The Lives of the Saints – Nov. 3, 2019

The Lives of the Saints

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 6:20-31

November 3, 2019

Main Idea: Saints depend on God.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, the memories of our loved ones who are still present with us every day.  We have gathered to remember them, and to honor them, and to recognize the community of which we all are a part; the Communion of Saints. Now technically, Baptists do not have Saints like the Catholic, Orthodox or even the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, although we honor and respect those who have been lifted up as examples of holy living.  Our understanding of saints comes from the writings of Saint Paul who began the majority of his letters with a greeting to “all the saints” of that particular community.  In Paul’s mind saints were those who believed in Christ and who were beloved by God.   We are connected to believers from the past and believers of the future as we work to bring about God’s plan for creation.  What this means is that all of us are saints to the degree that we live out our faith.  We are saints and sinners both.

Our Scripture text for today is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes and while it is less familiar than Matthew’s version, it is a wonderful text to study as we ponder what it means to be a saint and to be part of the communion of saints.  Luke’s text tells us very practically what life as a saint is all about.  Saints depend on God.

We all have heard of the Sermon on the Mount, yes? Well, this is not that!  In Luke, this text is part of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus comes down from the mountain where he had been praying, to a level place to speak to the many people from all walks of life who had gathered to hear him. The crowd included the rich, poor, sick, well, happy, grieving, powerful, vulnerable, male, and female. The people gathered and the examples of blessings and woes that Jesus lifts up are binary extremes like opposite ends of a teeter-totter.  The fulcrum, the center foundation of this teeter-totter of life is faith in God. Saints depend on God.

Today’s text has two main sections; v. 20- 26 which describes life on the teeter totter, both blessed and woeful, followed by instructions in v. 27-31 about how to live a “blessed” life.

The first section is filled with not only blessings and woes but also the present and the future.  In it we hear echoes of the passage from Ecclesiastes 3; “To everything there is a season .. a time to be born and a time to die,… a time to weep and a time to laugh, …a time to seek and a time to lose.   By lifting up “now” versus “the future” Jesus points out that life, and our circumstances, is always changing.  Those who are doing alright by society’s standards today may not always do so.  Those who today are first may be last tomorrow.  And the last, first.  We have heard this before! 

The theme of the last shall be first and the first, last runs throughout the Gospel of Luke.  Mary sings in Luke chapter 1; “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53) At the beginning of his ministry Jesus announces that he is anointed to “bring good news to the poor.” Jesus is clear that his mission is to those who have been left behind or outside of society.

In this Sermon on the Plain, blessings are given to those who are now poor, hungry, sad, and hated.  Those whom, even to this day, we think of as unlucky and unblessed.   These folks are blessed precisely because they have only God on their side.  Since everyone else has turned away, they depend completely on God.

Jesus says “Woe” to the rich, the full, the happy, and the respected because those who think that they can take care of themselves can too easily think that they have no need of God.  Too often we pat ourselves on the back for our accomplishments rather than remember God’s presence in our lives.  And, we hate to be reminded of this but, success and prosperity are deceptive because all can change in an instant; with a job loss, an illness, a bad decision.  Only the love of God is constant.

Jesus wants us to be blessed; to be saints in good relationship with God.

And he gives instructions about how to live a blessed life.  All of these instructions require letting go of the illusion of self-sufficiency and embracing the reality of community.  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  If someone hits you, turn the other cheek.  If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt as well. Give to everyone who ask of you, and say nothing if they take away your things.  Jesus sums up these instructions in a brilliantly simple way.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

These instructions are not easy to follow, nor are the descriptions of blessed and woeful life easy to hear.  But they encourage us to live as saints.  Saints, who know that whatever life brings, good or bad, we can depend on God.

As we prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, let us commit ourselves anew to a life buoyed and sustained by God’s grace and love, made known to us through Jesus.  Let us see ourselves as saints, connected to those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. May we be saints who know that life is always changing but the love of God is with us no matter what. 

Let us pray,

God of grace, we join with the communion of saints to sing of your mercy and love.   We sometimes find it hard to trust that you are with us always. Help us to follow in the footsteps of those who lived their lives in your care.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.