Hospital For Saints

Luke 6.20-31

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

all-saints-usa

 

Jesus came down with them to a level place and mingled with the crowd. Instead of ascending to a pulpit position of superiority, Jesus stood among the people where he can feel what we feel. His sermon, if we want to call it a sermon, is short and to the point: It’s time to weep. Blessed are you who are empty now and disappointed. Fortunate are those among you who grieve and know that the pain won’t go away. Lucky are you who have something to cry about.

But woe to you who have lots of money, because your lives are never going to get any better. Beware if you are full now, you will grow hungry. Take care that you are not filled with laughter, those chuckles will soon turn into tears.

Love the people who drive you mad. Pray for the people who make your lives miserable. If anyone hits you, offer yourselves willingly. If someone takes your coat, offer them your shirt too. Give your money to the poor. Treat everyone the way you wish you were treated.

This good news doesn’t sound much like good news to us. In fact, it sounds like bad news. If you’re anything like me, you squirmed when the liturgist read Jesus’ words from the bible. And if you didn’t, maybe you weren’t really listening.

Our lives are being turned upside down, whether we want them to be or not. For those of us comfortable with our wealth and salaried jobs, and for those of us desiring deeper pockets and larger paychecks, we will never be truly content. For those of us who are full from stocked refrigerators and overflowing gardens, there will come a time when we hunger for something that no consumption can ever satisfy. For those of us who will laugh with joy on Tuesday evening when our candidate is elected, our laughter will turn to mourning and weeping when things don’t change the way we thought they would.

Jesus’ good news sounds more like bad news.

Blessed are you who weep. To be sad, to be overly emotional, is regarded so negatively these days. Many of us see tears as a weakness, a weakness that’s supposed to be kept private and locked away. But it takes great courage to weep, to open our eyes to the brokenness of this world and our own lives, and know that it is incomplete.

We might be satisfied with our lives at the moment, we might be fine with a world of sadness and emptiness, and if we are, then the blessings of Jesus’ sermon are not meant for us.

But we might be unsatisfied with what’s happening right now. We might be here in this sanctuary because we want a dose of hope and reality in a world filled with despair and deception. Perhaps we believe and know that neither presidential candidate can, or should be, our messiah. Maybe we are filled with grief over the Standing Rock tribe protesting against the principalities and the powers. Perhaps we are filled with sorrow after a black church in Mississippi was set on fire last week. Maybe we cannot hold back the tears because this place reminds us of someone we’ve lost. If so, then Jesus’ strange words are meant for us.

hands

I’ve done a lot of funerals over the last few years. I’ll be in the midst of something totally different when the phone will ring, and just the breathing on the other side is an indication that someone died. I’ll talk with the funeral home about arrangements, schedule a time to meet with the family, and we will try our best to faithfully weave together a service of death and resurrection for the dead.

More than a year ago, two of our church members died a day a part, and their funerals were scheduled for the same day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. While meeting with both families I asked them to share reflections about the person who died so that I might faithfully proclaim their lives from the pulpit. Both families said they wanted the services to be a “celebration of life” and they asked me to focus on the “good times.”

I knew the man and woman who died well enough to know that when the families asked me to focus on the good times, one didn’t want me to talk about how the dead man was estranged from his wife, and the other didn’t want me to talk about how the dead woman lost her son years ago.

At the time I smiled and nodded along, knowing full and well that life is messy and filled with sadness and shame and disappointment, even if they wanted me to omit it from the pulpit.

And then both families, independent of one another, gave me a bible that belonged to the person now dead.

In the days preceding their services, both bibles sat on my desk. Both were well worn, earmarked, filled with clippings, and had lots of notes written in the margins.

The first one belonged to the man and when I picked it up I flipped through the Old and New Testaments to read whatever he wrote about living a faithful life. In the margins there were dates corresponding when the text was preached about in church, there were question marks and exclamation points, and there were other scribbles that were impossible to decipher.

And when I was moving through the New Testament I nearly dropped the bible in my lap. In big and bold letters in the margins were the words, “Wedding Scripture.” It was clear that this page had been read perhaps more than any other as I could see depressions in the page from where his thumbs used to rest. And covering all the words were the remnants of his teardrops.

The second bible belonged to the woman, and likewise I lifted it up to flip through the Old and New Testaments. Hers was filled with countless lines under particular scriptures, pages were earmarked with stars scribbled next to names and dates, and there was a stack of obituaries tucked behind the back cover. I made my way through the bible and stopped when I came to one of the most well known passages in the book of Revelation. I saw the name of her dead son next to the words, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain.” And covering all the words were the remnants of her teardrops.

We see tears, and emotions, and hunger, and grief as weaknesses. But Jesus saw something far worse than weeping – what’s worse is the dangerous deception of believing that our lives are secure, stable, and perfect. Jesus would have deplored the bumper sticker reduction of life to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Woe to us who feel too comfortable, too settled, too blessed.

Unlike many of us, Jesus saw the world for all of its cracks and its ugliness. He walked toward the margins of life, rather than avoiding them. And in so doing, he offers us something different, something strange, something unlikely, and frankly, something holy. You are blessed if you experience loss and feel the pain and cry your eyes out. Because one day, it might not be tomorrow, but one day you will laugh, you will sing, and you will rejoice.

This is the promise of the Good News that sounds like bad news; God promises us this hope even though we don’t know how it will happen, we only know that it will happen. For only God could come in the form of a baby, grow to preach the strange and upside-down Gospel, die on a cross, and then offer us hope in an empty tomb three days later.

What some of us forget, perhaps because we cannot help ourselves from skipping over Good Friday to Easter Sunday, is that the disciples ran for fear and wept for loss of their friend who died. They had to go through the grief and the misery of a friend buried in a tomb, they had to spill their tears of sadness before they could laugh on Sunday when death was defeated. Grief cannot be avoided, and it cannot be skipped over.

Blessed are those of us who suffer now, who grieve the loss of those we love, because we will laugh and rejoice in their, and our, resurrection from the dead.

But woe to us who laugh now, who feel not a care in the world, for there will come a day when the rug is pulled out and our laughter will turn to tears, and our dancing will turn to mourning.

This is as paradoxical as the life of faith gets, but that’s part of what makes us sinners into saints.

Today we remember all the saints. Since nearly the beginning, the church has set aside a day to remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in the faith, stretching across the centuries and around the world. We know that some of them struggled to hear this very same proclamation as good news, and we know that some of them lived their lives under the tyranny of tears with an almost complete lack of laughter.

We read their names and pause for a moment of praise to the Lord for placing them in our lives, for being vessels of God’s grace, for helping each of us see what it means to follow Jesus.

It is hard to follow Jesus, to hunger for transformation, to love our enemies, to weep without shame, and today is a reminder that though we may feel crazy, we are not alone.

If we want to know what it takes to be a saint, we need not look further than Jesus’ sermon on the Plain. For a saint is anyone who is brave enough to grieve for the world, who resists the temptation to be satisfied with the status quo, who leave behind tear marks in well worn bibles.

A saint is anyone who comes to this table and knows they don’t deserve it.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression that “church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” This is true, but the line between sinners and saints is remarkably fine. We do well then to know that this place is a hospital for saints, a place for us to be made well.

If you’ve been looking for happiness in a new house, or a new job, or heaven forbid a new president… You will never find what you’re looking for. There will always be a bigger house, a higher paying job, a better president, and all of those things are hollow. Only the radical and literally life-giving dimension of God can fill those holes in our souls.

Instead, come to the table. Join with the church immemorial. Feast with the communion of the saints. If you are poor, then take what you need from the offering plate. If you hunger for change and righteousness in this world, be filled with the body and blood of Jesus. If you feel moved to tears, then weep without shame. Amen.

Devotional – Psalm 145.1

Psalm 145.1

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.

Weekly Devotional Image

On Saturday afternoon, the United Methodist Churches of Staunton, Virginia hosted our 2nd Trunk or Treat at Gypsy Hill Park. Over the last few months we collected monetary donations and countless bags of candy in order to distribute candy to all the children who would come to the park. Each trunk was uniquely decorated and when it was time to begin you could see the excitement in the volunteers and the children snaking in a long line around the lot.

For the better part of 2 hours we gave out candy to over 2000 children. I saw Annas and Elsas, at least 7 Marshalls (from Paw Patrol), a bunch of Darth Vaders, every princess you can imagine, and enough football players to make two full teams. Most of the children were remarkably polite, thanking each and every person as they made their way from trunk to trunk. And through it all we, as the church, lived into the reality of the body of Christ and loved our community through candy and fellowship on Saturday afternoon.

img_1982

When the line finally dwindled down to the last few families, we started to clean up our respective areas and prepared to leave. I had a few bags of candy left and my wife suggested bringing them over to the older boys who were skateboarding in the park. Too old to trunk or treat, most of them had watched us over the last two hours and were still skating as we were leaving. So I drove the car over to the skate area, and carried the largest bag of candy right up to who I imagined was the leader of the group (FYI I was still wearing my Hagrid costume). I handed the bag over and said, “Hey, I’m a pastor from town and we just finished this big trunk or treat and I’ve got some extra candy. I know you don’t know me, but I want you to know that God loves you.” To which the skater replied, “That’s like, righteous, man.” And I said, “You have no idea how appropriate that word is in this situation.”

How often do we extoll our God and King? Many of us are willing to take an hour out of our busy weeks to sit down in a sanctuary to praise the Lord, but how do we praise the Lord from Monday to Saturday? Some of us proclaimed the love of the Lord in each little piece of candy we distributed on Saturday afternoon, and even some skateboarders experienced our willingness to praise the Lord. After all, we learn to be generous from the One who is ultimate generosity. But extolling the Lord does not, and should not, be a rare occasion.

If we extoll the Lord, we do so knowing that the Lord is the giver of all gifts, including the gift of life. We praise the Lord because the Lord is the one rightly to be praised. We bless the name of the Lord forever and ever because the Lord has blessed us again and again.

Candy and Trunk or Treats, in and of themselves, can never bring us closer to God. Only when we extoll the name of the Lord, only when we realize that we are making the Word incarnate by becoming the body of Christ for our local communities, will those ordinary things become extraordinary avenues by which others can experience the powerful grace and mercy of the living God.

 

img_1985