All Saints and All Souls, Nov 1, 2020, Matthew 5.1-12
I speak to you in the name of God, Creator, Word and Spirit. AMEN.
We know that Jesus often interprets the world differently that the people around him might expect. Sometimes, it is as if Jesus is considering how the people ought to act and care for each other, as if he was looking through a camera and zooming in on the important parts. Focusing in on certain parts, and interpreting their meaning in a way the people don’t expect. Subsequently, Jesus refocuses our attention and calls us to look at things differently.
Today we celebrate All Saints – ordinary people who have done something extraordinary. Not that the people we call Saints would identify themselves as such. Like Jesus, they were focusing their “lens” of their “camera” toward something that needed to be addressed: how we understand our faith; how we relate to God, to Jesus the Christ or the Holy Spirit; issues of injustice; supporting people on the fringes of society. Not all these Saints have been “formally identified.”
People like Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement; Martin Luther King Jr, who fought for human right for Black men and women. Florence Nightingale, who fought for better standards of hygiene in hospitals and raised the standard of nursing care, saving many soldiers from dying of infected wounds in the Crimean War.
When we see people in our generations take a stand as Bishop Michael Bird did with regard to access to equal marriage in the Diocese of Niagara for LGBTQ2S+ people. Archbishop Michael Peers who offered an apology to the National Native Convocation in Minaki, ON, Aug 6, 1993.
None of these people would have describe what they are doing as extraordinary – only that they were following God’s call.
In ancient times, if you were having difficulties in your life it was often interpreted that you were punished by God for something you had done. When Jesus identifies people who are blessed by God, the people listening are surprised. In the words of the Beatitudes, it sounds as if people have to accept the condition they are in with no hope of changing or modifying or improving their situation. Oh, and by the way, even though we may be in this state, God loves us anyway.
When we think of our blessings today, we might consider blessings to be the material things we are able to afford and acquire.[i] And, we might consider people with strength and power and affluence as being blessed, because, don’t blessings represent prosperity and privilege?
Why then is Jesus celebrating those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek or pure in heart, or peacemakers, or are seeking righteousness? Aren’t these attributes considered weak and empty of clout or authority? What does it mean? Where is God at work here?
As one commentator describes what Jesus is doing: Yes, the Beatitudes are words of consolation and encouragement. They are not commandments.[iii] But they are declarations of divine blessing. That is, the coming “‘reign of heaven’ involves an overturning of the world’s hierarchies of status and privilege.”[iv] This means that God’s blessings are already among us, surprising and counterintuitive, gracious and undeserved, world-turning and beautiful. Jesus is calling upon us to live lives that are responsive to those blessings all the time.[v] To recognize we live in God’s presence.
In other words, we might wonder how God makes a difference by showing up? What does God’s presence mean? And how we are transformed by God’s presence? [vi]
God is not magically transforming away the difficult events in our life. God promises to be with us in all aspects of our living, including working through our grief. There is much these last 6 months we may be grieving for or about. Our limited opportunity to be with friends and family. Loss of gainful employment. Worrying about our children or grandchildren. Managing the learning curve of virtual meetings. Missing the connections of meeting people in person. Being unable to celebrate the lives of friends or family who have died during the Pandemic, in person with a church service, without masks and physical distancing.
We recognize today, as we acknowledge All Souls, that some of us have experienced the death of a loved one this year. We cannot avoid our grief whatever the cause. God does not take it away, but transforms it. We see this in Christ resurrected, in the promise that God’s love is more powerful than death. God is present in what can feel like ‘small gestures’ of compassion: God is at work, blessing, upholding and encouraging all of God’s beloved.[vii]
Another way to look at it is: Jesus is inviting us to transform our understanding or our sense of where God is at work. We can expect and look for God at work in places of vulnerability, alongside those who practice compassion and mercy, and those who work for righteousness.[viii] We are loved and blessed by God – we just need to recognize God at work in us and through us. God is present here among us. In our homes. And in our hearts! It is up to us to allow God’s presence, God’s blessing, God’s love, to transform us. I invite you to be conscious of God’s presence and how God are loves and blesses you, as you go this day. AMEN.