Standing in the midst of blessing

Sunday after All Saints Day – November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

 It’s so good to see all of you! I’m recognizing faces. This is fun!   This is a special day. This is the day that we remember all of those saints who have gone before us. All those saints who have given us a pattern for Christian living—those we’ve known, those we’ve held in our hearts, those we see no longer. We know their stories. They have been so important to us. We also know the stories of those other saints, the saints we’ve never met—from centuries ago or just decades ago. People whose stories are also known to us. People whose stories have come to us through other people who have had direct experience with them. As we think of those saints, we each have our own ideas about what sainthood is all about. About holiness—what makes people holy. We all have our own sense of that. And the people in Jesus’ time were really clear—clear about holiness. They had the law. The law described exactly what made people holy. And they had the interpretation of the law that made it even clearer. They knew what holy people looked like. Everybody knew. They looked like God’s favorite kids. They were respected. Most of them were rich, and they say in the front pew in the synagogue, so everybody could see them. Everybody knew what holy people looked like in Jesus’ time.

So when Jesus takes the disciples up the mountain and sits down and starts telling them God’s idea of holiness, you got to believe they were surprised. Listen again to those words that Jesus gave them:

Blessed are the poor.

 Blessed are those who mourn.

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Then he went on to teach. Only after he told the people how blessed they were–in all their situations—did he go on to teach. Today’s gospel portion, which we call the Beatitudes–the Blessings—is way back in the fifth chapter of Matthew. We’ve been way up in 25 and 26—up in that range—but now we’re way back in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This is his first public teaching. It goes on for about three chapters, and it’s full of “You have heard it said, but now I tell you….” And he begins this teaching by turning upside down the expectation of what holiness looks like. Before he begins to tell us how we are to live, he reminds us that we are blessed. No matter what’s happening. No matter what kind of situation we find ourselves in, we are blessed. When we’re in all kinds of situations, we are blessed.

(Long silence)

That just kind of hit me. This is twice now I’ve said this today, but it just kind of hit me. The depth and strength of this blessing. We sometimes tend to think that we have to work for this blessing—that we have to be like Mother Teresa doing marvelous things—that we have to be like the martyrs who died in the arenas—that we have to be like Dr. Martin Luther King who began a movement that’s still shaking our world. But that’s not what it’s about. We’re not blessed because we do something spectacular. We’re not blessed because we’re in trouble, either. We’re not blessed because we’re poverty-stricken, in spirit or in goods. We’re not blessed because we mourn or we’re meek or we’re merciful. All of those things are built in the blessing we’re already in. We can’t earn that blessing. We don’t have to earn that blessing—that’s the Good News. That blessing is there. It flows out of God’s unbelievably, overwhelmingly, exuberant and extravagant love—that just flows out like water. I gave the example this morning about what happens when you forget to turn off the water in the bathroom sink, and the plug is in, and a couple of hours later you notice that the water is going down the hall. It’s overflowing, it’s filled the room, it’s going down the hall, it’s going out the front door. You can’t stop it, and that’s what God’s love is like. That’s where God’s blessing comes from.

The blessing that we experience every day, in so many ways.

And you folks here have been living in this blessing for fifty years, almost. I think you’re at 47 years since the founding of this church. That’s a lot of years and a lot of blessing. A lot of saints have been moving around with you during that time. I think of John Buenz, who’s still going places and doing things. He was the first one who was with you as your pastor. And John Buenz is a saint! And so are all the other people who began this church so many years ago. And in these years, a lot of things have happened. There have been times of great joy and great sadness. There have been times of celebration and mourning. There have been times of stability and uncertainty. And in all that time, you have been held in the blessing. It’s always been there. It always will be there—no matter what happens.

And we’re all called to be saints in the middle of that blessing. Sainthood is not about being perfect. It’s about being present to God and to ourselves. It’s about owning our failures and our fears, our shame and our sorrow and bringing them and all our gifts—all the gifts that God has given us—bringing them to our relationship with the Holy—bringing them and opening ourselves to the fullness of God’s love. Opening ourselves to the God who creates us and continues to love us, no matter what our circumstance. Our sainthood lies in our willingness to open ourselves to what God has to give us. And when we do that, we know that God is present with us.

And today—47 years later—we stand here wondering what’s going to be happening. We stand here, and we stand in the midst of blessing.

Today, as we bring our pledges and place them on the altar, giving back to God the gifts God has given us, we stand in the midst of blessing. Today, as we remember all the years of this community and as we give thanks for all the people who have been born here and baptized and confirmed and received into this community, we stand in the midst of blessing. As we look to the future—as we welcome new people into our midst—we stand in the midst of blessing. And as we gather today in fellowship and begin discerning our future—as we help the Search Committee begin to figure out how to build on the profile that you put together so carefully and so well four years ago, we stand in the midst of blessing. And we who are blessed—all of us!—are called to be saints.

Thanks be to God.