Sermon for St Mark’s, All Saints Sunday
6th November, 2016, Luke 6.20-31
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Unsettling words, and they ought to be.
These are not your popular beatitudes. What you and I recognize as The Beatitudes are from the Sermon on the Mount. This set, though, is not from a mountain or even a hill, but from an open place, from a teaching nicknamed the Sermon on the Plain. Unlike the familiar list, which has nine things to remember, this set has basically four, but also unlike the familiar these four blessings have parallel warnings attached. For example, “Blessed are you poor” is answered by “woe to you who are rich”. These are not just wise sayings, but wisdom with teeth in it. This morning’s beatitudes are also more personal. The familiar version is a teaching about others: “Blest are those who know their need of God… blest are the sorrowful… blest are those of a gentle spirit”. These, however, are written “Blessed are you who are poor… blessed are you who are hungry… blessed are you who weep now…” These sayings get to the point. They are not spiritualized. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” is a different message than “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
So which is it? These are both from the voice and heart of Jesus, but they are different. And why would we prefer Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit” instead of the more direct and personal, “Blessed are you who are poor”? Maybe it is easier to say “poor in spirit” than “Blessed are you who are poor.” Can you imagine the reception if you said to someone in the Warming Shelter, that they are blessed in their poverty?
The dilemma is better understood if we note that while these are the words of Jesus, they are from two different sources. Jesus wrote no books. The familiar Beatitudes are from Matthew’s memory of a teaching encounter with Jesus, a record which goes on for five chapters. This morning’s list is from Luke’s memory. Scholars believe Luke’s is the original and more accurate version, because the form follows the tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures in which every set of blessings is followed by a set of warnings. Further, Luke’s version is one quarter the size of Matthew’s, and less complicated, perhaps more easily learned by heart until they were written down. Different memories, different forms, but the same voice of Jesus, and the same object - both Matthew’s and Luke’s beatitudes teach the same kingdom of God.
Jesus believed the kingdom is here, now, rather than a reward in the distance after we are dead. Certainly, the kingdom here is incomplete, but it is present, now and here. In every act of generosity, in every experience of breathtaking beauty, the kingdom is present. In every hope and prayer, and every time prejudice and violence is sidestepped, the kingdom is present. In every moment when you and I are suddenly aware of our blessings, when we laugh with a child or weep with one who is grieving, the kingdom is present. When broken hearts are healed, in moments of reconciliation, when you feel God is as close as your breath, the kingdom is present. Whenever fear is cast out and love takes its place, the kingdom is present. No matter the darkness, when one candle is lit, one more light shines, and the darkness will not overcome.
Marcus Borg, commenting on Luke’s beatitudes, wrote
A primary quality of a life deeply centered in God is growth in compassion. This meaning is expressed in perhaps the most concise summary of Jesus’ teaching in the gospels. The verse, Luke 6.36, combines theology (what God is like) and ethics (how we are to live) in a few words: be compassionate as God is compassionate… But compassion is not just a feeling. It is about acting in accord with that feeling. Jesus did not say, “Feel compassion as God feels compassion,” but “Be compassionate as God is compassionate”. (Convictions, p224-5)
In every act of compassion, the kingdom is present, and in every act of compassion, one more candle is lit. Perhaps it is not thoughtful to say to someone in the Warming Shelter, “Blessed are you who are poor…”, but for us to be present in the Warming Shelter in the first place, compassionate and ready to receive from another there – that matters, and the kingdom is present in us.
Today is All Saints Sunday, and we rightly remember those blessed ones who have been the lights of the world in their generations. As has been said, we stand on the shoulders of giants. True enough. Yet no matter how grand our predecessors in faith, if Christian grace is to continue to flow, if there is any passing on of a vision of a compassionate world, if there is to be forgiveness practiced or mercy given, it is up to us. We are the kingdom here. We are the medicine. You and I are the current “translators” of the message of Jesus now. We are the kingdom here. We are the medicine. It is a good thing to be descended from saints, but the light of the world rests now with us.
One other observation about this encounter with Jesus: the popular beatitudes say that Jesus went up on the side of a hill to teach. These, though, have him on a plain. Further, Luke is clear that Jesus “looked up” to see the disciples. Picture this: perhaps he was stooping, or kneeling beside a sick person, someone broken, and he was caring for them. At any rate, he looked up. Perhaps, if you can imagine that scene, he is saying to us, “Come here, and help me.” I am learning that St Mark’s is a profoundly spiritual place. It may be more than what one expects in a church these days, or it may be exactly what a one should expect a Christian Church to be.
St Paul refers to all the worshipping community as “saints”. The Church later canonized special folk, but for Paul, the faithful Christians were saints. That is us, you and me. We are the kingdom here. We are the medicine. Others are looking to us to be the light bearers. Perhaps All Saints Sunday is our day as well. Amen.
PREPARING FOR ALL SAINTS' SUNDAY
Sermon Notes for St Mark’s
30th October, 2016
All Saints Day is Tuesday (11/1), and next Sunday (11/6) is All Saints Sunday.
All Saints Day is a time to celebrate all Christian saints, known and unknown, since the second century of the Christian era.
This is a marvelous day, a major day, as we remember those who have gone before us in this Christian way. They are extraordinary folk, like St. Mark and St, Francis, Martin Luther, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have just finished reading The Heart of a Pastor, a biography of Edmond Browning, and I believe he belongs in this extraordinary company, though he would deny it. I remember in 1997, when the General Convention celebrated his term as Presiding Bishop, a dance group came from South Africa to offer tribute to Bishop Browning. I remember their chant honoring three extraordinary people — Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Edmond Browning. I thought then, what a tribute to be sung with the likes of Tutu and Mandela. Browning belonged there, just as he belongs here at St. Mark’s.
There are others, perhaps known only to you and me, who are also part of that great cloud of Christian witnesses. When we say, “Therefore… with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, “, they are all there, all the saints, and next Sunday we will begin in our prayers to remember them.
This Sunday is important, too, for it is a day to prepare for next Sunday, to consider seriously our financial commitment to the life of St. Mark’s, and to remember those who have gone before us — great saints and local saints.
It has been said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
To help us remember the deep gifts which are ours, tapping into what may be called a “theology of abundance,” here are three questions to reflect on:
1. Who are your saints and angels?
These are the people, living and dead, who touched your life in a special way. Perhaps they were teachers who ignited your passion for a particular book, author, or subject. Perhaps they were friends or strangers who supported you when you most needed help. Perhaps they were colleagues or mentors who’s presence changed your life in a positive way. Perhaps they were musicians or actors or artists or others whom you never met but who inspired you to see life in a new way. Perhaps they were parents, siblings, or other family members.
Sometimes angels show up as “dark” angels. These are people who’s initial impact may have been negative but your experience with them led you to move in a positive direction.
2. Who do you deeply love? How do they know you love them?
Sometimes we fall into ruts with the people closest to us. We forget to tell them we love them, or maybe we never did; We forget how much they mean to us. Make a list of your loved ones. Remember you cherish about each one. Tell them — if not in words, in some small action that comes from your heart.
3. What are your expectations of God?
Sometimes even if our faith is strong we may fear God —- that He will ask things of us that we are unable or unwilling to do; that He will judge us harshly, on earth and/or after death. These fears may be rooted in negative images of God that carry over from painful childhood experiences, misunderstandings about who God is, or misinterpretations of scripture. Healing our images of God may be some of the most important work we can do. Can you learn to see God as He sees you, through the eyes of Love?
Think on these things. Remember Jesus and the holy ones in your life. The opposite of remember is not only to forget, but to “dis-member”, to separate, to take apart. All Saints Sunday, also Pledge Sunday — let it be a day to re-member, to bring ourselves back together, and to discover the whole-ness, the holiness that is already there.
All Saints Sunday, Pledge Sunday — a day to Re-member.
* These notes were edited with permission by Amy Russell
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.