“Beyond the Zero-Sum Game”

All Saints Sunday

November 6, 2022

Luke 6:20–31

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

‘But I say to you that listen, 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. ***

I am eager for Christmas. More specifically, I’m eager to see Christmas advertisements. In just three days, TV ad slots will be open to run those cute red and green Hershey’s kisses bouncing to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” and the M&M’s meeting Santa for the first time. These commercials make me smile and leave a good feeling unlike the political ads this season that have dominated for months — all 4.3 million of them.[i] Good riddance.

Ask just about anyone about the election season and you’ll hear: “I’ll be so glad when it’s all over.” As painful and difficult as our national and state elections are they present us an opportunity to seriously look at ourselves and reflect on who we’ve become as a people and what we are doing to ourselves, each other, and the world.

Stephen Neely, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida wrote an opinion for the Tampa Bay Times this week: “The day after the midterms, both Republicans and Democrats will try to convince the American people that they scored a decisive victory. But no matter who “wins” on Nov. 8, the American people will continue to be poorly represented by political parties that increasingly cater to only their most active and extreme factions. And Democrats and Republicans will continue to treat the important business of governance as a zero-sum game.”

It does seem that political campaigns and the proceedings of elected leaders has developed into a zero-sum reality in which one person or group can win something chiefly by causing another person or group to lose. Zero-sum beliefs reflect the perception that one’s gains are necessarily offset by another’s losses.

All Saints Sunday stands in contrast to zero sum thinking. This is the day we remember the saints — all our brothers and sisters who comprise the communion of saints. With the saints on earth and the saints of heaven we remember that our lives are connected and interwoven. “Our life and our death is with our neighbor,” St. Antony said. “If we gain our brother (or sister), we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother (or sister) we have sinned against Christ.”

All Saints reminds us to stand apart from living as winners and losers. In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we read of blessing and woe. At first glance one might be inclined to think of the zero-sum game: blessings for the winners and woes for the losers. But of course, that is not at all what Jesus is saying or intending. Jesus is describing the way the kingdom.

Do you remember playing the hot and cold game? Somebody would hide something and then direct others by saying, “You’re warm. You’re getting warmer. Oh, now you’re cold. You’re ice cold.” It was a way of telling the players if they were close to or far from the hidden object.

The blessings and woes of which Jesus speaks in this passage aren’t about categories of people, judgments, winners or losers or the basis for a to-do list. Instead, they are Jesus saying we are either warm or cold toward the kingdom, getting close to or moving away from it.

You see the kingdom is not a place or a time or a thing to come. Rather, God’s kingdom is a how, a way of being in this world right now. The kingdom is God’s vision, hope, desire and longing for the world. It is God’s call to us. We give existence to the kingdom by the how of our being in the world. It is up to us to respond and make it present. And sometimes we do.

All Saints Sunday is the time we remember this truth — that the reign of the Divine actually happens through how we bring ourselves in merciful and gracious ways upon the world. That’s what we remember and celebrate today. We remember and give thanks for those people whose “how of life” gave existence to God’s kingdom and life in this world in their time and place. They are witness to the possibility that we too can give existence to the kingdom, to God’s “how” of being in this time and under these circumstances. Saints of old and saints today.

Back to the zero-sum game that we’re seeing played in loud and disturbing ways in these times. Unlike that struggle for power behind all of the ads, the attacks, the untruths and accusations between candidates, the kingdom of God comes through our “how” of being in the world. It comes locally, temporarily, intermittently, episodically in particular circumstances. But chiefly the kingdom of God comes at the margins, at the edges of power, rarely at the center. It is the reversal of all reversals. The kingdom comes whenever we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek to those who strike us, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive our offender, give to the beggar.

Every time we do to others as we would have them do to us, we give witness to the kingdom come. That’s where I want to stand. That’s the platform I want to vote for and give myself to wherever I have opportunity to bring the kingdom.

God of the saints of every time and place, thank you for your kingdom come in Jesus and the ways he showed us to live as citizens of this kingdom.

Thank you for the opportunity this election puts before us,

To exercise our solemn duty to vote thoughtfully and prayerfully.

We pray that we may be awakened to spiritual reality in carrying out this task.

Awaken in us the knowledge that we are not called to a zero-sum game

But rather we are called to be honorable citizens with freedom to exercise faith for renewing the world.

Awaken in us an awareness that the same hands we lift to you in prayer

Are the hands that fill out our ballot;

That the same eyes that read your Word

Are the eyes that read the names of the candidates,

And that we do not cease to bear the light and love of Christ

When we enter the voting booth.

Awaken in us a renewed commitment to justice and equity,

that we may use our vote for the good of all God’s children

and the betterment of the whole human community — of which we are one small part.

Awaken in us a renewed commitment to care for each other,

to steward the earth

and to share the gifts you give us.

May the way we vote and the attitudes we carry with us into the voting booth

show us to be citizens of your kingdom —

People of hope in the midst of despair,

Joy in the midst of sorrow,

Faith in the midst of fear,

Truth in the midst of confusion,

Generous in the face of need.

Indeed, we rejoice today

That we are citizens of your kingdom. Both saint and sinner.

We pray that our spiritual citizenship will make us all the more committed

To being faithful citizens of this earth.

And may we put our trust in you always.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord and for the sake of his love. Amen.

[i] https://mediaproject.wesleyan.edu/category/releases/2022-elections/

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.