All Saints’ Sunday
November 6, 2016
I was with my grandkids in Connecticut last Monday and so had the great fun of celebrating Halloween with them. Their parents made bat costumes for the three kids and told them what Halloween was and how it worked. So at the right time they got on their costumes, went to the Trunk or Treat in downtown Madison, and afterwards went to several houses in the neighborhood. Once they got home they gave out candy to the kids that came by. So the kids received a teaching about Halloween and then they practiced what they had been taught, so at the end of the day they had had an experience of Halloween, which they now know from the inside.
This produces a formula: teaching plus practice produces experience which produces knowledge.
When we were kids someone also had to teach us about Halloween, and everything else we came to know. None of us come out of the womb knowing much beyond how to get fed.
So a central question for each of us as we come into maturity is this: who will be my teacher?
If all we do in our down time is social media, or Television then our teacher will be the secular culture we are immersed in. We will think of the good life as having a fast car, white teeth, and lots of people who think we are a success.
If we go to a psychologist they may direct us to people like the Buddha, or Confucius, or Carl Jung, or Positive Psychology, all of which can help us escape the shallow mindlessness of the culture.
The one person our secular culture has trouble suggesting as a teacher, however, is Jesus of Nazareth. Partly that’s the Church’s fault because we were so busy talking about Jesus as our savior, which he is!!!, that we lost sight of the fact that before he was savior he was a teacher because part of how he saves is teaching us how to live like he lives in the love of the Father.
The four gospels are full of his teaching on how to do just that, but the church has stopped taking those directions seriously because we’ve been told all we have to do is hold in our heads the correct doctrine about who Jesus is as Son of Man and son of God, second person of the Holy Trinity and that would get us into this place called heaven after we die. So once we could check off this box after confirmation we were pretty free to follow the culture in how to live our lives. Of course the problem with this view, as John Ortberg puts it, is that nowhere in the Gospels can you find Jesus telling us the things we need to think in order to get our spiritual ticket punched for the train to heaven. Living In Christ’s Presence, John Ortberg and Dallas Willard. I recomment the CD recordings of the live talks. Powerful!
So after our confirmation we give up on listening to Jesus as someone who knows how to live in God’s domain on earth.
And without the teaching we have nothing to practice so we end up with no experience, no knowledge, and we wake up one day and think it’s all just a big waste of time—which at that point it certainly is.
Teaching and practice must go together for human beings to experience and know Halloween, or to play the violin or master a sport, or to live a life of faith.
Certainly those who become his first disciples don’t know he is savior or Son of God, or Messiah. What they know, or think they know, is that he is a spiritual master who knows how to live in the Kingdom of God moment by moment and teach others how to live there with him. They see his life of peace, compassion, healing, and joy and want him to teach them how to live that kind of life.
In today’s gospel from Luke, called the Sermon on the Plain, which is similar but not identical to Matthew’s account called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is engaged in just such teaching about the adventure of being his disciple: he spends the night in prayer deciding whom to choose as his 12 apostles. And though he is surrounded by a multitude, he teaches the 12 and his other disciples how to live their lives in the same reality of the Presence of God he lives in.
First, he describes what life looks like for those who are caught up in God’s presence on earth as it is in heaven: He says when the Spirit of God is getting her way in your life then even if you are poor, you are still in God’s presence. Even if you are hungry you know you will be fed by God. He says, even those who are weeping for someone they have loved and lost, will find themselves able to laugh again.
He says even when you are being persecuted for following him leap for joy, for you are in the company of the great prophets.
He then says woe to all of you who seek to replace living in union and harmony with God with such trifles as money, food, and entertainment—it won’t work and at the end you will be spiritually broke, hungry, and bored to tears.
Then Jesus tells them the practices that will lead them into an experience of God’s kingdom, because if they only listen to the teaching but don’t practice it, they are like kids who dress up in their costumes but who never leave the house to ring a doorbell and ask for candy.
So what are some of the practices? He says for starters, experiment with the practice of loving those people who you actively dislike and who actively dislike you. By love, of course, he doesn’t mean have a certain feeling toward them, but rather to act in positive ways toward them.
Next he says; always give to those who beg from you. He doesn’t say only give to those you’ve been vetted by a professional so you will be a hundred percent sure they won’t use your gift for booze.
Then he famously adds, Practice this: “Treat everyone you meet in exactly the same way you’d like everyone to treat you.”
+Which can be stated as: give everyone your undivided attention, affection, and loving action.
Several weeks ago I talked about the common observation that there is a big difference between trying and training.
Often when we leave a church service with the feeling that we’ve got to try harder to be good, loving, and giving. Maybe that’s exactly what your feeling now. Okay, Bill is telling us that Jesus wants me to try harder to be a good person. That is exactly what Jesus does not want you to do.
Jesus announces the arrival of the kingdom of God that is open to anyone and everyone who wants to live in it. There is nothing you have to try to do to enter it or deserve it.
Jesus says, Be of good cheer my little flock it is the father’s good will to give you the kingdom.
That’s God’s gracious and free gift. That’s what baptism tells us: we are welcomed into the household of God, not because of who we are but because of who God in Jesus is. Baptism is being immersed in Jesus Christ. It is being clothed in Christ, Saint Paul says.
Now all these baptized kids need is for their parents, godparents, and this parish to model for them being disciples, apprentices of Jesus, by training in the practices Jesus teaches.
So the teaching plus the practice will lead to the experience and knowledge of daily life in God.
We’ve all had the experiencing of going the extra mile to help someone who isn’t family or friend. And then on our way home, maybe tired and out some money, we are giddy with joy.
Jesus is telling us to practice this kind of out of the box behavior every day and see if you too don’t experience God’s kingdom in fresh and exciting ways—not to get into the kingdom but to experience the kingdom we are already in through our baptisms. Ibid–regarding my talking about trying versus training which is on the audio of this sermon.
In North Carolina I’d always have someone in the parish who didn’t like the idea of kids dressing up as bats or ghosts, or you name it on Halloween.
My experience, however, is that we all have these things in us so its okay once a year to acknowledge that we are complex creatures composed of both darkness and light.
But it is what we do the other 364 days that makes the real difference, because we all also have sainthood living in us and as we practice what Jesus teaches our True Self is liberated to go into the world to let Christ’s Light shine.