Blessings or Troubles: You Get to Choose
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, All Saints’ Sunday, November 6, 2016
I am so very glad to be here with you today, in this sacred place, to worship with you, and to remember the vast network of love and connections that has brought us to this moment in our lives and to this moment in history. On this day we remember and celebrate those close to us whose journey through this life has ended. These friends and loved ones have crossed the threshold from this life to the next, into a new way of being that we, as Christians, believe is a new life of peace and utter wholeness. Their earthly sojourn has ended. Ours continues. Amidst this cloud of witnesses, we realize that we, as individuals, are… in no way…the center of the universe. We are reminded, too, of the many gifts God has given to all us: gifts of life, love and connection. Above us and around us is a shimmering, textured tapestry of life stories that are connected to us by bonds of family and friendship. The names are not merely Ink on paper. A name represents a unique identity that has gathered to itself a wealth of all-too-human experiences…. physical, full bodied, flesh and bone, scraped knees and tender touch life experiences…. Emotional tear-filled and laughter- filled experiences that span the spectrum of human emotional experience from grief and despair to joy and elation… Experiences of awe, and wonder, and oneness… that for many fall into a category they label “spiritual experiences.” Here in this place we are surrounded by a wealth of life experience of those who have gone on before us. And here in this place we are gathered together as a people of God surrounded by saints of all times and of all places… saints whose names are known to us and those whose names have been long forgotten, to all each and every one known to God, saints and sinners alike, for all who have lived have their names recorded in the great “Book of Life.”
Jesus’ walk among us was all about presence, and about teaching and showing us how to live a life of true wealth and meaning. In our gospel lesson today we are not given the full list of Beatitudes that we find in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, Jesus had been up on a mountain with his disciples yet we are told that Jesus doesn’t speak from an elevated place. In Luke Jesus comes down from the mountain to be with the people who sought him out because of their oh-so-human needs and yearnings for healing, and strength and hope. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says: “blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful.” Down on the plain, close to the people Jesus says “blessed are you… blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep.” Eugene Peterson’s version of the Sermon on the Plain from The Message, says it well. Listen closely as I share this version of today’s gospel lesson:
17 Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. 19 Everyone was trying to touch him – so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! 20 Then he spoke: You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. 21 You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning. 22 “Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. 23 You can be glad when that happens – skip like a lamb, if you like! – for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this. Give Away Your Life. 24 But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get. 5 And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. 26 “There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests – look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular. 27 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. 28 When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. 29 If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 30 If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. 31 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
To all whom we love, and all who give us fits of grief… we have much in common. We share the experiences, the challenges and gifts of our vulnerability as flesh and blood humans: those first brave wobbly steps, moments of unfettered wonder as we chase the elusive dandelion as it dissolves and dances in the wind, the painful reality of scuffed knees, the experience of fear and insecurity, searing tears of despair, hot anger, moments of triumph, first love, the wrenching pain of heartbreak and loss, big dreams and big disappointments… challenges, routine, boredom, celebrations, milestones…grief. With each new generation the story begins again… families come together… families grow up and dissolve into new configurations. There is more that unites us than divides us as human beings coming from different cultural backgrounds, having varying political convictions, differing faith traditions or no professed faith at all. And as for various colors and shades of skin… there is great beauty!… We are one family as a human race… Racism is a sin!
Jesus’ message is for this moment, this intersection in time for, this stormy and contentious election time. There has been much ugliness. I imagine Jesus is saying “oy ve” as he plants his palm on his forehead. He has taught us before, and he is teaching us again: Love generously. Listen generously. Live generously. Let those who challenge you the most bring out the best in you. Life is not all fun and games. Know courage. Speak the truth. Stand up for the integrity and dignity of all people and for this sacred earth that has been entrusted to our care. Jesus taught us that “There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.” Remember that you belong… that your life story is still being written… and you are called to participate.
In moments of clarity it is evident to us that life is often hard, that we are not in control, and that we, as with all of the saints who have gone before us, are on a journey marked with signposts reminding us that we are going to die. Until that moment we are invited to live and grow in the knowledge that we are worthy, we are beloved, and that we have the God given power to choose the better way, the gospel way of life for ourselves, and for sake of others. We belong and we have a responsibility to care for the least among us and to show compassion even for those who make our stomachs turn and our blood boil. As we have heard today: “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.”
For each and every one of us has been created in love and endowed with the power to live faithfully as embodied witnesses of the love that stirred us to life. In faithfulness we are called to live fully, to share and share again, and to witness to God’s peace and are caring for all to embody God’s love. And, oy ve! …for Jesus’ sake: Vote for a better way!
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
 Eugene Peterson, The Message New Testament: The New Testament in Contemporary Language, NavPress, 2003.