Sermons

Sun, Nov 06, 2016

Being saints

Sermon for All Saints
Series:Sermons

Joel Osteen––

the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas…

a megachurch that attracts over forty thousand attendees each Sunday––

has an estimated net worth of fifty million dollars…

although he draws no salary from the church itself.

He relies, instead, on sales of books––

largely comprising ‘sermon’ preaches at the church––

which bring in millions annually.

Recently, he and his family moved into a new home––

a one thousand five hundred square metre stone mansion…

situated on almost two acres…

with six bedrooms…

six bathrooms…

three elevators…

a pool house…

and a one bedroom guest house.

The property is valued at about thirteen million dollars.

They still own their former home…

a modest four bedroom house of only five hundred square metres…

valued at a mere three and a half million dollars.

However, they are selling a vacant lot next to their former home…

for about one and a half million.

Osteen has said that a person shouldn’t feel guilty for being rich…

because that would be an insult to God.

“It’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty”…

he claims.

Frankly, I think there’s something quite obscene about that.

Not just the extravagant lifestyle…

but also the theology underpinning it.

It’s a theology known as “the prosperity Gospel”––

a quite primitive concept of an all-controlling, providential God…

not in a fickle and capricious way…

but deliberate and intentional;

a God of rewards and punishments.

Believing that everything we have comes directly from God…

it’s a logical consequence…

that anyone who receives more than someone else must be blessed by God…

and anyone who doesn’t must be a sinner…

or not in God’s favour.

Unfortunately, that’s not actually a particularly new or novel idea.

We see many examples of it in the Old Testament.

And it was also prevalent in the world of the New Testament.

After all, theirs was a world where the gulf between the haves and have-nots was enormous;

a world where one percent of the population controlled ninety-nine percent of the land and wealth;

a world where the average person farmed just a few acres of land…

hoping simply to produce enough to feed their families…

with the notion of making a profit almost unimaginable.

In bad years, they would have to borrow from the “haves”…

with loan repayments adding a significant burden…

such that many defaulted…

lost their land…

became tenants or were forced to move to the city and ply a trade.

It was a world where there was no social security safety net at all––

and people relied upon their relatives to help them out if they were in trouble.

As a result, someone only became “poor” when they suffered severe misfortune––

when they lost their land or became incapacitated…

and they lacked an extended family network to rely upon…

making begging the only option.

Such a scenario left them utterly defenceless…

utterly powerless…

and utterly alone.

It made sense, therefore…

in such a context…

to think that being “poor” was a sign of being cursed—

as though the person were being punished by God.

To be poor was to be without honour––

to lose face…

to be without standing or esteem in the community.

It placed you on the margins of society.

It made you the object of contempt and derision, not pity.

But that could also happened, for example, if you were disowned by your family;

if you were unable or unwilling to defend your honour from slights and challenges;

or, simply, if you didn’t fit in––

if you didn’t measure up to the community’s standards…

if you didn’t abide by the norms and expectations of their culture.

 

Into that context, into that world, into that worldview…

the Historical Jesus spoke a word of hope.

In what are probably the more original form of those words––

compared to the better known version from Matthew’s Gospel––

the author of Luke’s Gospel has Jesus declare:

“Blessed are you who are poor…blessed are you who are hungry…blessed are you who weep…blessed are you when people hate and when they exclude you…on my account”.

The author presents Jesus inverting the normal cultural expectations––

about what was right and proper;

about what was to be valued and admired.

He was inverting the way that they had been brought up to view other people and their world.

He presents a Jesus who proclaims that those who are despised and denigrated…

those who are feared and ridiculed…

those who are oppressed and excluded by their society…

are, in fact, valued, welcomed, and favoured by God;

they belong to God’s family.

In other words, in his preaching, Jesus was staking claim to a very different way of understanding society…

and a very different way of understanding God.

He was asserting that God doesn’t judge or value people according to our culture-bound expectations;

rather, God sees people differently;

and God has a very different set of values.

And he was inviting us to change…

radically…

in the way that we see, and think, and value…

and, thus, in the way that we shape community.

Jesus––

and the author of Luke’s Gospel––

proclaimed that God values those whom our society devalues…

that God welcomes those whom our society shuns…

that God embraces those whom our society excludes.

And that is as true now as it was then.

 

But, at first glance…

it’s not at all clear why this reading is set for All Saints Day.

 

And yet, on another level, it is entirely appropriate.

Because, in celebrating All Saints…

we’re remembering and giving thanks for…

those who have taken a stand against injustice and oppression––

even, or especially, at great personal cost:

the Martin Luther Kings…

the Dietrich Bonhoeffers…

the Desmond Tutus…

and the Oscar Romeros of the world.

In celebrating All Saints, we’re remembering and giving thanks for…

those who have embodied compassion and sought to make a difference:

the Mother Theresas…

the Dorothy Days…

the John Wesleys…

and the John Flynns of the world.

But we’re also remembering and giving thanks for…

those who…

through simple and often unnoticed acts…

have gone before us and shown us the way––

those who have pointed us toward God and God’s ways;

those who have embodied God’s counter-cultural, topsy-turvy, world-up-turning values.

And in remembering and giving thanks…

we’re also invited––

no…

we’re challenged––

to follow their example…

to embrace their values…

and to be saints like they were. 

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