Sunday, November 7, 2010

All Saints Sunday:
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

For Jehovah taketh pleasure in his people: He will beautify the meek with salvation.

I suppose it is the atmosphere of the past few weeks, and the focus we've had on the leadership of our country, that causes me to think politically as I read the text of the day. Well, I'm not trying to put our national elections into some sort of eschatological event that has been predicted in the scriptures. Even the visions and dreams of Daniel, which are often interpreted into a modern context, do not foretell what happened in the elections last night. Besides, we are going to interpret the meaning of those signs differently. Some will see what happened yesterday as good. Others will see it bad.

And Christianity does not fall on one side or the other. There are Christians from every end of the political spectrum. Some Christians experienced victory yesterday, while others saw defeat. Does that mean God loves some Christians more than others? Of course He does not. Though God has His hand in every aspect of our world, His answers to our prayers are not always what we expect. We don't know the future. We may try to interpret the events in light of the scriptures, but it is likely that we'll put a spin on that interpretation based on our point of view. Two people will come up with exactly opposite understandings. We can only truly know as we look back on the events of yesterday what failed and what succeeded. Even then, God can use our failures and successes to do His will in the world.

So, for many it seems like the world has been turned upside down today. Those who were waiting for this sort of change are exuberant today. Those who were afraid of what might happen are disappointed. The winners see their election as a rise into power. The losers see the events of yesterday like a bad dream, as if beasts have come out of the great sea. Some see it as good, while others see it as bad, which is why it is so difficult for us to interpret the scriptures from our point of view. We have to look beyond a literal understanding. The images in Daniel's vision are frightening, and the idea of great empires devouring the people even more so. And we can see it happening generation after generation. Every generation can point to a ruler or authority who has risen out of the earth who has been terrifying.

This is especially true when the leadership affects institutions we love. Whether it is our nation, our city, our organizations or even our church, we look at those who stand against our ideas and principles as great beasts that rise out of the sea. We are afraid that they will destroy what we love. We are afraid that the destruction of our expectations will destroy us, too. Can we survive in a world with leaders that tyrannize the people?

The angel in Daniel's vision says, "Yes." Do not be afraid. Whatever powers and authorities are raised up in your world, God can not be beaten back. He is sovereign no matter what we see around us. His kingdom can not fall. His rule is eternal. And the holy ones of God will rule with Him forever. Whatever happens in this world will pass, but God's kingdom is eternal. Our world may be turned upside down for a season, but everything will be right in the end.

Jesus had a way of making his followers look at the world from new point of view. It often seemed as though He was turning it upside. After all, we don't expect good things to come out of bad or blessing to come out of curses. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus wants the disciples to see the world as God sees it. Poverty, loneliness, criticism and humiliation are all things we would prefer to avoid. How could Jesus think these are good? Wealth, satisfaction, laughter and approval are all things we seek. How could these be bad?

The Gospel text for today is Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount; it is known as the Sermon on the Plain. There are differences, of course. Matthew focuses on righteousness and Luke the poor. Luke has written his report in groupings of four: four blessings for the poor, four threats to the rich, four sayings about how to respond to our enemies and four examples of how others might treat us poorly.

Jesus tells the disciples to love their enemies and do good to them. This is not the way we do things because we think that if we appear weak we will accomplish nothing. We want to hold power by wielding a sword. In this year's political process, the sword was often nasty campaign ads. There are even rumblings of voter fraud in some of the races. Now that the election is over, there are many who would like to use the outcome to their advantage. Everyone wants to make everything right from their point of view, seek revenge where necessary and overcome what has been done wrong.

The psalmist says that a two-edged sword will execute vengeance upon the nations, punish the people, bind the kings and capture the nobles with fetters of iron. The psalmist sings that it up to the saints and it is their honor to cast judgment on the beasts which have risen out of the sea or the earth. But is that really what God intends?

The double-edged sword is not necessarily steel, it is not any sort of earthly revenge. There is a sword even greater: the Word of God. What greater vengeance could we meet out to our enemies then to give them the Word of God so that they might believe and become our brother? It is much better to wield a sword that will save a life than one that will take it.

On this day, as we celebrate All Saints Day, we ask the question, "Who are these holy ones? Who are those that stand in the presence of God and rule with Him? Who are these who are given the authority to draw two-edged swords for the sake of God's praise? Who are these saints?"

Many saints lived holy and upright lives. We are thankful for those who have been godly examples for us. They are the men and women who shared the Gospel of Jesus with us, and with the world. They are the ones who made a real difference in the world, who brought light and hope to those who are weak, hungry, sad, humiliated and lonely. On Sunday we will celebrate the lives of those saints who have passed during the past year and remember all those who have had a positive impact on our lives.

But saints are not just those who have died in Christ; saints are also those who live in Christ. A saint is one who has the abiding Word, which is Christ, dwelling in their heart. We are blessed when we live in the hope of the Kingdom that has come even though the world does not meet our expectations. Each of us is called by Jesus to live the life of a saint. It is unlikely that any of us will suffer or become martyrs as the saints of the past. We probably will not be remembered beyond the tiny corner of the world that we've touched. But we can trust that our flesh is temporary and our difficulties short-lived. All our troubles will be overcome when God's promises are fulfilled. We live through the topsy-turvy times with the hope of the true life that awaits us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the lesson from Ephesians, Paul tells us that those who have heard the word of truth and believed are among the many who will inherit this kingdom that God has promised. The hope for which we live is not a utopia. It has nothing to do with who won yesterday's elections or who will serve in the future. This world is upside down, no matter how we look at it. We see with a skewed perception, our eyes blurred by our sinful nature. But in Christ we are given an understanding and Jesus-colored glasses that help us to see the world through God's eyes. Paul prays for the people, "…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints…"

In Him we look at the world in a whole new way, knowing that disappointment and death are a part of living in the flesh, but when our time in flesh is over, we've just reached the beginning of our true life, a life that will last forever with great riches beyond our imaginations. As saints, we are called to live in thanksgiving and praise to God no matter what we face in this world, knowing that we'll dwell forever in His glory.

"For Jehovah taketh pleasure in his people: He will beautify the meek with salvation." Isn't this the most wonderful statement? God takes pleasure in His people. He delights in His saints. We may not always feel like it when the world around us seems to be falling apart, but Jesus reminds us that we are blessed, even in the hard times. And then He calls us to live that blessed life.

We tend to think of the saints as men and women who are recognized for outstanding service to the Lord. Some of the saints were martyred for their faith. Others made a powerful impact on the world in which they lived. The men and women who are specifically named saints seem to be extraordinary people. Their life stories come with accounts of divine intervention, miracles and unusual experiences. However, saints are not only those who have died, but those who live in Christ today.

We, too, are saints, but we need not be intimidated. The saints were not extraordinary. They were ordinary people through whom God made extraordinary things happen. Whatever happens today, whether we win or lose, we will among the holy ones who inherit the kingdom of God. We will possess the Kingdom forever and ever, dwelling with the God who delights in us. Until that day, let us dwell in His Kingdom on earth as Christ commanded, turning the world around us upside down with His Word. Who knows? Perhaps our enemies will become our friends. Perhaps our opponents will join with us in doing the work of justice and peace. Perhaps the topsy-turvy world will be turned upright, and all will experience God's delight and sing His praise.

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