“God’s Love is Bigger Than Our Fear” Celebrating All Saints Lk 6:20-31; Eph 1:11-23; Dan 7: 1-3, 15-18
I don’t know how many of you used to be (or perhaps still are) afraid of monsters under the bed, but I certainly remember taking a running start and leaping onto my bed so they couldn’t grab my ankles—or something like that. I don’t recall details about what I feared, but I do remember being afraid. In today’s first lesson the prophet Daniel encounters monsters in his bedroom too. They show up as nightmares, featuring horrific creatures crawling out of the sea. In many early Middle Eastern cultures the sea represented chaos, danger, anarchy—the epitome of the unknown and uncontrollable.
It’s tempting to dismiss the scariness of Daniels’ dream by saying he’s simply employing a literary technique called apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature exposes current political, social, and spiritual threats by couching them in bizarre imagery of strange visions and otherworldly encounters. That suggests Daniel didn’t really dream of a bear with three ribs in its mouth or a creature with four heads and horns that had eyes. He’s just speaking of the super-powers of his day in a way that gives him plausible deniability if he gets in trouble for describing the corruption and eventual downfall of the powerful.
That doesn’t make those visions any less scary. Daniel may have had very good reasons for dreading the oppressive kingdoms in his time—the same the way we fear the powers of our day, whether they are abstract evil, like racism or homophobia, or bear actual faces and names in the news.. Part of what makes such ferocious creatures scary is that we feel like we have no control over their machinations. That’s one of the points Daniel makes in his apocalyptic vision. The beasts are terrifying and mighty and genuinely pose a threat to the general populace. They trample and consume anything and anyone who gets in their way. The noise of the fourth beast’s horn seems to drown out all other sounds with its menacing rhetoric.
Apocalyptic literature does not minimize the real threats that can wound and destroy. It does, however, keep pointing out that above them, beyond them, and deeper than any of them, is the Ancient One, whose dominion is over all. It can sound trite to say that goodness is stronger than evil, but it is one of the reasons I value apocalyptic writings. Using poetic, mysterious language, they underline that the end of the story is always God’s victory and the vindication of all who have trusted God’s promises in the midst of their struggles.
As Daniel watches a fiery but compassionate God hold court, he sees “one like a human being” being presented to the Ancient One. Verse 14 describes the encounter in this way, “To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” How does that one like a human being—whom we come to know in the Gospels as The Son of Man, or Son of Humanity—exercise this dominion and glory and power?
He gathers people together on a level place and assures those who are encountering difficulties that they are not burdened, but blessed, by God’s companionship. He promises people who are hungry that they will be filled, and then, to underscore this message, goes on to feed and to eat with the disenfranchised and ostracized. Exclusion, persecution, loss and grief do not cut people off from God’s kingdom or mercy.; rather, Jesus spends most of him time with exactly that population. So if you’re looking for Jesus, you could do worse than to spend time with people who are going through hardship.
Meanwhile, Jesus cautions those who are enjoying earthly wealth and power and merriment to watch out. Jesus’ woe statements are not punishments or condemnation—they’re simple reminders that the things we assume are advantages are actually illusory. What if money, food, comfort, self-won security, respectability, and so on are things that kill our souls—not just in some far-off afterlife but right here, right now? Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to mistake them for benefits given by God?
What Jesus is after in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is not to create victims and bad guys—this is not a horror film. His vision is to create a community. A communion of saints, united in Jesus Christ. This community of saints includes all who have finished their race and all those who are alive now. It includes God’s loved ones from every place and time. All mortals are connected, like it or not. We cry, laugh, and get hungry and, yes, die. On the way, Jesus calls us to pay attention, to make sure we stand in solidarity with all of God’s beloved, especially those who are underfed, mournful, destitute and vilified.
Maybe that’s part of Daniel’s dream as well: Kim Jong Il is only for now. Putin, Erdawan, the political party or person you most dread will not reign forever. The diagnosis you got from the doctor, your family struggles, the weight of missed opportunities or poor choices, the debt you can’t escape, the addiction that holds you captive—all of these giant scary beasts with horns and fangs and wings—cannot overpower God or distance you from God. God’s love is bigger than all of them, snd will continue long after these monsters and those of us who fear them, are gone. Everything and everyone dies, and that is not bad news for an Easter people.
On All Saints Day (and on many other occasions) we may lament the absence of precious saints who have gone on before us. We may weep and mourn and wonder why about death. And yet, we give thanks for how those who have joined the Church Triumphant have inspired and shaped us, and how our lives continue to reflect what we cherished most about them. All Saints Day also calls our attention to celebrating the saints around us now, those who motivate us every day, who bless us with their companionship and insight, their courage and faithfulness when our own escapes us. However potent or insurmountable our fears seem, we never need to face them alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who are pulling for us. And that’s Good News!
So, beloved people of God, let us recognize that in this present moment, we are blessed, just as we are. We are simultaneously saints and sinners, and we are in the company of others who are also saints and sinners. We have all we need, individually and as a congregation. We are equipped with the truth of God’s omnipotence and the solidarity of one another to face all that threatens us. So let’s care for the creation entrusted to our protection. Let’s support and lift up the people Jesus paid attention to. Though the world tries to make evil look reasonable and strong, we know that God’s radically inclusive love and grace are much more powerful and glorious. Thanks be to God!
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