First Congregational Church
November 2, 2014
All Saints Sunday: Necrology and Cradle Roll
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When it comes to saints, I didn’t grow up in a high liturgical church, like Roman Catholic, Eastern Rite Catholic Churches or Byzantine Churches. In fact, growing up in Minnesota, I thought the world-wide religion was a tie be Lutherans and Catholics, and I was in a minority being Methodist. It wasn’t until my work as a nursing assistant in a Catholic care center that I became aware of things like scapulas, which are pictures of saints worn around the neck or saint prayers cards. Little did I know that there are saint trading cards, like baseball cards, of all sorts and antique cards can go for upwards of $45 - per card!
Narrowing the focus, I had no idea that saints were patrons to various occupations and individuals. St. Matthew is the patron saint of bookkeepers, which makes sense since he was a numbers guy as a tax collector. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals, which also makes sense, since he is said to have been able to minister to and reason with them. In the interest of time, I will merely offer a few more from the American catholic.org/Features/Saints/patrons web page. The patron saint of bee keepers: St. Ambrose. Brewers have three: St. Luke, Nicholas and Augustine of Hippo. Yes, there is a patron Saint of Computers, and it’s St. Isidore of Seville.
Incidentally, the Catholic church doesn’t “make” saints, it recognizes them and what God has done in their life. And of course, they have to have died. What I appreciate about modern All Saints Sunday - as Congregationalists - at least in this church family - is that we get to celebrate not only those who have passed on to eternal life before us, but those who are coming after us, as well as those who surround us.
In the book of Matthew, by the time chapter 5 rolls around, Jesus has called the disciples to follow him and just started his ministry of preaching and teaching. In fact, his teaching and preaching have taken on such energy, there is the possibility that his ministry could become a new political kingdom. So he reigns in, gets off the bandwagon and sets for a spell. The section for today is known as the Beatitudes, the introduction to the larger message called the Sermon on the Mount.
1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Thank you, Bill. As I was doing my homework for this morning’s message, I came across a beatitude that I’m sure Matthew forgot to include. It says, “Blessed are we who laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”
For a long time, pastors and preachers and lovers of control used the Beatitudes to bully people into acceptable behavior. The line of thought was something like, “if you want to see God, then you better be darn pure of heart.” “If you want to be called a child of God, you’d better be about making peace or else.…”
The standard, contemporary interpretation of the Beatitudes is that they are not cause and effect, but descriptive. If you go behind the ancient Greek language, and understand the syntax, you see a description, not a prescription.
Which brings us to their modern application and how we can turn them into prayer. Of the names of the Necrology that were read, which person or persons would have you thought “poor in spirit?” Who had mourned, were meek, who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, were merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers? Were any persecuted because of Christ?
“Lord, thank you for those who find comfort in their mourning, and help me to become like them. Help me to understand that meek doesn’t mean weak, and that it is far more about inheriting all you have given us. Help me, God, to recognize those who have been merciful, that I, too, may extend mercy. Help me, God, to see you, so that my heart may be purer. Help me be a peacemaker like so-and-so.”
The beautiful thing of these beatitudes, is that they are not time-locked or present encapsulated. They are about the future as much as the past and present. Not that we want any of our children to necessarily be poor in spirit, but when Calista or Henry or Liam are, God, help them - in those times, to see your kingdom. When Cristian, Mason or Owen mourn, great God, help them to feel your comfort. Help Freddie and Miles understand that meekness is not about strength or lack of it, but about inheriting all you have ever wanted for them. Provide Odin and Samson the food and drink that will fill them with your love and grace and joy. Remind Nathalie and Finley, that when they are shown mercy, they can pass it on to others. Show Evelyn and Amelia your face, so they can see you, that they may have such purity of heart, others will want to emulate them, too.
I think one of the common characteristics about the people that tend to hang out in this church family is that we understand that we blessed. Most all of us have enough of our needs met, and are blessed enough with others who can help us when we need more. We can appreciate that life is not so good for a lot of other people, so we are humbled in gratitude.
How much more are we blessed by those who have come before us, those who if they stood next to us, or in the narthex, down the stairs around the church, would create a depth so deep, we would be awe-struck by the breadth of those who have gone before us. And if we could see how those who come after us will double and triple that passed number, well, we’d probably start blowing out minds that we get to be part of such blessing.
As we pause this day to look back and forward, let us also reflect - on our blessing and blessings. And may we express our gratitude to God in prayer.
Great, great God, we thank you for this day that allows us to stand still for a moment, to look back and forward, around us and down at our own feet. Thank you for the blessings that you give - so freely - so generously - not only in the things of life - but most especially in the people you give us. Help us to pray for them - and ourselves - that we can all become great followers after your Son and Holy Spirit. For all that you give us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.