A Tale of Two Josephs

Let’s begin this morning with a recap of our collect for this day. “O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity
of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, ….”

This and other collects are a specific form of prayer that literally collects the threads of the appointed readings and distills them into a succinct prayer. Thus the collect of the day taps into a theme within the readings for the day. Today is no exception; in fact, I think it would be profitable for us to reflect upon a two aspects of our collect for today. First, what does “the dignity of human nature” look like? Second, are we prepared to humble ourselves “to share the divine life” with Jesus Christ? Let’s see what the wisdom of the Spirit – the sanctifier – may reveal to us today.

First though, I must say, you gotta love Joseph! He’s a man and a saint always and obediently on the move – except, that is, when he’s facilitating someone else’s move by being buried upside down in the yard.

In case you’re not familiar with this popular piety among anxious home sellers, the superstition goes that if you’re having trouble selling your home, you can buy a statue of St. Joseph, bury him upside down in the front yard – facing the house – and pray to him to help find a buyer. Go figure; but it’s a real thing. Frankly if I was buried head down in the dirt I’d be useless; but I’m no saint. So let’s get back to the point.

In our Gospel lesson we meet this compliant man who has the humility to look beyond his own preferences: 1) not to marry Mary when he learns she is pregnant; 2) to leave his ancestral home when he learns his step-son’s life is threatened; and 3) to pull up stakes a second time and leave a safe place to return to an uncertain place. These are not un-counseled decisions, in each case an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream and tells him that his natural preference doesn’t jibe with God’s preference. Which looks more like dignity to you: Following our own preference, or complying with God’s preference? If we agree following God’s preference is the answer, are we then willing to humble ourselves by setting aside our own preference in order to accompany the Lord in his divine life?

As an aside, did you know Joseph’s dad’s name is Jacob? So Joseph is also called Joseph bar Jacob. “So?” you may ask. Well there’s another Joseph bar Jacob, this one is of Old Testament fame. We don’t read of this other Joseph today, but his legacy is invoked indirectly today through: First, Jeremiah’s oracles; and second, through Jeremiah’s personal experience. Like Mary’s Joseph, Jeremiah and this other Joseph are taken to places they do not want to go, and they both have a knack for dreams and visions.

This other Joseph is the son of the patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel. Because he so annoys his brothers as the precocious favored son of his father, this Joseph finds himself stripped of the symbol of his favor – the coat of many colors – and is humiliated by being sold into slavery, only to have his dignity restored because of his gift for interpreting dreams and visions. Nonetheless, the very thing that got him first thrown into a pit and sold into slavery is also the thing – after healthy doses of humility – that frees him and later makes him the de facto ruler of all Egypt, and makes him content to remain where God has taken him. Joseph’s humility in accepting God’s preference allows him to see the divine purpose in his own life.

So how on earth do Jeremiah’s oracles lead me to this recap of the elder Joseph bar Jacob’s life? Well it’s the intersection of the common elements of their lives. Like the elder Joseph, Jeremiah’s oracles make him a pain in the you know what to others, especially those who are critical of the King Josiah. As a result, when Jerusalem falls to Babylon, a dissident group of Israelites take Jeremiah hostage and haul him off in exile to Egypt. Sound familiar? Yet even there Jeremiah continues to share in the divine life, a prophetic ministry among the dispossessed.

In the grand scheme of this tenuous scriptural connection, both Josephs ultimately fade into relative obscurity. As obedient servants of the divine life they are agents in God’s greater narrative – not the headliners but the indispensible supporting cast. As such they are willing to find themselves in pits in the ground only to be extracted when it is time to move on.

So, back to our two points of reflection. First, what does “the dignity of human nature” look like? I argue it looks like a willingness to get into the ditch with one’s neighbor to help them climb out even when you’d rather not. Still the question remains, are we prepared to subject ourselves to such humility “to share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity[?]” Only we (individually) can answer the question of what cost to our pride we are willing to pay to share in this life as the Josephs and Jesus do. So my prayer remains, “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, ….” Amen.

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to pull Saint Joseph out of the hole in the yard when you’re ready to move on!

The Word Became Flesh

[Transcribed audio of a sermon delivered Christmas Day 2019]

May I speak to you in the name of the Parent, Wisdom, and the Word. Amen.

Please be seated.

So I should offer, before I begin, a brief explanation for what is going on here. Most of you are accustomed to me being there (in the pulpit), and that was the plan. But let me take a little segue for a moment and sort of shed some light on what’s going on.

One is this day, this Christmas Day, the lection for this day is the day in which we get to hear this gospel lesson from John. John is an outlier from everything we’ve been hearing in the lead up to Christmas where we’re more familiar with Luke’s account of the birth narrative. So this idea of the Word, and I’ll elaborate on that shortly, comes up in Jesus being the Word. Well it occurs to me this is an invitation to think slightly differently about the Trinity. As I was mulling this over my prayers this morning the thing that came to me was this idea of parent, wisdom and word.

We already know that Jesus is identified by John as being the Word and the Greek for that is Logos, and as I thought about the Spirit I realized the thing that most closely, at least for me, reflects the spirit is this idea of Wisdom, which happens in Greek to be Sophia. I love the image of this sort of non-gender conforming idea of the Trinity. But that’s not the point. It’s just an insight to where my mind goes.

The other thing going on is that I had a manuscript to preach from, but it was this sort of winding circular justification for John’s thinking and all those sort of things, and I realized that really isn’t so much the point. And Wisdom, in her infinite Sophia said, “yeah … nah.” So what you get is this extemporaneous commentary if you will, thus the reason for wearing a blue tooth because I don’t have any way capturing this except for recording it on my phone. So I will later digest this and decide if I went entirely off the rails. But in the interim I beg your indulgence.

I do love this idea of John’s being introduced here. We think we know the birth narratives, but if we ever compare them one to the other, first off Mark doesn’t have one, and Matthew to Luke are very different and the authors of those respective books have agendas; they have messages they’re trying to convey to their particular audiences. Whereas John, in my humble opinion, reflects those of us who – now bear with me now because I can’t remember which is left brain and right brain and I’m doing the arms in the wrong sequence – John appeals to those of us who sort of think differently, maybe more of a mystical mindset. I find great comfort in that and so this idea though of a different birth narrative because he does offer one but he is reflecting back on Genesis. So whereas Matthew and Luke are focusing on what the prophets told us – Isaiah in particular – about what to expect, the author of John goes right back to the very beginning, the very first book, the very first chapter, to the first story. He is placing Jesus in that context, which if our theology is correct, Jesus is the son of God, begotten of God; he was in some form or part from God with God at the very beginning. Theologically it is a sound argument but this idea that this Word was powerful and in place and working in the world and was actually an agent of creation invites us to think about the Word in different ways and to think about the gospel according to John in another way too. So what can we take from this that are not conforming to the stable and manger narrative? I think it is this idea that’s important for us to understand that Jesus was in the beginning, Jesus is not just an event that happened two thousand years ago and then retired to sit on the throne next to God waiting for the end; but Jesus was present in the creation of it all from the beginning. You and I are made of the stuff from the creation from the beginning it’s all the matter and everything of creation is just being simply recycled and repurposed over and over again, and we in our current manifestation reflect that in some way. But the one thing we have always had in common is trying to make sense of it; trying to make sense of our connectedness and our purpose. For me this image that John puts forth of the Word being in the beginning a part of the beginning – nothing came into being without him – is so helpful and beautiful to me because it helps me understand that while I may ask the existential question, “why am I here, what is my purpose?” It is a reminder that my purpose has grounding and foundation in the very beginning, that while I may be here for this brief glimpse of history I have roots and connectedness to the very beginning. I can look back on that connectedness and find guidance for where and what I am to become and whose I am to become.

John invites us to think about things in a different way, not in a dogmatic or formulaic way, but in a way that invites us to be curious, to use our imagination and to ask questions, to ask why is this happening to me? But John also encourages us to understand if we are going to embrace that way we won’t necessarily have certainty in this life, but what we may have is that surest certainty of all; that our Parent, our Wisdom, and our Word was in the beginning, has been with us throughout all created time is with us now, and will be with us through eternity.

The Word is the touchstone, the place that leads back to question, to be curious, to inquire; and to wonder why and what and how. For me John invites that in this season of Christmas and it is beautiful to have this idea – this notion – here on the cusp of Christmas.

Today is Christmas day but it’s also the first day of twelve days of Christmas. We had four weeks of Advent to prepare for this coming – it has arrived – and now we have twelve days to think about how we will use it, how we will take it into ourselves, and how we will become agents of the one who was from the beginning, is with us now, and will be us forever. Amen.

What were you expecting?

For reasons only God can explain, during Advent, I find myself drawn to the image of pregnancy and new life as I think about this season. Very likely it’s the image of a very pregnant Mary – just weeks from her delivery that affects me.

Whatever the reason, during this season I am very aware that all of life is perpetually pregnant with the possibility of new life; yet I’m also aware a lot of people struggle with this kind of expectation.

Throughout the Bible, God uses pregnancy over and over again to demonstrate what is possible among the human race and in God’s created order. Despite our inclination to screw it up with our own expectations, God presents us with new life and opportunities over and over again through procreation, as seen in the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, Elizabeth and Mary, to name just a few.

Yet, despite these and lots of other stories, at some point, we may stop hearing the story – we may stop paying attention to its message of expectancy and new life because the story has become stale and we have stopped paying attention. Perhaps we think we’ve seen it all, that there is nothing new to be revealed or learned here. Or perhaps the story is too familiar; perhaps it has simply become a sweet endearing tale we trot out once a year, like our decorations, to add a little festivity and lightness to an otherwise dark time of year. Perhaps we are made nervous by the thought that there is something new to be learned because it may challenge our settled or familiar circumstances.

There is also the reality that the more often we repeat something – be it prayer, a melody, or a physical act – it becomes so familiar we do it by rote – it becomes mechanical. This is true as well for other repetitive patterns such as the seasons of the church year. We hear the same Scripture and see the same rituals over and over; we hear the same themes expounded upon in sermons over and over; we begin to stop looking or expecting something new; we think we know how it will all go down.

Like Sarah, we may even laugh in God’s presence when it is suggested that something beyond our expectation, such as new life, is possible amid the familiar and commonplace. We too may deny God’s ability to do the improbable or what we think is impossible because reason and experience tell us another story. We may set limits even as God removes barriers or changes those barriers into open gateways.

Isaiah understands this. For decades the people of Judah have endured the hardships of siege, exile, and oppression – the loss of their kingdom as they knew it – they have come to expect deprivation. Yet Isaiah tells them a different story, one that has echoes and images of the Exodus – God’s people being led to a new life – a story pregnant with possibility. As a result, Isaiah tells us our expectations need to be transformed too, “…the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped ….”[1]

Like the exiled people of Judah, where have our circumstances created barriers or set limits upon our expectation of new life? Where have we, like some of the matriarchs and patriarchs been content to accept limitations rather than trusting God’s creative and regenerative power to bring forth something new from them?

Even God’s prophets can begin to lose sight of what is possible because of too small an expectation. Consider John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. Here is the man who baptized Jesus – who heard a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[2] Yet now, even John has questions as he is languishing in prison wondering what has become of the messiah he was expecting. Thus he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”[3]

John is not disappointed because Jesus reminds him of Isaiah’s prophecy of new life to be found in the Messiah, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”[4]

To his credit, John, while he still has time, is questioning his own expectation; and in response, he receives the good news that the Messiah has come, not on the terms of John’s expectations, but on God’s terms as described by his prophets. John, because of his questioning, is able to hear the story afresh – to have his expectation transformed and redirected to the story of new life, even in the midst of his own doubt and suffering.

May you and I, like John and the matriarchs, be willing to ask the questions that transform and renew our expectations so that we can hear this story of new life with refreshed ears, and marvel at the persistent, regenerative power of God as revealed in his son Jesus Christ.

May your Advent be so expectant and blessed!

[1] Isaiah 35:5

[2] Matthew 3:17

[3] Ibid., 11:3

[4] Ibid., v.5

What’s coming?

Let’s begin our time together this morning by setting the stage for today’s Gospel reading. Jesus has been on a tear since entering Jerusalem with a crowd of followers. He’s turned over tables in the Temple, and he’s been arguing with Scribes and Pharisees. And, most recently, he’s been teaching his disciples.

Jesus is trying to prepare them and us for what is to come. His final words for us today are, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[1]

Even though you and I know this story, Jesus’ closing words still ring in my ear as a peculiar welcome to this holy but brief season of Advent. To the disciples, who think everything is hunky-dory, Jesus sounds a bit like Chicken Little proclaiming at a picnic that the sky is falling even as the weather is just fine. So what does Jesus know that we don’t?

What he’s telling his disciples is not about baby Jesus, meek and mild, born in a stable in Bethlehem. No, what he’s preparing them for is his own death, and it’s implications for them. But his disciples don’t entirely get it yet. I imagine they must be asking themselves, just what is this coming – this break-in Jesus is talking about? Oh, and by the way, welcome to Advent; this peculiar season of mixed messages.

So, just as Jesus’ early disciples may have been asking, just what is coming, and who is breaking in? We, as his present day disciples, may have the very same questions; but perhaps our question should be how well do we know Advent? Sure we encounter it year after year, and to many of us it’s like a familiar acquaintance; we are accustom to seeing it from time to time and we nod as we pass by. But how much time have we spent with Advent, getting to know what it is and why it is?

It’s a reasonable question, but Advent’s not so easy to get well acquainted with. It’s not around very long, and it’s always here during a really hectic time of year when it’s easy to let time get away from us as other activities preoccupy us. The next thing we know Advent has passed without our so much as sitting down to chat. What a shame.

While Advent seems to pass by in a blur, its name, which means to come, implies that it’s always before us – always in the future, at least until it isn’t.

Maybe the issue here is one of visibility. What captures your attention? The big flashy event everyone’s clambering for or the quiet understated event that no one notices? This reminds me of the story of King David’s anointing.

You see, the prophet Samuel is sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s eight sons as the second King of Israel. The problem is only seven sons show up. Everyone – even Samuel – presumes the youngest and puniest of the eight can’t possibly be king. So David is sent to the fields to tend the sheep. But God defies everyone’s expectation – even David’s – because God has called the least likely to be king.

Advent – like David – is among the puniest of seasons. As such, Advent is at risk of being overlooked by most. Still, it comes around again and again – a persistent reminder to pay attention to what is coming.

So what is coming? Why Christmas of course! Yes, but not the nostalgic Christmas of Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life. No it’s the Christmas of Jesus’ first coming: the inhospitable welcome of the innkeeper; Jesus’ lowly birth among livestock and the looming threat of murder. This Christmas is not the stuff of Santa Claus and angel’s wings; this Christmas is the divine and yet fully human sharing of our circumstance. We pretty well know this story because most of us have already experienced it.

But how aware are we of the story of the Jesus’ second coming? The coming of the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ? This is the coming yet to be realized – the one Jesus is metaphorically describing to his disciples – the one we have heard rumor of as well. While our eyes and attention may be distracted by all the hubbub of Christmas, this rumored second coming is the Advent Jesus is asking us to prepare for now; this the coming we are to be expecting. Can we give this Advent our full attention? That’s for each of us to determine for ourselves, but I promise we will still have thirteen day to celebrate Christmas. So, may this Advent be blessed with your full attention!

[1] Matthew 24:44

What is Decorum?

In Roman and Anglo-Catholic circles today is referred to as Christ the King Sunday. But don’t be fooled by the title, this isn’t some ancient feast of the church; rather it was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to what he saw as a loss of the regal dignity of the church among the kingdoms of the secular world. Personally I find such preoccupation with the regal dignity of the church at odds with the gospel as proclaimed by Jesus, especially today.

Nonetheless, with Pius’s desire for regality in mind, it seems ironic that our lessons for today evoke a collage of images that don’t really project conventional regal likeness. Instead, our lessons seem to be simultaneously a mix of promise and loss, of praise and mocking, of anticipation and execution. They seem, at the same time, to evoke feelings of excitement and anxiety; a confusing cocktail of emotions if one is hoping for a regal vision of steadfast decorum and dignity.

What’s more, this confusing collection of Scripture is presented to us on a new year’s eve of sorts. This last Sunday after Pentecost marks the beginning of the final week of this season of what we call ordinary time. Next Sunday will mark the beginning of a new liturgical year; but more          significantly, it will mark the beginning of an extraordinary time – Advent – a season of resolution and preparation for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Maybe this new year’s eve of sorts marks a period of resolution and transition for each of us as well. And no, I don’t mean camping out for Black Friday or counting down the shopping days ‘til Christmas! [As an aside, although the irony of naming the kick-off of this period of shopping mayhem is not lost on me – we have given a doomsday-sounding name to what is supposed to be the beginning of a sales bonanza for retailers. Maybe, just maybe retailers get this Advent thing after all. Or not.] Now back to the point. Rather than a period of consumerism gone wild, Advent is a period of interior preparation and practice for the coming of Jesus.

Yet the reality for many of us may be that we are preoccupied with a season of shopping mayhem, or more intrigued with those resolutions and transitions that seem more pressing because of proximity of place or time. This is understandable, but it often leads us – at our own peril – to overlook the bigger picture – the overarching story – because it is this story that defines our eternity. So let’s turn our attention to this confusing collection of readings to see what we can discern among them.

This last Sunday after Pentecost reads a bit like a mini Palm Sunday of sorts. It begins with a promise of restoration under a new king, it continues with the description of the reign of Jesus Christ as head of the Church, and yet it concludes with the heartbreak of Jesus’ crucifixion. Figuratively, these readings seem to leave us hanging on the cross – a place of unresolved anxiety. There is no pretty bow to tie up the loose ends of unresolved pain. Perhaps this serves as a reminder that the holidays are painful for many of us.

For weeks now, our readings have been leading us down a path of increasingly end-of-time-ish stories as the daylight hours dwindle into increasing darkness, as if beckoning us to gird our spiritual loins for the challenges that lie before us. It is as if these readings have – with intention – been directing our attention to this final lesson of the church year – Luke’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Despite its heartbreak, within this narrative there are agents of hope being named. In this story, blinded by worldly ambitions or fears, the crowds and even followers, who heard the good news, turn their backs on Jesus because the reign he speaks of doesn’t coincide with their vision. Even a criminal, as he is staring his own death in the face, ridicules Jesus; this criminal thinks Jesus’ death is pointless. The crowds and this criminal are so preoccupied with their own expectations or anxiety that they are incapable of seeing the bigger picture, the overarching story, that is emerging in the midst of them. This bigger picture is in effect the unlikely beginning of the coronation of the king of kings; a coronation so unlike any that has come before or that will follow. In this story there is only one person who is able to behold what is happening. Another criminal, one who in the midst of his own suffering is able to recognize what is happening because he has compassion. His love of his neighbor on a cross enables him to see the injustice and to recognize the regal decorum and dignity of Jesus, and to say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Among the multitude present, he is the only one to receive Jesus’ benediction, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”[1]

It is because of and through this seemingly insane gesture of dying like a criminal that we, despite our brokenness, corruptness, and unworthiness – if we are willing to accept the compassion and grace of another – are made whole, redeemed, and made worthy to inhabit the kingdom of God.

Therefore, as we find ourselves staring our anticipation and anxiety in the face, may we – like the criminal who loves Jesus for who he is – learn to bear with dignity and decorum the anxieties and injustices that we encounter, not by hiding them behind Happy Holiday facades, but by opening them, and letting the contents spill forth in compassion, prayer, communion and grace so that Jesus and our fellow disciples can guide us toward wholeness so that we – like the compassionate criminal – can recognize the real kingdom and receive Jesus’ benediction of Paradise.

May your Advent be so Blessed!

[1] Luke 23:42-43.

Who am I?

[W]ho am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering? For all things come from you [O Lord], and of your own have we given you.[1]

Hopefully some of you recognize this piece of Scripture because I use it as an offertory before Holy Communion from time-to-time. But beyond recognizing it, you may be wondering, what on earth does this farewell prayer of King David’s have to do with the readings of Scripture appointed for today? Well that’s a good question, and the answer would be nothing and everything. Nothing directly but everything in that it’s David’s response to a divine corrective received a few years before. Beyond this, it’s also a summary of our lessons for today.

The abridged version of our reading from Luke is this: a good argument against the resurrection gets refuted by Jesus. Perhaps I should elaborate a bit more.

The context for this story from Luke is the Sadducees, who are among the politically powerful wealthy elite, and they operate the Temple, which gives them a powerful religious base of operations. As such they dominate religious and political life within the bounds allowed by the Roman empire. In this tenuous setting a lot of people – including the Sadducees – are likely concerned Jesus is threatening their livelihood; thus they are suspicious of much of what Jesus represents.

To be fair, the Sadducees have the misfortune of being made out to be bad guys over the millennia through interpretations of Scripture that tend to reveal more about our cultural and social biases than they do facts about the Sadducees. Thus I think we read more into their differences as presented in this Gospel than Jesus likely intends as he uses them simply as a foil to make a point – a point about how preoccupation with worldly – including religious – concerns can cause us to miss out on participation in the fullness of life that Jesus has to offer.

The Sadducees’ strict adherence to – or preoccupation with – the teachings of the first five books of the Bible, and their assertion that resurrection was not taught within these books is what makes them a perfect foil for Jesus. Literally speaking, the Sadducees are correct, resurrection is not compatible with “the law” [Torah] as they read it. But Jesus points out a flaw within their narrow view by citing God’s revelation of God’s self to Moses in the burning bush as an exception to their understanding. God says to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Not I was, not I will be, but I am. Present tense. Here God is asserting God’s presence among the Patriarchs still, centuries after their earthly death.

Jesus isn’t trying to make the Sadducees look bad here, that’s not the point; if it were we would all look really bad because we all have our issues that keep us more often preoccupied than participating.

The Sadducees are just doing what Rabbis do. They like to play stump the Rabbi, they pose a conundrum to see how the Rabbi will get out of it – to see if his answer stands up to scriptural scrutiny. And Jesus does not disappoint as he points beyond their narrow or preoccupied view to reveal what they are failing to participate in – another vision of life in the present and to come.

So what is the point? I think the point is to answer the two-part question posed by David, “[W]ho am I, and what is my people, …?” In the Old Testament reading, in the Epistle, and in the Gospel we find people who are so preoccupied with their worldly concerns, such as preserving the status quo, or ensuring their security – that they are missing out on the fullness of life that embraces the abundance presence of God in their midst. I am one of these people too because I am a human being and this is what my people are. When confronted with the anxious realities of life our survival instinct to preserve what we have kicks in.

Yet the question continues, “… that we should be able to make this freewill-offering?” There are two parts here: “we should be able” – but how? By invitation to participation – an invitation presented in all three readings today: an invitation by the prophet Haggai to participate in prosperity; an invitation by God to participate in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; and an invitation by Jesus to participate in resurrected life.

This is all well and good, but how do we reconcile our anxious tendencies and such gracious invitations to participate in God’s abundance? The surprising answer is found in the final part of the question, “… make this freewill-offering.” As opposed to required offerings, which were periodic obligations mandated by “the law”, the freewill-offering is entirely voluntary and is the fruit of gratitude expressed in response to the recognition of the source of abundant blessings we enjoy as the people of God.

“For all things come from you [O Lord], and of your own have we given you.” This notion that God is the source of all that we have comes from the biblical understanding that everything we have is ultimately derived in some fashion from creation. In today’s lessons this is most strongly emphasized in Haggai where God asserts God’s sovereignty over all creation and wealth, and God’s intention to give prosperity.

The Epistle and the Gospel do not make specific claims about the source of all that we have or prosperity per se, but they and the Old Testament lesson are clear about the source of the promise of eternal life, and they call us to claim and practice participation in the promise precisely because this practice is challenging in the face of our preoccupying practicalities. Our acceptance of this challenge – this spiritual exercise – with “our possessions” will result in a stretching and growth of our spirit, and in this practice we will be lead to an increased awareness of God’s presence and abundance in our lives, where we will learn the answer to the question, “Who am I?”

[1] 1 Chronicles 29:14 – from David’s farewell prayer

Political Rally?

These days some of us may be more familiar with Halloween than All Saints’ Day. Given the pop status Halloween enjoys, we can be forgiven for thinking that Halloween is the thing. As a result I offer a little background to put Halloween into proper perspective.

The name Halloween is derived from the holiday’s origin name, which in archaic English is All Hallows’ Eve, the day before All Hollows’ Day. In old English a “hallow” is a saint or holy person. However, with time “saint” came to replace “hallow” in most contexts, but not Halloween, which in popular imagination has taken on its own unique identity separate from All Saints’ Day. You can probably guess why Halloween has its own following. Let’s face it, All Saints’ Eve, which it really is, just doesn’t conjure up the “paganesque” imagery we often associate with Halloween. Nonetheless, Halloween – as the Eve before – exists to point the way to All Saints’ Day, as if to conjure up the hallowedness we might aspire to even as we are immersed in ribald revelry.

But how is it we end up celebrating All Saints’ Day two days after its appointed day of November 1st? Well, it’s one of the ways the Church accommodates those of us whose lives can’t make space for communal worship during the workweek.

The Church makes this accommodation because All Saints’ Day is so important a communal feast that it merits our attention and celebration. Thus it is a movable feast – it is accommodating – so we are able to observe its celebration as a community on a Sunday following November 1st.

At its core, All Saints’ Day is a day of thanksgiving for all the saints, those still living and those who have gone before us. We give thanks today for their grace-filled examples and we celebrate that we are joined with the saints in the communal body of Jesus Christ our Lord. In this celebration we are filled with awe as we reflect upon the saints’ examples, and perhaps nevermore so than as we contemplate the contentious political environment that threatens our communal landscape these days.

I think this accommodating feast of All Saints’ and its lectionary can give us some perspective in how to face these days as a community, especially in light of the values espoused by Jesus in Luke’s riff on the beatitudes.

Today Jesus is sermonizing, not only to his disciples, but also to “a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.”[1] This diverse multitude of extended community is full of curious onlookers and those seeking to be cured.

So while Jesus may be looking at his disciples as he preaches, he is very aware of this diverse and unhallowed multitude; he wants this community to hear his sermon as well. What’s more, he’s saying things that are confounding to many of them. You see, Jesus is not pandering to the crowd; in fact, his words are confounding and challenging to most of them precisely because he is not trying to tell them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. By modern standards, Jesus stinks as a politician.

On the one hand Jesus speaks of blessedness or happiness, and on the other he speaks of woe or grief; but in neither case is he speaking of happiness or grief in conventional ways.

He says, happy are those who are poor, who are hungry, who weep, who are hated. Apparently suffering as the prophets and saints suffered for their faithfulness is how to claim the reward of heaven. Hmm … suffering; I’m thinking this is not the way to win over an unhallowed multitude.

Clearly, there is another choice. We can choose to pursue riches, to be full, to laugh, and to have others speak well of us, but Jesus tells us these will only lead to grief in the end. Excuse me, but I would like to have my cake and eat it too!

This is not the kind of stump speech one expects from a successful politician. Instead Jesus is telling all of us the good news and the bad news; this kind of candor or authenticity is not something we expect from public officials all that often.

Perhaps we should accept it as an honest appraisal of the choice before us; a choice between communal happiness and constrained grief. If we are listening, and if we choose communal happiness, Jesus gives us a prescription for pursuing that happiness: love; do good; bless; pray; be generous; and treat others as you would have them treat you.

However, Jesus tells us to be selective. He tells us to pursue happiness by accommodating: our enemies; those who hate us; those who curse us; those who abuse us; those who hit us; and those who steal from us.

Does such an accommodating party platform even make sense if one wants to win a campaign? Well if you want to make an impression on someone, do what they least expect, it will get their attention. They may even pause to ask “why?” Accommodation may become an opportunity to remind them of the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Accommodation is an invitation to remember that what Jesus wants most for us and from us is to be in relationship with one another – not opposed to one another. This is essential to our communal wellbeing and it is what we need to remember these days and for the days to come because we won’t all be happy with how the political landscape turns out, but we can still do unto others as we would have them do to us.

It is because of this that Jesus is telling his disciples, and the multitude of diverse opinions and wants, that we need to set aside our differences and hurts and choose to build relationships of mutual respect and accommodation.

But Jesus places the burden of this accommodation on us as disciples. We are the ones who are called to show the multitudes what the communal body of Christ and the kingdom of God look like. Heaven knows this will require the best efforts and prayers of All the Saints.

[1] Luke 6:17