St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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All Saints Day 2013 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Just checking: are any of you saints?   Most of us assume that saints are other worldly, super holy, flawless people.  I like another view of saints: they are like windows through which God’s love shines.  Picture that; God using a person to pour out his love onto the world. With that definition, are any of you saints?
           
‘Corby’ is not a saint’s name so my mom tacked on Louise as my middle name.  This bugged me as a kid.  I decided to become a saint so that my name would be OK.  I went to the library and diligently read volume after volume of “The Lives of the Saints” and was appalled at the beheadings, torture, and martyrdom that they endured.  I decided that maybe sainthood wasn’t for me after all!
           
The saints are the blessed ones of God.  In our gospel today we hear “blessed are the poor, blessed are those who weep.”  We also call this gospel the beatitudes.  Beatus is the Latin word for happy.  Happy are the poor, happy are those who weep.
           
There are two versions of this gospel: The much better known Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and today’s gospel which is called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke.  They share some exact phrases and a similar structure.  Maybe these are two different retellings of the same event.  Or maybe this was a stock sermon Jesus gave over and over, on the mount, on the plain, all over the place.  Some people believe there was no such event, but that the authors of the gospels grouped all these things into one fictional sermon because the teachings are so important.
           
In Luke, this gospel comes when Jesus had just chosen his followers.  Before sending them out in the world he said these shocking words to them as they sat amidst a crowd.  We often hear of how Jesus upended conventional wisdom but that is nowhere so clear as in this gospel.  Surely the new disciples of Christ sat there dumbfounded by this teaching.
           
After all, He told them that the poor are blessed while the rich are cursed.  The hungry are blessed while the full are cursed.  Blessed are those who weep and woe to those who laugh.               
           
Listening to this gospel makes me distinctly uncomfortable. After all, I am not poor, hungry or weeping these days.  By most standards, I am rich, full and laughing.  So by Jesus‘ reckoning, woe to me, I would be cursed.  I have to say though, during some dark times in my life, when it seemed that all I did was cry, these words; “blessed are you who weep now for you shall laugh,” gave me incredible solace.
           
When I hear these beatitudes, I wonder how people, rich and poor, have heard them throughout the last two thousand years.  Think of our recent American history and wonder how slaves and slaveholders heard this gospel.  Did the slaveholders flinch and cringe as they realized they were cursed while the slaves sang Hallelujah because they were blessed?
           
Most of us will seem to fall into the group of those who are cursed with wealth, full stomachs and laughter.  What do we do?  With the next part of this teaching, Jesus gives us very clear instructions on how to make it from the cursed column to the blessed column:
           
He says (as though it is easy): “Listen, all of you. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.  Pray for the happiness of those who curse you; implore God’s blessing on those who hurt you.
           
If someone slaps you on one cheek, let him slap the other too! If someone demands your coat, give him your shirt besides. Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don’t worry about getting them back.  Treat others as you want them to treat you.
           
In the first half of this gospel, Jesus is describing what the Kingdom looks like while in the second half, he describes how someone acts when living in the Kingdom.
           
Jesus goes beyond the law.  He says it isn’t enough to not kill, you shouldn’t even hate people.  It isn’t enough to tithe, you should genuinely care about the poor.  If someone steals from you, you shouldn’t even seek retribution.
           
Jesus doesn’t just care about rules and our behavior but about living deeply with love.  Loving people, not things or our reputations.  Living fully alive and present.  Living in the Kingdom of God today.
           
Now can you do all of these things?  If so, I believe that you are a saint.  Maybe it’s a copout but I always tell myself that Jesus sets very high, almost impossible standards for us.  Our task is to reach for those standards, to stretch ourselves to be the very best person we can be.  We will fail everyday but it is the stretching, reaching that Jesus wants.
           
Saints come closer to actually achieving these goals.  Saints do turn the other cheek, actually give all they have, actually love their enemies.  And today, on the Feast of All Saints, we remember them and all who have gone before us.  We are standing in a long line, a procession of people which starts in the past and moves on into the future.  We are part of the Communion of saints here on earth, working in our small ways for the Kingdom of God while being cheered on by those who have gone before us.  


 
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