Categories: Sermon Date: Nov 7, 2004 Title: Knockin' on Heaven's DoorLuke 6:20-31
Who are the heros of our culture and age — athletes, television or movie stars, politicians? The heros of our age are people who are in the news because of their beauty or skill — and almost all of them are rich.
But who are the saints of God — the heros of the faith? The qualification for sainthood is different from that of a modern hero. The heros of the church — the saints — are probably not rich, or beautiful, or famous — at least in the eyes of the world. The saints are those who find their wealth, beauty and fame in Jesus Christ. Or to put it another way, the saints of God are those who know that all they have is a gift from God and they are generous to others because God has been so generous to them. Or to say it still another way, in the words of Bob Dylan, the saints of God are those who are "Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door."
The answer to the question about the heros of faith comes not from TV, the sports arena, or the movies — it comes from Jesus. Jesus says the blessed of God, the saints, are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and the excluded — and those who long to welcome and comfort them. This is Christ's mandate for the church of every age.
First of all, these four beatitudes of Jesus are blessings, not exhortations. He is saying, "blessed are you who are poor" — not "you must be poor." Jesus is assuring us that the saints will be vindicated. Blessedness is not because of who we are — it is because God is at work, "knock, knock, knockin' on earth's door," knocking on the door of the poor, the wanting, the sorrowful, the hated and the excluded.
These beatitudes are the mission plan that Jesus has laid out for the church. As Trinity prepares a "mission plan" we would be wise to listen for God's calling in the sermon on the plain — and compare it to what we devise. Is our plan — as an individual, as a congregation, and as a nation — one that identifies with the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated and excluded — or is it a plan for the rich, the full, the laughing, using scapegoats to get our way? If it is the first, Jesus says, "Blessed are you" — but if it is the latter, Jesus says, "Woe to you!"
The kingdom of God is entering this world, in spite of the world's heros, in spite of the money manipulators, in spite of the self-satisfied, in spite of politicians and elections, in spite of those who need to condemn others in order to elevate themselves. The kingdom of God is entering this world, knocking on our door of the poor, the hungry, the sad, the hated and excluded, but also knocking on the door of the saints who hunger to bring them welcome, consolation, hope, and love.
It is tempting on this day, because we are human, to celebrate the life and work of the saints and leave it at that. But on All Saints Day we claim and celebrate something more than the giving, longing and loving hearts that have gone before us. If that is all we do we are immediately tempted to romanticize the dead. "Are we as wise as grandpa?" "Am I as patient as my Sunday School teacher?" "Can I give 10 percent to the church like Uncle Jim did?" "Are we as faithful in serving the poor as Mother Theresa?" When we think like this, we start to judge ourselves against an idea of saintliness that has forgotten about the fears and doubts and sins of all of those who have gone before us.
All Saints Day is not an elevation of the faithful into perfect people who did no wrong — it is a celebration of faithful sinners, not little messiahs that we try to imitate. The heros of the faith are the baptized, who hear the call (God's knock, knock, knockin' on our door). The heros of the faith are those who respond to that call by giving and serving those forgotten by world. The saints of God are those who acknowledge their need for a savior all the more.
I am so thankful for the last word of the funeral liturgy. With the saints of God in this congregation, I could go on and on about how friendly the were, how bright they were, how giving they were, how loving they were. But that is not the reason they are the saints of God and the church's liturgy requires me to get to the point. The church insists that I speak the full truth. So, when we come "knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door, with the casket in the center aisle, saying "Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your redeeming."
No, the saints of God, the heros of the church are not perfect — far from it. They are the ones who have a longing, a hunger, a need for what God is offering — a loving savior. And they have a longing and a hunger to welcome and care for the poor, the hungry, the suffering, and the excluded. The saints are not the ones who have it all — unless "having it all" means having the longing or hunger for God's welcome, love, and forgiveness — and a desire to share it all.
If you come here with your riches, power, education, and abilities — Jesus says, "Woe to you!" But if you come here longing, hungering, and needy — Jesus says that you are truly blessed — a saint of God. If you are poor, hungry, sad, or persecuted and you are looking for help from the world — Jesus and the church says that the world will only offer you more woes. But if your longing and need are for and from God — Jesus and his church will not bring you fame or fortune — but consolation, satisfaction, hope, and an unlimited future.
So we come here today, not to glorify the dead, but to glorify their savior. We first came "knockin' on heaven's door" in baptism, not expecting a sinless life, but a welcome. We come "knockin' on heaven's door" with our yearnings as we hear from the Bible, not expecting all the answers, but the promise and presence of God in the midst of our doubts and fears. We come "knockin' on heaven's door" as we approach this table, not because our bodies are wasting away or because there is nothing on our table at home, but because we are hungering for friendship and love — for and from our neighbors and for and from God.
Gerhard Frost tells of wanting to see a friend, but he was busy and he knew that his friend was even busier. He had no specific reason to visit but he went to his friend's office and asked if he was in. Then without waiting for an answer, he knocked on his office door. His friend answered immediately with a smile. He thought about apologizing because he had no special reason for coming. Then he realized that he had the best reason of all. He says, "How much better to simply state it and make no attempt to contrive something 'better'." After that experience he sat down and wrote this poem.
I Missed You
I knocked today at my friend's door;
he answered, and I entered;
"I've the best possible reason for coming," I said.
"What's that?" he inquired.
"I've missed you."
I had no other reason.
I just wanted to stand up close, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart
with this, my friend.
We found it reason enough.
That is the longing God gives to the saints of God — and that is why we go knock, knockin' on the door of the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the hated — without a special reason. And it is enough.