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Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on November 6, 2016.
All Saints Sunday; Year C (RCL): Wisdom 3:1-9; Ps. 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
       
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.      

          Few things have more power to change us, confront us with reality, open our ears to a new truth, or turn our life in a different direction, like a reversal of fortune. I dare say all Chicago Cubs fans know this feeling intimately this week, as they bask in the glow of winning a World Series after a 108 year drought! For the rest of us, it might be a time when we realize we are going backward rather than forward or receive an unexpected windfall. For the people of his day, the Gospel of Jesus Christ reverses business as usual in as dramatic a manner as the Cubs victory: preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the prisoners, offering sight to the blind, and setting free those who are oppressed. Look closely at the life of Jesus and you will see reversals, one after another. Our faith in God, our Christian life, is based on these reversals which we see outlined in the four beatitudes and the four woes we just heard read in today's Gospel.
          Those who are poor, hungry, or weeping; those who are hated, excluded, and slandered can expect things to get better. Their situation will be reversed and they will be blessed. Likewise, those who are rich, those who are full, those who laugh, those who are popular and respected can expect to lose what they now have. Their situation will also be reversed. Woe to them.
          What do we make of all that? What do you hear in Jesus' words? Is he calling simply for a redistribution of wealth and resources? What happens then? Does Jesus love the malnourished more than those who have food enough to eat? Would he really prefer our lives be burdened and broken by loss and sorrow? Is there no place for joy or laughter? None of that makes sense. So let's look at what we can make of these challenging sayings.
          This world and our lives are more than just things we can touch, use, eat or own. Jesus is not distinguishing between spiritual and material lack or abundance. It must be both. Jesus was human like us. He had needs as do we. Some physical, some emotional, and some spiritual. He was body and soul; we are also. Our lives are a mixture of needs also; some met, some unmet. Parts of our life are rich, full, and abundant; other parts are empty, broken, and grieving. It’s not one or the other, but what we call the "Both/And."
          That’s why the blessings and woes of today’s gospel should not and cannot be seen as a final judgment or a system of reward and punishment. They really are not even at odds with each another. They are most emphatically God’s way of saying Yes and No to where and how we find meaning in our lives. Isn’t that why we gather here today? That longing for meaning is in the priorities we set and the choices we make. It feeds our faith and drives our lives. Every blessing and woe, every Yes and No, is God’s response to our search for meaning, significance, and value. Parents know this: sometimes you tell your children Yes and sometimes you tell them No. Both responses are grounded in love for the well being of the child. So it is with our God.
          Here's how we might see this play out: When we become too comfortable, satisfied, or secure, whether spiritually, emotionally, or materially, Jesus says, “No, that’s not the way,” not because we are rich, full, or happy, but because we can too easily become self-satisfied. Our lives then becomes smaller and self-contained with no openness and receptivity to new meaning for our lives, a new way of living, or a different way of relating to those around us. We feel no need to see beyond ourselves, to love our neighbor, or to work for change that makes a difference in the lives of others. Woe to us when we are convinced that we have no needs beyond the things of this world. Woe to us when we are convinced we have no need to grow or change.
          Jesus promises us blessings when we are empty, weak, or grieving. Not because there is any inherent value or goodness in poverty or misery, but because our hearts are softened, our eyes are open, and we desire something more. In those times, we know there is something more than the values and objects of this world to rule our lives, provide us meaning, and establish our identity. In those moments Jesus says, “Yes, blessed are you.”
          This is the gift in the reversals of woes and blessings, in both the No and Yes. They are a means by which God can call and guide us into the life that God wants for us; a life of authenticity, meaning, and goodness.
          A life of authenticity, meaning, and goodness. Sounds like the definition of a saint's life, doesn't it? I think so. Saints in this world embody the reversals of God. They trust and live through the tension of reversals in their lives because God is there first. Who are these saints, and what do they have to say to us? Rather than being perfect Christians, saints are people who have been made whole by the grace of God, through Baptism into Christ. The communion of Saints is a diverse array of witnesses who remind us of God’s continuing faithfulness, past, present, and future. In the picture painted by the gospel reading today, the saints challenge us to embody the surprising, world-reversing ways of the reign of God.
          And all the saints of the Church, those we name in the litany, the ones we ask to pray for us? Those saints are particular and unique to our lives, the ones we remember with love and gratitude, and for whom we will stand. They are teachers, guides, and companions along the way to encourage and pray for us.  Not just today, but every day. The Church holds saints before us this day as a mirror to show us who we are and who we are to become. They are the aperture through which we see our own divinity, the beauty of life, and the holiness of being. They stand beside us and us beside them as God’s holy people. That, my fellow saints, is a reversal of fortune we all need and long for. That is the reversal of fortune we celebrate on this holy day of All Saints.
          And yet, the Feast we celebrate today is not only about the saints we name and remember. This day means nothing if it is not also about you and me. Yes, this is their day, the great saints of the Church, but it is our day also. This is the Feast of All Saints, not just some of them.   Remember this. We do not become saints because we are successful. We become saints when we strive to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who hurt us. We may not always get there, but the desire to love, do good, bless, and pray is always within us. In these reversals, we discover life in the midst of death, the darkness is illumined, and our own humanity becomes the place where God invests life, love, concern, and action.
          In our Baptism, God makes saints out of us sinners. Through the Eucharist, God forgives the sins of all us saints. The good news is that the truth about our shortcomings and our sin is where Jesus meets us in all that is flawed while it flails about us.       
          As saints, we are called to stand as prophets of reversal to the world’s fortunes and as witnesses to the life-giving reversals of Christ. This Tuesday, as we go to the polls, we should remember the power of such reversals, and our individual calls to be Christ's representatives to the poor, the suffering, the weak, the lonely, the lost. None of us is perfect, but God can work with what we are, when we are willing to be open to what God is doing in our lives. As Paul puts it in today's reading, "with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints."
          So go vote. And remember that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and sustained by the Savior’s body and blood, and that we 'keep on keeping on' as God gives us breath, to the praise of God’s glory.
          In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.