by The Rev. Susan Davenport
member of the LSTC Board of Directors
Revelation 7: 9-17
1 John 3: 1-3
Matthew 5: 1-12
All Saints - LSTC Board of Directors
Grace and peace to all of you, students, staff, faculty, members of the Board and all the saints, from God our Father and creator and from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wow! Happy is the LSTC M. Div. graduate of the Class of 1992 who shares the Word of God with all of you this joyous week of All Saints 2008! At my undergraduate school, the University of Illinois, there sits a sculpture crafted by Illinois sculptor Loredo Taft, at the edge of the Quad, "The Alma Mater," which quotes these words, "To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings."
(Unveiled on Alumni Day, June 11, 1929, the statue depicts "a benign and majestic woman in scholastic robes, who rises from her throne and advances a step with outstretched arms, a gesture of generously greeting her children". Behind her stand the twin figures of Labor and Learning, joining hands in a bronze incarnation of the University's motto. At its base, two quotes are inscribed into the granite: To thy happy children of the future, those of the past send greetings, and "Her children arise up and call her Blessed" Proverbs 31-28.)
So greetings! How glad I am to be with you all today in this beautiful chapel, this first week of November, three days following one of the most, if not THE most, momentous presidential elections of any of our lives. Only about one month ago, it was my turn to share the sermon for the rostered leaders of the Central Conference of the Northern IL Synod at our monthly gathering. Without going into too much detail, the Gospel then was the parable where the king is throwing a big party, a wedding banquet, for his son and I likened the importance of that banquet to the importance of the upcoming election, and the chaos and violence that resulted in that parable, to the chaos and violence [if not literally, thanks be to God, than certainly with words] of the election campaigns.
Wow! Now here we are, one month later, in November, three days AFTER the election, in Chicago, gathering in worship, with the world around us again a changed place. As the Indigo Girls sing "a moment of peace is worth every war behind us." ("You and Me of the 10,000 Wars," by E. Saliers, Nomads, Indians, Saints, Warner Bros. Records, 1990.)
Yes, a moment of peace, and perhaps only a moment.
Just as these Beatitudes of Jesus, given as they were on the mountain, away from the cares of the world, but certainly referencing the cares of the world, were a gift to his disciples when they were given, so can they be a gift to us now, in this time when we are pausing, but also looking foreword as people of faith, as citizens, as church members, as ministers, and as pray-ers for our leaders and for our institutions that so under gird the common good and our life together.
I love these Beatitudes, given as they are for the Feast of All Saints, a bittersweet time when we remember those we have loved who have died, yes, but who have also, we believe, received their great reward! We who are left behind, we long for them, we may even pine for them and stumble making our way through the darkness without them, but Jesus' promises, his blessings, are close at hand. For these Beatitudes of Jesus were not given to the many, to the "hoi polloi" if you will, they were given to his closest few, those who were called and chosen to be his standard bearers. They were the mantle that would cover them in spite of their lot which was to be children of God no matter what the world or life would bring them. Blessed are they.
But these Beatitudes were also given in the presence of the multitude, which "keeps the disciples honest," according to noted preacher Fred Craddock, "as to who they are and what price is to be paid for their commitments." (Fred B. Craddock, "Hearing God's Blessing (Matt. 5:1-12)," Christian Century, January 24, 1990, p. 74.) The crowds serve as a reminder that the invitation to join the circle of disciples is always open to and aware of the world. "It is more difficult," he says, "to hear and receive a blessing than to attempt to achieve one." ( Ibid.) And these Beatitudes, I believe, are not prescriptions; they are simply statements of fact. If you are a follower of Jesus in the world, you will not always be strong in spirit, but you will be poor in spirit; you will not always rejoice, but you will mourn; you will be meek, not demanding [with the help of God!], before your Creator; you will be plagued by wickedness and so will hunger and thirst for righteousness; you will receive mercy, you will be pure of heart, you will have your peace with God; you will be persecuted, or pursued doggedly, as the feeling Anne Lamott describes in her book "Traveling Mercies," "that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen:" she writes about her conversion experience to Christianity, "you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays for ever." (Anne Lamott, "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith," Anchor Books, 1999, p. 50.)
In other words (my words), you're hooked!
No matter what happens to you, no matter how you are reviled, or slandered, or disillusioned, or disgusted or rendered heartsick by this world, congratulations, God's purpose is your purpose! It has been said that only the bravest dare to embrace the virtues Jesus lived. We, no matter how we try to live up to the call to be, as the writer of 1 John says, "children of God," will fall short. But like little children, who are dependent and cared for, so are we before God.
Trust in God is especially difficult, however, for the well connected and the self-sufficient among us. Many of us, if you're like me, are blessed to be relatively financially secure in spite of the recent dip in the stock market. The "losses" many of us have sustained are only on paper, as the ELCA Board of Pensions continues to assure those of us who are rostered leaders! The greatest hardships many of us will face "in this financial climate" are fear and worry born of putting our trust in worldly goods, instead of in heavenly treasures! As people of faith, we know this. Still, it is not easy.
But, rejoice! Jesus says, and be glad! The saints who have gone before you inspire you and witness to you who come after. The saints who have gone before us put into perspective the value of our earthly treasures-our houses, our beds, our friendships, our work, our schools, our seminary, our prayer, our income, our citizenship. As disciples ourselves, as heirs to the promises given by Jesus, we look ahead to the time when we will be united with those who have gone before us, with those who rest securely in the refuge that is God, who are no longer subject to the cares and worry and fears of this world.
As I preached to my congregation this past Sunday of All Saints, what heaven looks like, according to John's vision recorded in the book of Revelation, is what the world looks like, except for the suffering and the divisions. Otherwise, what we people of faith will be doing in heaven will be the same things we are doing on earth! We will be worshipping, we will be working, serving God and one another, and singing: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." And those persons we will meet in heaven will be a surprise of the highest order! Not just our loved ones on earth, but the people we were afraid to love, or the people we loved but loved imperfectly, even some people who didn't love US, will be there around the grand banquet table of the Lord! Then political and social and ideological differences will not matter. Whatever divides us in this life, will not matter.
Until then, we live with the imperfections, in the middle time, doing the best we are able, praying for guidance and assistance, hoping that our best is good enough and when it isn't, knowing we are forgiven. "What we will be has not yet been revealed."
Thanks be to God for this wonderful journey we are on and may God grant us the strength to endure in Christ Jesus who has blessed us and who saves us for his good purpose. Amen.
Revelation 7: 9-17