Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 2, 2008

2008.11.02 “Blessed” All Saints’ Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“Blessed”

Matthew 5: 1 – 12

All Saints’ Sunday

November 2nd, 2008

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5: 1 – 12, The New Revised Standard Version

 

 

It’s quite a constellation of events happening this weekend.

The crispness in the air, and falling leaves, signal late fall.  On Friday, children paraded around in costumes begging for candy, as they do on Halloween; unseasonably warm this year. The time change occurred last night while we slept, which means that, today, by five o’clock, it will be dark. And finally, in two days is will at last be the Presidential election, for which we’ve waited for two years. I can’t remember such a sense of a child waiting for Christmas in a long time.  Please – Christians – do your civic duty and vote!

It’s just this time of year that we celebrate one of our favorite church festivals: All Saints, our remembrance of those gone before. Today, we remember in particular those who have died since last All Saints: Glen Blaylock, Alan Wadleigh, and Betty Cooley. It seems like just yesterday we were talking to all three of them.

Rightly, the focus of All Saints’ is not so much on the GREAT saints, like St. Paul or St. Francis or St. Teresa or our “dear old daddy”, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism; but upon the saints we have known, people like Glen and Alan and Betty.  The people about whom we might even be tempted to say, “Believe me, I knew them, and they were no saint.”

The author Frederick Buechner describes the kind of people we’re talking about when he says:

“On All Saints’ Day, it is not just the saints of the church that we should remember in our prayers, but all the foolish ones and the wise ones, the shy ones and overbearing ones, the broken ones and the whole ones, the despots, tosspots, and crackpots of our lives who, one way or another, have been our particular fathers and mothers and saints, and whom we loved without knowing we love them and by whom we were helped to whatever little we may have, or ever hope to have, of some kinds of seedy sainthood of our own.”

The “blessed dead,” we sometimes call them, but what does that mean?  Do we want to be “blessed” in that way? Can we hope to be?

“Blessed”, is not a word easy to define. In ancient Hebrew, the verb for “bless” literally means, “to bend the knee,” to bow before someone. To confuse matters more, the English word comes from Old English blētsian, from blōd blood; stemming from the use of blood in consecration.  From such roots, our usage of the word “blessed” has come to have various meanings: to be held in reverence, venerated, or honored; to be blessed in the sense of enjoying happiness, and specifically in reference to the bliss of heaven; to be blessed in the sense of knowing pleasure, contentment, or good fortune.

Some may even wonder whether it is possible to know such “blessedness” – bliss – in this life? 

Jesus seemed to think so, but not for the reasons we might think. In the Gospel for today – All Saints’ – we read that section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes (the Blessings). There, this sense of happiness, contentment, and bliss in one – blessedness – is pronounced by Jesus upon those who, to our eyes, might seem least “blest” in this life: those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, even those persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

  I like the impact Eugene Peterson gives Jesus’ words in his version, The Message:

                   “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.

With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

                   “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most

dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

                   “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you

are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

                   “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being

‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world — your mind and heart — put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

                  

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5: 3 – 9, The Message)

        Yes, even in this life, we can know blessedness.  It is like standing in a bright light, in a spotlight, embraced by love and understanding, even though we may have tears in our eyes.  The values that lead to blessedness are the values of Jesus’ kingdom. At such times, when you embody and experience those, rejoice and be glad; for yours is the kingdom of God. 

Given such values, you can begin to see how we might consider those gone from us, whose spirits live only to God, as “blessed.” It has more to do with our belief about God than with any understanding of the afterlife. It means that in a spiritual sense beyond our ability to understand, we believe those we love who have died have completed their journey of life and have come to their final destination:  they now behold the face of God, and thus are blessed.

I’m glad for our sake that we have a day in church to encourage ourselves by remember them.  All of us – whether young or old – have people we remember fondly.  And the older we get, the more of them we have.

About 10 years ago, as I thought about all the people I’ve known who’ve died, not only in my family, but in four different churches over 30 years, people like Glen and Alan and Betty whose faces I can still see and whose voices I can still hear, I went through a period of cumulative grief (part of my own “mid-life” crisis).  But once I got through it – as much as you ever “get through grieving those you’ve loved and lost” – there came a certain sense of acceptance, a certain sacred presence to their memory, almost the sense that – sometimes – they are with you, and best of all, eventually, that you will be with them, where they are.

Wendell Berry is a Kentucky poet and farmer. Over the years, Berry has written a poem every Sunday afternoon after a walk around his farm or in the woods. He calls them “Sabbath Poems.”  In one of my favorite poems, he describes just such a sense of what I am talking about:

Some Sunday afternoon, it may be,

you are sitting under your porch roof,

looking down through the trees to the river,

watching the rain.

The circles made by the raindrops’ striking

expand, intersect, dissolve, and suddenly

(for you are getting on now,

and much of your life is memory)

the hands of the dead,

who have been here with you,

rest upon you tenderly

as the rain rests shining upon the leaves.

And you think then (for thought will come)

of the strangeness of the thought of Heaven,

for now you have imagined yourself there, remembering with longing this happiness, this rain.  Sometimes here we are there, and there is no death.”

(A Timbered Choir. “The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.” 1996, V, p. 201).

Sometimes here we are there, and there is no death.

Blessed. 

Amen.

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