St. Michael’s Church
All Saints Day
1 November 2020
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Mt. 5)
I propose doing something here today that I’ve never done before: preaching a sermon that I fully intend to repeat again (with some adjustments)—next Sunday.
My reason for doing so is simple: going into this election week, we as a Christian community need to be reminded of the core values that shape who we are; and then coming off of the election a week from now, we will need to be reminded again of exactly the same thing, regardless of the election’s outcome.
As the hymn we heard a moment ago put it, God will have work for us to do, no matter what happens this week—and a lot of it!
Four years ago, on the Sunday after the 2016 election, we were all a bit stunned by what had happened (however we might have voted individually). On that day, searching for something that might help to guide and reassure us, we read the Beatitudes as our affirmation of faith—the same text that shows up as today’s gospel. At the time, we were anxious about what the future might bring, and found in the Beatitudes some signposts for what we might do. In retrospect, we probably should have been much more worried than we were. Who could have imagined then a world and nation as out of joint as they are now?
So like many of you, over the last few months I had worked myself up into quite a state as the election season progressed. And then one day, a friend said something that changed my attitude entirely: “I will not,” he said, “sell my soul to any particular outcome of the election.” (Repeat)
A bit cryptic? Yes. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was absolutely right: we cannot let a transitory historical event such as an election alienate us from the core values by which we live—those convictions we return to over and over again in times of crisis or decision. Whoever wins on election day, we as a faith community must still hold on to the substance of who we are and what we believe in. (In that regard, I am reminded of a speech Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave on February 1, 1933, just two days after the election victory of the National Socialist party in Germany. The timing was actually coincidental—the speech had already been planned—but Bonhoeffer used it to resist the rise of an idolatrous form of nationalistic leadership by appealing to his own core conviction that lordship belongs solely to Christ.)
Hence, my invitation a couple of weeks ago for you to send in your own thoughts about what St. Michael’s core values are. Reading those messages has been quite inspiring—for they demonstrated what a deep, well-grounded faith there is in this congregation. What struck me most, is that the comments clustered together around common themes—there were no outliers, no strongly dissenting voices.
Many of the reflections centered around the theme of the dignity of every human person: we are progressive, inclusive, and practice a radical acceptance shaped by a common respect for one another.
Other reflections focused more on healing, compassion, and attention to the nurture of the individual.
Still others had as their focus a commitment to a spiritual maturity that brings hope, forgiveness (letting go of what separates us from others), gratitude leading to generosity, a willingness to try new things, and a sense of beauty, awe and wonder that ends in tenderness. Not surprisingly, people pointed to a holy respect for the Eucharist as the common denominator that binds us together. One person summed it all up by saying that St. Michael’s has an “atmosphere in which one can make a serious investigation of what it means to live a life informed by the spiritual.”
If I were to try to draw a thread through all these comments, it would be that we as a community have a profound realism to our faith: there are no gimmicks in what we do; we try to grapple with the world as it really is, with all of its ambiguities and problems, and we also try to accept people as they really are as well, “to love all of us” as one person put it. We are a community nurtured by the example of actions, with a strong sense of civic moral duty, or as someone else put it, “Love is an active verb” here, an attitude that allows us to welcome Jesus by welcoming the stranger.
And our realism is not just practical; it also has a mystical, contemplative dimension—a “mystical realism,” if you will. It causes us to recognize that God is much bigger than we know, or can know, and that our spiritual life too is much bigger than organized religion itself. You might say, that our practices of faith include our church life, rather than the other way around.
Which is all a way of saying that we try to be a place where people can hear God’s “yes” to them, where just to be a human being is sufficient to belong. As Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, “All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ. That is why we utter Amen through him, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Which brings me back to the coming week. Perhaps a way of approaching what is to come, would be to expand Jesus’ own beatitudes, by adding blessings appropriate for our own time. Working from our “core values,” what if we created a list that read something like this:
Blessed are the healers, for they shall be healed.
Blessed are those who welcome the stranger, for they shall receive Christ.
Blessed are those who strive after decency, for they shall create trust.
Blessed are those who listen, for they shall be given wisdom.
Blessed are the truth tellers, for they shall forge understanding.
Blessed are the compassionate, for they shall overcome division.
Blessed are those who value and respect the dignity of the other,
for they shall learn to know themselves.
Blessed are the loving, for they shall find joy.
Blessed are those who persevere in the struggle for what is right and just,
for they shall not be overcome.
And you might have other beatitudes of your own to add to this list. As our hymn put it a little while ago,
By praying through our doing, and singing though we fear,
by trusting that the seed we sow will bring God’s harvest near:
God’s will is done and ‘all things are made new.’
God has work for us, work for us to do!
And I’ll have much the same to say again next week. Amen.