Prayer of the Day
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy. Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Malachi 4:1-2a A day of blistering heat for the arrogant; a day of healing sun for the righteous
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Do not be idle, but do what is right for the sake of Christ
Luke 21:5-19 Jesus speaks of wars, endurance, betrayal, and suffering for his sake
In the spirit of the Hollywood sequel, I offer you: It’s not easy being a Saint, Part 2 – the aftermath. For some in our troubled land, the subtitle might be The World Strikes Back, or The Fear Awakens. I’m sure others, the happy ones, might give it the subtitle The Return of the Powerful.
This talk of sequel is a reference to last week, All Saints Sunday, when we mediated on our call to be saints in this world – baptized children of God, called to follow Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we safely cried out: It’s not easy being a saint. In the wake of this past week, saying this now, today, in the midst of heavy hearts and frightened spirits, it feels a little more real and a lot more difficult. Whether it’s because it is difficult to look positively on the winners and wish them well, or because it is difficult to keep hope alive in the face of such disappointment and peace close by in the face of threat, or perhaps because it is challenging to have compassion on those who refuse to accept the results, or it is hard to have empathy on those who say they are afraid of the days ahead, whichever side you stand on, clearly, in our divided land, today it is very real that it is not easy being a saint. Jesus spells it out clearly in the gospel reading for today. Last week he was all blessed are you who, and blessed are you that. And we went out of here thinking, yeah, we are blessed. This week, as if anticipating the outcome, Jesus is filled with real world warnings of the warring: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”
There is a song lyric that did not make it into last week’s conversation, and now I’m glad, because it is so apropos for how some might be experiencing today. The song by Donnie McClurkin repeats: We fall down, but we get up. We fall down, but we get up. A saint is just a sinner who fell down, but we couldn’t stay there, and got up.
Oh, saints of God, the question is not have you been knocked down, the question on this real world Sunday is: What knocks you down? Whether you voted for the winner or the loser, there is a whole lot more real world out there that knocks us down. Jesus offers his short list; a list for the early Church that will struggle to survive and spread in the face of sectarian and political persecution. Our lives accumulate a longer list in the face of family who dysfunction and friends who malfunction, in the face of substances that corrupt and events that disrupt, in the face of dreams turned nightmare and hopes turned to regret. We have been, are, and will be knocked down, saints that we are, sinners that we are, but we can’t stay there. One could say that not being able to stay there is the number one reason why it is not easy being a saint. We can’t stay there, be it on the ground, in our bed, behind closed doors, locked away in our church, in our closets, frozen in our fear. We can’t stay there, and so, we get up.
But hear the good news, we do not get up on our own power. Someone who does that is called a self-made person and they have the admiration of the world, and they often get lots of money and get hired to give motivational talks, and sometimes they even get elected president, until they fall down again, and if they don’t get up bigger and better than the last time, their market value starts to decline and no one is really interested in them anymore. Real world treatment, right?
We are sinners who fall down and get up by the grace, mercy, and love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ who came to save us. And the power of God and the new life of Christ in the form of the Holy Spirit fills our dry bones that are lying on the ground having been knocked down. The breath of life of God fills our dead bodies that have been drowned in the waters of baptism, and we get up and we live.
If you are still feeling knocked down by this past week, whatever the reason, perhaps you haven’t been breathing well, breathing right, breathing deep. Take a minute now and breath in the life-loving breath of God that fills this place, that fills our gathering, that fills the world. (Pause.)
God is alive in and among God’s people. So the good news continues, O Saints of God. You are not alone in being lifted up from the falling down. There are saints around you. There are saints around the world. There are saints of every time and place. There is a great communion of saints, every one of whom has fallen down, been knocked down, some beaten down, some tripped up, some weighted down. And some of the getting ups have not been as glorious as others, are as noted or note-worthy as others. Whether still down, half way up, almost up, or on your feet again, you are not alone. Going forward from today, the importance of this communion of saints, this community of sinners, with grow, our further and deeper investment is much needed. O Saints of God, we are stronger together.
For the good news of being lifted up by God in Christ and being joined to others by the power of the Holy Spirit, is essential for the next part of the getting up of the saints – we do not get up simply so that we can walk away. As saints, we get up, because we can’t stay down there, and we get up for the sake of the world. The world needs saints to get up. The vulnerable need saints to stand with them. The voiceless need saints to speak for them. The refugees need saints to welcome them. Those who hunger for justice and mercy need saints to get up and walk with them.
We fall down. All of us, sinners that we are.
But we get up, we couldn’t stay there.
For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and gets up.
Gets up by the power of our new life in the risen Christ – the first of the gotten up ones.
Though sinless, the world did its best to knock him down. But victoriously, he got up, sharing with us a victory that no one can take away. And so that power raises us up to live as saints: baptized people of God, followers of Christ Jesus, saints in the Spirit that gathers us together and sends us out for the sake and healing of the world.
Perhaps from your perspective it got a whole lot harder to be a saint this past week. But hear Paul’s words: do not grow weary of doing what is right. Hear Jesus calling us to take this opportunity to be his witnesses. For our calling is the same – because our God is still the same God of life and love, the victory of Jesus Christ has not lost any of its power, and the Spirit is still driving us forward as workers in the one true kingdom where everyone receives mercy and justice, everyone receives welcome and identity, everyone receives dignity and grace, everyone lives in the light and peace of Christ forever.
The Rev. Mark Erson,