Matthew 5:1-12 November 3, 2013 – All Saints Day
Before I start today, let me say right up front that I am indebted to the PCUSA website for several parts of our service today … including a good portion of this sermon.
I was a little surprised when I read the Lectionary reading for today and it was the Beatitudes. Maybe it’s just me, but I never really associated the two things … but it makes perfect sense.
In this reading, Jesus is telling his followers how to live. And today we honor those who have lived and already gone home to their great reward.
I made this little banner today because banners were used in the Middle Ages to signify under whose dominion we marched. They were big and bright and bold so you could look toward them and fight on. Then they were planted at the end of battle as a sign of triumphal conquest
But this banner is not a proper banner because the nature of Christian triumph is not like military conquest. Our victory is one of reliance upon God’s power, God’s dominion. Early Christian art for our triumphant, risen Lord depicts a lamb carrying a triumphal banner, but notice that it’s a lamb, a slaughtered innocent on a cross, who is the triumphant one. Christian triumph comes in continuing to carry forth the good news that God, not brute force of Empire, rules. Of course, this means we are vulnerable to also being killed or ripped to shreds with criticism. So our rather tattered ribbon banner is an appropriate one for the church, for this communion of saints, to which we belong.
Truth be told, the Christian life is rather ragged. If you look at the Beatitudes you see a picture of the blessed Christian life, one that is poor, meek, full of grief, hunger, persecution. We have lots of examples of people living those kinds of lives right here in Rochester … right here on Mt. Hope as you know if you’ve read my blog this week.
Put us all together and we Christians are a pretty motley crew … a pretty ragtag bunch. Jesus NEVER says, “believe in me and everything will be clear sailing.” In fact, truth be told … he never said MUCH about believing in HIM … he wanted us to believe in GOD. But that’s a topic for another day.
These Beatitudes are hard THINGS … there’s nothing EASY about them. Look at who he’s addressing … people who are his followers (either currently or potentially) … and he’s blessing them … he’s blessing US: the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and then all of us when people revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falselyon his account.
Not much compared to the mighty Roman legion … OR the mighty United States culture of consumerism and greed.
But there’s an advantage to having a tattered banner: it’s open to the winds of the Spirit blowing through it without obstruction. If I had just a little more time this week, I would have made a banner with strips of cloth or ribbon hanging from the cross bar so that each of us could have used a Sharpie to put the names of loved ones on it.
Then we would have seen a PHYSICAL representation of who we are … different shapes … different textures … some long, some short … some wide, some thin … made up of different fabrics … some of them woven out of something like wool and others sheer like silk … different colors … different degrees of boldness.
All of those differences are represented in the communion of saints… Lives as beautiful and shredded and ordinary as ribbon on a banner.
Sometimes we NEED to talk about the BEAUTY that is represented by the communion of saints. The Christian life is BLESSED, beautiful and good. Sometimes we are persecuted for our beliefs even TODAY. There are Christians TODAY facing torture and death because they believe in Jesus. But the thing is that we are victorious nonetheless.
We may be poor, but we’re rich in blessing.
We may be shattered by grief, but we go on.
In your imagination, do you ever throw a dinner party of various historical characters? You know, like Queen Elizabeth, St. Francis, Shakespeare, John Calvin, Michelangelo, Dorothy Day, Mother Jones, the Apostle Paul—and whoever–all come to the same dinner party. Well, every time we come to worship, to this table, we join the communion of saints who FOREVER feast in God’s glory.
And I don’t know about YOU, but every time we celebrate communion, I am reminded of sights and sounds and smells of other times when I’ve been in communion. I think of Betty Campbell who was old when I was a little girl and a teen growing up at First Presbyterian in Oneonta. She’s been gone a long time, now, but I still see her tall, distinguished profile with the bun on the back of her head and I hear her voice in the Lord’s Prayer … she was the only person I knew (besides my mother) who pronounced e-v-i-l as “e-vil” and not “e-vull.” J
I can still hear the sounds of the glasses in the silver tray when the elders would pass them down the rows. I can hear the heels of the elders (men AND women) in the first church I served as a student intern … a little rural church and their heels sounded as they walked on the wooden floors carrying the elements.
We are a rag-tag bunch chosen by God, aren’t we?
We cover the economic and social spectra … we represent all levels of educational achievement … we are, as some of our literature says, “Blue collar … White collar … No collar.” That’s us. That’s who God has called to be here at South Church. And I just have to say that I, for one, am so glad that we are all here together because it takes ALL of us in our different shapes, our different forms … our different theologies … to be woven together into the tapestry that is strong enough to do the work we have to do.
So let’s give thanks for the rag-tag … and let’s give thanks to God for bringing us ALL … past, present, and FUTURE … to this table to share a meal with our Lord and Savior … our friend and mentor … or brother, Jesus. For we are ALL saints of God and heirs to the Kingdom. And the people of God say … AMEN.