Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Psalm 149 Ephesians 1:11-23
A couple rented a cabin in the mountains and their son agreed to join them in a few days. They texted him to bring fuel for the fire, as the evenings were getting chilly. A few days later, they heard that a relative had died. They texted their son with the funeral arrangements. Somehow, the messages got scrambled, and he received the message almost simultaneously – but in reverse order. They read, “Uncle’s funeral at crematorium 11:30 on Saturday”… “Bring logs for the fire.”
Understanding death, is difficult for all of us, saint and sinner alike. Isn’t that what we struggle with, not just today on All Saints’ Sunday, but everyday – the struggle between our humanity and the possibility of sainthood. We are continually reminded that we all can be saints, even if we live a life full of unsaintly things. We are redeemed and forgiven and become a part of the family of God in how we live out our lives.
So many people have trouble with the existence of God, and long for some solid evidence of the divine presence. Rarely do we experience them. Much more common, and available to everyone every day, is the testimony of things we do see, things through which we glimpse God. You can’t look directly at the sun. Its light is mediated to your eyes by drops of water. The presence of God is like that. We most often know it indirectly. Perhaps through people we know and love, and people who know and love us.
Luke’s Gospel was written to address concerns just like ours. We sometimes demonstrate a lack of concern for the poor who are always with us. We have a tendency to be conflicted within our churches, we may show reluctance to become involved with social justice issues, and we may display a quickness to dismiss people who disagree with us for surely they will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
These verses are called the Beatitudes, from the Latin word meaning “blessing.” They describe what it means to be followers of Christ. They provide a standard of conduct. They contrast kingdom values with worldly values, and show what God will give to us. They contrast fake piety with true humility. Matthew’s Beatitudes are more familiar and more popular, because in Luke, Jesus’ blessings are mixed and not so comforting in their starkness and directness. “Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry…Blessed are you who weep…Blessed are you when people hate you.” Even more disturbing, are the woes that follow: “Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full…Woe to you who are laughing….Woe to you when all speak well of you.”
Enormous crowds were following Jesus. He had become very popular. The disciples, who were his closest associates, were certainly tempted to feel proud, and important. Being with Jesus gave them prestige. In this reading, the crowds were gathering once again. Jesus pulled his disciples aside and warned them about the temptations they would face as his followers. Don’t expect fame and fortune, Jesus was saying, but mourning, hunger, and persecution. Jesus assured his disciples they would be rewarded – but maybe not in this life. There may be times when following Jesus will bring us great popularity. If we don’t live by Jesus’ words, we may find ourselves using God’s message only to promote our personal interests.
Jesus began his sermon with words that form a contradiction. But doesn’t God’s way of living usually contradict the world’s way. If we want to live for God we must be ready to say and do what seems strange in the eyes of the world. We must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving up our own comforts to serve others, we will one day receive everything God has in store for us.
Listen to this reading from the Message – Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! Then he spoke: You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this. But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get. And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.
Our task is to be true, not popular. Each beatitude tells how to be “blessed.” Blessed means more than happiness, it implies the fortunate state of those who are in God’s kingdom. The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus, “blessed” means the experience of hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, follow Jesus no matter what the cost. That hope and joy and happiness will be found within us where God resides.
Today, we wrap up our Stewardship Campaign. I don’t know what the answer is, I don’t know how to get the idea across that all we have comes from God and it is our place to give out of our abundance. Several years ago, I realized what stewardship is. For me it is more than being guilted into giving. It is more than someone telling you what to do. It is putting God in first place. We can’t physically give money to God, but God’s mission in the world is lived out in the mission of the church. It was when I made that connection that I began to work toward the tithe. It took me about five years to get there, but I did and have maintained my giving.
We give our money as an act of worship. We give our money as a way of seeking God’s kingdom first, not because a rule requires us to give it. I have heard folks say…”I’ll give when I can”….if the utility bill is due, those folks don’t want to hear that, they don’t care if we keep our doors open….I’ll give when I can…..if paychecks need to be written and the money is not there, people don’t generally work for the fun of it.
Stewardship is not a multiple-choice question. Some people try to avoid the discipleship of financial giving by saying, “You can help Christ in other ways besides tithing. You can give your time, your talent and your treasures.” That is true. You can serve Christ in a variety of ways other than with money. At the same time, we can’t help Christ with some ministries except by giving money. We cannot help Christ feed the poor children all over the world without money. We cannot help Christ provide water to a remote African village without money.
In 2017, we formed the Okefenokee Alliance for the Homeless (OATH) to raise awareness for safe and secure housing that results in community-wide commitment to address the needs and issues surrounding individuals and families who are near or experiencing homelessness. In 2018, 4223 people were served in the community. $19, 300 were spent on emergency shelter by seven community partners, Grace being one of them. $209, 200 were spent by those same agencies to assist folks with utility bills. The work of OATH involves assisting the financially insecure and those without safe and secure housing. We have helped raise money for different causes, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to include OATH in the 2020 budget? Then we would be able to donate on a monthly basis.
I ask from the bottom of my heart, that you prayerfully consider your commitment to Grace for 2020. Take some time to ponder, and ask God what He is calling you to give. It is not a time to take this asking lightly. Now is the time for us to build on our rich history. Now is the time to plan for an amazing future. How different would the community of Waycross and Ware County and Pierce County be, if Grace wasn’t here? How different would you be? Now is the time!
John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all ways that you can, in all the places that you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.”
Unimportant and insignificant as each individual Christian is, yet we are God’s way of preserving society, of adding flavor to the taste buds of civilization. Our usefulness is not in what we do, but in what we are by God’s grace. On All Saints’ Day, it is not just the saints of the church that we should remember in our prayers. We should remember all the foolish ones and the wise ones, the shy ones and the overbearing ones, the broken ones and the whole ones of our lives who have acted as our mothers and fathers and saints. We remember those whom we loved without knowing that we loved them. We remember those who have helped us to see more of God within ourselves and to have hope, and dreams and to embrace the promises of God.
In the lives of the saints we see the light of Christ’s love and the hope expressed in God’s Word - the hope for our blessedness. Today we celebrate the union of all who have been baptized with Christ and with one another in the communion of saints. Today we celebrate all who are present in the kingdom of God and all of us who hope to join them. Today we sing a song of the saints of God and ask that God help us to become saints too. To move us forward….we need to ….”Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all ways that you can, in all the places that you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” Amen.