Monday, November 8, 2010

Heroism in God's cause is the mark of a saint

On this All Saints Sunday, I preached a two-part sermon. As St. Paul's Church prepares to close, we are thinking about the many gifts we have received in this place, and the treasures we will take with us wherever we go next. The part of the sermon where I talked about that comes at the end of this post.

So I also preached on the All Saints -- on the beatitudes from Luke, particularly powerful after a year of reading Luke and being challenged by the urgency of his Gospel -- and on the familiar readings from Ecclesiasticus and Revelation, the readings from the 1979 Prayer Book lectionary for the day.

"Heroism in God's cause is the mark of a saint" is a quote from Robertson Davies, from one of his Deptford Trilogy novels I read years ago, and still remember vividly. Heroism in God's cause could describe the people of St. Paul's Church, who year after year, and after adversity, decline, conflict and shrinking resources, kept open the doors of a church which
welcomed absolutely everybody, no matter how hungry or poor or dirty or unkempt or haphazard in their church attendance. The doctrinally pure, and the high-and-mighty prosperous may have fought pitched battles over it, and yes, many who stayed mourned the changes and yearned for a return of the glory days when this was the church of the ruling class. But are not all of our motives, human as we are, at best mixed? Nevertheless: in spite of it all, through it all, because of it all, St. Paul's Church embodied the radical hospitality of Jesus, giving its life to this place, this corner of Warren and not-so-Pleasant. Heroism in God's cause is the mark of this Saint Paul. Amen. Alleluia.

All Saints Sunday Nov. 7, 2010
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10, 13-14
Ps. 149
Revelation 7:2-4, 9
Luke 6: 20-31

This whole past year, we have been reading the Gospel of Luke, where every story echoes the song we first heard from Mary, the mother of Jesus: God is here, to take down the mighty from the thrones and to raise up the lowly, to feed the poor and hungry and to let the rich go away empty, to bring the outcast and the sick and the imprisoned back from their exile into the heart of the community. We read it today, in Luke’s version of Jesus’ sermon, early in his ministry: blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who are weeping, you who are hated and reviled, and woe to the ones who think they have got it all.

God’s vision of the world is upside down from the one of conventional success. Let’s just say God is not interested in the stock market, or some banker’s balance sheet. God’s blessings go to those who need them the most.

Remember for the past couple of weeks I have been saying that Luke presents two ways of being righteous; one of those ways – the way of the conventional rule-follower and do-gooder – doesn’t work so well, Luke says. Like in our first reading: praise famous men? Praise the godly ones, who died unknown, blessed and righteous. How many of them, those godly ones, do we treasure in our hearts? Like in our second reading: who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from? Those who have seen more than their share of troubles in this world are given care and refreshment at the very throne of God.

Whose side is God on? This passage makes it clear: God is on the side of the ones who have been hungry and thirsty, the ones who have suffered from the heat of the day, the ones who have been lost, the ones who have been weeping.

The Gospel conveys a real urgency: Listen! It says, and then Do. Act. Take action on behalf of the people whom God loves. Think about the people you know or have heard of who have done that. They are all of them saints of God, and God means for each of us to be one, too.

A guided meditation, on what we treasure at St. Paul's:

Think about when you first walked in the door of this church.

For some of you, that was a long time ago. A great deal of your life has taken place within these walls: important events, family gatherings, times to rejoice, times of utter despair. Some of you, like me, have only been here a few years. Many of the important touchstones of our lives have taken place elsewhere. Think about those events. Think about the ones that were richest and most life-giving. Whether they took place here at St. Paul’s, or in some other place of worship, pick one – just one – such an event. Imagine that event in all its richness and beauty. Remember who was there with you, what you saw, what you smelled, what happened there and then.

What about that event made it so special? What still resonates with you today? What was the gemstone of that event, that you will treasure always?

Come back to the present, and look around this church. All of us walked through these doors for the first time, once upon a time. But we are here now, together, in this place. Think about it. What has kept you here? What about this place drew you to stay here? What is the wellspring of God’s mercy that you find here, that brings you back, week after week?

If you could give this thing a name, what would it be?

Imagine your life as a line, something you can see, visualize. Some people imagine their lives in a line moving from left to right; others like a movie reel, or things that appear in the foreground or recede back. Just imagine this scope of your life.

Now go back to your most treasured memory, that gemstone from the past, that holy moment that took place here or somewhere else, sometime in your own past. Where is that moment on your life line, your life journey? Give it a particular place. Think of it somewhere, in all of its richness and beauty. Anchor it in the map of your memory.

Now come to your more recent memory, the “why you keep coming back to St. Paul’s” memory. Where is that on your time line, your life journey? Imagine it, clear and strong and definite.

Now, what is the connection between these two things? What is the golden thread of meaning that they share? What do these two things have in common, this gemstone of a holy moment, and this thing that keeps you coming back here, week after week? You embody both of these things: what, other than you, do they share?

Thanks to Rachel R. for the batik chasuble from Cameroon. I love it! And I still wear it!!

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