November 4, 2007 Sunday after All Saints Day Mt. 5: 1-12
One of the great days of the Church Year and certainly here at St. Andrew’s, a festival of celebration, such wonderful music (and with thanks to our good friends of the Pittsburgh Festival Orchesta, and of course to our wonderful Choir), and enjoying as we have just shared a glimpse of the future and certainly of the mysterious and wonderful plans that God has in mind for us in years to come as we celebrate with Tess Buchanan and Beck Matway and T.J. Montgomery and Maighread Southard-Wray and Grace Stassola and their families on this First Communion Sunday.
Remembering saints and heroes of ancient days, remembering in our thoughts and prayers those whom we have known and loved but now see no longer, reminding ourselves of the challenges and opportunities of life and ministry that God sets before us, and aware even in the faces of our children that the intentions of God stretch out beyond all the boundaries of time and space that we can even begin to imagine. This countercultural message about responsibility and stewardship—that it’s not “all about us.”
In this festival, then, and in the context of the reality of our lives today, in a church and a diocese in distress, in a time of war and rumors of war (half of Mexico under water, Pakistan under martial law, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan at the brink of battle), of increasing social and economic instability, for me anyway the words of the traditional gospel reading for All Saints seem to carry a heavier weight of import and meaning.
Jesus stepping back from the turbulence of his moment, from conflict and controversy, and speaking with this deep voice of tenderness. A feeling that the great crowds seem to have stirred up in his heart. He looks out over them and he knows them for their brokenness, their loss, their physical and material and spiritual impoverishment, but also for their wonderful dignity in the eyes of God. And he feels this tenderness toward them, deep affection, and a sense of hopefulness. He sees them, in their brokenness and in their poverty, all their limitations, all their failures, already almost shimmering with heavenly glory and light. And he says, “they are blessed.” “Blessed are they.” “Blessed are you.”
There is obviously a lot to be said about these Beatitudes, as they open the first part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, every sentence, phrase, every word holding depths of meaning. People write books about it all—libraries full of them. What has meant something to me this morning and in this season of my life and our lives, one small part of this great passage, and perhaps having just come back from Johnstown and our diocesan convention this seems especially rich, is when I hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” And I guess it just strikes me, in an environment like this, of winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, institutional construction and deconstruction, powerful emotions of anger, fear—passionate enthusiasms, in all this, it strikes me that we could do worse than to pause and to think about mercy. About what it means to be merciful. About how deeply we may need it ourselves. Mercy.
In the fairy tales and children’s stories, this is an attribute of the Good King. The one who has great strength, but who willingly limits himself. Who chooses not to strike, even when victory is sure. Who practices restraint. Who is gentle with others even when he doesn’t need to be. Even when gentleness is the last thing "they" deserve. The king who would rather be known for his kindness and his generosity than for his power and glory. Who would rather be known for his goodness than his righteousness. Who would choose to be loved rather than to be feared. Blessed are the merciful.
Well, how do we put that into action? What would it mean? In our marriages, in how we relate to our kids or our parents or our neighbors? In the decisions we make when we vote on Tuesday? Here in this congregation, or in our diocese, or in our nation and in world affairs? The gift of cutting each other a little slack sometimes. A lifestyle issue. Of letting there be--space. Of giving second chances and third chances, again, even when they aren’t deserved. Of assuming the best of each other rather than the worst. To be characterized by a sense of graciousness. Always a soft touch. A push-over. Is that a bad thing?
Not because the strength of will isn’t there, but because it is a strength clothed in compassion. In a desire to be friends. “I used to call you my servants,” Jesus said. “But now I call you my friends.” It’s the father who hangs by the front gate, day by day, waiting for his Prodigal Son to come home. Forgiveness overflowing in such an abundance that there is never even time for the word of apology to be spoken.
In years to come, how would I want to be remembered? That I was right? That I won? That no one dared stand in my way?
I think if we listen, it’s the music and emotional texture of God’s heavenly kingdom breaking into the world where we are today. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. For all the Saints who ever were, who are now, who ever will be. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the merciful.