All Saints Sunday – November 7, 2010
Dan. 7.1-3, 15-18; Eph. 1.11-23; Luke 6.21-30
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the God of both the living and the dead. Amen.
There are some passages in Scripture that make me not want to be a pastor, or even be a Christian. It is so painful for me, as your pastor, to stand before you today and read the words in the Gospel of Luke, especially knowing that many or most of you have suffered or witnessed abuse in your lives. Too many times this text has been used to promote abuse or make an argument that it is okay. I tell you, it is not.
The last paragraph in the reading, the laundry list of impossible tasks, is a recipe for abuse and death. Yes, it is a counter-cultural thing to love one’s enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, to turn the other cheek, to let people steal your possessions, and we as people of faith are charged to live counter-culturally, but when these actions bring harm upon ourselves and perpetuate abuse, that is not the kind of life God desires for us, and it is not okay.
One of the things we must not forget when we read Luke, is that often times Luke is speaking about Jesus. We are not called to be idle in our service to others, but we also must recognize human limits. I only know of one human being who has lived out the impossible tasks in the reading today, and that is Jesus. And we all know the result of it for him…crucifixion, death. This last paragraph exposes our limitations and our absolute need for a redeemer. This is how I believe these painful words work for good.
There are ways in which Scripture convicts and condemns us and it is very difficult to read it if we take the words seriously.
For example, when we read the list of blessings and woes, where do you place yourself? We cannot help but wonder which one we are. If we are honest, we admit that most if not all of the time we fall into the categories of the woes. We are full, there are times we laugh, and we are wealthy compared to at least 2/3 of the world. If we know someone who is poorer than us, we are wealthy, and we stand convicted by this text.
At the same time, especially on a day like today in which we read names of those we love who have died, there are ways in which Scripture gives us new life and hope. “Blessed are you who weep now for you will laugh (Luke 6.21).” So what are we? Blessed? Full of woe? Both?
To think about these questions, we need a little bit of help. Today we celebrate All Saints Sunday. It is a day in which we remember and name those who have died. It is also a day in which we lift up their witness of faith to God’s love. In this we are strengthened to live our lives with the confidence that they are with God and God is also with us. One such person I think about often who has died is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich was a pastor who opposed the Nazis regime and extermination of the Jewish people during WWII, and as a result was murdered April 9, 1945, at the age of 39. One of the poems he wrote while in prison for opposing the regime is titled “Who Am I?” In this poem he speaks about how other inmates perceive him:
Who am I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune equally, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Dietrich then reflects on how he sees himself in comparison to what others say about him:
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making. Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Dietrich then concludes with this paragraph:
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!
The truth is we all have the potential in this life to appear strong and confident, but feel weak and useless; to have blessings and woes, and even have them at the same time. This is why it is also possible to have joy in sorrow, and life in death. Just because we might be in one category now, doesn’t mean we won’t be in another later. So how are we to live with these things? I would suggest that instead of thinking about what category we are in, rather think about who we are, and even more so, whose we are.
“For thus says the Lord…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isa. 43.1).”
This is true both for those of us who are still living on this earth, and for those who have died. One of the things Jesus accomplished in his death on the cross was that he filled all things with his presence, including death, hell, and the grave (Eph. 4.8-10). As a result of this, not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8.39).
I have had the privilege of compiling the names which you have given to me to be read today. As I made the list I thought about how precious these people are to us and to God. We miss them and grief causes us great pain and emptiness, but at the same time we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes. 4.13). Our beloved dead rest in God, and we too will be joined with them in our own death or when Christ comes again. God holds them in love just as we are held in the same love. It is still possible to be one with them in Christ. We continue to be united with them and with one another in our baptism, and also at the table of Holy Communion. Baptism and Holy Communion are among the greatest mysteries and means of grace in our lives.
In baptism we are all made one, and joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection and promised eternal life. Holy Communion, on the other hand is a foretaste of the feast come. Now this is totally wild, so pay attention. We all come to the table on even ground, no one more holy than the other. Whether we are full or hungry, laughing or weeping, we are all beggers (Martin Luther) in need of God’s forgiveness and love.
This table is where we meet Jesus and all those who have died because they are in Christ. When I come forward to receive the bread and grape juice, I first ask Jesus to come in to me and work healing and forgiveness, and then I ask my husband Ben to meet me there as well, knowing that one day we will gather at the table, fully present with Jesus and with one another. And what a day of rejoicing that will be!
So for now, we entrust our loved ones and ourselves to God, and right here at this table we meet Jesus, our loved ones, and all the people of God, both living and dead. Crazy, I know. Filled with promise…yes.