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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It's For Your Own Good

Thanksgiving Message 2013 ~ 
John 6:25-35

Giving thanks is an important exercise, and living in gratitude is a fundamental characteristic of people of faith. Living thanks-giving lives allows us to reflect on all the ways in which we are truly blessed. We were all taught as children that it is appropriate and even essential to say thank you for gifts and compliments, for kindnesses and even for a job well done. We thank people for a whole host of things, and we give thanks in a lot of different ways.

Yet, while we were taught that giving thanks is the polite and appropriate thing to do, in a lot of ways, expressions of gratitude are actually more beneficial for the person giving thanks than for the person receiving thanks, even if that is not always the way it seems. When we give thanks in our personal lives, we are humbled to acknowledge that good things come from outside ourselves, and that in some way we are indebted to the giver, not in the way of reciprocity, but in our attitude, in our heart, and even sometimes, in our behavior.

When we offer our thanks to another, we honor them for a contribution they have made to our lives, for a gift they have imparted, or for the benefit we have received at their hand. Today we gather together to acknowledge before God and in the company of one another that as individuals, as families, as a church, and as a nation, we are blessed. No matter what challenges we face in any of those spheres in our lives, there is much for each of us individually, as a community, and as a nation to give thanks for. In particular we give thanks for bountiful harvests and for all the gifts imparted by God for our physical sustenance and betterment.

In the past few weeks there has been a good deal of focus on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy once said that she feared that the way he died would overshadow the way he had lived. But I wanted to bring some of his words to you today, as we contemplate what this holiday means for our living, for us as individuals and as a nation. These words come from Proclamation 3560, issued by Kennedy on November 5, 1963,

“Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.
So too when the colonies achieved their independence, our first President in the first year of his first Administration proclaimed November 26, 1789, as "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God" and called upon the people of the new republic to "beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions... to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue . . . and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best."
And so too, in the midst of America's tragic civil war, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November 1863 as a day to renew our gratitude for America's "fruitful fields," for our "national strength and vigor," and for all our "singular deliverances and blessings."

Following further reflections of his own, President Kennedy declared,
Now, Therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, [55 Stat. 862 (5 U.S.C. 87b)], designating the fourth Thursday of November in each year as Thanksgiving Day, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 28, 1963, as a day of national thanksgiving.
On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.”
Still, there are some who question why we need to come to church to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. After all, it is a national holiday, a secular holiday. With emphasis on the separation of church and state being stronger perhaps than it ever has been before, why have some of us chosen to gather together this day?

The first reading for today, this text from the book of Deuteronomy, lays out for the people of Israel the appropriate response for thanksgiving – the offering up to God the first fruits of the ground. For this agrarian people, that meant making an offering to God of the first cutting or first harvest from the land, trusting that God would keep God’s promise to care for them and therefore there would indeed be further “fruits”, more to harvest for their own consumption. For herding peoples the first fruits would be the fatling lamb or goat or calf. It is here that we find support for a theology of tithing. We return to God first and foremost what we ourselves have received, harvested, done, because in having received all things first from God the first fruits are holy.

This week we celebrate a national Thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest, for homes, families, and for all that we need to survive and thrive in love for God and one another. And as the people of God and the Body of Christ here in this time and place, we are drawn together in holy love by this Lord who offered himself up as the first fruits of God’s bountiful plan of redemption, and feeds us himself, the bread of life.

We come together today because we know ourselves first and foremost as people of God; and as people of God everything in our lives is framed in holy thanksgiving, first giving thanks to God for the richness of God’s grace and mercy to us. Before we gather in our homes, before we break out the turkey or keep our reservations at the inn, before we begin any other celebration of this holiday, it is entirely right and salutary that the first fruits of our joy and gratitude are laid at the altar of God’s grace. God desires this of us, but we truly need to do this. We need to be reminded of God’s gracious good will to us.

Jesus modeled this attitude of thanksgiving for us himself, when he himself thanked God at every opportunity, when he instituted the Lord’s Supper by first giving God thanks and praise, when he offered himself as the first fruit of the dead.

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, may we be reminded and inspired by these words, of the late president, trusting that in the precious meal of this bread of life, we will be endlessly given all that we need to accomplish God’s will.  “let us earnestly and humbly pray that [God] will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.”

 May it be so.

Forget Me Not

 Luke 23:33-43 ~ Christ the King 
I read a story recently about a woman named Jill who has the first diagnosed case of hyperthymestic syndrome. This is the continuous, automatic, autobiographical recall of every single day of her life since she was 14 years old. She is now nearly 50. For some reason yet unknown, her brain has been cataloguing each and every day for more than thirty years now, storing information that can be recalled either by date or by event. November 14, 1981, she’ll tell you was a Saturday, her dad's 45th birthday, and that night she was initiated into a group that she was joining at school. July 18, 1984 was a Wednesday: a quiet summer day, when she picked up the book Helter Skelter and read it for the second time.

Ask her about a particular event and she can tell you not only the date on which it occurred, but also the day of the week it happened to be. The end of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound: Monday, April 19, 1993. The final episode of MASH: Monday, February 28, 1983 a rainy day in L.A.; the next day while she was driving her car, the windshield wipers stopped working.

She says her memories are like scenes from home movies, constantly playing in her head, relentlessly flashing forward and backward through the years. The emotion of them isn't dialed down as she recalls them, either; they are exceptionally vivid. It's as though she’s actually living through the events again, she says. I wonder how such remembering in fact shapes Jill’s life and her actions.

Memory and remembering, are both blessing and curse. There are days when I could wish for a memory like Jill’s. Instead I’m stuck with a memory that is contrary. It often fails to recall details I’d like to or need to recall, while at the same time refusing to allow me to shake the memory of some things I long to forget.

For example, I have been known to miss a meeting or an appointment because I misremembered or plumb forgot where I needed to be or when I needed to be there. Earlier this week I drove an hour to a meeting only to arrive to find the building empty. I had forgotten that the meeting had been moved to another venue, in another town altogether. And the busier I am with “life” the more likely I am to let things slip the bounds of my memory.

I find that the older I get the more I struggle to remember things that I used to know like the back of my hand. Yet I vividly remember some things I’d much rather forget. Like mistakes I’ve made, things I’ve done wrong, people I’ve hurt, injury I’ve received from other people, losses I’ve suffered. Some embarrassments stay with me and memories of traumatic events still elicit many of the same emotions as they initially did. Is it the same for you?

Memory can soften over time, which is sometimes a good thing, and yet for those for whom it slowly leaks out and disappears, and for their loved ones, grief of the loss of memory is profound. 

Remembrance is important in all kinds of ways and there is ample evidence that something about remembrance is at the core of faith. Remembering, in fact, is noted throughout the gospel of Luke. At the very beginning of the gospel in both Mary’s song and Zechariah’s, God remembering God’s promise of mercy and of salvation are embraced – not only does God remember God’s promises, but God acts on those promises.  Later, in the parables of Jesus, Abraham tells the rich man who hoarded his riches to remember how he had lived. Following the crucifixion, when the women carried spices to the tomb and found it empty, two men in dazzling clothes stood before them and told them to remember how, when Jesus was with them in Galilee he had foretold not only his death but also told them that he would rise from the dead. The women indeed remembered and they ran to tell the disciples what had happened. Remembrance involves first seeing the picture and then acting out an appropriate response.

In our gospel text for today, we hear these words from one of the criminals, the second one to speak: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” With those words this man, who confesses that he himself belongs up there hanging to death on a cross for he has done things in his life, has in fact earned his place there, at the same time, confesses that Jesus is Lord. He confesses that the ultimate kingdom is one in which Jesus reigns. Yet Jesus is hanging on a cross just like him, suffering just like him.
The criminal isn’t asking Jesus to remember that he was a bad man, or even to remember him as a person at all. He wants Jesus to remember his confession. He wants Jesus to remember his faith, as late in the day as it may have come. Still, sinner that I am, remember, Jesus, I believed. Jesus, as you come into your kingdom, as you come into your reign, remember me. I doubt very much that the criminal really understood what it was he was asking. But he recognized that Jesus had the power not only to remember him in paradise, but to act on that memory.

Isn’t it what we all want?

We celebrate Christ the King Sunday today, the last Sunday of the “church year” and on the surface we might question why, on a Sunday that is supposed to point to the kingship of Christ, we would read this gospel account. Look around – we celebrate this day as a festival Sunday! Yet in our gospel for this day, no one except this lone criminal seems to get it, no one else seems to understand that Jesus has any power. After all he is hanging on a cross! This gospel doesn’t mention kingship, it is a Good Friday reading – it speaks to death! That certainly doesn’t illustrate “power” in any credible way, does it?

In Luke’s gospel, as Jesus hangs there, what is happening around him? The people stand and watch; the leaders scoff at him; the soldiers mock him; the first criminal derides him. Like Satan once did in the wilderness, they all seem to be saying “save yourself” if you can. Indeed, if any of those witnesses had any inkling that some of what they had heard about Jesus was at all true, they are standing around most likely waiting for the show to begin. Because surely, if Jesus is the Son of God, if Jesus has come to reign, then he is not about to actually suffer the pain and humiliation and scandal of dying like a criminal alongside criminals on this device of torture. Because that is not godly. That is not evidence of power, but just the opposite.

And yet, this king, this Messiah, has done nothing according to any human script, has he? His birth in a stable was about as humble as it can get. He stirred up trouble wherever he went, he ate with tax collectors and sinners, he preached about a God who loves the whole world and not just a few chosen people, he healed the sick and embraced the poor, (on the Sabbath, yet) and proclaimed resurrection of the dead would come through him, to all who would believe.

Christ does indeed reign as king, in an entirely new realm and new world order, initiated through his death on the cross and his rising again. We know that through his death on the cross Jesus indeed had the last word, because that death could not hold him, the grave could not hold him, the stone was rolled back and with it the veil of death was torn in two and new life began.

In this text we observe that as Jesus hung on the cross, in his agony, he did two things: He forgave, and He offered salvation. Jesus looked this man in the eye. He regarded him and accepted him for who he was, he remembered God’s promises to him, and he acted on that memory and gave him a second chance. Jesus assured him his place in Paradise. Because that is how the realm of Jesus works.

In the realm of the kingdom of God, in the power and authority of Christ the King, there is new life, hope and grace. Above all, in the realm of Christ our King, there is the kind of love that never gets tired of giving second chances.

In the kingdom of God there is remembrance for each of us. Jesus himself told us it is true. As Jesus looks us in the eye, and loves us, accepts us, and forgives us, he embodies God’s promise of redemption for each and every one of us, no matter what. The ultimate judgment of the world happens at the Cross, where Jesus, through his suffering and death has earned our salvation. At the cross, Jesus gave each of us new life.

Remembrance is important, and it is formative. As people of faith, and as the Body of Christ, we remember that Christ is King, who bought for us an eternal kingdom through his dying and rising again.

Each time we gather in this place, we remember all that God has done for us and we remember the stories of our faith that never fail to have import for today. As we gather at the table we remember the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and we remember our own deliverance from sin through the power of the cross. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that whenever we partake of the precious body and blood of our savior, we do this in remembrance of him. And that remembrance shapes our faith and provokes us to action on behalf of the kingdom of God.  

What might our lives look like if they were always living out the prayer, “Jesus remember me”? What would our lives look like if we began each day acknowledging Christ as reigning over our lives and then praying that prayer? How would each day be shaped if we intentionally remembered Christ’s power and grace, and then acted on it?

Let us pray, Remember us in your kingdom. Amen.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Trouble With Questions

Luke 20:27-38 

A friend of mine tells this story from her annals of parenthood:

Becky has two children, both adults now; the elder one, a girl named Katie, was a bright and precocious child. Colin, two or three years Katie’s junior was a sweet, loving, child described by his parents as a “boy’s boy” - an active, inquisitive, boisterous child who often got on Katie’s and, truth be told, his parents’, last nerve.

One day, Colin was into a favorite pass-time; he was in question-asking mode, bombarding Becky with question after question. “What is really inside dinosaur bones?” “How do flour and water turn into bread in the oven?” “What happens to bubbles when they burst?” “Where do all the bugs go in winter and why can’t I see them?” Patiently, Becky answered each question, lovingly trying to make sense of the physical world for her son. She carefully framed each answer to make sense to her preschooler, so that Colin’s natural curiosity about the world would be encouraged and he would know that his thoughts and his questions, even the tough ones, were valued.

As usual, there were some questions to which Becky would have to answer truthfully, “I don’t know the answer to that, Colin. “But it’s a good question,” she would say, and then follow up with ways they could find the answer together, or come to terms with the fact that even for adults, there are sometimes no good answers to the questions we ask. Finally, Colin asked a question, that stumped Becky, and while she struggled to frame an answer in her mind, Katie piped up, “Colin, that is a stupid question!” To which Becky quickly responded, “Katie, there is no such thing as a stupid question!”

Apparently Katie took this as a challenge.

Thus began the barrage of the dumbest, most idiotic questions Katie could conjure up. Not to be outdone, and catching on quickly to this new game, Colin chimed in with a few ridiculous questions of his own.

Having raised three children of my own I have to chuckle, as I can relate to Becky’s experience. Can you? And I always remember her story when I read one of the passages from the gospels like today’s, where people are asking Jesus questions just to trip him up.

As we’ve moved through the gospel of Luke, there have been lots of instances when the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jewish community have challenged Jesus, his knowledge and authority by asking questions – if not stupid questions, then certainly trick ones. In the gospel text from Luke that we heard today, which is the only time the Sadducees are even mentioned in Luke’s gospel, they ask Jesus questions not to gain knowledge but to try and trap him as in a children’s game but with much higher stakes. But Jesus is ready for them. He knows their intent. He uses even this test to teach those within hearing about God’s gracious will and intent for God’s people.

This scene unfolds as Jesus’ nears the end of his journey to the cross. In just the past few chapters of this gospel, Jesus has been acclaimed by the crowds following him as he approaches Jerusalem, and once he arrives there, he clears the Temple of those selling sacrifices there, and then sits down and begins daily teaching sessions, while his opponents plot and seek a way to kill him. And now we have this question from the Sadducees, whom the Pharisees and elders of the Temple detest, but who work together now to a common purpose – Jesus’ destruction.

The question they ask is based on a point of law, referencing what is known as “levirate” marriage. More than once in the Pentateuch, aspects of this law are mentioned, most notably in Deuteronomy 25. Instituted as a protection for the vulnerable ones, for whom God has consistently demonstrated concern and care, the law also served to protect lineage, by giving “eternal life” through progeny, even for a deceased, childless brother. In other words, the brother who has died will live on, in essence and name, by those children who carry his name, conferred by the brother who has married his widow, which may seem pretty convoluted to us today, but made sense in the ancient world.

But of course, the story they lay out for Jesus is ridiculous in the extreme – seven brothers all marrying this poor serial widow, each dies childless. They ask Jesus, “So, like, if there really is a resurrection, like, you know, life after death, whose wife will this woman be?” As our text indicates, the Sadducees say there is no resurrection; they don’t just disbelieve, they argue vehemently against it. So they really are just testing Jesus, in an attempt to trap him. But this question also reveals the Sadducees’ failure to understand what God revealed to Moses. For at the burning bush in Exodus 3, God reveals God’s glory to Moses and tells him that he, the God of Israel is to be known by the name God reveals to Moses. In that passage, God, the great “I Am” says that, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, (who had long since died when Moses walked the earth) are not dead, but are indeed living a resurrected life.

But in the age to come, Jesus says, the age of reconciliation and resurrection, the patriarchal structures of property and ownership, marriage and inheritance will not matter. In the age to come, all the structures of power and oppression will cease to be – no longer will they hold sway over God’s beloved. God’s creation and God’s promises will rule in everlasting life with God where the children of God will not and cannot be separated from God.

Jesus contrasts the reality of the “children of this age” – who are bound by earthly structures and limitations, versus the “children of that age”, who, given an eternal place in the heavenly kingdom, will be freed once and for all from every single physical, social, and mortal law, and will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, where God’s justice and peace will reign.

What that means for us today is that all of the little arguments that we have about faith and how faith works, and who is in and who is out, and what “the end” will look like, don’t really matter. For while God has created these earthly relationships and provided for the building up of relationship through marriage and other structures for the children of “this age”, the children of “that age” in whom God delights, will have no need for marriage nor paternalistic structures nor an everlasting lineage.

None of it will matter.

None of the stumbling blocks to faith that we build will matter, because all our needs, all our joys and all our desires will be fulfilled eternally in that day when we stand in the presence of the Most High God.

As people of faith still living on this side of the cross, we too have so many questions. How this resurrection life will be worked out, what it will feel like, what we will see and experience, are a mystery to us. Some of our questions are born out of a sense of desire to better understand our relationship with God and how God works. Some of our questions are born out of our fear of the unknown, our doubt about that which we do not understand, or our despair that we might not, in the end, be found worthy. We don’t understand how resurrection will work, and we don’t comprehend the enormity of grace or how it comes to rest on us.

Jesus promises that none of these things matter, that in him, there is new life now, and eternal life to come. And we cling to that promise.

We know at the same time, that there are plenty of questions placed at the foot of the cross as a challenge to faith. We are surrounded by a world of unbelief; a world that insists that science has more to say, than the biblical witness; in fact many argue it is the only authority we need to understand the origins of all of creation. The dominant culture tells us that if there is a God it is ridiculous to believe that he would demonstrate his power on the cross, so in that case “our” God must be the “wrong” God. The world around us accuses us of being crazy for believing in the virgin birth, denies the validity of the Trinity, and claims that resurrection from the dead has more to do with the undead (as in Zombies) than in the divine work of the one true God.

We struggle with our questions as we struggle with Jesus’ answers, because our toolbox of comprehension simply falls short when it comes to unpacking the Word of God. As Paul wrote, “for now, we see in a mirror dimly.”

And then, into the chaos and confusion of our doubt and uncertainty, Jesus invites us to bask in God’s love and the promise of resurrection and eternal life, through the Word. Jesus invites us to walk in faith perhaps not “knowing” exactly where we are going, but trusting that he will lead us in the ways that bring us comfort, consolation and glimpses of God’s glory.

The good news for us this day, is that God knows our hearts, knows our questions, our struggles and our intent. Like my friend Becky, like any good parent, God welcomes and honors our questions, our doubts, and our concerns, even the difficult ones, especially the difficult ones, and in response to our questions, always points us back to the cross, where Jesus’ work of mercy and grace grants us balm from our worry, and comfort in the midst of the unknown.

May we remember that the cross on which Jesus hung has been transformed into a symbol of hope for us all. May we remember that Jesus promises ultimate healing, ultimate restoration, transformation and life. May we remember God’s promise lived out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes each one of us, children of the resurrection. 

Thanks be to God!

Monday, November 4, 2013

We All Have a Story, Don't We?

          While I was on internship a few years ago, I was called on to assist with or to conduct a number of funerals in the congregation I served and in the community. I learned then how important it was to pay close attention to all the stories that were told about the deceased – in order that I might allow the scriptures to reflect on the true nature of the person who had died when it came time for me to speak and to proclaim the good news of God’s grace.
          Then last month, I was called to conduct a funeral for someone I didn’t know when a pastor-friend of mine in Wilmington was out of town and Cecilia, the sister of a member of his parish, passed away. The death was unexpected. Shock and grief were profound. And I found myself needing to prepare, from afar, listening to stories and planning this funeral over the phone. Finally the day of the funeral came, and several members of the family spoke their remembrances of Cecilia. She had lived a difficult life, shared selflessly with others, sacrificed greatly for her extended family, and as the family put it, “never said “no” to anyone who was in need.”
          While listening to these family members speak, I was reminded of why it was so important to have those earnest conversations during the planning. I remembered why it was important to collect as many stories of the person who had died as possible. As often happens, the family shared all of Cecilia’s wonderful attributes and heroic actions as they told the assembly what it was about Cecilia that made her so special to them. Hearing their tributes, it was clear that she was truly a wonderful, loving woman. Hearing their remembrances, one could easily say that Cecilia was a saint. And you know what? She truly was. But not for the reasons we might think.
Because the rest of the story, was what we all needed to be reminded of. So, while her loved ones were able to speak about the goodness of this woman and what she meant to them, I was able to share with them what was real about Cecilia. Not that the other part was false, but it wasn’t complete. On her own, this woman was not perfect, she had flaws, foibles, eccentricities and blemishes, but on that day, it did not matter. The blemishes in her story revealed a fully fleshed-out, fully human being, complex, broken, and as we phrase it in the Lutheran church, simultaneously saint and sinner, and in God’s eyes, she was beautiful all the same.
Cecilia’s saintedness came not from the generosity, love, and compassion she might have shared with others, which she did, but because God had claimed her and at the moment of her baptism had promised that while she would be a work in progress for her entire life, she would be perfected only on that day when God would welcome her into the eternal community of saints in the light; and on that day last month, when we gathered together to celebrate God’s love for Cecilia, the promise had been fulfilled.
On that day, when we stood together and remembered Cecilia and commended her into God’s care, she already rested at the bosom of Jesus not because of anything that she had done, but because of everything God had done for her in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom she had believed. And it was that light which had shone through Cecilia’s loving countenance. That is the way of saints. And what we needed to hear on that day, was that it was okay to acknowledge the imperfections and even embrace them, because they, too, were evidence of a life well-lived.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, a day in the church when we remember all the saints who have gone before us. At the beginning of the service we named just a few of those, the ones known to us and remembered by us, who have recently died. We do not remember them or name them for their individual accomplishments, rather we remember how in the fullness of their lives and now in death God has revealed God’s own glory; we acknowledge that though the names of all the saints and their individual stories might be unknown to us, together they form the great cloud of witnesses, telling God’s story, through whom God has shown light into the world for the sake of God’s son, Jesus the Christ. And God’s story is our story.
What makes Cecilia, or Martha, or Bud, or Naomi, Sarah or Natalie, or any of those others whose names we lifted up today blessed, is that God makes it so. They all had their flaws, their foibles, their eccentricities, and blemishes. So, while remembering the ways in which they reflected God’s own light in their lives, it is important to remember those other parts of them, too, the parts that reflected the same sinfulness that is within each of us. It is only when we see the whole story that we can truly appreciate the work that God is doing in each of us, all the time, making us saints despite our frailties, despite our weaknesses, inconsistencies, and failures.
We don’t attain sainthood because of our good works, wonderful personalities and the shining examples of faithfulness we are. We are granted sainthood by God’s grace because God alone is faithful, God alone is good, and God alone shines forth in the darkness of our sin and suffering by sending Jesus, the incarnated one, who teaches us, heals us, models for us what blessed living truly looks like, and then forgives us for the times we fail in blessed living, through his own death and resurrection.
In our gospel text for this All Saints Sunday, Jesus the Messiah announces the law he will fulfill, and of course, as we have come to expect, this law flies in the face of the prevailing law of the culture and the world around him and disciples and apostles. Jesus promises that those whose lives are ruled by God and not by the people around them, not by the dominant culture surrounding them, not by wealth or power or satisfaction with life, will live by a different standard.
For Jesus, blessedness is not “just reward” for the righteous, for those who have fulfilled all manner of law; Jesus is turning those previously held expectations upside down. Blessedness is a way of living. Being blessed means acknowledging that your whole life depends on God, and is ruled by God, and that even your flaws, foibles, eccentricities, and blemishes are embraced by God. Being blessed means that even your failures, your brokenness and your sin are claimed by God for use in your story.
The kingdom of God is populated by the destitute, the famished, and the weeping, wailing ones, the forgotten ones, the ones who follow Christ’s preference for peace sometimes at great personal cost, who model their lives after the one who brings light and life into the world through his incarnation. This kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about is ruled by God, who calls all those under his rule to be witnesses and recipients of God’s great, unbounded, immeasurable love and mercy and grace.
We participate in the kingdom ruled by God by loving what God loves, caring for those God cares for, and in so doing, being transformed into this community of saints in life, in death and in life beyond death.
While the culture around us may tell us that we are “blessed” when our bank accounts are large, our clothing stylish, our children successful and perfect, Jesus begins by saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  Jesus tells those that are following him that despite their poverty, they are blessed, that theirs is the kingdom of God. For the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking, their poverty comes from having given away everything they had, and having left their homes, their jobs and their families in order to follow Jesus, trusting that God in God’s providence would care for them. And these are hard words for us to hear today because we can’t do that.
But the good news of the gospel for us this day, is that we have to do that. However, when God rules over our lives, it is no longer our bank accounts that we rely on, it is no longer the dominant culture that we follow, it is no longer our property or our jobs or our families that determine our worth, it is no longer external forces that control our actions or decisions; rather, it is the heart beating within our breast, transformed by the love, mercy and grace of God that urges us with each step we take to create a story that reflects the Word of God.
Of course, there is some not-so-good news that we acknowledge as well, also highlighted by this text. Because living as God’s disciples, following God’s rule and reflecting Christ’s light with our lives means that we will live in ways that contradict the dominant culture around us.
Observance of this day as All Saints Sunday invites us to identify our common bond with the saints of God of every time and every place who are ruled in this kingdom by God. We join with all those, living and dead, male and female, slave and free, rich and poor, young and old, people of all ethnicities and races, from all walks of life, and all the corners of the earth who together form one united Body solely because of who Christ is and what he has done.
As we reflect on the saints today, as well as on our own stories, we are reminded of our baptisms and the promise that we received then, that God would write God’s own story on our hearts, and that God would then accompany us, work on us, and bless us through God’s grace and mercy throughout our lives. You’ve noticed I’m sure, that the baptismal font has been moved to the front this morning.  In a little while, we will gather around this table where we will share in this meal that is a foretaste of the feast to come, when all of God’s sainted children will be reunited at the eternal banquet of joy and delight, swapping their stories in the presence of the Most High God. As you come forward to the table I invite you to dip your hand into the bowl; then, making the sign of the cross, be reminded of those promises made to you, saints of God. Then, fed at the altar of Jesus Christ, may your stories be blessed and strengthened in God’s love. Thanks be to God!