All Saints’ Sunday Matthew 5.1-12 Sunday, November 1, 2020 I would like to begin by asking you to take a moment and reflect upon someone in the sports world or art world whom you idolize, someone who is a hero or heroine, someone who looms almost larger than life, an icon. Who is that person? Visualize him or her. Now take a moment and reflect on what attributes come to mind when you think of this person. If you are on the chat on our website, write down some of the characteristics that you think about with regard to this individual. Take a moment. What are those qualities?
These individuals are elites in their field, standing head and shoulders above many of their peers and certainly beyond those of us who are mere mortals in comparison. I suspect that for many of us the list that we develop around those whom we see as icons is occupied with terms that connote strength, courage, and power. They are indomitable. Furthermore, I suspect that poor in spirit, mourning, meek, merciful, and persecuted did not make the top of list. Thus, it is rather curious that the list Jesus offers of those who are blessed--the Beatitudes--is one that many of us probably do not consider blessed. In fact, this list is often one that we try to avoid rather than embrace. Who clamors to be poor in spirit? Who wants to mourn? Who relishes being meek?
As we stand on the cusp of a major presidential election, the way of the world and the way of God expressed in Jesus comes into stark relief. Regardless of the party, candidates are always shown in the best possible light. They are constantly portrayed as robust, decisive, strong. The cardinal sin would be to be seen as weak or vulnerable. Remember the report of Edmund Muskie crying in the snow in New Hampshire, all but sinking his bid for the 1972 Democratic nomination? So, you can see how countercultural Jesus’ teaching is. The Beatitudes--poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake--offer a radically different perspective on where God is present in the world. The world may counsel an eye for an eye or might makes right. Meanwhile, the beatitudes are expressions of our vulnerabilities that point us to the realm of God present in our midst. The eight Beatitudes are bookended with the refrain, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In essence, when you embody these experiences or expressions, you are in the presence of the divine. Blessed.
Which may seem a bit unorthodox or, perhaps, crazy. In fact, the day that we observe today--All Saints’ Sunday--betrays this. We remember those who have died, and it is right to do this. We honor those whom we loved but see no longer. Yet, the very term that we use to signify these individuals--saints---is a term that has, in the spiritual arena, come to resemble what political ads seek to portray. Saints have become larger than life. Heroes and heroines of the faith. People who lived such amazing and extraordinary lives that none of us could ever measure up. They not only exist beyond our physical grasp, they transcend anything that we might attain.
Yet, from the inception of the Christian tradition, saints were not seen in this light. All those baptized into Christ were considered saints. They were saints--blessed--not by what they had accomplished, but they were saints by what God in Christ conferred upon them. Marilynne Robinson alludes to this but from the opposite side of things. She notes how brilliant the concept of original sin is. Bottom line is that we are all included. You are included. I am included. None of us can escape this reality. And then she expresses how original sin is connected to sainthood. Original sin opens up the way for mercy, because we all need it. Martin Luther’s understanding of our humanity described as much. We are, Luther said,simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. Again, sainthood is not our achievement. Sainthood is God’s gracious gift to us.
Yet, it is hard to live in the presence of God, particularly when the places that Jesus notes God resides are the places we try to avoid. The irony of this should not be lost as we discuss Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, following this service. We could just as easily insert fragile into the list of the Beatitudes. Who wants to be fragile? Indeed, what DiAngelo rightly and powerfully points out is that when white people are made uncomfortable when talking about race, we try to escape the discomfort as quickly as possible. We act out of the power and priority of our position in society conferred upon us for no other reason than that we are white. In doing so, we continue to perpetuate abuse toward others whether we know it or not. We continue to demand that ournarrative is the narrative, and all others must conform to our way of being. We deny the truth of others and repeat the age old suppression of their life, and racism continues.
n this case, our resistance to being vulnerable, liable, and exposed exemplifies the powerful desire to never be in such a position. Yet, we are then confronted with the paradox that if we do not enter into those places of discomfort, we will never address the problems that exist in life. Indeed, we will continue to perpetuate the problem. By entering into those places of vulnerability, weakness, and powerlessness, we actually are modeling the life that Jesus offered. In so doing, the endless cycle of responding to hate with hate or using power as the arbiter of who wins, or blaming victims rather than recognizing our culpability, continues. Ironically, when we move into the discomfort, we move closer to life that can sustain us and the other.
Further still, when we enter those places, we begin to recognize our solidarity with--not power over--those who are marginalized and suppressed. Indeed, by living in those places on the margins, we actually make possible for life. The family of God is not those who command power and control at the top of the pyramid. The family of God--the saints--are all those who embody what Jesus articulates--poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake. At first glance it may confuse us. The world will surely scoff at this recipe. Yet, and here’s the real kicker, when we experience or express these Beatitudes it is not just the nearer presence of God that we encounter, it is the fuller presence of God that we embody to and for the world. And Lord knows, the world needs so much more of that.