The Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Well, it is a joy to be back with you. Thank you to Paul for his yeoman work leading worship through the last two Sundays. I really appreciate his willingness and your understanding of my absence. I am glad I feel so much better.
Happy Anniversary everyone. It is a real joy to be able to celebrate with you our shared ministry of the last eight years. Of course, the first All Saints Day I was here was a Sunday. This year, it was on Wednesday, but we are celebrating today because we can.
As I shared with you in my Musings this past week in the Weekly Update:
All Saints Day has a special place in the Christian calendar for me. Not just because it was my first day in my "newly minted role" as an ordained person and beginning my ministry here with you.
All Saints Day reminds us that we have a place in the life and the history of the church. We celebrate all those who have gone before us, but we also celebrate the role we have in the proclamation of the Hope, Love, and Joy of Jesus Christ in the world.
We also celebrate as we look forward to those who will come after us because we are witnesses to his sustaining help and presence in our lives.
Now, Hope, Love, and Joy also remind us that we are drawing to the end of this season of Ordinary Time. We will soon be celebrating Advent - Hope, Love, and Joy.
Then, very soon after that, we will be celebrating the Mass - the liturgy of the Eucharist - for the coming of the Christ child. Christmas.
May we take every opportunity to take our place with all those who have gone before, share our lives now, and those who will proclaim Christ into the future.
So that leads me to talk about the scriptures we have for this morning as our All Saints readings.
I was struck, as I read the readings in preparation for writing my message, and as I reflected on All Saints, that one of the challenges many of us experience is that we can understand that by attending, and participating in worship, we can misunderstand what faith is. Or perhaps a better way to put it would be that we may misunderstand our relationship with the church as actually being an expression of our relationship with the Lord.
Now that may sound like an outrageous statement. But can I ask a question that might explain what I mean?
Have you ever met a person who holds a degree in a particular discipline who had to take a certain number of credit hours? Some of those credit hours were made up of subjects that had a tangential or sideral relationship to the degree. One might hazard to suggest that some of the courses had little or nothing to do with the subject. But to obtain the degree the student had to attend and sit the exams. Then they moved on and never used or thought about that subject again.
For example, Social Sciences are often an area in which many students take classes to obtain all kinds of degrees. But they certainly would never promote themselves as someone who has an interest in or is qualified in Social Sciences. They have visited the subject, and they are familiar with it, but it is not theirs, they don't own it, and it is not theirs in a way that they would expect to live it out in their lives.
Sometimes I have met people in churches who have never recognized that they sometimes experience church that way. They come, they participate, they hear the readings, recite the prayers, and enjoy coffee hour. But if anyone ever asked them to talk about their faith and the understanding of their relationship with God they would defer to their Pastor, or their friend who teaches Sunday School, or to someone else in the congregation who they feel "understands those better than I do."
They have "kinda" visited and learned something about the subject of worship or about who the subject of our worship is. But they wouldn't claim to own it for themselves.
If I may, I would like to suggest that these folks could be referred to as people who have a general adherence to Christian faith. They are familiar with the outward practices but would have difficulty clearly expressing, or espousing, their own belief system. It is like when we go to a friend's house and we experience their family. All the time we know we are visitors, we are not children of the family or family members.
Let's look at our readings this morning and see if they give us any guidance. I would like to start with the reading from 1 John that we heard this morning.
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are."
Then it goes on to say: "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is."
So, what makes us members of a family, what makes us children of a particular family? It is when we spend time with that family, and we experience their values. When we are invited to join them in their deepest family moments. We move beyond being visitors when we engage and participate.
1 John puts it this way: "And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."
Now we could take a long look at the reading from Revelation and seek to understand just what it might cost us if we decide we want to be part of the family of God. Now, not everyone is called to martyrdom. Don't get me wrong I am not advocating some kind of cultish practice that would demand we look for ways to throw ourselves against the powers and principalities of this world. But we should at least understand that for some people that is exactly what is asked of them.
Revelation talks about the Saints in a beautifully powerful way. It offers insight into the sacrifice and commitment to the point of the loss of life for the Gospel. Even in our modern world, there are people who are giving up their lives, right now, for Jesus' sake.
But we live in this world and we are faced with more immediate demands if we are going to live our lives for the Gospel here and now in Huron.
So we should move on to the the Gospel reading for today.
Matthew 5: 1-12 is very familiar to most of us. It has come to be known to us as "The Beatitudes." When I looked for a definition, the best one I came across was: "supreme blessedness." So by inference, the person or people who can live their lives by the guidance of Jesus' words in Matthew 5 will be supremely blessed.
I believe that it is necessary to understand that Jesus, as he is speaking here, is making comparative statements. The Beatitudes do not stand alone. They are to be read in contrast or in comparison with the attitudes and the behavior of folks that people in Jesus' time saw as leaders or spiritual guides. Most likely Jesus is pointing out the downfall of the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the High Priests, and the Sadducees.
These Holy personages and institutions had forgotten their need to be examples of the graciousness and loving kindness of God. I want to suggest that rather than going through each one of these Beatitudes today, that we take them home and we study and investigate what each one means.
Even without too much time or effort, I believe we will discover just how countercultural these Beatitudes are. That they will challenge us about how we understand we should live our lives in modern American society.
The section from Matthew ends this way: "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."
There is our connection to All Saints Day once again: "for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
How will we live out our lives - how will we show those around us - what family we belong to? How will we be children of the Kingdom of God in our world today? We never know who will watch and see. Who will be and be challenged to the truth of the Gospel because we live like Saints, members of the family, not visitors to a friend's home.
As our Collect says this morning: "Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you..."
Bishops & Father Mike