Sermons That Work

When We Remember…, All Saints’ Day (A) – 2002

November 01, 2002


On this All Saints Day, when we remember those who have gone before us, we are reminded of how short our time on earth is. We are reminded of the precious nature of that time, and the fact that it is irreversible. We only live it once.

John Steinbeck wrote the following in his epic novel East of Eden:

It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.

In other words, we only have one chance to live on this earth and then move on and be missed by those who love us. And, we have only one chance to be obedient to God, to love our neighbors, and to love God.

Today’s Gospel is about life and death. It is about getting it right in the time we have. And, it is about the things that really do matter. The Sermon on the Plain, like most of the saying of Jesus, is very simple and very complex. And, here is what we really need to think about today. We need to consider the simplicity and the complexity and our attempt to live up to this text in our lives here on earth.

First, let us talk about the complexity of the text. To truly live out this text, this Sermon on the Plain, would mean something radical. It would mean embracing the idea that the Gospel is controversial and can create enemies. It would mean embracing the idea that there is a war in the world between good and evil. And, it means being more than nice. It means intentional living.

Examples of the radical and complex application of this Sermon on the Plain might be the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi. These are the usual suspects for a life of radical transformation. However, let’s talk about someone you may or may not know about — a man called “Ole Anthony.”

The Door Magazine published a book of their best interviews. They interviewed a man named Ole Anthony, founder and president of the Trinity Foundation, who has what we might consider a fairly radical approach to Scripture. Ole Anthony has either reached out and embraced the poor, the hungry, and the weeping, or they have found him. He lives in a community that follows a vow of poverty. In the community he lives in there is at least one formerly homeless person in each house. His community fights the corruption of televangelism in a David and Goliath-like battle. And, he is smart enough to figure out that the war against homelessness requires more than a pot of gold. It requires us to do “to others as [we] would have them do to [us].”

To give you an example of how radical he is, let Ole Anthony speak for himself. He says things like:

All theology and doctrines are meaningless unless you lay down your life to meet the needs of those around you who are hurting.

And,

It is not the function of the Church “to change the world.” It is the function of the church to have community — not just have it, but live it.

And, of one of his adversaries, Ole Anthony says,

I wish for [him] what I would wish for anyone – let him sell all he has, give it to the poor, then pick up the cross and follow the real Jesus.

Ole Anthony is practicing what Jesus preached. When we read about Ole Anthony’s life we probably feel both inspired-and a bit guilty. Listening to the Sermon on the Plain, knowing that life is short, you probably know that you want to be a good Christian before you die. You want to be good. You want to do what Jesus says. And, it all sounds so easy. And yet, many of us will immediately get stuck on the first part of today’s reading, and then the second part, and well, all of it sounds like more than many of us may feel we are up to. You probably don’t want to aim for poverty so that you can be blessed. Nor do you want to be hungry — our natures tell us we want to be full. And most of us certainly do not want to be hated — even on account of Christ.

And, yet, most of us are probably comfortable with the idea of being Ole Anthony or Mother Teresa-ten years from now, just not now. Most of us are ready to give up everything ten years from now — maybe. But, life is short and being a “real” Christian the way we might ideally define “real” might always be ten years away.

Redemption from the complexity comes in the simplicity of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. We do not strive to be the Sermon on the Plain, we simply live out what it tells us to do as opportunity strikes. The Sermon on the Plain begins with blessings for people who are poor, hungry, and grieving. Then it moves into woes for those who are opposite. And, then it moves into directions about what to do once you have been healed by Christ and are considered one of his own. The situation will come and we must simply rise to the occasion in the present tense, and not make this more complex than it is. Today we are all thinking about accepting the journey and the road we are on, come what may. And, to be ready when the time comes to rise to the occasion. We have a lifetime on earth. It is short. The path is long. And, here are a couple of ways of living in the present while it is still the present:

  • Blessings for you if you are rich, hungry, mourning, or hated on accountof the Son of Man.
  • Woe to you if you are rich, full, laughing, or loved on account of the Son of Man.
  • Love your enemies. Bless them. Pray for them.
  • If someone takes something from you, give it freely. Do not attempt revenge.
  • Lend freely.

And, if you do all this — don’t worry, God will take care of you and reward you.

On this day when we celebrate those who have gone before us let us remember that life on earth is short. We are called to live well. “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.” says the author of Ecclesiasticus (2:24). Since we eat and drink and acknowledge that we have but few days in our life on earth, so we must strive to make our toil not only for ourselves but for others and for God, one moment at a time.

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Christopher Sikkema

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