Albuquerque New Mexico
Sunday January 30, 2011 Annual Meeting
Text: Matthew 5: 1-12 The Beatitudes
Title: Blessed to be a blessing.
Our Gospel reading today is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a packed collection of teaching that Matthew glued together in his gospel. The faith traditions call this portion of scripture the “little gospel” because they believe it contains the core of the biblical message. This core teaching has much to do with our identity as followers of Jesus and as members of St. Michael’s on this annual meeting Sunday.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed, Blessed, Blessed what does this odd word mean. The truth is that the Greek word makarioi, the first word of all the beatitudes is hard to translate. The Latin word “beatus” means blessed but it doesn’t really capture the meaning very well. It means something more like: Happy are the poor in the Spirit, or Wonderful News for the poor in spirit, or Lucky are the poor in spirit, or congratulations to the poor in spirit.
The beatitudes describe in word pictures the kind of people who are in-tune with the kingdom of God, they tell us of the characteristics you will find in the midst of a community that not only calls itself Christian but has chosen to live that way of life.
Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Because rich or poor they know their own deep need of God in all things.
Why are those who mourn promised comfort? Because in this beatitude Jesus assures the mourners and seekers after justice that God is not asleep. The devastations wrought by human avarice and thirst for power will be remedied.
Happy are the Meek? Probably one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible: meek is not a synonym for week it simple means power under control, or even more provocatively appropriate anger. The meek are the ones best suited to inherit the earth for they have respect for their own power to damage and destroy such a beautiful creation and appropriate anger for toward those who use power without reflection and discipline for their own selfish gains.
The Beatitudes are rich fields for reflection and one sermon is not enough to plumb their depths.
Being Poor in spirit, mourning for justice, practicing meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, cultivating purity in heart, pursuing peace, being willing to take heat for being a friend of Jesus: these are the God-graced characteristics of those who have thrown in their lot with Jesus. These are not things we gut and grind out they are ways of life that arise out of our love for God and in the sure knowledge that this is how the kingdom of God takes actual shape in our midst.
In the Sermon on the Mount we learn that those who have found their lives in the midst of this blessedness are salt of the earth. They preserve life and like salt in our food bring out the true flavor and delicious taste that is sometimes hidden just in front of us. We Christians are meant to preserve and flavor the world.
A current television ad for an entertainment package shows scenes of a darkened city full of chaos and mayhem. People are being assaulted, police cars are fire-bombed, banks are being robbed, women run screaming and danger surrounds everyone. The scene changes to a plush apartment in which a masked and caped superhero sits on the couch eating snacks and watching movies. His emergency phone is ringing of the hook for help but he does not bother to answer it so enthralled is he with all of his movie and programming options. The commercial advertising the entertainment package cuts in with the words, “You’re going to be busy, super busy.”
I admit it is a good commercial but a dark one. The commercial reminded me of a teacher I once had who painted a visual picture of what the world might be like if there were no people of faith in the world. He spoke of the preserving and savory influences of people of faith and life-giving values that were so essential to a world with any hope for mercy, justice, peace, forgiveness, healing, caring for the most vulnerable. He asked what if Christians hadn’t started hospitals, orphanages and advocated for child labor laws, worked to end slavery, cared or abandoned children, established the Red Cross, began compassion international, started habitat for humanity and so much more? What if there were no food pantries or no days schools?
It really is a sobering thought. Sometimes we are so busy, super busy recounting the ways that religion and faith has made the world an awful place, how religious convictions unconnected to love and compassion have brutalized entire groups of people and cultures and led to atrocities on scales we’d rather not remember. And I don’t intend to minimize or discount the truth and sadness of this history.
However, at the same time, I want to propose that the beatitudes exist in our defining story to call us into our own best selves as followers of Jesus. They intend to woo us into a life caught up in the ways of God so that we do indeed preserve and flavor the world in delicious ways. The world doesn’t just need more Christians, it needs better Christians, deeper Christians.
For me this is why it is important to live in and support a faith community like St. Michael’s. I am inspired, stirred by the Spirit in this place and through each of you, when I experience how you as parents care for and nurture your children, how aging spouses take care of one another, how partners care for each other and help them grow spiritually, how friends support each other through joyful and difficult times. Participating in worship on Sunday morning is not an optional activity for many who have discovered that their life-energy is fed and renewed and focused in a God-ward direction in this place. What a gift it is to have the wisdom of generations in our midst of those who have been walking in faith or many years. What an incredible privilege it is to have other adults caring for and mentoring my children and yours.
When I look around this parish and consider all that has taken place this last year I am grateful for the preserving influence of this community and the flavor that it brings to the city of Albuquerque and to this Diocese. I think we need to remember that St. Michael’s is a strategic parish in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. This past year we elected a new bishop Michael Vono, who is, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air. Bisho. Vono has opening praised the vitality and vision of St. Michael’s calling us a model parish. Here we might want to puff out our chest and strut around a bit. But, I say that not to brag but rather to remind us that we have a responsibility as St. Michael’s to do our best to maintain and nurture the vitality and health so many have come to depend upon in their own spiritual journeys. We are a unique witness to a radically welcoming form Christianity and we are called to share it with others around us, but we cannot continue to do that without adequate resources and we need your help.
In difficult financial times this congregation continues to move forward in faith. Some may say that we just held our own this past year, but we have done much better than that. In fearful times we have built a much needed New Ministry Complex with offices and classrooms and space for ministry and believe me we are using this space in many new ways. It is no small task but as a whole community with God’s grace and a great deal of generosity we will pay off our mortgage on the new building as we expand our ministries and grow into a larger influence in our neighborhood and city, but we need your help to accomplish this and you will here more at our annual meeting which follows.
This past year we lovingly sent Fr. Brian off on a well-deserved sabbatical to be refreshed and stimulated. And this coming June we will welcome him back, myself especially, with fresh ideas and new energy for ministry in this place.
This past year we gave up bad coffee for Lent and we never looked back. I had to laugh as the other day I was trying to explain to my 8 year old son about groups that went door to door evangelizing. He was puzzled by it and said, “I don’t get it you don’t have to do that, you just make really good coffee and the people just come in.” Ah, a child after my own heart, java powered mission.
Quietly a group of very dedicated and patient people have been ReImagining St. Michael’s and I am simply amazed at the initiatives that these leaders have chosen to invest themselves in: ministry to and with our Seniors, pastoral care for the GLBT community in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, Language Learning and Community building in our neighborhood through a new Spanish and English language initiative called Voces, all of which you will be hearing more about at our annual meeting. When I see the fruit of the ReImagine process over the past 12 months I am blessed, super blessed by our parish and the leadership that has and continues to emerge. St. Michael’s is blessed. And the truth is that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.
St. Michael’s represents a different kind of Christianity for many in our city that is much needed. It is not the hard-edged, brittle, judgmental Christianity that so many of us have escaped or are recovering from. It is a Christianity that has a deep reservoir of grace at its center. One that believes that God continues to reveal a faithful way that draws ever larger circles to include one another.
I’m reminded of the words of a rhyme:
They drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, something to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took them in.
Progressive Christianity means a lot of things to those who call St. Michael’s home. It means that you don’t have to check your brain at the door of the church. It means that the questions are as important as the answers. It means that you can belong while you are figuring out what it means to believe. It means that all who present themselves at our door are to be welcomed in the name of Christ. It means that we will not rest as a church until our GLBT brothers and sisters have the same rights and protections that all human beings should enjoy. It means that in the face of continued violence around the world and in our own country against GLBT people we will stand with our church and our new bishop in striving for justice and peace among all people and respect for the dignity of every human being. We will work together prophetically to see that there are rites approved for blessing same sex unions and that the process to ordination is indeed open to openly gay members of our faith.
It means we believe that the life-changing way and teaching of Jesus is a lively word for us today, a word we believe our world needs now more than ever. A word of hope instead of despair, a word of forgiveness instead of hate, a word of building community rather than taking sides, a word that compels us to protect and serve the most vulnerable in our midst, a lively word that gives us the motivation and energy to be Christ-like in a world that has nearly forgotten what it means to be civil and respectful let alone loving and compassionate.
St. Michael’s is a gift in so many ways for so many people. We are a gift to families who desire that their children to grow up around the diversity and joy of a place like this. We are a gift to parents who want their children to have the spiritual grounding and faithful story of God’s ways deeply planted in their heart so that they know a more excellent way to live than the cutthroat competition and rampant consumerism that surrounds us on every side.
We are a gift to every working person who comes into this place on a Sunday morning to discover anew the source of their life energy that they depend on each and every day. Our open and nurturing Eucharistic table, the heart stirring words of our liturgy and preaching, the powerful music and healing silence are all part of nurturing the life energy within each of us in the power of God’s Spirit so that we can do our best to do good work in the world, to be loving and patience and attentive parents, to be sensitive and sacrificing lovers, to be supportive and pastoral friends.
What do we want the city of Albuquerque to say about us in the years to come? That we had impeccable taste, took care of ourselves and knew how to use our dessert forks? Or that as faith community we really loved and that it is obvious in the way we have reached out to our neighborhood and our city as the compassionate people God has called us to be?
Blessed are you, not when you play it safe and pretend you are sacrificing when it really is all quite easy for you. Blessed are you St. Michael’s when you have a different kind of Christianity to offer the world, your neighbors, your co-workers, and your family. A Christianity that keeps loving, keeps giving, keeps forgiving, keeps praying, keeps risking, keeps seeking God’s face, keeps drawing the circle bigger, keeps enlarging your heart, so that the kingdom does indeed draw near, in our very midst.
St. Michael’s is blessed to be a blessing in this neighborhood and in this city and in this very place. Blessed, Happy, Lucky, Congratulations, Wonderful News, St. Michael’s when we continue to grow into the compassionate, influential, and risk-taking church that God is calling us to be. I ask of you three things this year: Give generously of yourself to the life and ministry of this place. Your life-energy is needed to make St. Michael’s what it is called to be so get involved in some way. Give generously of your finances so that St. Michael’s can continue to be a salty place: preserving and flavoring the Christian life of this city. We do not yet have the resources we need to operate for the coming year and we truly do need your help. And finally, remember to pray for the ministry and life of this parish as it will tune your heart and open you to God’s Spirit at work here in this place. You’re going to be busy St. Michael’s, blessedly busy, for there is much loving and forgiving and working for justice and caring for the vulnerable and supporting one another to do. Blessed are you St. Michael’s. Blessed to be a blessing.