based on Luke 6:20-31
a homily by Rev. Frank Schaefer
When we think of All Saints Day, we often think of canonized saints;
Christian heroes and heroines, that are no longer with us--good people, but dead people.
I vividly remember the conversation I overheard during our confirmation
retreat at the Gretna Glen camp this year. One of our kids told a boy from another church
group: "you know, the guy that had this building named after him (the Henry N. Funk
Program Center) goes to our church." The boys answer was: "yeah right . .
. everybody knows that people who have things named after them are dead."
The more I think about it, the less Im surprised at that reaction.
We tend to "canonize" our loved ones who died. The longer theyve been
dead, the better person they seem to become. And generally speaking, when we talk about
the past, we often refer to it as some sort of "golden age," no matter how
dreary it may actually have been.
The interesting thing is that while we tend to reserve the expression
"saint" to the ones who went before us, Paul actually addresses the Christians
at Corinth as "saints" (1Cor. 1:2--"agiois" Greek equivalent to the
Latin "sanctus" the root for "saint"). And let me tell you, he did not
do that because they were a congregation full of mother Teresa's and Billy Grahams. Every
time I read Pauls letter to the Corinthians, I say (with relief): "and I
thought WE had problems at OUR church?" The church at Corinth would have been kicked
out of the Methodist Conference a long time ago; the services were chaotic, there were
false teachings, cliques, divisions, adultery, the list goes on.
Well, if Paul calls the Corinthians saints, it can only be because of
their potential to become saints--their calling. And thats actually how the NRSV
translates it: "called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call
on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . ."
Did you just hear that? Are we in a place where we call on the Lord
Jesus Christ?" Yes, we are. If you are calling on that name in this place or in any
place, I got news for you: you too are a saint--a saint in training maybe, but still some
sort of saint!
Ok, everybody, listen up: even those who have already dozed off: I got
good news for us this morning: If we take 1Corinthians 1:2 seriously, then we have all
just received a promotion. Congratulations: you are now a saint!
Did you ever get promoted? Some of us who are here this morning have
recently been promoted at their work place. What is one of the first things you did, when
you got promoted __? (Allow for answer . . .) What I have in mind by asking this question
is a "job description." Is it reasonable to say that one of the first things you
do after getting promoted is look at the new job description?
So lets look at the job description of the position of
"saint." Whats it mean to be a saint? What does a saint do? (Have people
go over the Luke passage again and use easel to list points: e.g. be just stewards;
empathetic counselors; intercessors (even in behalf of our enemies); motivators,
Ok. Quite a lofty job-description. Whats the thing you ask about
next? What are the benefits, right? (In fact, many would ask that question first). Here
are the benefits: co-heir of the Kingdom of Heaven, lots of food, lots of reason to laugh,
joy, and other, unspecified "great rewards" (I love surprises, dont you?).
Wow--all great benefits!
A question that I have is: "can we fulfill the job
description?" Is it doable? Hmm . . . lets look at . . . say . . . being a
philanthropist. All I have to do is, give anything I own to anybody who asks. Hmm . . .
what if someone asks for something I really need, or that my family really needs--surely
Jesus cannot mean "just anything!"
Moreover, what if the person who asks is . . . an alcoholic? Cant
give him or her any money, right? They may even cash in McDonalds coupons I may give them,
or trade food items for alcohol. There must be a time for "tough love," right?
Surely Jesus cannot mean "just anybody?"
And what about that "offer-the-other-cheek" business. No way
Jesus is saying here that we can allow others to walk all over us. There must be
opportunity to express our own anger too. We cant keep it bottled up or else
itll give us ulcers. Surely Jesus didnt mean "just offer it" as much
as he meant "offer it to make a rhetorical point."
And as far as just stewardship is concerned. Who is to say what
constitutes "riches." There must be opportunity to build up equity in this day
and age of insecurity . . . and for retirement (who knows whether we can rely on the
social security plan). Surely, Jesus didnt mean just "rich" as much as he
meant "stinking rich!"
Surely, Jesus couldnt have been that black-and-white. He must have
known that things are never that simple . . .or actually: difficult.
And the answer to all of the above is: no, no, no, and NO! The gospel is
that radical. There is no room for rationalization, look at the one who drew up this job
description. Did he literally fulfill all of these points? You know the answer!
But . . . then, who can be a saint? Reminds me of the question the
disciples had: "then, who can be saved?" They asked this question after Jesus
told them: "it is easier for a camel to go through a needles eye then for a
rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven."
So, who can fulfill the job description of a saint? I dont know.
But I find comfort in Jesus's words: "what is impossible for humans is possible for
It's a rather vague answer. Yet, we prefer easy answers, or, at
the very least, we want doable, measurable answers. We want to know where to go, and how
to realistically get there. Yet, all Jesus gives us is: I cant tell you what to do
or when to do it; its up to God--God can do it! God can transform you!
So, what can WE do? How about just . . . keep an open mind!
Paul says it like this in Romans 12: 2: "Do not be conformed to
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . so that you may discern
what is the will of God--what is good, and acceptable, and perfect."
It vexes us that we have NO CONTROL over how to get there, doesnt
it? Jesus is saying: its humanly impossible, so . . . trust God and keep an
We like to have a goal, work toward it and as we achieve it we like to
enjoy our achievements. The way Jesus put it is: you will always stand in need for
transformation, no time to rest in your achievement. If we think we have arrived, God
makes us aware of another area of change and personal/spiritual growth. Again: keep an
Whoever said being a Christian is easy? Its not. Its one of
the toughest things. Its a call to be radical. A call to be so open-minded that God
can actually change you in a radical way. Its not for the faint in heart. It takes a
lot of struggle, but in the end its worth it. Not just to our own benefit, but because our
lives will make a difference--just like Jesus life made a difference.
How can we fulfill our job description as saints?
Yield to God and . . . keep an open mind!
Allow yourself to be transformed by God . . . so: keep an open mind!
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds
. . . " Thats all, saints. Amen!