In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have you ever heard of Christian Nationalism? Until recently, I thought of Christian nationalism as purely an academic term, a scholarly term, used to describe a particular ideology the same way one might talk about Neo Marxism or Imperialism. But recently I attended a panel discussion at Georgetown University, that included Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, on the danger of Christian Nationalism. Among other things, I learned that Christian Nationalism is no longer primarily an academic term but that there are thousands of people around our country who identify themselves as Christian Nationalists, including some members of Congress. There are even popular tee shirts proclaiming – “Proud Christian Nationalist.” So, what is Christian Nationalism and why am I talking about it on this glorious All Saints Sunday?

The first thing to say is that Christian nationalism is not the same thing as evangelical Christianity, or conservative Christianity. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters who have spoken out the loudest against Christian nationalism come from churches and denominations who would proudly call themselves conservative and evangelical. It would be wrong to lump those two together.

Simply put, Christian nationalists want to define America as a Christian nation although our Constitution specifically forbids enshrining one religion over another. It’s a movement that presumes Christians are entitled to have the main voice in the public square because they are heirs of the true and essential heritage of American culture.[1] It is a movement that believes America is God’s chosen nation and as such Christianity must be the country’s primary religion, while all other faiths should be secondary. There are deep racist overtones in the movement because many Christian nationalists define America as a white protestant nation, and they believe that God demands them to battle to make it that way. It is a dangerous nostalgia for a time when “the right” people were in control of our country.

If you look closely at this movement, you can see that Christian nationalism isn’t Christianity at all, but a political ideology that shrouds itself in the trappings of Christianity. Just look at any of the footage from the January 6 attack on the Capitol and you can see Christian nationalists holding up Jesus banners at the same time they are battling with Capitol police.

The truth is, there isn’t anything about Christian nationalism that looks like Jesus. As Bishop Curry said the other night, “if you look at the tenets of Christian nationalism and you lay them next to the four gospels, we aren’t even talking about the same thing.” It isn’t a movement based on love, but one based on the acquisition of power and the subjugation of others. As the Rev. Ryan Dunn noted, “The danger is in conflating our Christian identity and our national identity. We can be Christian, we can also be American. But to assume that being American means being Christian and that being Christian means holding to a narrow view of what it means to be American is limiting to all of the above.”[2] In essence it isn’t Christianity, it’s idolatry.

Why all this talk about Christian nationalism? Because it stands in stark contrast to our Gospel reading this morning. If you want to know what Christianity is really all about, if you want to know what Jesus is all about, then you need look no further than the Beatitudes.

Now the Beatitudes show up twice in the New Testament, first in Matthew’s Gospel and then in Luke. In Matthew chapter 5, they are part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  In Luke’s Gospel they are part of what is called Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Matthew’s version is much longer with nine blessings while Luke gives us four blessings but pairs these blessings with four woes.

Now the Beatitudes have been called the greatest wisdom teaching of Jesus. In fact, John Pattison once wrote that, “If we imagine the Sermon on the Mount as the constitution for the Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes are its world-inverting preamble.” Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi understood the Beatitudes as fundamental to their activism.

In the Beatitudes Jesus turns the values of the world upside down and proclaims that God’s values are very different. Blessed, he says, are the poor, the hungry, and those who weep. Blessed are those who are hated and reviled because they stood up for the teachings of God’s Kingdom. Conversely, Jesus says, the world will tell you that you are blessed when you are rich and comfortable, laughing, and well liked. But I say to you, be warned, God does not favor the wealthy, the comfortable, or the famous. Quite to the contrary, such states make it easy to think that one does not need God, that one is not totally dependent on God. Wealth, comfort, and popularity can blind you to the truth. Be warned, or when all is said and done all you will have at the end of your life is your money and your comforts and your public persona and those things, they cannot save you when you are on your death bed.

 These blessings and woes that Luke gives us this morning, along with the other parts of the Sermon on the Plain, are difficult. They tell us who God favors and who we should favor as well. They demand of us behaviors that are challenging to say the least, “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.”

These are tough commands, and some have said that the history of Christianity is a history of Christians trying to evade the Sermon on the Mount and avoid living according to its plain meaning.[3] But this is Jesus. These are the things that Jesus stood for, the things that Jesus did in his own life. You want to know the way of Jesus? It has nothing to do with American exceptionalism or Christian nationalism and everything to do with the words of the Sermon on the Mount or the Sermon on the Plain. As Pope Francis once said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not a Christian. This is not the gospel. . . We need to build up a society in light of the Beatitudes, walking towards the Kingdom with the least among us.”

My friends, on this All Saints Sunday, as we remember the saints of old, as we baptize two new saints into the body of Christ, remember that by virtue of our baptisms we are all called to be saints. I’ve shared this before, but I’ve discovered two definitions for saints that I especially like – one, the saints are the forgiven who know it, act upon it and live by grace without angling for stained glass window status.[4]  Two, the saints are those men and women who relish life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.[5]

            Our job as Christians is to say our prayers and mold our lives so that we too can be placed within one of these definitions. We don’t have to be bishops, priests or deacons to be saints.  We don’t have to be mystics, monks, or theologians to be saints.  We don’t have to be anything special to be a saint, we only have to be willing to climb down into life with Jesus, in the light of the Beatitudes, where the needs of the world are great and the realities often difficult to understand.  For being a saint is not about holiness it’s about newness. Being a saint is about becoming infused with the life of God, and somehow to lay down that life for others in the name of Christ.  Being a saint is about being a person with a passion to make a difference in a world in need of love and mercy.  Being a saint is about being someone who holds as precious that which the world considers worthless or useless.  As H. King Oehmig once said, “Being a saint is about becoming a person, and a member of a community, whose purpose is to face in two directions: to face Christ in faith, and to face our neighbor in love.”[6]

In today’s Gospel, you have in front of you what’s been called the Christian constitution and its powerful preamble. These words describe the way of Jesus. Hold them close, pray on them, wrestle with them, and live by them as best you can, because in the end the way of Jesus is the only way to life. Amen.

[1] Paul D. Miller, Christianity Today, February 3, 2021

[2] The Rev. Ryan Dunn, What is Christian Nationalism

[3] Tim Mackie

[4] F. Dean Lucking in The Christian Century, 10/21/98.

[5] William Stringfellow

[6] H. King Oehmig, D. Min.