The Image | Proper 29

Colossians 1:11-20

11 [May you be] strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and [give] thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation,

16 Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.

17 He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.

18 He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

19 Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him, 20 and he reconciled all things to himself through him—whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood of his cross. (CEB)

The Image

The last Sunday of the Christian year gives us a chance to do—in the church—what I often find myself doing as we approach New Year’s Eve on the civil calendar. I tend to reflect back on the year that has now passed. It’s not really a focused thing that I do on purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down with the intention of engaging in such reflection. Rather, it just seems to come naturally. I find myself doing the same kind of natural reflection near my birthday and wedding anniversary each year, too.

I mean, those moments feel significant, right? You go to sleep one day, you wake up the next day, and a whole year has passed. On July 27, I woke up and I was suddenly forty-three. On October 13, I woke up and suddenly I’d been married for eighteen years. Last January 6—can you believe this—last January 6, I woke up next to a forty-year-old woman. I don’t even know what happened! The day before, she’d been in her 30s.

And the number of those transitioning events only grows: children’s birthdays and rising grade levels in school. This past year, I ended up with a high school freshman living in my house. (So, if you lost yours… I swear it wasn’t long ago that this young woman fit in my arms).

Every time there is a transition from one season which is known into a new one which I haven’t yet experienced, I wax a little nostalgic about the season that is about to close. I also find myself, near those moments of transition, looking forward to what’s coming. I start to anticipate this new thing that is about to begin, and I have hopes—hopes (plural)—for what might be. After all, this might be the year that…. You can fill in the blank for yourself.

The focus of this Sunday is the Reign of Jesus Christ over all of creation. Yet, this Sunday also looks backward and forward. The Old Testament text from Jeremiah 23 recalls a time when those kings and leaders who were supposed to shepherd God’s people didn’t do a very good job. They were corrupt. They didn’t provide care for the people for whom it was their responsibility to provide care. They took bribes. Perverted justice. They led the people to destruction because they didn’t trust in God and certainly didn’t care to bother with doing right. And the people ended up being scattered.

So, the prophet tells us that God has decided to clean up our mess. God will gather the people together, and God will raise up shepherds for the people who will care for them so perfectly that they don’t have to be afraid or dismayed. And not one—not one—shall be missing. “The time is coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous descendant from David’s line, and he will rule as a wise king. He will do what is just and right in the land. During his lifetime, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And his name will be The LORD Is Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6 CEB).

The prophetic arc moves from hope for a good shepherd and a righteous king to the actual appearance of the Son of God, the beloved in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. The Gospel text for today, from Luke (which we didn’t read), is of the crucifixion. It might seem an odd text to use on a Sunday focused on the reign of Christ, but it does point out the difference in how God’s dominion is established. This is a reign of freedom and peace which is achieved through the saving power of Christ’s death on a cross.

There is no military conquest. No subjugation of unwilling peoples. No removal of freedoms to keep the population in line. No threats. No illicit land acquisitions. This kingdom, this dominion of God, is not like the Roman Empire, or the Mongolian Empire, or the British Empire, or the United States, or any other power that has risen across the span of human history that gained power and wealth by destroying the lives of other human beings.

The inscription on the cross above Jesus said, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38 CEB). God has made peace with all things: God has reconciled all things to God’s self, whether those things are in heaven or on earth, through the blood of Jesus spilled on the cross. God doesn’t establish God’s dominion by conquest, but by gift. God has offered God’s own self to redeem the whole creation.

What’s more, Paul tells us that God “…rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13 CEB). God has transferred us to the kingdom of Jesus. The word in Greek refers to a change of situation or place. Despite appearances, we have already been transferred to the reign of God through Jesus Christ. We’re already citizens of God’s realm.

Because the dominion of God is so different from every other kingdom, empire, or republic that has come before, and because we are a part of this different kingdom, everything has changed. Jesus is Lord of ALL. As Paul declared, “Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him” (Colossians 1:16-17 CEB).

We can note this, but still look at the world and know that it’s a dangerous place filled with real concerns and worries. Whether one believes the science or not, global warming is a real threat to life as we know it on Earth. War and conflict, and the tragic death tolls that go with them, seem ever-present. Government officials point across our borders in every direction and tell us that all our problems are from those people on the other side. How are we supposed to feel safe in this world?

One response to this widespread distress (real or imagined) is to emphasize our differences rather than our similarities. When we do that, then we react to those differences by trying to isolate ourselves. We build walls to protect us. We militarize civilian police forces, especially in places with high rates of poverty. We press for tougher immigration laws to keep out people who look, act, speak, and worship differently from us.

As I reflect on the past year, it’s clear that we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric and calls for isolation and division because of a false worldview that attempts to highlight differences between “us” and “them.” We’ve seen a lot of activity focusing on division because of a false worldview that wants to highlight differences. Much of that talk and action is nothing short of an attempt to dehumanize living, breathing human beings who are just as beloved of God as we are; who are part of the same human family as we are.

Paul reminds us that Jesus is Lord of all people and all things, no matter who they are, what they are, where they’re located, where they’re from, what language they speak, how much power or authority they might have, what religion they adhere to, how rich or poor they are, or how highly they might think of themselves. The differences and divisions that we choose to see and choose to highlight are only constructs that we invent. In the dominion of God, these divisions we’ve made will be eradicated.

All human beings have their beginning in God. Scientifically speaking, the entire human race shares 99.9% of the same gene pool. That means the two most radically different people on earth are 99.9% alike. The differences between people whether it’s individuals or groups, really are inconsequential. In the coming dominion of God, the human race is one people. All of humanity has been reconciled to God by the blood of the cross. We are all children of God and, as Jeremiah said, in the dominion of the Good Shepherd, not one sheep—not one—shall be missing.

That’s pretty good news, I think.

Paul supports his stance by reminding us who this Jesus is. “He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything. Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him” (Colossians 1:17-19 CEB).

I wonder if we don’t forget, sometimes, that Jesus Christ is eternal. Or, maybe it’s not that we forget, but the very idea of eternal is so beyond our ability to grasp that we aren’t able to fathom the consequences of what God becoming a human being means. It’s difficult enough to grasp the scope of the word all when it comes to Christ’s Lordship.

In a way, that’s what this Sunday helps us begin to understand because, as well as looking backward to what has been, this Sunday also turns our eyes forward to what is coming. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent where our expectation of Christ’s return cranks up into high gear. Our anticipation of Jesus Christ coming to establish God’s dominion in all its fullness goes through the roof! Jesus is coming. God’s dominion is here.

So, on this last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, I find myself looking in two directions at once: backward and forward. I’ve found myself reflecting on my personal life and the life of our congregation. Looking back, we’ve all experienced significant changes in 2019. Some of those changes have been loss. Some have been about gain. Some changes were about ending a ministry or a form of how it had been done in the past, and some were about new ministries beginning. Looking forward, I see hope that we might live as if God’s reign were right now. (Because it is). What Paul reminds us in Colossians is that, no matter what has been or what will come, Christ is Lord over all.

I think it’s appropriate to come back to Paul’s words at the beginning of this lection: May we be strengthened through the glorious might of Jesus and endure everything we experience with patience. May we give thanks with joy to God the Father who has enabled us to take part in the inheritance granted to God’s people. For, we have been rescued from the control of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus Christ where all people are loved, all creation lives together in peace, and all that God has made is set free from every kind of bondage that held it captive.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

In My Name | Proper 28 Year C

Luke 21:5-19

5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”

7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”

8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives. (CEB)

In My Name

Every year, pastors in the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church are required to fill out paperwork about ourselves. One is a Summer Conversation Form, where we answer questions about our ministry prior to sitting down with our District Superintendent for a conversation about our answers. It’s meant to be a check-up of our overall spiritual health and vitality, which is always a good thing.

Another bit of paperwork is called the Pastor Consultation Form, which provides the bishop and cabinet a snapshot, if you will, of each pastor’s ministry activities; who we are; how we lead; what we value; and how we understand things like worship and congregational life. That form is important, too, because it helps the bishop and cabinet identify gifts and match pastors with congregations.

Yet, occasionally, a question that is asked will needle my theological sensibilities just a little. This year, it was the very fist question on the form, which asked “What excites you about serving out your call?” I know, it seems innocuous enough. It should be simple to answer. What are the things that excite me about living out my call? My problem with the question is that it felt like the questioners only want to know the exciting pieces of living out my call instead of the wholeness of it, including the unpleasant parts.

Not that I was unable to answer the question as it was asked. There are things in living out my call to ministry that excite me. Right now, I’m working with teachers at the Junior High School to host National Novel Writing Month. I get to hang out with forty-one junior high and high school students and help them write their novel during the month of November. These are students with whom I would not otherwise have any contact outside of the writing program that I started there. That’s pretty cool. It’s exciting to see what these students write, and it’s exciting to watch them accomplish their word count goals.

Although the question about what excites me in living out my call probably wasn’t meant the way I interpreted it—as an exclusion of the difficult parts—that question still triggered something inside of me. It made me feel as if the painful parts of living out my call didn’t matter and ought to be swept under the rug where no one can see them. It made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to name those painful parts of living out my call. And, there was no follow-up question about the painful parts. That made the question and the answer it wanted feel incredibly false and incomplete, because the truth of living out a call from God is that call does not always lead to or stem from excitement.

Very often, living out our call from God, whatever that call might be, leads to pain and suffering: even anguish. A cursory reading of the prophets or the Gospel accounts will reveal that much. Can you imagine asking the prophet Jeremiah—the weeping prophet!—what excited him about living out his call? Or Amos? Or Ezekiel? Or John the Baptizer?

Imagine posing that question to Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross. Hey, Jesus, what excites you about living out your call?

While the question was probably innocent, there does exist in the church a false assumption that living out our faith and call from God results primarily in excitement, happiness, or joy; that sorrow is not allowed or even unfaithful, that the expression of any suffering we might experience must be hidden, that we must put on a brave face and pretend everything is hunky dory. Because we’re Christians, by golly, and that means we’re supposed to be happy and joyful all the time.

I know this false assumption exists because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in false smiles that are meant to deflect questions and mask the depth of pain that a person is feeling because they think that faith in God means we have to pretend everything is fine. I know this false assumption exists because I’ve tried my darndest to exhibit it at times.

Sometimes, living out our call is fraught with difficulties. It doesn’t matter if we’re called to be a pastor, a teacher, an administrator, an auto mechanic, a business professional, a farmer, a missionary, or a stay-at-home parent. Sometimes, our attempts to live faithfully leave feeling like our souls are desolate, and we have been abandoned. So, let’s at least admit that.

At the same time, we should probably ask ourselves why we would be surprised at that. We should also ask ourselves why we try to pretend it should be otherwise. Jesus warns us that life lived in the name of Jesus will be difficult. Peter reiterated this when he wrote: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings” (1 Peter 4:12 CEB).

The warning Jesus gives, beginning in Luke 21:12, points to the reality of what his followers could expect before the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. They didn’t have it easy because they were disciples of Jesus. Being a disciple is not a free ticket to a perfectly happy life. Rather, the disciples and early church often faced enormous difficulties. Just as Jesus warned, they were handed over to authorities. They were beaten, abused, and maligned. Luke’s second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, records how Stephen was stoned to death and the apostles were dragged into court and beaten. Paul was stoned in Lystra, dragged out of the city, and left for dead.

What’s more, it’s not only our personal trials that pain us, but the disasters that strike the world. In Luke’s narrative, these signs were not things that pointed to the end of time because Jesus was illustrating how these signs pointed to the destruction of the temple. But the mention of nation rising against nation, and kingdom rising against kingdom, and earthquakes, famines, plagues, terrifying sights and great signs in the sky do conjure up apocalyptic thoughts.

At some point in history, nearly every generation has thought the end of time was upon them. This has been especially true in times of war and conflict. In my own memory, people thought Desert Storm in the ‘90s pointed to the end. Others were sure the year 2000 would be light’s out for planet Earth. Then, there was September 11, 2001 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then came the death toll of the tsunami of December 06, 2004, and the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. More recently, the plight of the Yazidi, the Rohingya, the wars in Libya and Syria, the drug cartels in Mexico, and the refugees at our southern border remind us that the world has, indeed, gone crazy. These events also give us pause. They break our hearts. And, they assail our faith.

One scholar suggested that the siege of Jerusalem which resulted in the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 had to happen. The indicative mood in the sentences tells us it’s a fulfillment of God’s plan. So, instead of things like this being a source of anxiety, they should instill expectation and hope in us.

And my initial thought was, does this guy know how many people were slaughtered in the siege of Jerusalem? Does he really mean to imply that human violence is all part of God’s plan? Do the words Jesus speaks about nations rising against nation imply such destruction is part of God’s plan or, rather, does it point to the inevitability of human sin which leads to such violence?

And the natural disasters we face, are those part of God’s plan, or are they also, somehow, related to human sin? You have to go back to the beginning to find it but theologically, the natural world is messed up because we broke God’s garden. Paul wrote about this in Romans:

“Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it [namely human beings]—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:20-25 CEB). We broke God’s garden, but God’s plan is to fix that, too.

Violence and human suffering are not part of God’s plan, but such things seems to be an inevitable part of our plans. We humans are always causing suffering in other human lives, even if it’s not physical suffering.

Suffering for our faith seems to be inevitable, too. We might not face religious tribunals in the synagogue, or get dragged before governors and other civil rulers because of Jesus’ name, but we do occasionally face difficult situations where our faith is tested to the breaking point and we are left staggered and stammering for a word to speak in reply. We do face individuals—even groups—who don’t want to hear the truth of God’s word.

When that happens, whether a defense of our faith is required of us or when our faith is crushed under the weight of people’s violent words or actions so that we can barely breathe, Jesus calls us to endure. When we endure, then Jesus can turn our suffering into an opportunity for us to rise up and confess our faith. In fact, Jesus promises to give us words and wisdom that none will be able to counter or contradict. Our example for that would be Stephen in Acts 7.

We’re used to testimonies that praise God for healing, or rescue from times of trouble, or blessings we’ve received, or confidence of our salvation we might have, or for good times and good things. But here, Jesus reminds us that our endurance in suffering can be a powerful testimony, too. Suffering, whether it’s something we experience ourselves or the empathy we feel for or with others, tends to silence us. It tends to make us feel powerless, and it can push us to despair.

The cross of Jesus Christ ought to remind us that suffering can become an example of faithfulness to those who endure. How many of you are wearing a cross right now? That cross is a symbol of suffering and abject defeat. But it’s also a symbol of endurance, faithfulness to living out God’s call, and trust that God will indeed save, not only us, but the whole world. That is good news worth sharing no matter the cost.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Blessed Are | All Saints’ Sunday

Luke 6:20-31

20 Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:

“Happy are you who are poor, because God’s kingdom is yours.

21 Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be satisfied.

Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh.

22 Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and condemn your name as evil because of the Human One. 23 Rejoice when that happens! Leap for joy because you have a great reward in heaven. Their ancestors did the same things to the prophets.

24 But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort.

25 How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry. How terrible for you who laugh now, because you will mourn and weep.

26 How terrible for you when all speak well of you.

Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets.

27 “But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.

28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. 31 Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you. (CEB)

Blessed Are

I have a feeling that, if we had the opportunity to hear Jesus preach a sermon, many of us wouldn’t like what Jesus had to say. I know I’d have trouble hearing his message out of the blue. We’d probably feel uncomfortable, and a little exposed by what Jesus presents as truth. And our post-modern minds would rationalize his message away by thinking, Well, that may be true for him, but it’s not true for me, because we think that. Like everything else in life, we think that all truth is relative to us.

Or we might rationalize it another way by telling ourselves, Surly he’s talking about those other people, not me. I’m the good person in the parable. For instance, whenever we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, we all imagine ourselves as the Good Samaritan, when perhaps we really ought to imagine ourselves as the wounded person on the side of the road—bleeding, in agony, and left to die in a ditch—and then recognize Jesus as the Good Samaritan who would pay any price to see us healed.

Jesus’ sermon on the plain provides a similar problem for us. We don’t really like what it says. Let’s be honest, it’s not easy stuff. So, we tend to ignore the weight of truth and gravitate toward our rationalizations. Yet, this sermon paints a vivid portrait of what life is really like under the reign of God, and the part of the sermon assigned to the Lectionary for All Saints’ Day is subversive and threatening to all of our comfortable assumptions about life and the Gospel.

It begins with four Beatitudes that invite us to take delight in the fact that the plight of the poor, hungry, grieving, and excluded people will be reversed in and through the reign of God. Who can help but rejoice in the change in circumstances for such unfortunate folks? That’s great news and, by the way, it really is about time somebody did something for those people.

Then the four Beatitudes are paralleled by four woes that are declared upon the rich, the full, the happy, and the well-thought-of. We who read this sermon who have not found ourselves included among the blessed—those poor, hungry, grieving, and excluded folk—are set to wondering about our place among the groups that Jesus bemoans—the rich, the full, the laughing, the well-liked. And we might question, What—and more importantly: who—in the world is Jesus talking about?

Now, there is clearly no exaltation of poverty or hunger or grief or victimization as if these things are virtues we should all seek. Jesus is not saying we need to quit our jobs and go live like homeless beggars on the street. He’s not telling us that we can never laugh again. He’s not telling us that we need to make everyone mad at us so we aren’t very well liked. The Beatitudes are not directives to seek after poverty, hunger, grief, and rejection.

But they are promised blessings declared upon people whose present condition would hardly seem to be called favored. None of us drives by a homeless person and longingly sighs, saying, You know, I really wish I could be homeless. But we probably have driven by a humongous house and longingly sighed, saying, Wow! I wish I lived there.

The future tenses in the Beatitudes, “you will be filled,” “you will laugh,” point to the future: their ultimate circumstances when God’s reign is ushered in in all its fullness. In turn, the woes are spoken to those whose current situation looks, by all accounts, to be fortunate, but whose ultimate circumstance in God’s kingdom is quite the contrary. Wealth was seen as a blessing from God. Poverty was seen as a curse. Jesus’ sermon flips these assumptions.

Jesus said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom,” because all people—not just the wealthy—can be lured away from faithfulness by wealth. Or, we can begin to find comfort in our possessions instead of taking the demands of God’s dominion seriously. Those who are wealthy need to be careful and examine themselves to make sure they’re living in accordance with what God wants.

Jesus reminds us that those who prosper under the current systems, who are at ease with their privilege, satisfied with the way things are, who benefit from the system and are honored by it, are in fact to be pitied because they—we—are more likely to be lured away from God’s design for human life. Wealth and other good things, themselves, aren’t the problem so much as the place of these things in our hearts and minds. When we hold on to these things even as others are excluded, and we’re okay with their exclusion, we are to be pitied. Because we haven’t gotten the good news figured out yet.

God’s reign does not include a divinely offered promise of health and happiness which entails a simple adjustment to the present state of the world order. Instead, the Gospel calls for a radically alternative manner of life that inevitably means swimming upstream in the cultural river. Christians are not called to go with the flow. And since we’re talking about LUKE’s Gospel, I don’t mind using the analogy that Christians are supposed to be like the Rebel Alliance in our struggle against the Galactic Empire.

(I know. That’s a different Luke).

The saints we hear about were people who did not go with the flow. For us Protestant Christians it’s usually just the Biblical characters: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Mary, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. But there are others. Some of my favorites include Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Macrina, Saint Benedict, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Thomas a Kempis, Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint John Wesley.

We still remember their names because they didn’t go with the flow. Many of them sought goodness for others because they weren’t satisfied with the way things were. If we sat down and read John Wesley, most Methodists today would be shocked! We’d think he was nuts, that we can’t live like that. John Wesley said crazy things like, if you have two coats you are a thief, because you’ve stolen a coat from someone who doesn’t have one. He also discovered that he could live off of something like 28 pounds a year, so no matter how much he earned in a year, he lived off 28 pounds and gave the rest to the poor. That’s pretty crazy stuff. It was radical. Wesley wasn’t satisfied with gain at the expense of what he could give to others. He tried to live a radical generosity.

Do we?

The original readers of Luke’s Gospel who were Christians who lived in the midst of the Roman Empire. They often found themselves included in “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” They knew how much at odds with the Imperial system the reign of God is and how violent the response of the imperial system could be. Many Christian women, men, and children met with extremely violent and cruel deaths, like Saints Perpetua and Felicity, because of their mere association with Jesus Christ, but they persevered in their faith even to death.

Years ago, my family and I went to a park near Cincinnati, and I came across a quote by an unknown author attached to an oak tree. It said, “Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.” I thought that was a great interpretation of a life that has lived the Gospel. What a perfect description of a saint. The Gospel is countercultural, not culturally acquiescing.

Jesus goes on to preach some more radically countercultural stuff about how we should live and operate with those who are our avowed opponents. Instead of retaliation, the call is to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and offer blessings and prayers for the opposition.

Then the four examples of non-retaliation that follow all have to do with religious abuse (like a slap in the face for an accusation of blasphemy) or theft material possessions. Recompense is not to be sought, and in two cases the victim is to offer even more (the other cheek, and one’s shirt). These examples draw our attention to the point that, in the reign of God, love prevails over retaliation. And we are invited to reflect on the sweeping demands of love, especially in relation to enemies. We are directed to treat our enemies as we would like to be treated. That’s tough for me to hear because I don’t always treat the people I like the way I want to be treated.

We can try to rationalize the gospel message so that we feel we have permission to stay rich, full, happy, and put on a pedestal. But Jesus’ sermon on the plain has the power to undermine any easy truce we might negotiate with our culture. It has the power to wake us to the sharp demands of life under God’s reign.

Gospel living is a precarious and risk-filled existence. There is a new kind of life that is expected of the faithful. It is not the life of comfort and security that we might think we deserve by following after the ways of our culture and our world.

The saints we honor on All Saints’ Day are those who have passed this treasure of faith and faithfulness down to us throughout history because they embodied the Gospel in their lives. They have many stories, and we are mystically tied to them in this wonderful thing we call the communion of saints.

As we recall the saints of ages past, we do so with gratitude for their endurance. As we are reminded of their examples, we are called to renew our commitment to follow their examples of living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in and to the world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!