Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 6, 2016

2016.11.06 “Blessed” – Luke 6: 20 – 31

Central United Methodist Church
Blessed
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 6: 20 – 31
All Saints’ Sunday
November 6th, 2016

allsaintssunday

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“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.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

– Luke 6: 20 – 31, The New Revised Standard Version

 

To borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor, it has not been a quiet week in Chicago: “How ‘bout dem Cubs?”

This week I was in Washington, D.C., and everywhere I went wearing my Cubs hat, it sparked conversations, about how people not normally even Cub fans were rooting for the Cubs, the greatest underdog team in baseball. Flying back yesterday, even the TSA agent who searched my suitcase – when he saw my Cubs hat in the suitcase  – paused and said, “So did you watch the game?”

They did it; at long last they did it. As everyone who watched the gapromisesme knows, you no longer need to go to your doctor for a stress test. I watched it with my son, and we were up walking around the room, too agitated to sit. Millete said she couldn’t take it, and hid under a blanket, asking Ernie to let her know what happened. Another person tweeted: “If this is what the World Series is like, how will I survive Election Day?” Some churches were quick to make the most of it, as this church who posted this Cubs “promise” logo

And how about that celebration on Friday? News reports are that as many as 5 million people attended, making it the 7th largest mass crowd in recorded history, according to some reports.

And, of course, amidst all the celebration, there has been no small amount of nostalgia and remembrance, as people remembered Cub fans of the past (like Steve Goodman, who wrote “Go, Cubs, Go) who never got to see the day they hoped for, like we few, we lucky few. It is a dream come true.

Cubs parapharrycaraysgravehernalia has been showing up not only in Wrigleyville and Chicago, but in graveyards around Chicago. Harry Caray’s grave at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines now looks like this [photo]. The baskets of apples are a reference of course to Caray’s famous comment in 1991: “Sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.” One of my former parishioners who died just a few months ago, was a huge Cub fan, and thanks to one of his relatives, now has his name written in chalk on the exterior wall of Wrigley Field, as do many others.

I personally think of my Dad, who was more of a Cardinals fan than Cubs fan, but who lived and breathed baseball and taught me to love it as well. My Dad died in 2012, but I know if I had had a chance to talk to him this year to say, “How ‘bout dem Cubs?”, he would have said, (because he would have been watching them), “The Cubs have a great baseball team this year.” I wish my Dad could have seen it.

All this goes to show that it is not only at our sad times, but also at our happiest times, we remember those dearest to us who have died, not only with regard to baseball, but in life. This is what we do in church on All Saints Sunday, coincidentally also this year the “1st Sunday after the Cubs Won the World Series.”

Perhaps, for those who are young, the remembrance of those gone before might not be significant yet. Some may have yet to face the loss of anyone near and dear. But as the years go by, you lose family members and friends, and there begins to be a cumulative weight of grief you carry, sometimes brought to the surface by a reminder or a memory, a photograph, a song, a piece of clothing. The longer you live, the worse it gets, until you realize you know way too many people in cemeteries. As our oldest seniors remind us, it is even possible to survive your spouse, your family, your dearest friends. So on All Saints we remember the dead, especially those near and dear to us; it is not only appropriate, but important to us that we do so.

When we talk about “saints,” who are we talking about? I have always loved how the author Frederick Buechner describes those we remember 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?

“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. While we believe the dead are “blessed,” we may wonder whether it is possible to know “bliss” in this life.

Jesus thought so, but not for the reasons we might think. In the Gospel for All Saints’, we read that section of Jesus’ preaching known as the Beatitudes (Blessings); today, from Luke’s version. There, this sense of happiness, contentment, and bliss – blessedness – is pronounced by Jesus upon those who, in our estimation, might seem least blessed in this life: those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who mourn, even those who are hated.

I like the way Eugene Peterson renders Jesus’ words in his version, The Message:

You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry.
Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.

As if to make the antithesis of “blessing” ever clearer, Luke adds a set of “woes,” especially cautionary to those of us who live in an affluent and often arrogant society. As Peterson translates them:

But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.  What you have is all you’ll ever get.
And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.
“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests — look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.”

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

To be clear, they are the opposite of many of the values promoted right now in America, especially as we approach Election Day this Tuesday, the most critical election in our lifetime. Indeed, aren’t these values, the values of Jesus’ kingdom, – where ever person is valued, especially the least, the last, and the lost – the ones we want and that we want our children to know, that they might have a chance to blessed in this life, as we have been blessed, as those who taught us the way of Jesus are blessed.

Given this, you can begin to see how we might consider those gone from us, who 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, where they are blessed.

Whenever I start remembering these people I have loved, not only family and friends, but dear parishioners, it gets to me. Rarely do I get through the writing of my “All Saints” sermon without a few tears. But though I grieve their loss, there is also a sacred presence to their memory, the sense that they are with us; and that someday – best of all – we will be with them, where they are.

I apologize, but I always end my All Saints sermon the same way, the only way I know how, with a poem by Wendell Berry, a Kentucky poet and farmer, which has become special to me. 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 this poem, he describes 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. That is what it is like – in this life – to be blessed, just as we believe those who have preceded us are blessed. Let us remember and thank God for them.

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