Thunderstruck with Blessing
All Saints Sunday – November 2, 2014
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA
How many of you here have ever stood on your head? Or hung upside down from the branch of a tree? Or maybe have dangled upside down from monkey bars on the playground? Have you ever looked at the world as if everything is turned upside down? I think that is what Jesus helping us to do in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was getting famous as he went on his walking tour through Galilee towards Jerusalem… during which he taught and he healed people…. and raised some commotion. Jesus made appearances in fields, in villages, in synagogues, in homes… sharing a vision that was upside down from the world of hardship and fear that the people were experiencing. They worried about the Roman soldiers who roamed the streets. They had to struggle to earn a living…. to catch enough fish, to sell enough pots, to weave enough cloth, to put enough food on the table, to take care of sick family members as there were no hospitals in their day. As Jesus walked from the north of the country southward, with his disciples in tow, he healed the sick and eased their pain, and he gave them comfort and hope and strength with his teachings and with his compassion. Great crowds began to follow him because they were hungry for a vision of a new world in which things would be different… very different… in which there would be peace, and justice and well being for all. The vision that Jesus offered was upside down from the world they knew. Even now Jesus is trying to tell us this… that God is calling us to a better way… a way of knowing that we are blessed…calling us to live into that blessing and to go out and share God’s blessing in the world. Jesus taught the people… who were hungry for a better way… saying… “Blessed are”…. the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted for righteousness sake… for justice and truth…
I want to share a story about a blessing that took place at a used car dealership. John Philip Newell shares a memory of his father in his newly published book entitled “The Rebirthing of God.” John’s father had once been a physician but he was now suffering from dementia. His family was grieving the slow loss of their father as their connections to him, through their once shared memories, kept on falling away. It was hard to lose him bit by bit. Even as his mind was fading the family noticed that father’s feelings were now very close to the surface. These feelings were like “a strong river” flowing through him. In fact, “[his feelings] were flowing more uninhibitedly than ever before..” There was a favorite blessing that John’s father had carried with him throughout his life… it is the “Priestly Blessing” that is found in the book of Old Testament book of Numbers (6:24-25). It begins with the words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. The Lord lift up his countenance to you, and give you peace.” In father’s new state of free flowing feelings he felt compelled to dispense this blessing to everyone he met.
Because John’s father was still trying to drive (not a good idea) it came time to sell the family car. John phoned a local car salesman to made an appointment warning the salesman father would be coming along… and not be surprised if his father would appear to be confused. John also asked a favor the salesman. John said “…please honor [my father] by speaking to him, not to me. This is his car. And I’ll be there with him.”
The salesman was very gracious about this. The next day, when the three met at the car dealership, there was much humor in the conversation and, of course, some absurdity. John’s father asked, “Now how much money do I owe you for this car?” The salesman replied, “No, no Dr. Newell. We want to give you money for the car.” John’s father turned to him and said, “This is very generous of them!”
The salesman handed John’s father a check. Then John felt moved to say to the salesman, “Whenever I part from my father or whenever we finish a telephone conversation, he gives me a blessing. And I think he would like to bless you now.” John tells us:
So there we were, standing in the middle of the car showroom. My father took the salesman’s hand, looked straight into his eyes, and said, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
As the blessing concluded tears began streaming down the young salesman’s face. He had experienced a true blessing at a most unexpected time and in a most unexpected place. But isn’t that what we should expect! And we are to do likewise.. maybe not with a formal blessing… but maybe… but more importantly with our simple words and actions… being gracious to neighbors and strangers… offering them the blessing of a kind look, or word, or gesture, an invitation that is a simple reminder that they are precious and valuable … God is calling us to a vision of heaven on earth in which all of God’s children know that they are blessed… and that they all are… that we are all… called to be faithful witnesses this holy vision.
I want to share another story about a woman named Sara. She grew up not believing in any kind of God, or heaven, or even the possibility that there was different way of looking at life and the world. One day Sara was walking by St. Gregory of Nyssa church in San Francisco and she thought: “I wonder what is going on in there?” As an experienced journalist she has written several books rooted in her experience that day. She said:
I was just curious. I’m a reporter. I’m curious. I like to poke my nose in places, and I walked into this building thinking, “Huh, wonder what’s going on in there?” And then a woman put a piece of fresh bread in my hand and gave me a goblet of some rather nasty, sweet wine. And I ate the bread and was completely thunderstruck by what I felt happening to me. So I stood there crying, completely unsure of what was happening to me. I got out of the church as quickly as I could before some strange, creepy Christian would try to chat with me. I came back the next week because I was hungry, and I kept coming back and kept coming back to take the bread.
Sara joined the church and began participating in the life and ministry of the congregation. She began helping to serve communion at the altar and she volunteered to help distribute food at the congregation’s Friday food bank. Sara eventually became the director of the food bank… a place of welcome to everyone. She says:
We offer food to everybody without exception. We offer food to whoever walks in the door. We’re the people that nobody wanted. You know, we’re gay people and we’re poor people and we’re people living on the streets. And we’re old ladies and cripples and whores and little children and foreigners and exactly the kind of people Jesus liked to hang out with.
We have a ministry of “Just Soup” here at St. Paul’s that has the same spirit of welcome. There is no better way to know the feeling od belonging than breaking bread together around a dinner table or around a communion table. We are called to be members of a beloved community… a community lives into the joys of challenges of Jesus’ way… a way that is upside down from the world of clicks and celebrity… upside down from a world in which power is used to put down and oppress others… In God’s realm power is shared, our differences are celebrated, and we are to know, deep down, that we truly belong.
There is another version of the Sermon on the Mount from Eugene Peterson’ “The Message.” This is not so much an academic translation as an attempt to convey a personal interpretation for our time. Jesus is up on the mountain and he is saying to us, his disciples:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is Most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. God is food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution: The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do!
And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
On this All Saints Sunday, as we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have blessed us with their love and with their friendship… We open our hearts and minds to the greater realm that is forever seeking to break down the limits we impose on our selves and on our days… We are called to live into the bigness of this family of blessing… and with gladness… we are called to risk sharing this blessing. Christ invites us to walk this way, to do this way, to live this way. Being a saint is not about being extraordinary or performing miracles. Jesus picked his disciples that were just as flawed and imperfect as you and I… and he gave the them power to share the Good News that heaven is seeking, not just fleeting moments in our awareness, but permanent concrete residency with us on earth. We have the power to share this good and holy message… So may we go forth from here fed and blessed… and with our blessing invite the world to join the great party.
 John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Pubishing, 2014, pg. 22.
 Sara Miles in and interview from “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,” aired May 25, 2007.
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, Colorado Springs: NovePress, 1993, Matthew 5:1-12.