— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~All Saints’ Sunday~~~
Without apology there are two sermons today. The first is the best and the most important. The second sermon attempts to echo the first. The first sermon comes to us from Jesus. Jesus’ sermon has a title – The Sermon on the Plain. The second sermon is my attempt to harmonize with Jesus’ message. My sermon, too, has a title – The Place Called Blessed.
Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation …Everyone was trying to touch him – so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! Then he spoke:
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 in the morning.
Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – skip like a lamb, if you like! – for even though they don’t like it, I do … and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
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.
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!” (The Message by Eugene Peterson)
If we believe what Jesus has taught in these verses of Scripture then we have come to a place of faith where we have experienced a deeper, more joyful, more real, more fulfilling reality beyond the trappings of worldly wealth, popularity, selfish gain, ease of existence, revenge, or violence. If the teachings contained here reflect what we know in our hearts, then we have come to a place called “Blessed.” In this place called “Blessed” our very beings are measured by the eternal measurements of truth, generosity, peacefulness, joy, and self-giving love. In this place called “Blessed” there is always a firm foundation of God’s grace and the company of saints who have journeyed to the place of God’s kin-dom come where generous love is the bedrock of all that is done.
This journey to a place called “Blessed” starts with a sense that there is a power, a Higher Being, a Love, a Spirit, a God that is more real than anything that might allure us to something smaller and finite and fleeting. The journey to a place called “Blessed” starts with an attunement to the vibrations of eternity, a leap into the pulsations of a Spirit that exists no matter the outward or inward circumstances of our lives. The journey to a place called “Blessed” begins in God.
There are lots of ways to talk about God. We can be generous because the mystery of the divine invites humility. At the conference I attended last weekend as chaplain – a gathering of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Educators – I had the opportunity to visit with a college friend who has been a pastoral counselor and psychotherapist for 30 years. He has just published a book entitled Spirit in Session. The book is written for people in his profession who deal with folks with religious beliefs. My friend, Russell Jones, is wise and generous in his outlook on religion – recognizing that it has power for good and bad in people’s lives. I bought his book and started it while there. The following paragraph left me …moved and inspired and grateful for my friend’s wisdom…
All the many names for God are like this…(like Buddha’s finger pointing to the moon). Yahweh, Allah, the Tao, Jesus, Spirit, Brahman, Baha, Higher Power, the Life Force, the Beloved, and more…
They all convey something true about the Spiritual Ground of Reality, and none of them expresses the Full Truth. They are inspired, soulful stabs at Whatever It Is That’ll make a carpenter spend forty days in the wilderness without food; or a prince sit down beneath a bodhi tree and not move until enlightenments strikes; or a criminal who’s fled the country return to the scene of his crime, request and audience with the king, and say “Let my people go”; or a black seamstress not give up her seat on a bus to a white man; or a man step gently but unhesitatingly into the path of a tank in Tiananmen Square; or the adult survivor of childhood abuse ask, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Whatever That is, the That that throws and sows and grows all this grace and grit, That’s what we are pointing to when we say the word “God.”
My friend broadens it even further with these two sentences:
Or take all the best words you know: nouns like love, truth, beauty, and grace; verbs like touch, breathe, laugh, cry, and sing; adjectives like tender, fierce, extravagant, hilarious, and holy. That’s also what we’re pointing to when we say “God” (page 12).
I am grateful for my friend’s wisdom. There is room for all of us in his talk of God.
The journey to a place called “Blessed” goes in the direction of a reality that is deeper than circumstantial characteristics such as poverty, sadness, hunger, rejection and even deeper than wealth, happiness, fullness, or popularity. It is a ground of being that allows us to stand where we are and know in faith that we are on a firm foundation of eternal generosity and love and to walk into that generosity and love even as others are consumed with scarcity and hatred. The place called “Blessed” is a place of tenderness, fierceness in the face of challenge and injustice, beauty and grace. The place called “Blessed” is a place of truth where people will risk careers or position to speak it. The placed called “Blessed” is a place of laughter, tears, singing, gentle touch. The place called “Blessed” is life within God.
Years ago, James Alison, a leading Catholic theologian, was suspended from the priesthood due to his LGBTQ advocacy. Alison recently made public a phone call he received two years ago from Pope Francis, who gave the theologian “The power of the keys,” indicating he was restored to the active priesthood. “I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus,” Pope Francis said to Alison (as reported in Christian Century, October 23, 2019; originally from Tablet, September 26).
We all can make the journey to the place called “Blessed.” We do not have to be Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Rosa Parks, Mary Oliver, James Alison, Pope Francis… all we need is the hunger and the vision for that which is holy. As we make the journey with and toward a deep interior freedom which is the gift of life within the place called “Blessed” we are guided by the saints who have known that underneath everything and at all times, especially the hard times, there is a love that undergirds us and shapes us and calls us forward into abundant living.
Thanks be to God for the saints
who have shown us the way
to the place called Blessed.