Sunday October 6th 2016 – All Saints’ Day

Reading: Luke 6:20-31

Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

This morning we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. And it might be that we listen to our scripture readings hoping for some insight into what a saintly life looks like. A saintly life as individuals and a saintly life as community. It is unlikely, perhaps, that we will find ourselves, in the time and place in which we live, being martyred for our faith. And it is unlikely, also, that our lives will be so holy that a miracle of healing, such as is recognised as saintly by the Catholic Church, will happen in our presence. But it is possible that we will live lives that will be, at times, a blessing to those around us. That there will be saintly moments in our own lives, and in the lives of our community, in other words. And so we might hope for some insight from our readings, this morning, into the way in which we might live our lives, such that such saintly moments might happen or saintly characteristics might blossom.

The gospel reading for this Feast of All Saints is taken from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. This gospel reading is a strange one really, and difficult, on the surface, at least, to mine for saintly insights. Jesus has spent the night on a mountain praying. He spent the whole night praying. And then he comes down and chooses his twelve disciples and when a large crowd gathers, he heals those who are sick and he frees those who are troubled by unclean spirits and he spends a long time with the crowd who are all trying to touch him for healing power seems to reach all who are near him.

It is after this that he talks to the disciples about the ways of God and the ways of the world. What he says is radical for the prevailing religious view is that if you are good, if God approves of you, you will be successful. Jesus, in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, reverses that prevailing view. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that God sees those for whom life is difficult. Jesus wants the disciples to understand that God sees and loves the poor, and the hungry, and those who weep, and those who are hated for their faith in him, in the Son of Man, as he puts it. In fact Jesus calls them blessed. When we bless a person we are saying “God be with you”. Jesus is saying to the poor and the hungry and those who are weeping, “God is with you”. He is saying more than that, in fact, for he is saying, “God is with you and it is God’s longing that the kingdom will be yours, that you will be fed, that your tears will be wiped away, that joy will be yours.” Jesus is saying that this is what the Kingdom of God is about. Now what we long for, what our heart’s desire is, defines who we are. What God longs for is at the heart of who God is. God longs for the healing of God’s people, God’s creation.

God’s heart is close in our time and place to all who are hungry or displaced from home, to all who are suffering from illness, to all who are persecuted for their faith. God’s heart is close, also, to our planet.

A group of theologians from Latin America, known as liberation theologians, wrote of God’s preferential option for the poor. One such theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, explored this idea:

God has preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will. The ultimate basis for the privileged position of the poor is not in the poor themselves but in God, in the gratuitousness and universality of God’s …love.[1]

Poverty of any kind is contrary to the will of a God of love and God’s desire and the desire of the poor for freedom are in harmony.

It is from this idea that we find some insight into the woes that Jesus pronounces after his pronouncement of the blessings.

What we long for, remember, what our heart’s desire is, defines who we are.

Those who are rich, those who are well fed now, those who are laughing now, or who are well thought of now, are in danger, in spiritual danger for they may feel that their heart’s desires have been met. They may have no sense of God or a need of God. God is not against good things, it is God’s longing that we might all thrive. If, though, we are oblivious to the struggles of others, then we are oblivious to God’s desire that all creation thrives. Jesus pronounces his woes upon those who are thriving if they are unaware of their dependence on God, and unaware of the needs of others.

Jesus’ disciples would have been reeling at the blessings and woes, struggling to understand Jesus’ strange pronouncements. But, in Luke’s account of Jesus’ teaching his disciples, the radical thoughts continue.

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

On the surface Jesus seems to be suggesting that, in the face of an enemy, of one who would hurt us, we should adopt a passive attitude. In fact, this reading of Jesus’ words has led many to be victims of violence.

The theologian Walter Wink has written much about a theology of power. Human beings seem to have two choices in a situation of conflict – the way of force – or the way of submission. Jesus’ words here appear to be encouraging a way of submission. In a book The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium Wink explores the idea of Jesus’ Third Way, an alternative to a response of violence or submission. As Walter Wink points out, “Jesus never displayed passivity, …on every occasion Jesus himself resisted evil with every fibre of his being.” Wink explores each of Jesus’ statements through the lens of the culture. We will consider one of the statements.

Jesus said to his disciples, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also …

In the culture of the time – a culture where honour and shame were a significant way in which power was exercised – a strike on the cheek would have been not a blow to injure, but a blow to insult, humiliate or degrade. A strike on the cheek shames the one struck, in other words. Presenting the other cheek is in fact presenting your whole face to the aggressor and would have been interpreted as a challenge to this shaming action. Walter Wink says that it would have been akin to saying “I’m a human being, just like you. I refuse to be humiliated any longer. I am your equal. I am a child of God.”

Jesus is saying to those who are oppressed: “Stand up for yourselves, defy your masters, assert your humanity; but don’t answer the oppressor in kind. Find a new, third way that is neither cowardly submission nor violent reprisal.”

Wink concludes. “Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive and yet nonviolent.” [2]

On this, the Feast of All Saints, we have Jesus at his most challenging. Beatitudes and Woes, and subversive guidance on how to live with those who would oppress us. In the midst of all this we might find hints on what it is to live well as a child of God, to live in such a way that saintly moments might happen or saintly characteristics might blossom. To live in such a way that we and our community may be a blessing to others and that we and our community may shine a light into the God who created and loves all things.

[1] Quoted in New Interpreter’s Bible Volume IX p145.

[2] All Walter Wink quotes can be found at’%20Third%20Way.pdf