In Flanner O’Connor’s story Revelation, Mrs. Turpin sees a vision: “She saw a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in the their lives, and bands of black folk in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone sang on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were burned away. In a minute the vision fades. In the woods around her invisible cricket choruses had struck up but what she heard were the voices of souls, climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah!”
From Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you are ravenously hungry,
Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.
Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me.
What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like—for even though they don’t like it, I do…and all heaven applauds. And I know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
We are more familiar with the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel which we usually read on All Saints’ Sunday. Matthew spiritualizes his message—“Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:1, 6 WEB). Luke talks about real poverty, hunger, sorrow, persecution. Matthew’s Jesus speaks to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount; Luke’s to the disciples in the Sermon on the Plain.
The Gospel writers have different emphases—Luke is speaking to the community of Jesus’ followers who are poor, hungry, ridiculed and persecuted. This is just a fact of life for Christians—if we find too much favor outside in the world around us, then perhaps we are not being faithful to our Lord. If we are rich and powerful, then we may not be serving the one who came and suffered and died on the cross. Jesus in Luke has an agenda set forth before his birth in the song of his mother praising God for scattering the proud in their conceit, bringing down the powerful from their thrones and sending the rich away empty. Jesus begins his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth announcing
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the broken hearted,
to proclaim release to the captives,
recovering of sight to the blind,
to deliver those who are crushed,
and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19 WEB).
The saints of God are all those who are faithful disciples, following the Lord’s way to take up a cross, suffer and die.
The Message continues:
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you’ll ever get.
And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself.
Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
There’s suffering to be met and you’re going to meet it.
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There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular. To those ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies…I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-given identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously; even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier…”
Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. But remember, God has the final word. The last word is not the opinion of others but of God. “As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them”(Luke 6:31 WEB). This Golden Rule is not new with Jesus but Rabbi Hillel was asked to recite the whole Law standing on one leg and he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” But Jesus is more emphatic and his rule more positive. Jesus does not just say refrain from evil-doing but return good for evil, turn the other cheek, give the extra cloak, love your enemies. Jesus is clear that we should put the best construction on what our neighbor does and says. We should speak kindly of the other person and treat others with forbearance and forgiveness and love.
Leslie Weatherhead in his book A Private House of Prayer tells of a conversation which took place in a university common room. Someone posed the question, “What do you want to be?” Many answers were given, academic distinction, an athletic prize, a professor’s chair. Then one quiet, shy, sensitive man spoke, ‘You fellows will laugh at me,’ he said, ‘but I want to be a saint’.” And then Weatherhead gave three definitions of a saint: one, a saint is someone in whom Christ lives again; two, a saint is someone who makes it easier to believe in God; three, a saint is someone who lets the light shine through.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, we remember all who have lived in faith and died and faith and are joined to the whole company of heaven. We remember those from our congregation, our own family members and friends, even those whose names we have forgotten but not by God. Saints are not just those for whom churches and colleges are named, whose likenesses appear in stained glass windows. These saints are recognized and they have their own days in the liturgical calendar on which they are remembered and their faith and witness celebrated. But on this great festival all those who are faithful unto death and have received their crown of righteousness are remembered. On this day, those saints who are still living remember those who are in the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in our life’s race, those who are clothed in white praising God day and night. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible and The Message.
Copyright 2014, James D. Kegel. Used by permission