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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

God's Upside-Down Kingdom

 All Saints Day November 1, 2020

1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

          As we celebrate All Saints Day today, we celebrate the upside-down nature of God’s Kingdom.

As we celebrate the lives of the saints who have gone before us, and those in our midst, we acknowledge that on this day of all days, we embrace the love and mercy of God who makes sinners into saints and extends to us an invitation for a new kind of life that is highlighted in the Sermon on the Mount from which our Gospel comes today.

          In a beautiful reflection on Jesus’s upside-down kingdom, American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner writes:

“The world says, ‘Mind your own business,’ and Jesus says, ‘There is no such thing as your own business.’

The world says, ‘Follow the wisest course and be a success,’ and Jesus says, ‘Follow me and be crucified.’

The world says, ‘Drive carefully — the life you save may be your own’ — and Jesus says, ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ [That, my friends, is not an invitation to drive like a crazy person].

The world says, ‘Law and order,’ and Jesus says, ‘Love.’

The world says, ‘Get’ and Jesus says, ‘Give.’

In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion."

            Which means, my friends, that we are all, at the very least, just a little bit crazy – some more so than others.

            We are crazy by the world’s standards, when we accept this invitation that Jesus issues, the description of which shows us what life looks like when we live by God’s rule and God’s will – where Jesus truly is our “all in all.”

            The invitation is to see God’s presence and work in the unseemly places of our lives and of our world. Jesus tells us that it is with the mourning, the humbled, and the hungry that we see God most present.

            That message is a far cry from the world’s attempt to point us in the direction of blessedness coming only when we are rich in earthly “good” things, like power, wealth, health, and strength. By the world’s measure, if you have a wonderful spouse and beautiful, healthy, happy children you are “blessed” – but if you are in a relationship that is strained, if you or a loved one has a chronic illness or cancer, then you are what – cursed? By the world’s measure, if you have a healthy 401K,  strong investment portfolio or a good, high-paying job with great benefits, then you are blessed – but if you work 3 jobs, were laid off or fired due to the pandemic, if you struggle with employment or school or if you have had to settle for what you could get for a career rather than what you always dreamed, the basket of blessing passed you by.

            The world says that if you are prosperous then God favors you but if you struggle for any reason, then God is judging you; a lot of so-called Christian churches will tell you the same.

            Instead of accepting the world’s judgement of what is good and blessed, Jesus’ very life illustrates the waywardness of the conception of blessing as we have embraced it.

Instead, Jesus offers himself as the ultimate blessing of God, containing God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness as

a baby wrapped up in rags, laid in an animal’s feeding trough in a stable;

the Son of God eating with sinners and outcasts;

and as an outlaw, crucified on the cross.

            Crazy, right?!

            God shows up in our acts of mercy and justice, in our acts of sacrifice and compassion. This is not what the “world” wants us to believe, nor is it how the world defines blessing.

            This teaching is not easy, my friends. The Christian church has, at times, romanticized this suffering Christ, but in our world today, where we like to avoid pain at all costs – just look at the pharmaceutical sales of everything from over the counter aspirin or Tylenol to the highly addictive narcotics tearing apart communities across our nation – suffering for others means you are doing things wrong.

            No, we would much rather be comfortable and comforted.

            But the saints of yesterday and today know a different reality. They know the love of God and the presence of Jesus in their lives especially when they are hanging out and hanging on at the margins.

            The saints of yesterday and today know that to live in the light of Christ means sacrifice; it means taking risks.

It means speaking out against injustice, lending a hand to those in need of sustenance.

            It means giving not your leftovers or excess to God or to others but taking the cream off the top of our lives and offering it as a gift to those in need, offering it as a gift for the work of Jesus to be done. This is what Jesus being our “all in all” looks like.

            Following in Jesus’ footsteps means walking in solidarity with those who are oppressed and being willing to face and correct our own complicity in systems of racism, and sexism, in the scourge of human trafficking, and the worth of all human life.

            Pastors are often warned that it is dangerous to mix religion or politics or to preach in ways that seem to be controversial or what to touch on what people might deem “too political.”

While I try my best to respect “the line”, I have to say that what people define as “too political” is often anything that makes them a little too uncomfortable or makes them squirm in their seats. If Jesus is our “all in all” then we apply our Christian ethics, Christian values, and Christian mores to all that we do.

If a pastor is to faithfully preach Law and Gospel as our Lutheran theology teaches it, we are going to be uncomfortable, because the “Law” part is the part where we name our sinfulness, our weakness, the places in our lives and in our world that deserve our attention and our judgement.

You and I are going to squirm, and we will squirm together as we face our struggles with our identity as followers of Christ. Then, we will ask forgiveness for our sins.

We are going to examine our thoughts, our behaviors, our actions, and our words, and the world will call us crazy for doing so.

Yet, that is what we are supposed to do. We will not grow so complacent in our own righteousness that we cannot admit that we are sinners, daily in need of God’s grace.

The saints of yesterday knew this. Some withdrew from the world in order to contemplate their own and the world’s sin. Some committed themselves to good works to atone for their own waywardness. Some simply loved the Lord and gave all that they could, even to the giving of their lives as martyrs, for the sake of the Gospel.

At the beginning of our service today, we named some of the saints who passed on this year. We gave thanks to God that they now reside among the other saints who have gone before us, each of them saints and sinners, saved by the grace and mercy of God.

            The troubles we face today, and regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election there will be those who are happy and those unhappy. The pandemic infections are surging and even today there are many who cannot be in worship together because of concerns that they will be at particular risk.

            Jesus urges us to look at our troubles not as curse, nor failure of faith, nor judgement, but as opportunity to know yourself as blessed not through the circumstances of your life but by the sheer grace and the magnitude of God’s love for you.

            Freed and forgiven, we are bold to live our crazy lives as sinners saved by God’s grace, made saints by God’s mercy, for living in this upside-down, inside-out kingdom of God with Jesus as our all in all. Thanks be to God for this eternal blessing that redefines the world and the riches of life in Jesus.



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