Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday Sermon

November 6, 2011

All Saints Sunday

Typos. When you run across them in your daily reading, they are no big deal. But when the errors occur in Holy Scripture, then you have a problem of biblical proportions.

“Thou shalt commit adultery” is what one Bible said. That mistake in the 20th chapter of Exodus could have started a sexual revolution.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous
shall inherit the kingdom of God.” The unrighteousness lobby certainly liked the sound of that one.

“Go and sin on more,” said Jesus in John 8:11. I am sure those who are tired of going to confession would have loved to see that.

How about, “Let the children first be killed.” Must have been edited by a frustrated parent.

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.”

And what about the phrase “our ancestors” typed as “sour ancestors.” 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.

Fortunately for us editorial and proofreading services work hard to catch and correct such biblical blunders. With an ordinary book, you can put up with more mistakes because it’s not something you’re basing your whole life on. With the Bible people expect perfection.

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. “Blessed are the meek”? The
meek? In this day and age? Some would say that Jesus must have drank too much of that water he turned into wine!
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 Barnes & Noble. 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? What ahs all this to do with remembering All Saints and All Souls day?

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. We are all saints in the eyes of God. That’s
saints with a lower case “S”, but saints all the same.

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.” Blessed are those who make a place for the kingdom of God.

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? Will we become like the Saints with the capital “S”?

Well, maybe not that far for us average people, but 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.

So, on the day we commemorate All Saints and All Souls, 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. Maybe we really are what Jesus calls “the meek”; gentle people who are trying to reject the power-hungry and violent ways of the world we live in.

Or maybe we are men and women who hunger and thirst for righteousness by actively doing the will 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 are we “merciful”, showing others the very gift that we are so anxious to receive for ourselves.

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. Let’s make a place for them. Let’s try to be saints; whether capital letter or lower case, it is all about opening up to the Kingdom of God.

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. 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.