Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sermon for All Saints' Day

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 

As often happens,our gospel reading throws up something very pertinent to what is happening in our lives around us.

As I sat down to gather up the week into this sermon,
a famous pastor in the US put up a post on his blog about the hardest part of his ministry.

In this article, he lists all the dreadful things that have happened to him:
being abused, people threatening him, all dreadful things.

He blamed all these awful things on people hating God, how Christians are persecuted, that there now has to be a great resurgence against those that oppose him and his flock.

Love your enemies

The dissonance between what he was saying and what Jesus says to us today was enormous.

I wondered if I was reading a different gospel.

I don’t believe the church is being persecuted.
I don’t think the church has enemies as such.
Not here in Australia.
It is in Egypt and countries where Christianity is a minority faith.
We don’t suffer abuse for believing in Jesus.
Our lives aren’t threatened because our belief in the Trinity.

I think our situation may indeed be even a bit more painful for us to recognise.
No one really cares about us.
No one really knows we are here.
We have become an odd little group of people that do very little of anything.
I don’t mean us, I mean the church as a whole.

It is easier for us to be like this.

If we don’t rock the boat, if we don’t stand up for those who are at the bottom, we won’t make enemies.
All we have is disinterested folks. We are basically irrelevant to most people.
And it is easier for everyone if the church remains a toothless social club.
The government or society as a whole doesn’t want us to really start acting on our beliefs.
If we were to, we would be the best troublemakers around.

If we were to start acting on the teachings of Jesus, we would very quickly gain some enemies.

 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.'

On account of the son of man.

That is key.
If you are going to have enemies, make sure it is because you live and speak the gospel,
not because you are a jerk or you are just plain mean.

You see, if we were to live and speak the gospel of Jesus,
very quickly we would put many offside.

I know for myself, I censor my speech because I don’t want to offend.
I do this at the pub, in the shop.
I do it here when I preach.

What would happen if we did speak up?
Where in our world is the gospel ignored the most? What parts of our lives is it difficult for us to let the gospel in?

What would Jesus have to say about the current global economic system,
a system that allows the rich to get richer, and the poor to suffer?
We know his teachings.

But then he says this:

‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

He congratulates the poor.
He is saying they have suffered, and they will get their reward.
Jesus knows the poor have nothing to lose, so they can live their life in the gospel.
They live a live that is free from the fear of losing their goods and status.

‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation

And how does that sound to us?
It is pretty hard to hear.
It makes me very uncomfortable,
it hurts, it goes straight to my sense of shame.
I have received my reward.
Woe to me.

The only thing I can do about that is speak and live the gospel.
To stop being a hypocrite,
to speak the gospel where people don’t want to hear it,
to speak the gospel to you when sometimes you may not want to hear it.

If we are to have enemies, this is how to make them.
Because of the Son of Man, because of the gospel.
Not by being a jerk,
not by being uncaring,
not by thinking we are superior,
but rather by living and speaking the gospel.

Even with the best of intentions, we are going to have people who don’t like us, regardless of the gospel. There are people in lives who probably don’t like us much, for whatever reason.

Loving our enemies is hard work.
I mean, Jesus is taking the whole ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ idea much further than we would probably like.

What does loving our enemies look like:

Do good to those who hate you.

To those that hate us for what ever reason,
whether it is deserved or not,
we are to help, comfort, give freely and treat like we would anyone we love.

Bless those that curse you.

I get cursed at sometimes. Do I bless those who do that?
No I don’t.
I get angry, I feel hurt and threatened.
I am sorry for that.
I ask God to forgive me for behaving that way.
It is a difficult lesson that I am struggling with.

Pray for those who abuse you.

And I don’t think Jesus means that kind of praying which is essentially a righteous judgement.
He means pray for them.
Pray that they will recognise God’s loving presence in their lives,
pray that whatever it is that makes them abusive is healed.

The church is not an irrelevant social club. We are not lazy uncaring people.
But the sad thing is that we are perceived as being like that.

That is something we can change, but it takes courage, patience, and honesty.

If we are honest to the call of the gospel, no one will think we are irrelevant.
Many will think we are doing what we should have all along.
Others will think we are great.
And yet others will hate, exclude, revile and defame us for doing exactly what we should be doing.
And it is then that Jesus call to us will be needed:
Love your enemies.

And by doing so, they will know we are Christians.

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