Luke 6:20-31, All Saints C, November 3, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
When I first read the lessons for this All Saints Sunday, I must admit that I was confused. Why, on a Sunday that we remember all who have died, do we hear about blessings and woes? Why are we hearing about the rich, the oppressed, and enemies?
Why do we care whether we are blessed or cursed when our loved ones are no longer with us? I suppose that I expected something more like what we hear at funerals, something that promises that God will be with us always.
When I next read this lesson, I was so desperate to find my place among the blessings and escape the woes. How poor do you have to be before you can be blessed? If I read the blessings when I am hungry before eating a meal, am I more blessed than when I read this lesson on a full stomach? Jesus says blessed are those who weep. Although I grieve for my Uncle Bob, for Arlene, and for Tom, my days are not consumed with tears. Am I weeping enough to be blessed?
I could not bear to put myself among the woes. Even so, I can easily pay my bills every month. Does that make me rich? I never need to skip a meal. Does that make me full? If I am usually fairly happy, does that qualify me as laughing? When you compliment me after a sermon, does that mean that people are speaking well of me? Does that mean that God will curse me later just because my life is pretty ok right now?
Then I read the Gospel lesson in Greek, and I saw how foolish I was. The blessings and woes are all written in the plural! Jesus didn’t share these blessings and woes to bless or curse us individually. Instead, Jesus uses these to share the true nature of the kingdom of God. In these few words, Jesus shows us that the kingdom of God is a place without poverty, hunger, sorrow, or fear. Instead, the kingdom of God is a place full of laughter, joy, and full bellies.
Jesus blesses those who are suffering as a way to reassure them that it gets better. Sort of like the It Gets Better online video project, Jesus assures all who can barely make it day to day that their suffering will end.
Do you not have enough money now? There is no poverty in the kingdom of God. Anyone hungry now? There is no hunger in the kingdom of God. Is your life consumed with tears, sorrow, and pain? There is no grieving, no depression, nor any sorrow in the kingdom of God. Do you feel rejected by those closest to you? There are no bullies in heaven.
One of the crazy side effects of suffering, as terrible as it is, is that it brings us closer to God. For those who suffer, they can only go to God. For those who aren’t suffering, they feel that going to God in prayer is optional. With enough money and food to keep them content, they do not think they need God in their lives. And because of this, they will suffer in the end. For all of those bullies who mock you and laugh at you now, they will someday learn how terrible they were to you. They may even come to regret it.
Now, hear these blessings and curses again. Instead of trying to decipher whether you fit into the blessing camp or the woe camp, listen to what Jesus is saying about the kingdom of God:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.
21"Blessed are you [all] who hunger now, for you [all] will be satisfied.
"Blessed are you [all] who weep now, for you [all] will laugh.
22"Blessed are you [all] when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man!
23Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. For their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.
24"But woe to you [all] who are rich, for you [all] have received your comfort already.
25"Woe to you [all] who are well satisfied with food now, for you [all] will be hungry. "Woe to you [all] who laugh now, for you [all] will mourn and weep.
26"Woe to you [all] when all people speak well of you, for their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.
(Luke 6:20b-26 NET)
Again I wonder, why does the lectionary have this lesson assigned for All Saints Sunday? Because this lesson gives us hope. In these blessings and these woes, we see how counter cultural the kingdom of God is. In the Gospel of Luke, the kingdom of God is often portrayed as being here, but not yet.
The kingdom of God is already here on earth because some people are able to escape poverty and become part of the middle class. Yet the kingdom of God isn’t completely here because the rate of poverty in our country and in the world is staggering. The kingdom of God is already at work among us as we feed the hungry, but we can’t feed them every meal.
The kingdom of God is at work in our world because so many people can escape their grieving and their suffering. Sometimes they even become better people because of it. Yet, God’s work does not reach every corner because there are so many who cannot be relieved of their suffering or their grieving. When we see people who are merely shells of whom they used to be, we know that God’s kingdom is not here yet.
When we see parents, teachers, and other community leaders stop innocent children from being bullied, we see the kingdom of God at work. And yet, there continues to be too many suicides. Too many children cannot escape the people who hate them.
The kingdom of God is here on earth but not fully enacted yet. However, the kingdom of God is beautifully complete in heaven. Tom and Arlene may not be with us anymore, but they are with God. They will never experience poverty, hunger, or bullying again. They will never suffer in any way because they are reunited with the God that they love so much. They will be able to experience the full extent of God’s love in beautiful new ways.
Even as we grieve for Tom, Arlene, and those we love, we trust in Jesus’ promise of the resurrection. We trust that if we experience a death like his, we will experience a resurrection like his. We trust that God will keep us safely on this earth until our time comes. And when that does, we hope that we will be reunited with those we miss.
No matter what, the scripture speaks the same message: God is with us always. Amen.