Summary: Responding to Sept 11th and a (minor) break-in to our church building, this sermon focuses on how live Jesus’ call to do unto others as we would have them do to us.
Today we celebrate All Saints Day, when we honor those well-known saints of the church. And All Saints Day also helps us to recall those faithful departed who have gone before, people who have died in the faith from this congregation and in our lives. But All Saints Day also serves as a reminder that we are all saints in the traditional sense of the word. Though we may not walk around calling each other St. Brianna or St. Frank or St. Beverly, we are each called to live as God’s saints. Saints are set apart for a purpose. They love God and strive to love their neighbors as themselves. Saints are people whose lives are dedicated to the worship of God and the doing of God’s will.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus does not use the word "saint", but he does give guidance for saintly, Christian living. In Luke, after Jesus speaks the beatitudes, the "blessed are you"s, he also shares the flipside, "woe to you when". And after those blessings and woes, Jesus lets out a laundry list of Christian virtues that ought to make us stand up and take notice. "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you." Anyone out there cringing yet?
Late this Thursday night or early Friday morning, our church office was broken into. Although the perpetrator broke an exterior window and busted an interior door, from my fairly thorough inventory Friday, I figured that the burglar or burglars got away with only $39.06 in cash. Even if we add an estimate of repairs to the property damage, we are not likely even to reach the $500 insurance deductible. All in all, it was not a very costly or traumatic break-in for us as a congregation. Even so, there is a sense of invasion, of violation, of discomfort, and of concern that it could happen again. Why would someone do this? How could someone break in to a church? And moreover, why did they bother to break in to our little church that never keeps cash around anyway?
However, let’s return to Jesus’ words, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Jesus calls us not reply in kind to those who hurt us. If I told you that the name of the burglar and where he or she lived, would you be able to respond to your sense of violation with compassion? Would you be able to put aside your feelings of anger for a heart of prayer? As frustrating as this break in was, Jesus calls us to respond to evil with good. We can’t dwell in the sense of being wronged; we have to move forward in courage. Jesus tells us to respond to others in the way we would want to be treated: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."
How many of us have done things that we wish we could take back? How many of us have wronged someone in a way that we regretted later? How many of us have faced situations where we were the enemy, the hater, the curser, the abuser? Can anyone here really say that you have been immune from regret over ways you have hurt people in the past? Jesus tells us to "do unto others as you would have them do to you." In a sense, he’s reminding us that if we’re really honest, we’ve been in that person’s place at one time, or we will be in the future. Yeah, we may feel betrayed now, but when we were in the position of doing the harm (whether known or unknown), we would have appreciated more compassion and less judgment. In those situations where we did the wrong, where we committed the sin, where we caused the harm, we wanted mercy, not justice. We should certainly offer the same to those who harm us, even if the shoe is now on the other foot.
Now, let me be real clear here. Although Jesus says to give to those who beg and let people take what you have without asking for it back, I do not think this means we need to leave our church doors open at all times and let people take whatever they want out of our building. Jesus’ words are not an invitation to let ourselves be used by every opportunist around. We do have a responsibility to stewardship of our property and our things, to care for them and keep them functioning. Jesus did not ask us to check our brains at the church door. We can still use common sense to do things that would be prudent in order to keep ourselves safe. He simply asks us not to dwell in our feeling of being violated.