For All Saints

Youtube of the service available here:

(Sermon starts at about 9:45)

Those of us of a certain age and musical taste might remember the beloved folk singers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Guthrie was the author of “This land is your land”, still sung regularly by school children, and in my humble opinion, a good candidate for replacing our national anthem, but that’s neither here nor there.

Pete Seeger was younger, and was probably the most popular folk singer of his day.  Both men used to sing an old labor song called “The Preacher and the Slave.” The song characterizes a certain type of Evangelical, politically conservative Christianity as only offering only “Pie in the Sky” solutions and criticized them for not being interested in people’s material conditions right now.

Now, I can’t speak necessarily to what folks in those churches believed back then, but I can speak to what I believe, and what we tend to believe right now in our church.

I do have to hedge a bit here, as in a UCC church, if there are 50 people there are often 60 opinions, but there are some things that we can say with a pretty high probability.

One of them is that we are not a “pie in the sky” church. That is not our tradition and history, it is not our present, and I suspect that it will not be our future.

From our then controversial decision to have a black preacher come and speak at the church in the 1950s, which resulted in the burning of a cross on our lawn by the KKK, to becoming an adopter and proponent of the Open and Affirming movement, which recognizes and positively affirms the humanity, dignity, and leadership in the church of all peoples, especially LGBTQ folks, and to our current relationships and work in areas of racial justice, this church has and will continue to be concerned with the here and now.

We do this not because we are wide eyed liberals and progressives, but because we believe we are following the model that Jesus set forth.

This concern permeates Jesus’ ministry, from his first sermon, recorded in the fourth chapter of Luke, where he opened the scroll of Isaiah and read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is also present in our Gospel reading for today, the beatitudes.

I hope from being able to read them together we got a sense of their immediacy, urgency.

It’s not “Blessed should be”

Or “they would be blessed if…”

There is no conditional, no weasel words in the beatitudes.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

These are not just promises, these are statements of fact.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

That’s strong language. Stronger than I used just a few moments ago to describe the church.

But Jesus is allowed to do that. Jesus has the authority to do that.

Me, well, I’m still trying to learn what the best grocery store to go to in the area is.

But we know all too truly that it’s one thing for someone to claim authority, it’s another entirely for authority to follow through.

Because right now, it seems like those with power have inherited the earth.

That we who mourn are not comforted, and instead we weep.

This is all true and, we must remember that God’s time is not our time.

For God, the past is present is the future.

Thus, when Jesus Christ speaks of the present, he also tells us of the future, when the Kingdom of Heaven is fully realized. This teaches us that as Christians the concern for present material conditions must be held right alongside hope for the future.

Yet even this is not the whole of it. For we are especially reminded on this All Saint’s Day, that these same promises were made to and are being fulfilled to those who came before us. God continues to fulfill those promises now.

Part of how God fulfills our promises of always being with us is surrounding us with love. Not just of God’s love, but the love of those who have gone before.

One way God does this is that we are taught that when we have communion, we do not do so alone. We dine at the heavenly banquet alongside the angels and archangels, and those who have gone before us. These include our parents and grandparents, spouses and loved ones, friends we lost, and ancestors in blood and faith, those who we collectively call the great cloud of witnesses. They are among us and worship alongside us just as much as the people physically present in the building or those joining us via the internet.

So let us prepare our hearts, to remember them and their faithfulness. Then let us remember the truth of the world as Christ taught it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the peacemakers

Amen, and Amen.