Sermon November 5
Today, we remember saints past and present. I hope you do so with great joy. We joy in their ability to live holy lives, we are thankful for the example they give us and we are hopeful that we can live like them. Sometimes, when we think of saints, we remember people who were persecuted. I think of saints like Stephen who was stoned to death or Perpetua who was mauled by animals in the arena, or perhaps Eric Lidell, a missionary, who died in a concentration camp in World War Two. Maybe you think of quiet, solitary people, like Catherine of Sienna who spent much of her life in a darkened room in prayer and meditation, or Dame Julian who lived her life as a recluse in Norwich. We think somehow that the life of a saint is sad, lonely or depressing. But it is not always so. Many saints were joyful, even funny. They often poked fun at themselves and their human failings.
I found some saintly humor in an article by the Reverend James Martin. In the fourth century, the famed theologian Augustine of Hippo once prayed, “Lord, give me chastity… but not yet”. A little known saint named Philip of Neri lived in the 16th century. He once shaved off half of his beard and went out in public. He said, “Christian joy is a gift from God, flowing from a good conscience”. When a young priest asked Philip what prayer would be the most appropriate to say for a couple after a wedding Mass, the future saint said, “A prayer for peace.” Here is a story about Pope John the 23rd. “the pope visited a Roman hospital called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after entering, he was introduced to the sister who ran the hospital.
“Holy Father,” she exclaimed, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.”
“Well, I must say, you’re lucky,” said the pope, delighted. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”
I share these stories to remind you that saints come in all types and sizes and colors and attitudes. You do not have to be persecuted to become a saint and you don’t have to live a solitary life either. You can be joyful and funny. Today is also a day to remember loved ones who have gone before us. Many of these people are just ordinary, unknown, normal people who lived their lives as part of the Jesus movement.
The scriptures for today were selected to help us focus on the lives of saints. In Revelation, we are given hope and we look forward to the glory of that heavenly kingdom. Many saints went through an ordeal just as Revelation indicates. All of us have struggles in our lives. The saints come to the throne of God and they join together in worshipping God as one unit. Someone pointed out to me the words in our collect: as followers of Jesus we are knit together in one community as members of the body of Christ. We come here to Transfiguration intertwined and connected, supporting each other and praising God together.
Revelation also offers us words of comfort. “Jesus is our shepherd, he will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Can you feel God’s presence in your life, wiping away your tears?
Comfort is offered to us in the Psalm, “those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, and none will be punished who trust in him.”
We hear it often in scripture that we are God’s children. But I ask you today to consider those words of 1 John, all of us are God’s children. We are blessed and when we put ourselves in the hands of Jesus and follow him, we will be pure in our hearts. Our sins will be washed away.
Just as our other readings offer words of comfort so do the beatitudes. ’Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. If you are in mourning, perhaps over the loss of a loved one, this reading is for you. God blesses you and wants you to know that God is with you.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you …Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven”. If you have been attacked or maligned or feel as if the world is against you, God is ready to take you up into God’s kingdom. God cares for the saints, God cares for the followers of Jesus. Our loved ones that have gone before us are cared for by God. It is a source of comfort.
This week, I have been thinking about the various ways to consider our gospel reading of the Beatitudes. One day I found it to be comforting, another day I found it to be challenging, and one day I found it to be about God’s kingdom. Each perspective has the support of various theologians. I believe that God speaks to us in a way that we need to hear his message and that is different for every person. How is God speaking to you?
The Beatitudes challenge us to live our lives in a certain way. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Just as the Good Samaritan went out of his way to help someone who had been left for dead, we may have to go beyond our normal limits, for those who have been mistreated and wronged. Blessed are the merciful. We must be sensitive to the misery that surrounds us and respond with grateful hearts. After all, we might be where the other person is if not for the blessings we have already received from God. Blessed are the meek. Meek in this case means that we are to be humble, not prideful. Blessed are the pure of heart. Now that one is virtually impossible. All of us are sinners. Yet, the more we stay away from our temptations, the more we focus on Jesus, the better are our chances. The goals are lofty and difficult to achieve. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be discouraged. It is as if Jesus wants us to follow in the path of the saints. Saints are people who made mistakes, people who sinned. We just strive to be a little better than we are today and know that God will accept us as we are.
There is one final way for you to consider these beatitudes. Jesus often turns the world upside down. These beatitudes challenge our world view. For example, our world view is that nice guys finish last. But Jesus said blessed are the meek. Isn’t Jesus asking us too reconsider what we have been taught about the meek. Our world view is that you must have a positive attitude in order to succeed. Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is different than the one we encounter on earth. In God’s kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth. Our world view is that we must be stronger than everyone else so we will not be harmed. But Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful. It is just another example of how God’s kingdom will be different than what we have accepted.
Many people think we should seek power, success, fame or wealth. Jesus may be telling us that there is another way. God’s way is different. A former Lutheran professor, David Lose, wrote that this is less about a particular ethic and more about God’s in-breaking kingdom, a promise that God’s kingdom is real and transformative. David invites us to imagine that kingdom, different than the one we experience. It is not about working harder to follow the rules but more about having a new heart, ”one created by God’s own promise to continue to surprise us by who is blessed, who is loved by God”.
When we are able to set our hearts on God’s kingdom, then we no longer feel that we have lost our loved ones. Rather, we celebrate because they have come to that place where God blesses those whom we cannot bless on earth. They are not far off in our memory and love. Rather they can now shower us with love that we find difficult to understand because of how we see things on earth.
When all is said and done, I prefer that last view of the beatitudes. We should be comforted today. We should try to live our lives as each blessing suggests. But those two things are difficult to achieve. Let’s instead look forward with joyful anticipation to God’s kingdom, seeking to bring it to earth and ready to receive it when we die. Let’s celebrate with all the saints, both here on earth and there in heaven and together sing, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever”. Amen.
Last modified on Sunday, 26 November 2017 20:59
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