October 30, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
All Saints Sunday
Blessings and Woes
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 ‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 ‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. ‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
At this time of year there always seems to be a shift afoot. There are changes in the light, changes in the time coming, changes in the crispness of the air, the first heavy frosts; and the ratio of leaves on the tree to leaves on the ground suddenly tips. Walk out of church today and you will see how, in a matter of days, the great cathedral-like Catalpa tree has now opened its ceiling of leaves to the sky.
I heard someone once describe the days we’re about to start tomorrow of October 31, November 1 and November 2 as days of a sacred thinness. All Saints Day, always celebrated November 1, and the related All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day on either side, are days when we celebrate and honor the ways God has moved ordinary humans to live extraordinary lives. These are days when we remember and give thanks for the people who shaped the paths we walk by the Christ-like paths they took. They are days we especially remember those who touched our lives who are no longer here.
For me I have always loved the aspect of our tradition here in the church that lifts up not only the extraordinary people and pioneers of our faith, but also the ordinary people who had an impact on who we are today in a way that the whole world may or may not know. “I sing a song of the saints of God,” the hymn goes (we’ll be singing it at the end of our service), “patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green: they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.”
These holy days of sacred thinness are like a window for us. A chance to peer through the thinness of time and space to look for clues on what makes the ordinary extraordinary. What is it about the way the saints we’ve known lived their lives that inspires us today? Is there an instruction manual for how to be a saint?
No, not exactly. There’s no instruction manual for becoming a saint because becoming a saint is not actually the goal. As most any saint from across the continuum of time and space would tell us. What was the goal? Making the world a better place. And many of the saints we know would have said, yes, there was something of an instruction manual for that kind of goal.
And we heard parts of it just now. Jesus believed in a world transformed by people who shared this common goal, so he gave them some wisdom. A crowd had gathered to hear him speak and in Luke’s telling of the story, he came down to a place that was level with the crowd and delivered what is commonly referred to as the “sermon on the plain.” In the passage we have received today we hear these salient truths, instructions for making the world a better place:
Life can still be full and meaningful even, and especially, when we are poor, hungry, weeping and hated by others. In fact, it is in these moments that God shows up the soonest. God is with the vulnerable.
If life is all about being rich, and full and laughing all the time, we will have no room for God beside us. Take heed when you’re just living life to make yourself avoid pain.
Love is not passive, it’s active. Love fiercely. Not just the ones who will love you back. That’s not hard. Love the ones who will never love you back. Love your enemies even. Give more than what is asked of you. Go the extra mile.
And lastly, leave the judgement to God. Instead work on forgiving.
Jesus came down to the level ground so that he could be eye to eye when he gave these instructions. He knew they were counter-cultural. He knew that putting them into action would be the hardest thing anyone ever did. Yet he also knew ordinary people could and would still do them.
I think about some of the dear ones we’ve lost recently in our community and I see ordinary extraordinariness in them. I see people who would have given you the shirt off their back if you needed it. I see people who showed their vulnerability and were, in turn, a blessing to others struggling through difficulty. I see people who loved unconditionally. I see people who left this world in better shape than when they arrived.
That’s the strange thing about living life alongside ordinary saints. We often don’t fully appreciate all the things that made them so special until we are left to grapple with their absence and the huge holes they leave.
But I am thankful for the thinness of this moment. The fullness of God that moves in the transitions between life and death and surrounds us with, as the scripture says, a great cloud of witnesses, who have walked before us showing the path. I am thankful for the ways we, too, though ordinary, have the opportunity to make the world a better place not just because we want to someday be remembered as a saint, but because making this world better than we found it is the legacy our loved ones gave to us. It is the legacy they inherited from the generations before them. It is the legacy Jesus himself gave us, eye to eye, when he believed in the ordinary power of our struggles and our love, the coats off our back and the debts we choose to forgive. Suddenly what is ordinary becomes simply extraordinary.
Let us pray.
Jan Richardson, a blessing
For those who walked with us, this is a prayer.
For those who have gone ahead, this is a blessing.
For those who touched and tended us, who lingered with us while they lived, this is a thanksgiving.
For those who journey still with us in the shadows of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams, this is a benediction.
Grace and Peace,