My first “official” sermon at Trinity/Pointe of Grace.
November 6: All Saints Sunday
Gospel: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: The Beattitudes
The Kingdom of God is like a Mustard Seed. The Kingdom of God is like a woman baking bread. The Kingdom of God is a farmer who planted seeds. It is a man searching in his field; it is a woman looking for her lost coin. It is a shepherd going to search for one lost sheep. It is a Father running with open arms.
Jesus, in the Gospels, spends an awful lot of time putting faces on this “kingdom of God” –this Community of God. We can say what we want about his choice of characters for his stories, but we cannot say they are faceless or abstract.
Jesus was good at this—at putting faces in his stories—and about putting stories in peoples’ minds; he brought out examples they could actually understand; they were tangible references to a God that we can only hope to grope and grasp for…
And because time and fashions and cultures of hundreds of years have passed—we have de-faced these stories of God’s community.
We have been calloused by the media, our society, and by our own experiences. Or, we have heard these stories too many times that they have seemed to lose their effect on us.
For whatever reason—God’s Community doesn’t sound like it used to. To me, it sounds more like a nice sub-division—maybe somewhere on Harbour Pointe Blvd. Or, maybe this subdivision is over on the Peninsula—and you have to take a fairy just to get there. Wherever it is, it’s a nice place with a gate in front and a tree-lined cobblestone driveway.
This idea of “God’s Community” is a nice place to spend the afternoon, to get away for the weekend—but we don’t live here year-round.
It’s not permanent.
We pack up and load the car and get ready to go—we go find it. God’s Community doesn’t usually come to find us.
The Jesus from that imaginary Gospel of a gated community is casually leaning against a rock, sipping communion wine and breaking bread with his buddies—holding up one baby-soft hand saying, blessed art thou. This Jesus is dressed in a red robe with a blue scarf/sash. He is soft-spoken…
After all, Saints are the people that live in God’s Community—that gated community with cobblestone driveways and nice trees. They are as the Gospel says… Blessed. They are the ones inheriting the earth, full of righteousness and justice, and mercy. These Beatitudes are characteristics that we are supposed to strive for…because REAL CHRISTIANS ACT THIS WAY, LIVE THIS WAY…Right? That’s what I’ve been taught.
Is this like those signs at the front of Amusement park rides saying: You must be this tall to ride this ride:: Are the Beatitudes God’s way of saying—you must be this holy to enter into my community?
NO. No. No.
The Lesson from 1 john today tells us that we ARE children of God. It’s not a formula for how to become children—it is a title put on us just as we are. We are members of God’s family. Right now, just as we are…
In john’s vision of Revelation he speaks about tears being wiped away, a celebration of the old made new. Sometimes we can assume this is “the afterlife;” someday, things will be better.
But then we get to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ big sermon. He is traveling around Galilee. He gathered his disciples and since then he has been going from town to town healing people of every kind of disease, driving out demons, curing the paralyzed, and spending time and much energy on people society has cast aside—has pushed away, has forgotten. They are the untouchables and they are full of shame. And Jesus comes to them. He touches them. And they are healed—immediately. He doesn’t give them a certain prayer to pray—they leave changed.
Eventually the crowds begin to follow him, and he finds a bigger place for people to go. He winds up on the hillside of a mountain—people waiting beside him. He looks out to the crowds—what does he see?
He sees the faces of the sick that he has healed; he hears the pleas of the ones who carried their family and friends to his feet. He feels the excitement and hope of the voices who have just had their family or friend restored to them. And—he recognizes the silence in those who seem to have no hope left.
And he says: You’re blessed. You are the honored ones, you are the favored ones—you are in. God’s Community is made up of people like you.
Could it be that the Divine is reaching in and up and through and into our daily lives? Could it be that the family of God is living—today—not someday in heaven, but it is happening right now?
Could it be that we are also the ones providing this blessing to those around us? What would it look like if we were to welcome those around us, to wipe away tears, to sit with those who are mourning, and to say to one another—you are in. You are welcome, you are blessed.
We assume that we can only be a part of these blessings once we reach a certain level of “saintliness.” But saintliness is something I live out every day because I am in God’s family. I am loved, and forgiven—but I am not yet perfect.
I wonder what God’s Community would look like if we claimed our identity as “saints” first, and sinners—second? Steeped in the Lutheran tradition we love the word and concept of “Grace.” But, in order to have grace—there must be sin…right?
My sinner side of me tells me that I am not holy enough, meek enough, or merciful enough to enter into or live in God’s Community. My sinner side of me tells me that I am not enough, that I am not doing enough—and I feel shame because of my actions, or lack of action.
But I have to go back to the hillside—where Jesus is teaching, reflecting on the vision before him—the Kingdom of God at hand. God’s Community being lived out. And I read in the stories that I am also in God’s Community. Right now, I am in God’s Community. That makes me—that makes you—a saint.
My saint side of me is reassured that I am in fact enough, because I have been born into the Family of God—there is no entrance exam. I am reassured that what I am doing is searching to love the world in a compassionate way—that reflects my own searching for God. This does not mean I fix every problem that I see, or heal every heartache. But I can in fact, sit with those who are mourning. I can help others to see the world as I see it, and I can learn from those who see the world differently than I do.
I question if what I am doing matters—if there is room on that hillside for me to sit? Life in God’s family is living in the awkward embrace of who we are, and who we are becoming.
God’s Community is made up of the Preschool kids who come here Monday through Friday. They are curious and in awe of the world around them. They are in. They are blessed.
The high school students who come on Wednesdays are a part of God’s Community. They share life together, they trust one another and are vulnerable with one another. They are in. They are blessed.
The ones who dig their hands deep into the dirt of the Community Garden are part of God’s Community. They are caretakers of the earth and help to teach us to love the ground. They are in. They are blessed.
We who are gathered here—we are a part of God’s Community. We struggle together and wrestle with the question of what does it mean to worship God? We are in. We are blessed.
We don’t have to climb a mountain to be blessed by God—God welcomes us to the table—just as we are.
Today is All Saint’s Sunday. We celebrate and remember those who have traveled this journey of faith before us. And, in many cases—we grieve our loss because they are no longer here to guide us on our own journey.
But we also celebrate that we have already joined them. It’s not as the song says:
Oh when the saints go marching in—how I want to be in that number.”
It should go something more along the lines of—how glad I am to be in that number.
Coming to the table is one way of living out our call as saints—not covering up the shame from our imperfections. We come to the table so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good—that in this community there is space for all. We sit with those who have gone before us, we leave room for those who will come after us, and we recognize that those seated around us are our current partners and workers in God’s Community.
And as we leave, we take this meal with us. To share the crumbs that we have received with the multitudes we find in our own lives.
We don’t have to climb a mountain to be blessed by God. We are saints first, and through us the Divine touches our everyday life, and continues to re-form us. We are welcomed to the table—just as we are. We are in, and we are blessed.