Luke 6:20-31

All Saints

I know that you might find this difficult to believe, but when I was a teenager I could be quite annoying. Looking back I feel particularly sorry for my Sunday school teachers. You see, I had the privilege of growing up in a Christian household, I’d been in church since I was little, I knew quite a lot. But I didn’t really have a lot of grace. On one particular Sunday, I must have been about 13, I went out to Sunday school. The leaders had prepared a session all about the saints. The question we started with was, “what is a saint?” They were obviously expecting us to say that saints were particularly holy people from the past or the Bible, that we see images of in stained glass windows, and then we were going to spend the session debunking that understanding and looking at how the Bible describes the saints. I’m afraid that I completely destroyed that plan by stating, in that know-it-all way of precocious teenagers everywhere, that Paul writes that all Christians are saints. I knew all about the theory of what a saint was, but I’m not sure that I was behaving in a very saintly manner that day.

This last Friday was All Saints day, and as the closest Sunday to that date, we are celebrating the festival of All Saints here today. It’s a particularly important day for us in this church, as we are named “All Saints”. We can celebrate the fact that each of us who follow Jesus are all saints, each and everyone of us. We can also celebrate all that All Saints, the church, does and is, and means to us as a community of saints in this place over the years.

As we celebrate this, it’s good to be reminded by Jesus what the marks of a saintly life are, because as we are all saints, these are the characteristics that Jesus calls us to grow in, as individuals and as a church.

In our reading from Luke’s account of the good news of Jesus life, it seems to me that we can see a couple of things at work. If we look back a couple of verses we can see that Jesus is talking to a large crowd of his disciples, people who had decided that they wanted to follow him and learn from him.

There were also a great number of people from the surrounding regions and towns who had come to hear him, and came expecting him to be able to help them, because they were weak, sick, poor, oppressed by evil.

In the first section we read this morning, we hear Jesus turning the world’s assessment of people and how blessed they are upside down. In the second section we are challenged to behave differently in light of what we know. So, let’s look at each of these in turn.

Turning the world upside down. How is success generally judged in the world? How much someone earns, what kind of car they drive, how many children they have, where they live, what kind of job they have, how many people work for them, how much influence they have, how powerful their reputation is? The world today isn’t much different to the world when Jesus was on earth. Much the same things were used to judge success.

One thing that was different was that success was seen much more as a sign that God was pleased with someone and was blessing them. So, in the understanding and language of Jesus’ culture, in the world that he lived in, all the folk who were surrounding him, who had come to him for help were not blessed, otherwise they wouldn’t have been ill, weak, or poor. No – it was the rich, wealthy, influential people who were blessed.

Jesus turns this upside down. He looks at the crowds of people who have come out to see him, and tells them that they are blessed. Blessed are you who are poor, he says. Blessed are you who hunger, who weep. Blessed are you when you are rejected because of your loyalty to Jesus.

Now, I do think we have to be a bit careful here. This can so easily turn into a misunderstanding of Christianity as “Pie in the sky when you die”, used to keep people in their place.

“The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate.”

We might not sing that verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful any more, but I’m not sure we’ve quite got rid of the underlying thinking.

No, this is a word of hope to those without hope, a word of encouragement to the discouraged, a true comfort to those in despair. God sees you, God loves you, and God is for you, whatever the world thinks of you.

Not only does Jesus turn the world upside down by declaring that those on the bottom are blessed, but he also pronounces woe on those on the top of the heap in the world’s eyes. On the rich, well fed, well thought of. And we have to be honest, in global terms, this is us he’s talking about. I am pretty much the definition of privilege. I am a white, straight, man, grammar school and Oxbridge educated, a minister of the established Church of one of the richest nations on the planet.

I have to take seriously the fact that as Jesus turns the world upside down, it is me that is tipped off the top. Now, there are some elements of this that I can’t do anything about. I am white, male, straight. I did have the education that I had. I have been called to work in the ministry that I have.

What I do have is a choice about how I use the influence that I have, what I do with the money and wealth that I’ve been entrusted with. Do I use them to further my own position, or to stand up for those who Jesus declares to be blessed?

Having turned the world upside down, Jesus goes on to give some practical examples of what it might mean to live in this upside down world.

He starts with a real easy one – love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Do this spiritually by blessing those who curse you and praying for those who ill-treat you. Do this physically by turning the other cheek, and giving your shirt to the person who’s taken your coat.

I wonder who your enemies are? If we’re to obey Jesus command, then we need to know the answer to that question. It might seem much nicer and Christian to say that we don’t have any enemies, and that might be true. But if I’m honest I know that I have enemies. People that I don’t like and don’t like me. People who have hurt me, and who I’ve hurt. People who talk about me, and people who I talk about. These are the people that I am challenged to love and to pray for, to bless.

Again, it seems to me that we need to be a bit careful here. Too often passages like this have been used to keep people in abusive situations and relationships. This is not about that. Hear me clearly. There are some situations and relationships that for own safety we just need to get out of.

The touchstone in judging all this comes in that last verse. Do to others as you would have them do to you. It’s so simple to say, and so difficult to do. Which is why we need the Holy Spirit that God our Father sent to guide and help us when Jesus returned to heaven. It is only by his help and power that we can do any of this. That is why one of the ways in which the Bible describes the work of the Holy Spirit is sanctification. That is, being made more saintly. The Holy Spirit helps us to become what Jesus has already made us – all saints.

We are all saints, every one of us who follows Jesus, and we are All Saints, a church that knows that we are sent to be closer to others. We’ve been reminded this morning who it is that God blesses, and have heard the challenge that Jesus gives to those of us in privileged positions. So we seek to live faithfully in this upside down kingdom. One of the ways we do that is by supporting organisations that share those values. Over the years we have worked with Wellington YMCA, by supporting them financially and by personal involvement of church members. I’m really pleased that Mandie Mulloy, who heads up Wellington YMCA is here with us this morning to share with us about the work that we are supporting, and to give us some opportunities to get more involved.

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