Gospel: Luke 6:20-31 20Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Grace to you, and peace, because life is hard, sometimes, and death lingers near, and today we raise up the names of those who have died, whom we have loved, in recognition that God does not leave these loved ones abandoned in death. Nor does God abandon us while yet we live this life.
As I read through the names for this year in preparation for this day, I considered all the people who are mourning their absence from day-to-day life. I wondered in our naming how very many who have died in prior years who come still to mind for countless worshipers across this land and around the world.
Today, we’ve sung a hymn of thanksgiving and celebration for and of the saints who have influenced our lives and bettered this world with their activities while living here. The tune for this hymn isn’t as old as some, written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and published in the English Hymnal in 1906. Many consider the tune to be among the finest of the 20th Century.
What intrigued me is the tune’s name. It’s titled, sine nomine, which means, literally, “without a name.” I thought how we’ve named people who’ve died this past year, and how the names of those we’ve loved continue in our hearts long after the years of their deaths. I wondered if titling this tune composed for a text of honor and gratitude for all the saints was titled in recognition for those we might not remember by name, those more anonymous who have lived God’s love through their lives unidentified by congregations in yearly celebrations… but it’s not. Apparently, it’s actually a renaissance tradition to title new tunes that are not merely adaptations of existing tunes with that Latin title of sine nomine, “without a name.”
Yet, when we consider the words of Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel text, we might realize that the names we read do not comprise all the saints… the names we read are only those we’ve known, and maybe not even all of them.
The tradition of reading the names is a very old one, but it was not revived in the Lutheran churches until about the time our previous hymnal, the green Lutheran Book of Worship, was published. The tradition can be difficult or poignant, and mistakes in the form of omissions are (I believe) more common than those in the form of misspellings!
Jesus’ words include no names as he proclaims blessings for the poor, the hungry, and the sorrowful. He does not name the hated, the excluded, the reviled, or the defamed, while promising blessings for those who suffer these various ills of societal derision. Nor does he name those to whom he promises woe. The point today is that God knows our names, whether they are read on celebratory “All Saints” days with honor in the congregation, or omitted because of a clerical error, or because the practice is not followed by any particular congregation. God knows our names even if they are remembered by no one here in time. We are named, not only for ease of referring to one another, but because we have purpose here on earth, and our purpose is not primarily related to making a living, or finding a soul-mate, or becoming powerful, rich, or well-known.
We are named, not only as individuals, but as God’s people, and as God’s people, we do godly things (sometimes!).
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading are not quite the same as the more famous beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel. These blessings are more earthy, less esoteric. People are poor in terms of monetary wealth, and literally hungry because they have little food. And here Jesus does not stop with the blessings, but pronounces woes that we really don’t want to hear, because maybe we fear those woes might be aimed at us in this wealthy country, even if we’re on the poorer end of the USA wealth spectrum.
However, we are not to worry, because God’s love for us is not dependent upon our wealth or our health. God’s love is not dependent upon our worthiness. God loves us because we belong to God, and God chooses to shower love upon all God’s creation.
So, Jesus moves on from the blessings and the woes. Rather than leaving us wondering where we fit, Jesus gives us a focal point to move us forward… and it’s not an easy one. Jesus says, “I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…”
How do we do that?
I will say that loving our enemies does not mean opening ourselves up to further abuse, even though it may sound like that when Jesus says to offer the other cheek and to give to everyone who begs from you. Loving your enemies does not mean teaching them to abuse a person’s intentions to do what is good and loving.
What does it mean? Some point to the final sentence of today’s reading, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Let’s go a bit deeper, though. It means recognizing in the other person what you are in yourself, a loved child of God. God loves the other person as God loves you. It is when we acknowledge God’s love for the other person that we might possibly be able to convey at least a part of God’s love to that person.
We might not know the names of all those whom God loves, but God knows them.
We are named as children of God. For this we give thanks. They are named as children of God. For this we give thanks!
Now I’m going to ask you a favor. As we sing the next hymn, I’d like you to turn the first line around backwards in your mind as you sing. We will sing, “Jesus is mine.” I want you to think as you sing that, not so much that Jesus belongs to you, but that you belong to God as one of God’s children. You are named a child of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen