Sunday, November 5, 2006

For ALL the Saints

All Saints’ Day [Observed]

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

It’ll be great when it’s all over, won’t it? On Wednesday the election will be over and with great relief the campaigning. It has almost seemed endless, but we’re almost to the end of it. The candidates start off the campaign in an almost pleasant way. They talk about themselves and their strengths, how they’re going to make things better. But it quickly devolves into mudslinging. The candidates soon have little to say about themselves and what they’ll do and much to say about how corrupt their opponent is. About how if you vote for them things will be much worse. They point out their opponents’ weaknesses, their mistakes, and their lapses.

I wonder, what would the candidates do if they were held to the same measure of accountability that they hold their opponents to? Would they be able to stand up under such severe scrutiny?

Would you want others to hold you to the standard you hold them to? It’s clear we have problems. We have trouble getting along at times. People make mistakes. They fall short of who they should be and what they should be doing. People wrong us. They don’t always meet our expectations. And there’s also all the annoyances. People do things that get on our nerves and we struggle to put up with them.

But do we hold ourselves accountable in this same way? In our impatience to find fault in others do we fail to see how we fall short also? That we also treat others shamefully? That we are often consumed with ourselves?

What if there were a standard that was outside of yourself? And for that matter, outside of others as well. Especially those you find fault with. And what if that standard weighed you in the balance and you were found wanting? What if in its assessment of you it didn’t take into account those ways you have been wronged by others? That it didn’t acknowledge the fact that there are others who have fallen short?

How would you feel? What would your response be? Would you find yourself pointing out that this really is unfair? That there are others who really should be judged in this way instead of you?

What if this standard was immovable? What if you were not given an opportunity to see at all fault in anyone else? In anything they do? No matter how severely they wrong you or cross the line? What if all you were able to see was that you are the one at fault? That no matter what happens, who does what or doesn’t do what, you are found wanting. All guilt is laid at your feet.

We’d like to think of God in terms of being loving and kind. And He is that. But it’s troubling how He at times expresses that love and kindness. How do you think you would have felt if Jesus had said to you that you are not far from the Kingdom of God? The thing that gets me is that Jesus said this to the man in the Gospel reading because he had answered wisely. So was the man in or out? Did he get the answer right? It appears so based on Jesus seeing that he answered wisely. So what more could the man do? I can’t see in anything he said where he went wrong. He saw that it is not in sacrifices that a man is justified. And he even gets the stamp of approval in Jesus seeing that he answered wisely.

But what he gets from Jesus is only “you are not far from the Kingdom of God”. This somehow seems to fall short doesn’t it? Like it’s not enough. Or not clear. It’s not a resounding statement, There you go! You’ve got it! You’re in the Kingdom of God! Maybe this is what the man was looking for. Is it what we’re looking for? After all, we’ve got the basics down like the man in the Gospel reading.

Does Jesus say the same about us? Or is the purpose of this statement of Jesus to cause us to wonder, how can we know if we’re in or not?

As we celebrate today All Saints’ Day we might especially be aware that we’re not always very saintly. So what is All Saints’ Day? A day to rejoice in the blessing God has given His Church in the many people that have gone before us who have stood firm in the faith, carrying it on to successive generations? Yes, it is definitely that.

But it is also much more. It is also about who we are. We’re saints. That doesn’t mean we have a halo over our head. It means we are holy. It means that we are righteous in the sight of God. And yet we’re often right at home in the ways of the world in our dealings with each other.

How do we keep this ship afloat then, this Christian Church that is made up of people who are saints but remain in the sinful flesh we were born in? Maybe, just maybe, the man in the Gospel reading was concerned about himself. He got the right answers. But what was his intent? Was he wanting to get straight in his relationship with God? That’s all good and well, but was he in the midst of all that missing the main point that the Word of God he was asking Jesus about was really for the purpose of us being outwardly focused? Toward God. Toward others.

Don’t we react defensively when there’s conflict between us? Isn’t our first reaction often one of justifying ourselves? Seeking to find where the other person is at fault? Shouldn’t we rather be seeing the true purpose of the Law of God and that is to put as at peace with one another? We may have it all straight on paper, but in word and deed we’re not quite there. We’re “not far” from the Kingdom of God. And yet, we have a long way to go.

Because we saints are so often miserable sinners in the way we deal with each other. You know why we have so many problems? Because we are miserable sinners who love to live according to the Law. We love to abide by it and hold each other to the impossible standard it has set up. And you know what happens when we do that? We fail. But what we so often love to do is revel in the fact that our brothers and sisters in Christ are falling short. Look how they made a mistake. Look how they sinned. Look how they’re not up to snuff.

And we’ll be right of course. That’s exactly what they are. But we have become the court of arbitration. We have set ourselves up as the judges. And we have totally missed the boat that the Law of God has a few things to say about us as well. We love to live according to the Law of God because we can twist it to fit our own desires and notions.

But we can’t do that with grace. With grace it’s all out of our hands. God is the one who takes everything out of our hands in grace and says: It’s not up to you. It’s not about you. It’s not by you or according to you. It’s Me. I’m the one who does it. I’m the one who brings it about. I’m the one who has the final say.

We miss that in the whole giving of the Law by God. We jump right to the Law because that’s what we want to hear. We want to hear it so that we can convince ourselves that we’re in good shape and we’d better get the others who are falling short into ship-shape. With grace we don’t get the satisfaction of holding others to an impossible standard. Because in grace we act as God acts toward us. Namely, in grace.

Love covers a multitude of sins. When someone repents of their sin, do we rejoice and delight in forgiving them? Or do we still hold a grudge and keep tabs on them because they might do it again? We don’t want to live according to grace. That means we have to accept people where they are. That means we have to love them no matter what. That we actually have to see them how God sees them—as saints of God.

This is really tough. It’s hard because we’ve become accustomed to not getting along. It’s almost like we’re on the lookout for somebody to mess up so we can pounce. If all the commands in the Old Testament reading and that Jesus directly quotes in the Gospel reading seem to be heavily Law-oriented, focused on what God wants us to do, then that’s because we’re not wanting to see the grace that makes it possible for us to live the way God desires for us to live.

The Old Testament reading appears to be all about what God wants His people to do. But it is really about how He has saved them and made good on His promises to bless them. Sinful people saved by a merciful God. Ordinary people who are declared holy. We’re like the bread and the wine sitting on the altar: ordinary, yet made holy by Christ’s declaration. “Holy things for holy people.” As God declares of Himself, He is the one God, and He calls to Himself one holy people in His Son Jesus Christ, the holy sacrifice. The impossible standard of God’s Law was placed upon Christ in His sacrifice on the cross. We are declared holy and given opportunities every day to rejoice in His grace in living together with fellow sinner/saints. Amen.

1 comment:

Orycteropus Afer said...

Welcome to blogging and to the Big Blogroll O' Vark.