The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
All Saints’ Sunday
November 6, 2016
I do not have to remind you that on Tuesday we will elect somebody to become the President of the United States of America: the most powerful position on earth. We feel the gravity of this moment. Now, I think most of us are just ready for it to be over. It feels that this election cycle has been going on since the last time the Cubs won the World Series. And still the question hangs in the balance: who will have the power? The power as Commander-in-Chief, the power of diplomacy, the power to pardon that one lucky turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
And it’s power that both sides are looking for. Power to set agendas. Power to craft policies. Power to make appointments. For each side, it is this power they are looking for.
But it is not the power we are looking for. You and I are here because of the power of God, the power of resurrection, the power of reconciliation, the power of the Holy Spirit.
This power of God looks like weakness. The power of God is when Jesus says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus says this about power, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” Jesus goes on, “give to everyone who begs from you, and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” Surely Jesus would not be elected president with that sort of economic policy. But then again, Jesus is not running for president. Jesus is not trying to win you over with a slick campaign, or a catchy slogan, or some false dream. Jesus is not vying for your vote. Jesus is vying for your soul.
The power from God, the power from on High, that power is not vindictive, or violent, or self-centered. The power of God, the power from on High looks like weakness but it is actually love; self-emptying, self-sacrificial love.
In 2005, along with the rest of the Longhorn Band, Maggie and I marched in the George W. Bush’s second inaugural parade. Snipers were on every roof. Giant men with huge machine guns were on every street corner. The entire parade route was lined on both sides with one line of police officers and one line of soldiers. Everybody was armed to the teeth. We had to go through metal detectors. Even my tuba had to go through an X-Ray machine. And of course, the culmination of that day is when the newly elected president climbs Capitol Hill. In that moment, with marching bands and soldiers and foreign dignitaries, with all the trappings of worldly grandeur, the new president takes the oath of office and receives power.
But on God’s inauguration day, when Jesus is enthroned as King of Kings, he is completely powerless. There are no marching bands or foreign dignitaries. On his Inauguration Day, Jesus climbs a hill, it is called “Golgotha,” the place of the skull. And there Jesus is nailed to a cross. There are soldiers there on that day, Good Friday, they are not there to protect Jesus, but to kill him. There are weapons there, they are not meant to keep Jesus safe, but to pierce him in the side. On that Inauguration Day, Jesus is the one who is stripped and searched. And as the nails go into his flesh, as he takes his final breath, Jesus proves himself to be the true power of the world. And in that moment, Jesus embodies his own words: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” That is the power of God. Though it looks like weakness to this world, it is power from on High.
On this day, All Saints’ Day, we remember and celebrate those great heroes of the faith who died in Jesus. Who died powerless. For the saints, the heroes that we remember and celebrate the most, are not the ones who had mighty armies or dignified titles. The saints of God we love and cherish were those who loved their enemies, who prayed for their abusers, who turned the other cheek. We remember Saint Stephen. The first deacon of the church who was stoned to death for his faith in Jesus. We remember Thomas Cranmer, who put together our beloved Book of Common Prayer. He was burned alive. We remember Jonathan Daniels, a seminarian in the Episcopal Church working the Civil Rights movement in Alabama in 1965. A deputy sheriff was trying to shoot a young black girl with a shotgun. Jonathan Daniels stepped in front of that girl and took the full blast. He died instantly so that she could live.
The saints of God do not vie for power. The saints of God willing lay down whatever power they have so that they may receive power from on High. This is why we baptize on All Saints’ Day. Leon Sadler, when he is presented for baptism, his parents are giving up a measure of their power. They are handing him over to God. And this baptism looks like weakness. Why would we choose to hand over our children? Why would we choose to let this seemingly weak God into our lives? Why would we follow a God who allows himself to die? For in baptism, we are commissioned to do the very things that this world scoffs at, the very things that Jesus did: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
And on All Saints’ Day, we read aloud our beloved brothers and sisters that have died this year. For now they too are powerless and are simply at the mercy of God. It’s quite beautiful actually, to have on one end little Leon who is being baptized, and on the other end those who have died. And us in between. That is the communion of all the saints. And this day, All Saints’ Day, is far more important than Election Day. Yes, we will elect a president and representatives on that day. But those positions are all temporary. Even our most celebrated leaders, our greatest presidents, they are not here forever. What is here forever is the power of God, the power from on High, the power of the cross. As Leon is baptized, he is marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit. A crown of glory that never fades away. Terms of office begin and end, countries come and go, empires rise and fall. Baptism, everlasting life in God, the communion of all the saints, those will never go away. What happens on Election Day is temporary, what happens on All Saints’ Day is eternal.
I have to say one final thing about this election. Everybody is afraid. Everybody is afraid. We, the people, we’re afraid of the one candidate or the other. We’re afraid of strangers, we’re afraid of the other party, we’re afraid of the future. Incumbent representatives and senators are also afraid, afraid of losing their power. I think that the presidential candidates themselves are afraid. They are afraid of losing. See, that is what the power of this world does to us. The more power we accumulate for ourselves, the more we struggle and fight and bicker and condemn to keep that power. The more power we accumulate for ourselves, the more we want, and the more afraid we are of losing it. The powers of this world are so afraid, afraid of losing their power, afraid for their own lives, that they insist on X-Raying tubas in a parade while the true power of this world opens wide his arms upon a cross.
When a winner is announced on Tuesday night, remember, that any power they have is but a shadow of God’s power. And because of God’s power, because of the cross, because of the baptismal font, we have nothing to fear.
As we leave church on All Saints’ Day and make our way to the ballot box on Election Day, I want to end simply by repeating the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”