NOTE TO READERS: Please read my previous post “Scheming for a Sermon — Part 1” before embarking on this one.
Thankfully, as the morning sun eased up over the horizon today, I had a sermon. By 11:45 a.m., the sermon had been shared with the folks who were in worship this morning. And now, it’s time to let go of the latest effort and move on to the next one. Another sermon is “due” in a few days and there’s no time to dally or dither. My fellow schemers need to hear the Gospel…in all of its clarity, with all its simplicity…even if it means such hearing will require us to act accordingly!
The text for this morning’s effort was Matthew 5:1-11 (the Beatitudes). Today was also All Saints’ Sunday (complete with Holy Baptism). I also needed to make some mention of the fact folks would be receiving a pledge form in the mail in the next few days as we look toward Commitment Sunday on November 20. Whew! No wonder I couldn’t get it all together! So, anyway, what follows is the result of all of the wrangling. I still think it’s too clunky, but for today (with apologies to “SK”), it’s the best I could do.
My guess is, none of us thought much about any sort of life-threatening implications of attending liturgy today. We may be sitting in this room anxious about lots of things — our bank accounts, our jobs, our relationships, our health or the health or a loved one — but chances are, we’re not anxious about our safety. We’re not worried about the authorities busting through the doors this morning and hauling us off to jail.
So, when we hear Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account….”, we may have any number of reactions — ranging from confusion to boredom, but having our hearts skip a beat or our stomachs jump to our throats or our eyes open wide in fear is probably unlikely. Let’s be honest, in this country we aren’t real worried our faith in Jesus will negatively impinge upon our employment status, or our relationships or our access to health care or food or shelter.
Now we all know there are places in this world where followers of Jesus are persecuted, ostracized, beaten, violated, imprisoned, tortured and even murdered. But for most of us, the atrocities committed by authoritarian regimes in distant lands barely register, because we are so caught up in the dramas of our daily lives. In this country there is a tacit agreement within the polite circles most of us travel within — “Religion is fine as an individual choice, as long as everyone keeps their opinions to themselves.” In fact, faith has become so privatized we’ve been schooled by the culture to practice the religious equivalent of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Don’t worry, this will not be a thundering, roof-raising sermon on the necessity of evangelism or about overtly living our faith “out there” in the world beyond our Red Doors. I won’t attempt to guilt anyone into knocking on doors in your neighborhood or inviting your friends who don’t have a church home to attend a worship service here. I won’t be encouraging you all to join hands in prayer over your meals — either at home or in a restaurant — as a witness to the awareness that everything comes from God’s provision. I won’t get all lathered up about how Jesus’ life and teachings must be a part of our ethical decisions — from the board room to the bedroom; from the living to the hospital room, and every room in between. I won’t challenge you to take your faith with you into the voting booth and wrestle with how being a follower of Jesus just might impact the way you mark a ballot. All of those hot potatoes will keep for another day.
Today, my challenge is a bit more modest. I’d like for us to go public with each other about our faith in Jesus (or our lack of such faith). Yup, I know it’s scary. I know it’s easier to exchange smiles and polite conversation about the weather. I know it’s easier to work on a committee for a parish project than it is to tell a fellow parishioner how you’re struggling with prayer or even how you’ve experienced God answering your prayers. Can’t we all simply assume we’re Christians here, so there’s no real need to actually say any such a things out loud?
Someone might be thinking just this minute, “Why I hardly know these people and the preacher is asking me to talk about my faith life? That’s simply too private! And it’s nobody’s business besides.”
Here’s the thing. When you have a chance later, reread the Gospel passage for today. But read it a different way. Read it as a description of a community of learners instead of a check-list of pious attitudes or good behaviors dictated for individual self-improvement. As followers of Jesus, we do not face into our faith alone. We have each other. We draw strength from each other. We share with each other — our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our doubts and fears, our gifts and blessings.
The community of St. Matthew, when hearing these words of Jesus read in their midst, would have recognized themselves. Poor — many of them without two copper coins to rub together, plenty of them spiritually bankrupt. Grief-stricken. Hungry and thirsty — some literally, while others ached to see God’s righteousness and justice in a world in which there seemed to be little evidence of either. Reviled. Persecuted. Falsely accused. Outsiders. Outcasts. All those folks were amongst them.
They would have also recognized people in their community who gave them hope in their faith. The meek ones. The merciful ones. The peacemaking ones. The ones whose hearts were open, pure and without dishonesty.
Gathered together, Matthew’s community was not altogether unlike ours. They needed each other if they were going to make it through this life with their faith in tact. And believe it or not, so do we. We really do need each other.
Later this week, you will be receiving another piece of mail from Trinity Church. Those of you who’ve been a part of this community for a while, know “it’s that time of year again.” Inside that envelope will be pledge forms. We will be asking for your commitments of time, talent and treasure for 2012. The temptation will be to not think too much about the forms and simply repeat for next year the commitments made for this year.
Believe me, with the continuing economic challenges, I understand a financial commitment for 2012 in the same amount as 2011 will represent a significant leap of faith for some in this community. I also understand given people’s work and family situations, we all may feel we’ve got less and less time available for things like liturgy or participating in fellowship activities or outreach events or education opportunities or assisting in this parish’s mission and ministry through serving on a committee or two. I want to invite you this morning, though, to think about your commitment to Trinity in a slightly different way. Trinity isn’t an organization that exists outside of you, which depends upon you “support” for its continued existence.
Look around…at each other! When you do so, you will be looking into the eyes of Trinity. At the Peace, you will shake the hands of Trinity or maybe hug the necks of Trinity. In conversations this morning, you will hear the voice of Trinity. At the communion rail, next to each other, you will feel the presence of Trinity.
We are the blessed company of faithful people. Some of us poor. Some of us hungry for God. Some of us thirsting after righteousness. Some of us meek. Some of us grief-stricken. Some of us reviled. Some of us peacemakers. Some of us (thanks be to God!) pure in heart. Maybe even a few of us persecuted. We’re all here.
In a few moments when Bishop Klusmeyer baptizes his grandson, Sullivan, this won’t merely be a meaningful moment for parents and grandparents. Baptism is not a sweet little ceremony stitched together with sentiment where we spritz someone with holy water to make them a better person. Sullivan will be buried with Christ and raised to a new life — a life of sainthood that doesn’t depend on his efforts alone. In fact there’s not a thing any of us can do to deserve the gift of sainthood bestowed upon us in the baptismal waters.
All we can do after receiving such a gift is respond in gratitude. Day in and day out. One prayer at a time. One act of kindness at at time. One moment of compassion at a time. One offer of forgiveness at a time. One act of service at a time. And we don’t live this life following Jesus by ourselves in isolation!
We have the community of the faithful. We have each other. This is Good News. Good news we CAN share! Really, we can! We can practice sharing it with each other, in here…and then, who knows, we may just catch ourselves one day sharing it with a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker or even someone in our own family!
Brothers and sisters, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. We are a community set apart for God — all of us…happy, sad, perfect, imperfect, gentle, crotchety, full of faith and riddled by doubt. We are Trinity, all of us, the saints of God, in flesh and blood, gathered in this place. Now and always.