3, 2019

[sermon begins after two Bible readings – hang in there]

Luke 6:20-31 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Ephesians 1:11-23  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

[sermon begins]

T: “Mama, God must have a special skin machine.”

Me: “What do you mean, T?  What for?”

T: “For after we die and when we get to heaven and get our new bodies. We’re going to need skin.”

This is a bedtime conversation that my daughter Taryn and I had when she was little.  Turned out that she’d been giving some thought to the “resurrection of the body” part of the worship service in the Apostle’s Creed.  She was trying to understand how God might make that work. That’s not so different than so many of us who are curious about what happens next for us or for the people we love when we’re done with this material body.  For some of us there’s a lot of wondering and for others of us it’s easier to let it go into the category of things we don’t control.  But this question of material bodies, of something physical happening, taps into the reading from Luke this morning.  Jesus goes right for our material concerns with the Blessed and Woe statements.  These kinds of statements aren’t anything new in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus flips the script from Mary’s Magnificat in chapter 1.  The Blessed and Woe statements are a continuation of the good news of Jesus’ birth that lifts the lowly, fills the hungry, and sends the rich away empty.[1]

Especially in the Woe statements, we’re left to wonder what the warning is about.  That’s one way to think about this use of “woe” here.  It’s more like someone yelling, “Look out!”  It’s a not so subtle warning about the material things in our lives, about the power of material things to lull us into complacency and away from needing God.  Being lulled into complacency in the reading today means that our vision is clouded with certainty when really the material things we crave and hang onto are illusory – whether those material things are food, finances, or fellowship of admiring friends.  We can let the material things define us when Jesus is talking about something else here.

Jesus tells his followers to watch out when they’re wealthy, fed, and admired, because those are not the blessings that society believes them to be.  In our time, the word blessing is often synonymous with those very things – being wealthy, fed, light-hearted, and admired.  But here, blessings are not the material things.  What are the non-material blessings that Jesus lays out?  Jesus begins to list them: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…; and he wraps us the list by saying, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  These verses have been used wrongly over time to justify abuse.  There’s plenty of Jesus’ teachings here and elsewhere through which we know that these are not words meant to compel victims of violence into staying with people who hurt them.  Rather, his words give us pause to consider what the blessings of God’s kingdom look like, to consider an alternative way of living with each other.

Much violence is done in the name of protecting material things – whether that violence be large-scale like governments fighting over borders or small-scale like a family fighting over Grandma’s wedding ring after her death.  Both these large-and-small scale examples get tied up in the concept of inheritance and what we believe is ours over and against someone else.  But Jesus’ words are intriguing.  Material things like food and money are instrumental for people who are hungry and poor but hazardous for those who are fed and wealthy.  So hazardous that Jesus goes on to say that the most important thing is non-violence.  He said don’t retaliate.  Be non-violent.

There’s a group of American Christian denominations crossing theological and political divides who are taking these words of Jesus to heart. ELCA Lutherans, American Baptist Churches USA, National Latino Evangelical Association, the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops, and more, have launched an initiative called “Golden Rule 2020: A Call for Dignity and Respect in Politics.”[2]  Not meant to mute simultaneous calls for justice, the idea is to speak respectfully with and about each other across our differences. There’s even a place online for people to sign on to the initiative. A noble goal, to be sure, and one that certainly can’t hurt.  After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Another way to think about it is to not become the very people who cause suffering even in the midst of your own.

In fact, claimed by Jesus, those early followers watched him do just that.  He died on a cross rather than raise a hand in violence against the people who killed him.  It was through his self-sacrificing death by violence that he conquered the very power of death by non-violence.  And through Christ’s death, raised by God into resurrected life, as Paul writes in our reading from Ephesians.

Paul calls this our inheritance in Christ.  And, while there may indeed by a skin-machine of some kind, we don’t know what the promise of resurrected life looks like for us and our loved ones.  We hope by faith and we see in part now what we will someday see face-to-face.[3]  We experience life on this side of the cross and trust in the communion of saints in light on the other side. When I pray out loud with families before walking them into the funeral of a loved one, I often say a prayer of thanksgiving for the way God shows God’s love for us through other people. In some ways, I think this is how we often think about the “saints” among us. Someone whose list of virtues includes a loving nature among all the other virtues we can name about them.  We give them the label of saint to show our appreciation for who they were in our lives. We then call the person who died a “good person” which does some violence to who they were as a whole sinner-saint person.

The thing that I think goes awry with a virtue list is that it somehow becomes a way to position the person who died in right relationship with God. The list becomes like Santa’s naughty and nice tally. But here’s the thing, Jesus does NOT tally. If his death on the cross means anything, it means that God is not in the sin accounting business. Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, it is all about what Jesus does for us – God’s promise through Jesus that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less.  The promise is a non-violent, non-material inheritance for sinner-saints, for us. An inheritance that pours through the waters of baptism. Here’s the way the funeral liturgy gives thanks for baptism.

“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a resurrection like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”[4]

The baptismal promise is one that sinner-saints trust as a promise of life now.  Christ’s promises new life that is an alternative to living in the woes of material illusions and violence over and against each other. Christ’s promise of living in the blessings of loving our enemies and doing to others as you would have them do to you.  And Christ promises that we can indeed celebrate as we complete our baptismal journeys through death here on earth.  Not fearing but actually trusting a God of non-violence to receive us into holy rest, to bring us into peace – a promise of joining the company of all the saints in light as we gather at the river…

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Song After the Sermon

ELW 423: Shall We Gather at the River

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Refrain: Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.[Refrain]

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.[Refrain]

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace. [Refrain]

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[1] Luke 1:52-53

[2] Emily McFarlan Miller. “One Year Before Election, Christian Leaders Cross Divides to Call for Respect.” Religion News Service, October 31, 2019.  https://religionnews.com/2019/10/31/one-year-before-election-christian-leaders-cross-divides-to-call-for-dignity-and respect/?fbclid=IwAR2jhFCdKhxNRQCietvp8GcfGozvpsTzubWidV8PAxgrgShveIHJ7NheH-w

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

[4] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Life Passages: Funeral. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 280.