First Congregational Church
November 5, 2017
All Saints Sunday
Matthew 5:1-12 & 1 John 3:1-8
“Tending to the Work at Work In You”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So you know when you do something rather unflattering, something that makes you feel embarrassed and/or something awkward happens, but you can’t help it and you long for a hole in the ground to swallow you up?
And then, you know when someone else does something rather unflattering unto themselves, and that that thing - in an embarrassing way - makes you feel so good, because it’s something that you are so apt to do? Like if George Clooney were to spill gravy on his shirt or Meryl Streep would trip on the Red Carpet.
Don’t get me wrong, I mean, you feel bad for the other individual, but it really, really, really blossoms up a sense of gratitude and normalcy inside you - that we are all very human beings. Although this morning’s gospel passage isn’t really funny or embarrassing, it certainly has aspects of being familiar, just because of our shared humanity - in a really good way. And somehow, regardless of how the lives of those younger than us turn out, we will have an eternal link with them, simply because we are all human and loved by God.
5 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.
1 John 3:1-8 (NIV)
3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Thank you, Chris. Of all the church holidays and holy days, I think the All Saints season is one of my favorites. I say season, because there is more to this one day than what meets the eye. The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty has gone on record to say that “Hallowtide covers the three days – 31 October (All-Hallows Eve or Hallowe'en), 1 November (All Saints) and 2 November (All Souls).” Once word gets round that we’ve added all those who have been born to this holiday season, I’m pretty sure they will turn it into a four day event.
All Hallows Eve is a religious vigil or observance on the evening before - All Saints Day, being the celebration of all those who have died that has nothing to do with candy.
All Souls Day is the celebration of all the Christian souls that have died. It is during this three day period when “thin places” in the world become more noticeable or get more attention — a Celtic notion that during certain and special times, the distance between heaven and earth and sacred and secular seems more transparent. Interestingly, there is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
Two of the most famous “thin places” in the world are the isle of Iona in Scotland and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. San Antonian retreat leader and author, Sylvia Maddox described one of her “thin places.” She said, “As I stood on the pebbled beach, the waves of the ocean seemed to whisper Jesus’ words,” I am with you.” These words could be said in a book, in a classroom, in a sermon, but in a thin place there is an immediacy of experience where words of faith become words of life.”
Maybe you have a “thin place” moment or two in your life, a place or time when you know how you felt, but you may not have all the words to express those feelings - feelings that somehow shifted your understanding of the world.
We all have loss in our lives - not just in death, but in diseases like Alzheimers or dementia, or harsh words. Or we lose a job, a marriage, a relationship, status, health, a home, or dignity. And while Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes are really good at first hearing, there is that hard under layer - the bitterness and pain that occurred when someone insulted you because of your faith, the unrighteousness from which righteousness seemed to shine like a beacon, the tears and loneliness that takes the place of a beloved.
But there is deeper good news. Not only are you sometimes poor in spirit or mourning or hungering and thirsting for righteousness, there are many, many others feeling the same way. Granted, we are all unique with unique situations. But too often we somehow think we are the only ones going through the stuff we have to go through. And not only are there others on whom we can lean for support, advice and even companionship, we have the promises from Jesus, via Matthew, that the hard parts of life will be redeemed, and the promise from the book of Revelation that God will “wipe away every tear” and the promise from our other passage for this morning - that we are children of God.
And Christ didn’t say, “One day you will be blessed,” but “Blessed are…” David Lose also pointed out that “blessing isn’t like the flu shot. Blessing doesn’t immunize you from pain or loss, and it’s not a guarantee of safe passage through this life unscathed. Rather, blessing is a sense of fullness, of contentment, of joy that is like, but also transcends, ordinary happiness. And like love and hope and so many other things, it can’t simply be mustered into existence but rather is responsive, springing forth in response to the love and promises of another.” - that “another” I’m guessing he means Christ.
While we are grateful for those precious individuals that have passed on to eternal life, and for those souls God has given us for their time on earth, God sees each one of us, knowing the grief that weighs down hearts, the depression or addictions that oppress us, the challenges that we face and uphill struggles we are contemplating. God sees them, honors them, accompanies them and blesses them. And when we struggle with the stuff of life, it doesn’t mean that we are being faithless, but that we are tending to the work that is working in us.
God could have kept each and every one of us in that eternal life to which we will return. But there is something about that “blessing” and the seasons of life that God thought was greater than skipping over it. So we’ve been born into this life, and no matter where any and each of us are this day, let us rejoice and be glad, because great is our reward in heaven. And so should we pray.
Eternal God of Forever and Ever, they are gathered around you, the well-known ones like Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, C.S. Lewis, Helen Keller and so many more. And there are those less famous, like Saint Agnes, the angel Gabriel, Patrick, Joseph and Teresa of Avila. And others are rather ordinary, such as the teacher from second grade who guided our fingers under the words; the nurse in the hospital who held our hand while blood was taken; the coach who trusted us with the ball and not the end of the bench. May we realize how they endure with us, holding our hearts and encompassing us with fierce and stubborn love that persists across time and distance. In this thin place, where we join that cloud of faithful witnesses, help us to tread paths and leave footprints that witness to the work and joy and blessing of following you and living kingdom lives. And all your precious ones say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.