November 4, 2001
Sunday's reading are the readings for All Saints Day
"Is the Communion of Saints a Community of Losers?"
In 1990, media mogul Ted Turner made a speech to the American Humanist Association . During that tirade he made his now-famous quip: “Christians are Bozos and Christianity is a religion for losers.” ¹
At first glance, it might seem as though Ted Turner was not so far off the mark. Our gospel reading seems to suggest that poverty, hunger, rejection and persecution are good things. Those who endure these things are "blessed." It doesn't help that the word "blessed" can be translated, "Happy are those who are poor - hungry - hated - persecuted."
Because these people who are treated miserably for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom are assured that their, "....reward is great in heaven."
The problem is that in a, "Show me the money," instant gratification, "What you see is what you get," world - Jesus' words sound like a ploy to keep people in their place.
"You take you pie in the sky by and by," the movers and shaker of our culture would likely respond, "But I want my pie now!"
Mark this down.
Here is one of the defining characteristics of people of faith that sets us apart from the core values of the world around us:
This is no small thing. I have a children's sermon I've done several times in which the children are asked if they would like to have two quarters today or a one dollar bill a month from now. I show them the quarters and then the dollar bill.
Guess what most of the children choose? You got it - the quarters win almost all the time. But it is almost - there are some young folks - about one out of ten - who will hold out for the dollar bill.
It can be hard to wait for the good things.
Last August the twenty-one state Power Ball Lottery reached 300 million dollars. Lines of people crowded the stores where tickets were being sold even though chances of winning the lottery were about 1 in 80 million. One radio disc jockey reported that those who drove 10 miles to purchase a ticket were twelve times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident than they were to win the lottery.
For those who do win the Power Ball lottery, there is a choice between a "cash" option and an "annuity" option. Choosing the annuity option means that winners have the full amount of the winnings invested and an annual amount is paid out. The cash option means the winner may receive a lesser amount (about 43%) less. Out of more than twenty of the last big winners, only one chose the annuity option.
Perhaps the reason instant gratification is such a powerful force in our culture is reflected in Paul's words, "If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."[1 Cor. 15:32] Paul was talking about the resurrection - one of the core promises of the gospel.
I wonder if these lottery winners are thinking along the lines of, "I would rather have 160 million dollars today than a 280 million dollar annuity paid out over 25 years... I would rather have a whole bunch of money now rather than just a lot of money each year." One young man said, "What if I died in five or six years?" It did not occur to him to have the money paid into a charitable trust which would continue to work for good long after he was gone.
One last thought about this lottery business -- before we call this horse dead and quit beating it. As the record lottery jackpot kept rising and taking over more space on the evening news and more interviews with hopeful ticket buyers were conducted, a common theme emerged. One woman expressed this sentiment by saying, "I am sure I am going to win because I promised the Lord I would keep just five million for myself and donate all the rest to good causes. Think of how much good I could do for God with this money."
But this is not how Jesus Christ intended the good work of God's kingdom to get done. The theory of the Body of Christ - the Communion of Saints - is that a whole lot of people doing something small for the kingdom of God can accomplish more than just a few people doing a lot. If every person in the United States gave one dollar to accomplish something good, the amount raised would be equal to the record lottery winnings. And if these same people would commit to giving one dollar once a quarter during their lives, the difference would overwhelm any lottery. God does not need to arrange for me to win five million dollars so that I can do good. God simply needs every person of faith to do the best they can. That would change the world. And that is the latent power of the Communion of Saints. If all saints give their best, then no saints would need a lottery jackpot to make a difference in our world!
Listen once again to one of the hallmark characteristics of people of faith:
So our fundamental question begs an answer. "Is the Communion of Saints a community of losers?"
According to Jesus, the answer is loud and clear. It is far better to be poor in things and rich in spirit than it is to be rich in things and poor in spirit. We are way ahead when we are rejected by the world, but received by God. There is joy and celebration for those who enjoy the reign of God, but those who trust in the riches of this present world have received all they will ever have - ever!
The power which stands behind the defining mark of the Communion of Saints is the character of the One who makes the promise. The "blessedness" which is promised for those who listened to the words of our Gospel lesson is promised by Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection are the cornerstone of the promises he made. The poverty, hunger and rejection experienced by many of those who looked to him for hope were no stranger to him. He too was hungry, poor and rejected.
In his death, he reached out to all who have faith and in resurrection he made certain the promises he gave to those who followed him.
For Ted Turner and company, Christian people may be a community of losers, but for you and me and for the thousands who have gone on in faith before us -- we are the Communion of Saints. Those who are gathered in worship on this earth today are joined in spirit with those who worship in the presence of God. The words of Psalm 149 unite us forever in praise:
The prophetic words of Daniel look to the promise Jesus made to his followers who would see past the temporary and embrace the eternal.
The Apostle Paul prays that we might have the spiritual understanding that will help us to, "...know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe..." [Eph.1:18-19]
It takes a maturing faith to see past the temporary and resist the appeal of instant gratification. However, it is unwise to minimize the struggle children have in choosing a dollar next month to two quarters today - and it is difficult for anyone to resist thinking how nice it would be to win the lottery. And yes - even to imagine we could do a world of good with a wad of money.
The key lesson found in our scripture lessons for today is that trusting God for the long haul will finally win out over trusting gain for the short term.
Today is All Saints Sunday for many people in the Christian world. It is a day to reflect on the hundreds and thousands who have gone on before us, trusting in the promises of Christ and the reign of God. We are in a long line, a procession of people of faith who are rooted in the past and march on toward an eternal hope. As we who are a part of the Communion of saints here on earth labor on for the kingdom of God, we are cheered on by the rest of the Communion of saints who sing a song of praise in the presence of the One who waits to welcome us into an eternal home.
So... are we a community of losers?
Not on your life.
Or better yet...
Not on your everlasting life!
There is also more reflection on the "Beatitudes" from Matt. 5:1-12 in this sermon .
The Jeremiah text is a dialogue between God, the people of God and the prophet Jeremiah who pleads the case of the people. There will be no cheap grace for the people of Israel. Their persistence in walking away from God and the teaching of the law. The verses which have been dropped in the text (verses 11-18) tell the story of a rebellion so deep and profound that God says the sin has brought about an insurmountable barrier... The LORD said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them." [vv.11-12]
The spiritual leaders of Israel - the prophets who were to speak on God's behalf in a corrupt time - failed at their task and gave the people a sugar-coated, feel-good, version of God's word instead of the truth. This failure of those who should have been Israel's voice for God opens the door for a plea from the people. The plea is two pronged:  The people say they are truly sorry for their wickedness and that of their forbearers,  If God saves Israel in the midst of a pagan world then God's reputation for greatness and graciousness will be preserved.
The last verse of the text is a prayer for all times, "We set our hope on thee, for thou doest all these things." That is to say - "Only God is God!"
There is a contrast between Luke's beatitudes and those of Matthew 5. The teachings of this chapter follow the night of prayer and selection of the twelve that Jesus was calling to follow him. Luke's emphasis on the cost of discipleship and the necessity of conflict with the world provides the context for these beatitudes. Not only does Jesus promised that the poor, hungry and oppressed followers will have a reward in heaven, he commends them to radical living out of kingdom values. In light of the great value of belonging to God and the kingdom forever - the followers of Jesus are challenged to live out their lifestyle in the face of conflict and oppression. To love one's enemies, pray for one's abusers and give to one's detractors is living out the kingdom of God in the midst of the world's broken system.
In verses 20 - 24, Jesus encourages his followers with a promise of a final outcome that will bring about the reversal of fortunes. This reversal of fortunes is one of the dominant themes in Luke. In Luke 12:16ff, Jesus tells the parable of a man who was so rich, he had to tear down his barns to make room for the incredible harvest he had. He congratulates himself saying, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." However, because the man lives without a view to his spiritual condition, he is in for a shock - a great reversal of fortunes. "God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' "
Then in verses 24-26, Jesus pronounces "woes" on the rich, full, jovial and accepted. Their reward will have been used up, they will be empty, their laughter will turn to mourning and the good times will be but a painful memory.
Verses 27 - 31 are addressed to, "...you that listen..." Jesus issues a serious call to radical discipleship. If God's people were to live out these values, more would be accomplished than if we were to win the lottery and give the money away.
Is all of this meant for today? If it is not - the same reasoning would eliminate the call from Jesus time. The core values of the kingdom of God are in conflict with the values of the world in any age.
A sermon and notes on this text are found >>> here