Sermon for All Saints Sunday – 3 November 2019
St Mary, Walton
Text: Luke 6.20-31
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6.27-28)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
Above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, filling niches that had been empty since the Middle Ages, stand ten statues of 20th Century Martyrs. Unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen in 1998 they stand as a testimony to a faith that continues to be lived out and died for across the globe.
On the extreme left is the statue of Maximillian Kolbe. A Polish Franciscan monk he led a revival in the religious life in his homeland in the years coming up to the Second World War. During the war he was interred at Auschwitz and, in a selfless act of love, took the place of a Jewish man who had been condemned to be starved to death. This event in his life marks the moment when he chose martyrdom and became a saint. But his journey to sanctity began much earlier than that.
In his friary at Niepokalanów, he had this to say to his novices about sainthood:
‘I expect you to be saints, and very great saints, because sanctity is not a luxury but a mere duty according to Christ’s teachings.’
Much as I admire his life, his witness to the Gospel, and his love of his fellows to the point of dying for them, I am not too sure I would have persisted in following my vocation to be a Franciscan if Maximillian had been my Novice Master!
Are we all, like Kolbe’s novices, expected to be saints? Can there be some sort of everyday sainthood? Surely saints are only those special people in whose name miracles are performed? Surely saints are those people out of whom serenity seems to ooze. Those who are not disturbed by any of the pitfalls of ‘this naughtie worlde’? After all aren’t saints those whom we, literally, put on pedestals and talk about their goodness, hoping it will provide a balm for our failings?
Not for Maximillian Kolbe and, according to the Sermon on the Plain we have heard read today, not for Jesus either.
Sainthood, after all that is what it means to be Blessed isn’t it? It comes to us as we learn to let go of the life of this world and hold on to the life after life.
Desmond Tutu, when he was Bishop of Johannesburg used to remind us frequently about the perils of following the path of blessedness, the path of sainthood, ‘After all’ he would say ‘To be a saint you have to die first…’
I expect you to be saints, and very great saints…
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another of the 20th Century martyrs whose statue stands on the West façade of Westminster Abbey has this to say;
‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’
How then do we tread this path of death that we may hold on to life?
Luke shows Jesus offering us two ways to live – to be ‘Blessed’ or to be ‘Full of Woe’. He reminds us that to live we have to die and if we refuse to die, we face the peril of death.
The one, the way of Blessedness, teaches us how to die.
The other, the way of those whom Jesus warns, is to live now but to be impoverished later.
This is true of all of our life. Science suggests, and Hollywood perpetuates, the idea that we are subject to a Seven Year Itch.
Not that every seven years we want to run off to make a love nest with someone new, but that every seven years of our life every cell in our body is made, grows, becomes worn out, and dies. Each seven years – give or take a few years – all of us have brand new bodies.
This means that, in fact living is about dying. All the time bits and pieces of us are wearing out and, if we’re lucky and young enough, replaced by a new body. (What would I give for a pair of re-treaded knees!)
If we look at our bodies this way, we do not so much ‘live a life’ as ‘die a death’. And if living is about dying, (and to be a saint you have to die first), then we have an opportunity every day to ‘be saints, and very great saints’.
Following this further, we do not have before us Two ways to live – the way of the Blessed and the way of the Woeful. We are, in fact, faced with Two ways to die – to give our lives away and stand with the crucified or to take our life in our own hands and become a suicide.
Those who are listed by Jesus amongst the Blessed – the poor, the hungry, the bereft – are those who have had their life taken away from them and so are offered the life after life together with the crucified
Those who are listed by Jesus amongst the Woeful – the wealthy, the well-fed, the comfortable – are in danger of living their lives for themselves alone and may find themselves as suicides.
This is not, I hasten to add, a condemnation of those who have wealth, food, and happiness, after all I suspect all of us here are amongst that number. When Jesus proclaims Good News for the Poor there must be Good News for the Wealthy also or else it is only half a gospel.
What Jesus offers us here is an opportunity for Sainthood, or as my favourite missionary Amy Carmichael said, ‘A chance to die’!
It is all too easy to slip from seeking the necessities of life, to (like the Rich Fool) storing up more than we need in bigger barns, to protecting ‘stuff’ from ‘them’ so that we are safe and secure.
Jim Elliot, a missionary martyr in the Amazon said this about our ‘stuff’;
‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose’
‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose’
So how do we who have heard the Gospel of our Lord and are blessed with many of this world’s goods learn to live a life for others (be crucified) instead of living life for ourselves alone (become a suicide)?
Jesus gives us fairly direct, simple to follow advice.
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.27-31)
Easy isn’t it?
Well it’s easy simple advice that I find difficult to follow.
Why, you may ask?
Because I’m not yet ready to die!
But until you and I learn to die we will not know what it means to live.
Do good to haters
Pray for abusers (ouch!)
Accept physical pain
Give away the shirt off you back
Do not refuse beggars
Let people rip you off.
A short list but this ‘dying to self’ is a big task on the road to becoming Everyday Saints. I’m not sure I can do it all at once, but looking at the list I know one or two places where I can start. How about you? How can each us love, do good, pray and bless those who don’t deserve it? If we are tempted not to do this do remember that not one of us deserves to be loved by God…
And let’s do this today as Maximillian Kolbe reminded his novices;
‘This life is short, we must behave like misers, and take the fullest advantage of the time that is left to us.’
So beloved, before you leave this church today pray quietly how God wants you to give your life away a little, what ‘Chance to die’ will God bring your way today, tomorrow and in the days ahead.
And as we pray, respond and (please God!) die a little, we will indeed become ‘saints, and very great saints’
[This blog ‘Everyday Saints’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]