September 17, 2014

God’s Way of Blessing the World

St. Francis Giving His Cloak to a Poor Man, Giotto

By Chaplain Mike

Gospel for All Saints’ Day
• Luke 6:20-31

“All Saints Day is a witness to God’s way of blessing the world…” (David Thiede)

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

Imagine a school playgound. A group of children gathers to play some game, let’s say kickball. Two are elected captains, and now it’s time for them to choose up teams.

Everyone knows who the best players are. They are the boys and girls with strong bodies and exceptional coordination for their age. They are smart enough to know where to kick the ball to get the most for their effort. They can run fast around the bases. In the field, they are the ones most likely to position themselves well and catch the ball. If you need a strong throw, one of them can be counted on to make it.

There are other children who dread this time of dividing up teams. They know they are not gifted athletes. Perhaps they haven’t had their growth spurt yet, and they are smaller and weaker than the other children. Maybe they just prefer other kinds of activities—reading, music, or indoor pastimes. Some are shy. Some lack confidence. Some have made mistakes in previous games and were laughed at by their mates, and they are not eager to be embarrassed again. They wait and wait while the captains make their choices. They know they are at the bottom of the heap, and some of them will only be taken when there are no other players left.

You are one of the captains. Who will you take for your team?

Right before our Gospel passage for today, the Bible tells us who Jesus took for his team:

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16)

By any measure, this was an unlikely group of people for a Coach to choose for team. But he doesn’t stop there. Following his appointment of the twelve disciples, Luke tells us the first thing Jesus did with his team was to reach out to a crowd of even more unlikely people so that he might also include them in the game:

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (Luke 6:17-19, NRSV)

In the words that follow, our Lord gives his rationale for the draft choices he made for his team. “God’s plan is to turn the world upside down,” he said. “In order to show you that there is no one outside the scope of God’s grace and blessing, I will choose the most unlikely, the most looked-down-upon, the ones with the least to offer from the world’s point of view. And I will shower heaven’s favor upon them. I will put them on my team. I will bless them.”

So Jesus chose the undersized guy with thick glasses. The shy girl who hides behind the taller ones. The kid with two left feet. The one who’s so scared to make a mistake he cries whenever the pressure’s on.

And he promised to restore God’s blessing to the world through them. How great is that!

The main way God blesses the world is by pouring his grace upon unlikely people, and then using them to live and tell his Good News to others. This is one of the great messages of All Saints’ Day. You don’t need to have “what it takes.” Riches aren’t required. No diploma necessary. You don’t have to be good looking, coordinated, popular, of any certain race, class, or social status. First in your class, or at the bottom, it doesn’t matter—God’s grace is here for you in Jesus.

Anyone can be a “saint.” Though we may honor certain of our forbears as exemplary people of faith, hope, and love, the Bible uses the word “saint” to refer to anyone and everyone who has received forgiveness and new life through Jesus. The Protestant take on saints is that ultimately there are no levels in God’s family. There is no “elite” class of Christians beyond a “regular” class of hoi polloi. Today we honor all saints—known and unknown, past and present, from every branch of God’s family tree.

In doing so, we magnify the grace of God in Jesus Christ. There’s no other way Charlie Browns like me could be called blessed.

Prayer of the Day (By Bruce Prewer, Uniting Church of Australia)

Living God, in whom there is no shadow or change, we thank you for the gift of life eternal, and for all those who having served you well, now rest from their labours.

We thank you for all the saints remembered and forgotten, for those dear souls most precious to us. Today we give thanks for those who during the last twelve months have died and entered into glory.

We bless you for their life and love, and rejoice for them “all is well, and all manner of things will be well.”

God of Jesus and our God, mindful of all those choice souls who have gone on ahead of us, teach us, and each twenty-first century disciple of every race and place,

  • to follow their example to the best of our ability:
  • to feed the poor in body or spirit,
  • to support and comfort the mourners and the repentant,
  • to encourage the meek and stand with them in crises,
  • to affirm those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
  • to cherish and learn from the merciful,
  • to be humbled by, and stand with, the peacemakers.

Let us clearly recognize what it means to be called the children of God, and to know we are to be your saints neither by our own inclination nor in our own strength but simply by the call and the healing holiness of Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen!

Luke 6:20-31 (NLT):

Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,

“God blesses you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.

God blesses you who are hungry now,

for you will be satisfied.

God blesses you who weep now,

for in due time you will laugh.

“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

“What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
for you have your only happiness now.

What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,

for a time of awful hunger awaits you.

What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,

for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.

What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,

for their ancestors also praised false prophets.

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”

Comments

  1. joe ogborn says:

    I heartily agree, but what those who are talented,good loking and popular but also want to follow Jesus? Where do they fit in?

    • Joe, I think I said it doesn’t matter:

      “First in your class, or at the bottom, it doesn’t matter—God’s grace is here for you in Jesus.”

      Of course they fit in. But Jesus made a special point to choose the “losers” in order to make it clear that the “talented, good looking and popular” don’t have any advantage when it comes to being part of the Kingdom. What they need to learn is that even their talents, good looks, and popularity are gifts of God, which they would not have were it not for his grace.

    • Then they will have enough challenges of their own to overcome to enable them to follow Christ.

      Because the world will not understand, and will bend its efforts to cajole them away. “You’re not like those weirdoes, you’re smart and pretty and could go places!”

      This is why we’re told “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

      Your college friends who want you to loosen up a bit. Your parents who can’t understand why you’re not taking that great job with all the perks, after the sacrifices they made to educate you. Your work colleagues who tell you “That’s how things are done in business”. There will be plenty and more than plenty of opportunities for the popular and the successful to sacrifice if they want to become saints, don’t you worry.

      :-)

      • Joe Ogborn says:

        That’s cool guys. Thanks a lot. I think you are right but having grown up in church I often hear about Moses who couldn’t do public speaking, Gideon who wasn’t equipped to lead in war, God using the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. All things which I love and rejoice in. But perhaps I find that we forget Daniel who was obviously a clever guy and even David was a gifted musician and soldier among other things. I think I wrote my first post because I went through a period where I felt could be of no use to God because I was often successful in the things that I put my hand to. I hope that makes some sense.

        • Same idea as when St. Francis de Sales wrote his “Introduction to the Devout Life” in the 17th century; everyone, he says, can practice increasing devotion to God, no matter what station in life he or she may inhabit. It’s an error to think of it as only pertaining to the life of those in religion and impossible for those in the ‘world’ to practice.

          “WHEN God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind; and even so He bids Christians,—the living trees of His Church,—to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each—the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.

          I ask you, my child, would it be fitting that a Bishop should seek to lead the solitary life of a Carthusian? And if the father of a family were as regardless in making provision for the future as a Capucin, if the artisan spent the day in church like a Religious, if the Religious involved himself in all manner of business on his neighbour’s behalf as a Bishop is called upon to do, would not such a devotion be ridiculous, ill-regulated, and intolerable? Nevertheless such a mistake is often made, and the world, which cannot or will not discriminate between real devotion and the indiscretion of those who fancy themselves devout, grumbles and finds fault with devotion, which is really nowise concerned in these errors. No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion. Aristotle says that the bee sucks honey from flowers without damaging them, leaving them as whole and fresh as it found them;—but true devotion does better still, for it not only hinders no manner of vocation or duty, but, contrariwise, it adorns and beautifies all.

          Throw precious stones into honey, and each will grow more brilliant according to its several colour:—and in like manner everybody fulfils his special calling better when subject to the influence of devotion:—family duties are lighter, married love truer, service to our King more faithful, every kind of occupation more acceptable and better performed where that is the guide.

          It is an error, nay more, a very heresy, to seek to banish the devout life from the soldier’s guardroom, the mechanic’s workshop, the prince’s court, or the domestic hearth. Of course a purely contemplative devotion, such as is specially proper to the religious and monastic life, cannot be practised in these outer vocations, but there are various other kinds of devotion well-suited to lead those whose calling is secular, along the paths of perfection. The Old Testament furnishes us examples in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Job, Tobias, Sarah, Rebecca and Judith; and in the New Testament we read of St. Joseph, Lydia and Crispus, who led a perfectly devout life in their trades:—we have S. Anne, Martha, S. Monica, Aquila and Priscilla, as examples of household devotion, Cornelius, S. Sebastian, and S. Maurice among soldiers;—Constantine, S. Helena, S. Louis, the Blessed Amadaeus, and S. Edward on the throne. And we even find instances of some who fell away in solitude,—usually so helpful to perfection,—some who had led a higher life in the world, which seems so antagonistic to it. S. Gregory dwells on how Lot, who had kept himself pure in the city, fell in his mountain solitude. Be sure that wheresoever our lot is cast we may and must aim at the perfect life.”

  2. Buford Hollis says:

    Jesus hung out with “losers” out of necessity–because he was a loser himself.

  3. Well, i think the only people who want to hang out with jesus these days are the woefully uneducated, the indoctrinated, and the megachurch preachers who really are just having sex scandals.

  4. What a beautiful post!!

    “God’s plan is to turn the world upside down,” he said. “In order to show you that there is no one outside the scope of God’s grace and blessing, I will choose the most unlikely, the most looked-down-upon, the ones with the least to offer from the world’s point of view. And I will shower heaven’s favor upon them. I will put them on my team. I will bless them.”

    I’m not sure if the above words are your paraphrasing or some one else’s but I just love this. It is why I have such a passionate love for prisoners (many think I’m “crazy” for this). However, there are concrete proof-worthy examples to the above quote found in some of today’s prisons. I don’t remember the name of one in particular but I do recall it was considered one of the “bloodiest” prisons because of the hate and violence that reigned amongst the inmates and guards. Then Jesus stepped in through Christian prison ministries and a new warden filled with the love of Jesus and the spirit of the above quote.. Jesus’ message got hold of a few inmates whose lives were completely changed. Little by little the whole prison atmosphere was turned around and is the complete opposite of what it was once known to be.

    There is nothing the Love and Mercy of God can’t do within a soul. Sometimes all that soul needs to open itself to grace is the concrete Love of another human being who believes in him/her.