Only for Saints?
A sermon on Luke 6: 20-31 by Nathan Nettleton, 1 November 2007
 
Message
Living the beatitudes is far to lightly dismissed as being “only for saints”, but Christ calls us all to live as saints.
 
Sermon
 
The Beatitudes would have to rank as one of the best loved and most universally ignored passages in all of scripture. We love them because we instinctively recognise them to be true and even strangely attractive. We ignore them, because actually living by them is unpopular and extremely costly. When people do live by them, we dismiss them as fanatics. Or once they have died and are no longer inconveniently proving us wrong about the impossibility of living by the beatitudes, then we dismiss them as saints.
 
When I look around, and this is all the more true during election campaigns, it seems to me that if we were to try to write the beatitudes that we really seem to be living by, they would sound something more like this:
 
Blessed are those who like to think themselves poor and feel that they don’t have enough, even though they own far more than they could ever need.
 
Blessed are the comforters, those who distract us or medicate us or entertain us into a state of blissful numbness so we can avoid mourning and pain, for they will turn a huge profit.
 
Blessed are those who take the earth by force, for they will rule over the meek.
 
Blessed are those who compulsively and excessively satisfy their every hunger and thirst, for they will keep the economy ticking along very nicely thank you.
 
Blessed are those who take mercy for themselves, but who in the face of anyone else’s wrongdoing, argue that we must be tough and make an example of transgressors, for they will always be ahead in the opinion polls.
 
Blessed are the hard of heart, for they will have the guts to make the tough calls and bring home the bacon, without allowing sentiment to cloud their judgement.
 
Blessed are those who claim for themselves the status of children of God, for they have a manifest destiny to make the world safe for the ongoing advancement of their own interests.
 
Blessed are the self-appointed custodians of the kingdom of heaven, for they will persecute for self-righteousness’ sake.
 
Blessed are you when the paparazzi persecute you and photograph you and make up scandalous rumours about you on account of your glamour and beauty and fame. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is obviously so great here on earth that they are jealous, and you can thumb your nose at them and continue to flaunt your success and enjoy the attention.
 
The trouble with trying to live the beatitudes that Jesus actually gave, rather than the ones the advertising gurus and public relations consultants constantly market to us, is that they seem to add up to “blessed are the losers, blessed are the losers, blessed are the losers.” And yet we continue to find them strangely attractive. They continue to enchant us, to woo us, to whisper promises of another way, a way of freedom and lightness and joy. A way of life and hope.
 
Jesus’ suggestion that those who are meek and merciful and pure of heart are also likely to be persecuted and martyred, seems strange to us, something of a paradox. Surely such people wouldn’t attract any animosity? But they do. Thousands of martyred saints down through the ages can attest that they do. They do, because living by such values is not actually an inoffensive stance. The fact that my rewritings of the beatitudes before were so confronting is an indication of the clash here. It is often a matter of context. Sit here in church and talk of peacemaking and mercy and purity of heart and no one will bat an eyelid. But in the aftermath of a terrorist attack when everyone is rallying around the flag and baying for blood, standing firm for peacemaking is a risky thing. When people are feeling angry about the release of a criminal, speaking of mercy will put you right in the firing line. When people flee from poor and war torn nations and seek asylum within our borders, no one wants to discuss what meekness would look like now. Try and live by the beatitudes, and people will take it as an offensive challenge to the way they live. They will say it is dangerous, un-Australian, giving comfort to terrorists.
 
It has always been this way. That’s why Jesus was killed. Yet even as we lynched him, he continued to offer mercy. Even violence and death could not extinguish his passion for love and simplicity and the life of the beatitudes. Even as the lamb who had been fatally wounded, he comes to us, without any bitterness or vengefulness, and offers us the confronting gift of pure mercy and love.
 
And in that offer of astonishing grace, we are confronted with the toughest decision we ever have to face. Will we accept that offer and commit ourselves to the struggle of the beatitudes that follows from it, or will we reject these beatitudes and this uniquely human embodiment of them, and throw our lot in with the winners who go on crucifying all those who suggest that there might be blessing in the way of the losers?
 
What does it mean to accept that offer and put your trust in Jesus the Christ? It means to commit yourself to living the life he asks of us, no matter how foolish it is regarded by the world around us, and to trust him to follow through on his promise that though we be poor and grieving and vulnerable and persecuted, that such a path will indeed be the most blessed of lives. To live otherwise is not to trust him at all. The life of the beatitudes is not reserved for super-saints, for the special ones. It is the life to which Jesus calls all who would follow him.
 
But, we are not in this alone, and if we were, we’d never make it. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. We are baptised into the body of Christ, and it is in the body of Christ that we are raised to resurrection life and empowered to live the blessed life of the beatitudes. That’s what this All Saints Day is about. In this celebration and in our regular Eucharistic celebrations, we become conscious that we are living and praying in company. We gather here to read scripture and eat and drink and pray in the company of Mary Magdalene and Francis of Assisi and St Martin and St Joseph and St Augustine and Joseph and Caroline Wilson. If we’re going to accept this gift of salvation and live the life that Jesus calls us to live, we’re going to be absolutely dependent not only on God but on these saints sitting around us, and not just on them but on all the saints who have sought to faithfully follow Jesus in various places down through the ages.
 
None of us have the courage to live the life of the beatitudes alone. And the tragedy of many of our churches is that we collude with one another to allow one another to choose not to live it together either. But our God is extravagantly gracious and longs to see us set free from the tyranny of the ruthless and heartless way of the winners. Our God is extravagantly gracious and suffers even a tortured death to show us the pathway to resurrection life. Our God is extravagantly gracious and invites us again and again, no matter how many times we have denied him, to give up our collusion and delusion and to join hands with those who have been hated and persecuted for living the life of the beatitudes; to join hands with them around the table, to eat and drink and dance as our prayers and praises unite with the prayers and praises of the whole communion of saints, across the world and across the ages, and with the whole creation in honour of the one God who holds us together in one body - the fullness of Christ who fills all in all.