Daniel 7 1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1: 11-23
Luke 6: 20-31
(all references NRSV)
The Christian religion is ultimately one that emphasizes the importance of faith. Ultimately, this tenet has been emphasized by individuals such as St. Paul’s letters, many of the works of Martin Luther, and other influential Christian thinkers and writers. In the Eucharistic lectionary for All Saints’ Day, we are reminded of God’s promises to the faithful. For example, Psalm 149 emphasizes the delight that God takes in people while the faithful “exalt in glory”. Daniel 7:18 extends the possession to a secular kingdom to a more spiritual one stating that “The holy ones shall possess the kingdom.”
Luke 6 20-36 emphasizes the importance of being faithful even when things do not seem to be going very well in our earthly lives. These beatitudes essentially serve to provide encouragement of those that seem to be struggling while castigating those who would seem to have very much. Indeed, those who have been marginalized in society, materially or at least spiritually, are told to “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy” (Luke 6:23).
While the Christian religion emphasizes faith as the essential ingredient to salvation it is important to locate precisely what sort of faith Christians ought to have. While faith alone may gain one salvation, it does not form the entirety of the Christian faith alone. It can be too easy to get caught in a sort of trap that allows one to merely “have faith”, but not necessarily lead a Christian life.
I want to suggest that there is a difference between spoken and/or emotional faith and a more active and involved faith. The earlier faith may, in fact, be so, but it is a relatively easy path that may not fully embrace Christian tenets. These people may profess faith, but this faith belief is relatively weak in nature.
Why is this so? It is because this sort of faith is not actively involved. When times get tough, this faith does not always sustain these individuals. These individuals are simply comfortable in a particular faith. Perhaps these individuals go through the motions of faith, but they do not always respond well to the hard work needed to maintain a faith especially in a hostile and/or secular context. In other words, these individuals may profess something, but they do not actually strive to make personal changes for themselves or relate to the world in a different manner. In the Gospel reading, Jesus assigns the “woes” to those who are comfortable” while assigning the kingdom to those who do the hard work of loving those who hate them and making sacrifices for their faith. It suggests that, on Earth, we ought not to let ourselves get too comfortable less we lose a chance to serve.
What does all this mean for Christian communities of faith? First, it challenges us to think and hold in mind ways in which our faith is expressed. The full expression of the Christian faith demands that it actively be pursued. Sometimes, this demands that we get out of our comfort zones to really embrace lives of radical love and grace in which we are called. Sometimes, secular society would seem to beckon us to lives that are either apathetic or immoral. The full Christian life would tend to resist this temptation.
Secondly, we must take comfort and courage in the subsistence in which God provides. Even when we walk through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23: 4), we must know that we are the beloved. Jesus reminds his disciples to “Take courage for I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). So, too, in our lives and in our faith journeys, we are to take courage in building up the kingdom, living out the faith, and extending grace and love to others. All this is to be done with humility. As the psalmist writes, “The humble shall be adorned with victory” (Psalm 149: 4). We have an “inheritance” through Christ through the Holy Word and through the Holy Spirit. We can utilize these things to enlighten our faith as we seek to know God’s will and truth (Ephesians 1 13-23).
Many of those that we celebrate on All Saints’ Day have chosen to follow a path in which proclamation of God’s word, love, and grace have taken them to a spot in which they have had to make hard choices. This includes exile, imprisonment, and even death. In some places even today the simple act of showing up to church can be courageous not unlike persecution of other or even all religions elsewhere.
Nor should we assume that leading a Christian life of radical love and grace is always easy in a rapidly secularizing Western society. It can, in fact, require real effort and sacrifice to live a good Christian life in such a society.
Many of those celebrated in the coming days have heard a call to take a “stand” even in quiet ways in their own time and places. They are examples of faith because their lives actively show inwards and outwards sides of visible grace. For Christian communities, their hope and faith can serve as an example. The good news is that we are provided for what we need. It is up to us to apply it toward our own lives and those of others.