Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom
Ephesians 1:11-23 God raised Christ from the dead and made him head over all the church
Luke 6:20-31 Jesus speaks blessings and woes
Kermit the Frog sings that it’s not easy being green. P.J. Funnybunny tells us in a children’s book that: It’s not easy being a bunny. In 2001, Five for Fighting had a hit with a song that had Superman singing: It’s hard to be me. And Mats Radberg, the Swedish cowboy, sings Det ar inte latt att vara odmjuk. Sorry, you’re probably more familiar with Mac Davis’ version: It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.
It turns out there are a lot of things that it’s not easy being. I learned that if you do a google search on It’s not easy being a…and then put in any letter of the alphabet, you will get lists of clickable possibilities. Yes, any and every letter. Because it turns out that it is not easy being Xanax and it certainly is not easy being a zombie. My googling taught me that it is not easy being a single mom, a father, a ginger, a rockstar, rich, red, or right. We’re told that it’s not even easy being mean, a model, or a princess. Not so surprising, it’s not easy being a landlocked mermaid, or a vampire angel. (A vampire angel – talk about poster child for bipolar.)
Well, the google search certainly does not need any more additions to the It’s not easy being a list, but our gathering today certainly begs for one more. It’s not easy being a saint. Wouldn’t you say? Because you are one, you know. Yes, as a baptized child of God, you/we are saints. You don’t have a live a near perfect life. You don’t have to die a martyr’s death. You don’t have to be connected to miracles. We are saints. In the words of today’s reading from Ephesians, in Christ we obtain an inheritance, and we wear the seal of the promise made good through the Holy Spirit given in the baptismal waters that cleansed us and gave us new life. A saint’s life. Yes, given to us. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t qualify for it. We didn’t cash in enough holiness stamps. This inheritance, this watermark, this identity is given to us, by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
For those who are not feeling terribly saintly, Luther clarified it that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. (And just a note about Brother Martin on this day of talking about saints – because there will be much talk about him in this 500th Anniversary year ahead. While we see him as an instrument of the Holy Spirit in this movement of reawakening to God’s grace, we do not hold him up as anything near the perfect saint. He struggled big time, he made big mistakes, and wrote things – especially anti-Semitic things, that caused great harm in the centuries that followed.) So he is always right there with us, saint and sinner, to be sure.
Part of what makes it not easy being a saint is that simultaneous sinner who is always present as well. (Maybe we can relate to those vampire angels out there.) We hear our calling, we know what God would have us be as baptized children (again, not to qualify for saint status, but to live in response as ones already named). Jesus lays it out for us at the end of the gospel reading, what in Luke is known as the Sermon on the Plain. Look at it. It is not easy. Not easy to love our enemies – especially this year, this election cycle, this time of division. It’s not easy to do good to those who hate us. Hell, I have a hard enough time doing good to people who like me. Not easy to bless those who curse you. Wow, as a gay man, there are a lot of people out there who curse me. But okay, God bless them. Not easy to pray for those who abuse you. And praying for them does not mean praying for them to stop abusing you. While that is a legitimate prayer, that is not what Jesus had in mind. He calls us to really pray for them, for their own healing, for their own awareness of the presence of God – those same things for them that are getting you through the abuse. Then there is the whole turn the other cheek thing which still is way harder than it sounds. As for the clothing, fine, I’ll just go around naked, Jesus. Give to everyone who begs, he tells us. Live that in New York and you’ll never get anywhere, not to mention you’ll never be able to pay your rent and then you’ll be the one begging. Don’t ask for stuff back – well we probably all have stories of people borrowing and not returning so we got that one covered, but I don’t think our examples are what Jesus had in mind. Finally – do to others as you would have them do to you, he says. Okay that’s a bit more doable. But on the whole, I think I’ve made my case – it’s not easy being a saint.
It is especially not easy being a saint if we approach it with a to-do list mentality like what I just laid out. Looking beyond the do’s and don’ts – Living as a saint calls us to a live in a new reality, more than live up to a new job description. And to understand this new reality, first and foremost, a saint is wisest living life backwards. For we know the end of the story. We celebrate it each Sunday with a foretaste of the feast to come at our Lord ’s Table, we live it each day when we rise up in the hope that is ours this day and forever in Christ Jesus.
This new reality of sainthood also calls us to live lives turned upside-down. We, as saints, are called to live in opposition to this world, to live the epitome of counter-cultural embodiment, live into those blessings that Jesus is describing. For only by admitting that we are poor, letting go of the distractions of this world’s wealth, can we see more clearly that we are rich in God’s kingdom. When we see that all that we are offered in this world does not feed us or fill us, it just leaves us hungry, only then do we see that we are fed to overflowing by God’s love, mercy, and grace. Even in the midst of the sorrows that fill this world, even in the face of death, can we find true joy, laughter even, because we have heard the promises and know the presence of God. And only when we speak truth to power, when we shine light on injustice, when we challenge the shallowness of this “all-about-me” culture and the emptiness of our over-consuming ways – all messages that won’t win friends or influence people, but just might get you crucified – only then are we proclaiming the saving word of God – the word spoken to us in the waters of baptism that made us saints in the first place. But let’s remind ourselves, it is not easy. None of that, is easy.
It is not easy to stand, backwards and upside down as a saint in this world. As Emily in the play Our Town puts it – to realize life while you live it. Or as we heard Paul say to Timothy a few weeks back: to take hold of the life that really is life. (I Tim 6:19).
But as saints, we turn again to our master and friend. Hearing his words, and by the inverting wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we admit we are poor, so we can look to the font and know our inheritance. We admit we are hungry, so can we go to the table to be truly filled. We admit we are weeping, so we listen anew to the good news of Jesus and find true joy. When we feel persecuted, we know to place our confidence in God’s truth. And we know to be mindful of seeking comfort in what the world offers, for it will leave us wanting. To be mindful of thinking we are satisfied, lest we stop seeking the true bread of life. To be mindful of putting all stock and confidence our own accomplishments. The true victory has been won for us. Our fullest and most valuable identity has been given to us. And we are wise to be mindful of living for other’s praise. After all, what does the world know? It complains that it’s not easy being a princess.
Saints of God, live in reverse and turn the world upside-down – it is not easy, but it is life, true life. Be the first to love, even in the face of hate, be the first to serve even those who will not say thank you, be the first to bless others, be the first to pray for the one abusing power, be the first to stop retaliating.
It is not easy being a saint. But we are not alone in our calling: we have this gathering and the communion of all saints. And most satisfying, God empowers us to live – to live in reverse in God’s upside-down kingdom, through the victory of Jesus Christ by which we know the end, so we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, live from that victorious end into peace for today.
The Rev. Mark E. Erson,