Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Nov. 5, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Nov 5, 2023 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Feast of All Saints

Nov. 5, 2023

Even with the crowds gathering and clamoring for Jesus, he heads up the mountain, taking his disciples with him. This is important. We remember that Moses came down from the mountain to bring The Law, and now Jesus goes up with the disciples to impart the new law, and he will send it down the mountain with them. Like Moses and the Ten Commandments, each of the ‘beatitudes’ are powerful and vitally important. Today I’d like us to reflect on some especially fitting on this All Saints Day celebration. 

Imagine the disciples invited by Jesus up the mountain. Each were called to his circle, one rich in spiritual experiences and awe, constant learning and illumination, which they would spread far and wide. So I wonder, what did they think when Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: the Reign of Heaven is theirs.” He turns what they thought they knew upside down! Poor in spirit means those  without a need for their own righteousness, according to theologian Richard Rohr. More simply put, they are those who don’t need the outside reputations and recognition for validation, who accept (even cultivate) an inner emptiness. 

Jesus is saying they are blessed or happy because they are “the freest of all.” They don’t have to play the roles expected of upper and middle class, nor represent another’s authority to keep their job or roof. We get there ourselves by seeing that ‘things’ or money are not the goal in themselves, but a means to share with others. We are ‘free’ in Jesus’ sense if we are without a paramount need to protect our wealth to the grave, or seek to prove ourselves by it’s presence. Our offertory sentence says we know our treasure not by what we have, but by what we give — what we share freely in service of God. No matter how hard we work, we cannot take anything earthly with us when we die. How telling that we are remembered for the intangible wealth of our hearts. Yes, sadly sometimes this has meant surviving the worst or cruelest hearts, and often people will tell me it was that which made them determined not to repeat that cruelty. So we strive to offer our gifts of love and tenderness, mercy, compassion, authenticity, honesty, generosity, and more. We hope to leave this world having given them freely, and those still on this earthly journey know us by these fruits. As if in emphasis this is one of only two beatitudes worded in the present tense; it is already so. Jesus does not say ‘theirs will be…,’ but rather “theirs is the kingdom [Reign] of heaven. The blessing is here, receiving them and in having given them away to those we love. Now and always.

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” I often hear someone cannot read at a funeral because they’d weep. Why are we so reluctant to cry? To the point of physical pain, we separate ourselves from our grief by closing in feelings and tears. Jesus wept for his friend. Rohr tells us that in the early centuries of the church the more popular Greek Fathers “tended to filter the Gospel through the head” while the Syrians’ theology is much more “in the body.” They even wanted tears to be one of the sacraments of the church (I might have to agree). Having compassion is entering into and sharing another’s pain. Such heart-compassion is how we know God better, and moves us away from self centering, even away from hatred towards those who enrage us. Yes, we must be willing to walk in dark and scary places with someone. To bear pain “without looking for perpetrators or victims” and instead recognizing “the tragic reality in which both sides are trapped. “Tears from God are always for everybody, for our universal exile from home.” (Rohr).

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek can also be translated as gentle or even lowly. Can anyone inherit the earth? Perhaps land a deed or a will says so, but none of us can take it with us when we die. This area was built on once tribal lands, and the people knew we only borrow it for a short time. One can copyright music or a story but the listener cannot un-hear it and give it back; it is ours as long as we recall the beautiful notes or words. Would we even want to posses it all? I couldn’t continue to love exploring museums if deep appreciation only came through owning the art. And yet my amazon boxes keep being coming, so I know this one challenges me!

There was an insightful New Yorker cartoon recently (by Benjamin Schwartz) showing a man standing tall, radiant with pride and achievement, and the caption says, “Gary basks in the glow of a fifteen-minute window with no empty cardboard boxes in the house.” Acquisitiveness is the polite term for greed, and by definition it cannot ever be satisfied, because that’s not the real yearning. Augustine of Hippo said “Our hearts are restless until the rest in God.” (The confessions of Saint Augustine, Book 1). Put another way Jesus points us to “choose emptiness until it looses it’s terror.” (Rohr)

Any who wrote a name on a ribbon today – did the moment elicit the emptiness of missing that person? In many cases we would happily give anything we ‘own’ to have them back in the flesh. We know those we love are immeasurably more important than the box arriving next week or the number in our bank account.

These are names of people we mourn, and I have yet to make it through writing names each year without feeling tears welling up. To mourn is right and tears are encouraged. That pain deep in your soul is possibly the only way to see through the veil of death into eternal life in Christ. Those we mourn are with us, and as you often hear me say, they are with us in the sacraments every time, in God’s time. We are surrounded by those saints who went before us and those yet to come. No one prays today without a name on their lips. 

To hunger and thirst for justice is what we all feel, yet have that hunger fulfilled is nearly unimaginable these days. It is our compassion and identification with people who most need justice and suffer without it which is the start of a just life. Even learning what is going on in places and peoples unlike the relative safety of our lives is a start of that justice. Participating in Sacred Ground was filled with learning and telling the stories, opening hearts to what we didn’t know we didn’t know – and it changed us. Matthew’s phrasing suggests a state of constant thirst and hunger for justice, and I think that’s right. If we feed hungry people or spend time with those suffering injustice we come close enough to feel that hunger. It is our work to move past the superficial labels or substitute panaceas, and get down to what is the heart’s desire, renewed and implanted by God. What were the lessons given you by those whose names you wrote or even the people who came to mind after you sat down? Are we people who obsesses over how unfairly we are treated, or are we primarily concerned by how you see and treat others? (Brooks).

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. We don’t use the word ‘mercy’ much in daily interaction. Not as a personal act anyway. To be merciful means again setting aside the me-isms of our culture and trying to see the other as God might see them—like with forgiveness. Neither are things we can get on demand nor can we earn them or nail them down in a contract. Mercy is a gift, whether to us or from us, as part of being made in the likeness of God. God’s nature is mercy. At the 8am service the prayer just before Communion says “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness…But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” God’s mercy became part of humankind in creation, we have received it ever since and are called upon to give it always. 

Which leads into “blessed are the peacemakers.” That word is used only once in the whole of scripture. I wonder why since the need for reconciliation of differences and mending of relationships is endless. Even as we try to be peacemakers violence rises quickly and too often. There is no violence in peacemaking as Jesus uses it. One Greek definition is one who bravely declares God’s terms which makes someone whole. No one can be whole when conflict or war threatens our life because it is about gaining power over someone or something. To be called ‘children of God’ is indeed how peacemakers are blessed, and Jesus calls us to seek that common child in each other, hard as that may be.

David Brooks’ article this past week was, “How to Stay Sane in Brutalizing Times” which is a wide variety catalogued, and each one here could add to it. Brooks says we all have a choice; “You can try to avoid thinking about the dark realities of life and naïvely wish that bad things won’t happen. Or you can confront these realities and develop a tragic mentality to help you thrive among them… This tragic sensibility prepares you for the rigors of life in concrete ways.” First, it teaches humility, “nurtures a prudent approach to life,” and encourages people’s awareness of the downsides of their actions and to work to head them off. To me his most important point is that the world’s “tragedies thrust the harsh realities of individual suffering in our faces, and in them we find our common humanity.” (NYT November 2, 2023.)

To be called ‘children of God’ is indeed how peacemakers are blessed, and how the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the gentle ones, are known. Jesus calls us to seek that common child in each other,

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Richard Rohr’s book, Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount, Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition. 

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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