Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday Sermon

November 7, 2010

All Saints Sunday/All Souls Sunday

Typos. When you run across them in your daily reading, they might catch your attention, but they are no big deal. But when the errors occur in Holy Scripture, then you have a problem of biblical proportions. Imagine if our now deceased loved ones or the Saints of the Church had lived by the typos?

“Thou shalt commit adultery” is what one Bible said. That mistake in the 20th chapter of Exodus could have started a sexual revolution. Of course, in some cases, people actually live as if the Bible does say that!

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God.” The unrighteousness lobby certainly liked the sound of that one. The cartel especially likes this typo!

“Go and sin on more,” said Jesus in John 8:11. Well, to be honest, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” but the printer was looking for a loophole.

“Let the children first be killed.” Must have been written by a frustrated parent. What Jesus really said in Mark 7:25 is “Let the children first be filled.”

And in Matthew 5:9, part of today’s passage of Scripture, we hear, “Blessed are the place-makers.” That’s almost as bad as the line that Monty Python misunderstood and mangled into “Blessed are the cheese-makers.” What Jesus actually said was “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but a proofreader failed to catch the typo. He did admit to wanting his place in heaven, however.

Fortunately for us today, the Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading Service is working hard to catch and correct such biblical blunders. According to the Associated Press, this company is dedicated to proofreading Bibles and making sure that such misprints never make it into a Sunday Scripture reading. You might say that typos are this company’s daily bread.

With an ordinary book, you can put up with more mistakes “because it’s not something you’re basing your whole life on,” says June Gunden, who founded the company along with her husband Doug. “It’s information, but it’s not really life-changing information.” With the Bible, however, people expect perfection.

Just think of the problems that would have arisen if several errors in the most recent edition of the Bible were not caught. The phrase “our ancestors” would have been “sour ancestors;” although that may be true for some people. Instead of condemning “factions,” the Bible would have called for an end to “fractions;” not that America’s young math students would have minded that one.

What’s so shocking about today’s passage from Matthew is that it sounds like it is full of typos even though it is completely accurate. When you read this stuff, it is so counter-intuitive that you figure that there must be a misprint here. In our current confirmation class, the question of what do these Beatitudes mean came up; and rightly so.

“Blessed are the meek”? The meek? How can the meek be blessed some might ask. What is blessed about being in last place? The Saints could certainly tell us I am sure.

The only way to see these words clearly is through the lens of the kingdom of God. A proofreader’s magnifying glass cannot help us to spot the truth here. We need to be looking through the divine optics of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus Christ. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” ... “Blessed are those who mourn” ... “Blessed are the peacemakers” ... these are not prescriptions from the self-help section of your local Borders bookstore. Instead, they are statements of what is true about the new reality that the Lord is inscribing on the world. There are no typos here. Only the God’s-honest truth.

So what can we learn from these counterintuitive realities? For starters, we need to realize that these blessings, known as the Beatitudes, are not descriptions of human feelings. When Jesus says that we are “blessed,” he is not saying that we are necessarily “happy.” To be reviled and persecuted because you follow the Lord might turn out to be a blessing, but it is not going to make you feel particularly cheerful. The nine Beatitudes which Jesus proclaims in this passage are so much more than nine “be-happy-attitudes.”

To be blessed, in this case, is to be made privileged or fortunate by the action of Almighty God. It carries with it a sense of salvation and peace and well-being. You might say that the opposite of blessed is not “unhappy.” Rather, the opposite of blessed is “cursed.” To be blessed is to be given the gift of divine favor, a gift that we all have a deep human hunger to receive.

Stated this way, it’s clear that the blessing of the Beatitudes is not about us, and it’s not about how we feel. Instead, it’s all about what God has done for us.

With this perspective in mind, we can get a clearer sense of what Jesus is talking about when he describes his disciples as “blessed.” What he is saying is that these former fishermen are blessed because they are experiencing the coming of God’s kingdom, and they are in the process of discovering that their lives are being reshaped by this new reality. No longer will the meaning of life be defined by the culture of the town of Capernaum, or the expectations of their extended families, or the size of the fish being pulled out of the Sea of Galilee. From now on, the dominant reality in their existence will be the kingdom of God, and the blessing of God will come to all who make a place for this kingdom in their lives.

When you think about it, there was some truth in the typo that read “Blessed are the place-makers.” Although, not a real Beatitude, blessed are those who make a place for the kingdom of God. That is what we feel on this day. All Saints and All Souls Sunday is the day we remember not only those men and women whom we feel led a holy and exemplar life, but those loved ones of our own who are now experiencing the Kingdom of God as God so wanted us to do; simply by observing the Beatitudes.

So, what does it mean for us to make a place for the kingdom in our lives today? What kind of blessing will we experience if we allow ourselves to be transformed by the radical new reality that Jesus offers us? What kind of renewal will come our way if we take seriously the invitation to open our hearts and minds to the arrival of God’s kingdom? Why should we make the Beatitudes a bigger part of our lives?

Nothing seems to shock us anymore. So much has changed in America over the past generation. The culture is so debased; many of us really are not surprised at the latest scandal. As Catholics, we tend to look upon the Beatitudes a little heavier than other Christians do. However, they seem to be looked upon as nothing more than some “nice” sayings from Jesus.

However, as Catholics we need our sense of shock, our sense of outrage. We need to reclaim innocence and purity, for our own individual souls. We need to start that by realizing that many things should still shock us and rightly so. It is not just the past Saints that sought a life with God and sensed the mis-placed focus of those of the world. It is easier to build up a wall of defense and say that we cannot be shocked, when in truth if we are attempting to live the Beatitudes, we should very well be shocked every day.

We might discover, for example, that we are “poor in spirit.” A term that describes people who find their true identity and security in the One Lord God. There is nothing weak or pathetic or shameful about being poor in spirit, but instead it means that we are not deluded enough to think that we are masters of the universe and in complete control of our lives. This spiritual poverty is really an excellent quality to have in this post-9/11 world of terrorist threats, international tension and economic uncertainty. It means that we are dependent on God, first and foremost, and that the Lord will reward us with the gift of his kingdom. That is the example the Saints led for us to follow.

We might also find that we are among “those who mourn”. People who feel grief as we look around and see pain and crying, suffering and dying. We mourn because there is evil in us and around us, erupting in bedrooms and boardrooms, back alleys and battlefields. There are temptations all around us, and weaknesses deep within us, that make it an everyday struggle to follow the Lord in faith. But the promise of today’s passage is that this grim and often grotesque reality is not the final chapter of human history; there is going to be an unexpected twist in the tale with a turn toward love and peace and justice. God is writing a surprise ending to this story, and he invites each of us to play a part by doing what we can to live by the values of Christ’s kingdom. If we do, we’ll be given a sense of comfort we never dreamed possible. We’ll find ourselves blessed, not cursed.

Perhaps we are also what Jesus calls “the meek”. Gentle people who are trying to reject the power-hungry and violent ways of the world we live in. Sounds a lot like St. Francis.

Or are we men and women who hunger and thirst for righteousness by actively doing the will of God. Such as this past week identified, we might use our democratic methods to fight for our rights. St. Paul reminds us long ago that “…our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against Principalities and Powers, against rulers of the world of darkness.” Our work must have a spiritual foundation. Prayer, Sacraments, fasting, sacrifices, and the liturgy are effective in helping us to live a life worthy of the kingdom of God.

Maybe we are “pure in heart”, willing to show the world in word and deed that there is nothing more life-changing than single-minded devotion to God.

Or we are “merciful”, showing others the very gift that we are so anxious to receive for ourselves. Forgiveness takes a big space in this one. Have you forgiven others? Have you forgiven yourself?

These are not mistakes or misspellings, as strange as they look to us. Instead, they are kingdom-based qualities that can open the door to inner peace and everlasting salvation. The challenge for us is to open ourselves to God’s kingdom, and receive this radical new reality that Jesus is inscribing on our hearts and thus making a place for the Beatitudes. A person’s life must be consistent to have peace of soul. Catholic spirituality is a way of life, not simply a practice on Sunday mornings. A car only goes so far before it runs out of gas. You can only go so far in a cultural war before refueling on what really matters; Heaven. Church is your gas station on the road to Heaven.

Blessed are those who open the door to the kingdom of God, says Jesus — blessed are the placemakers.

That’s no typo.
God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.