Monday, November 24, 2014

Jesus Gives a Surprise Party

Sermon for the Feast of All Saints
November 2, 2014
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan

Jesus gives a surprise party

There is a brief article 
in the most recent edition of our local newspaper SEVEN DAYS.
It’s an article about surprise parties. 

Some of you may have had a surprise party given for you.
Maybe you really were surprised
Some of you may have experienced a planned-to-be-surprise party
but something or someone tipped you off
and you had to just pretend to be surprised.

Today in the gospel of Matthew 
we all get to go to a surprise party.
That’s right.
Jesus is giving a party.

Jesus has been traveling all over Galilee
and there have been crowds and crowds of people following him
and now he is going to try to shake the crowds
and head up a mountain
with just a few of his closest friends--
we know them as the apostles--
but its the other eight guests whom Jesus invites that are the surprise.
Some might even say shocking guests.

These surprise guests are the Beatitudes.
This list of blessed are the...
this list is known as the Beatitudes.

Beatitudes is not a word we toss around very much these days.

We can think of the word “beatitude” as meaning a “blessing”.
It’s also helpful to know that our English word “beatitude” 
comes from a Latin word
which means “happiness.”

So Jesus is essentially saying
those who mourn are blessed...
those who are poor in spirit are blessed..
those who are persecuted are blessed...

The apostles are listening and thinking, “what?!!”

Each time one of these beatitudes pops out of the cake,
it’s as if they literally shout SURPRISE!!
because what they have to say,
what Jesus has to teach,
is not the usual, not the expected, not the everyday.

So Jesus is trying to teach his disciples 
about the unexpected paths that will lead to happiness, 
the ways and behaviors that lead us to feeling blessed 
and to blessing others.

What will lead us to making life on earth as it is in heaven?
What will make us more whole as human beings?
What will bring us ultimate happiness.

The beatitudes are not a judgmental moral code.
Jesus is not saying try to be mournful,
try to get yourself persecuted...
Jesus is saying that blessing and happiness
can come from situations we could never plan or imagine.

Jesus throws this surprise party
to show his friends and followers a very different face of God.
What we hear and learn in the Beatitudes reveals 
a God who cares about the people who have the least,
the people who ARE the least in the eyes of the most.

The poor in spirit...
Those who mourn..
Those who are meek...
Those who are hungry for justice..
Those who are merciful...
Those who are pure in heart...
Those who are peacemakers...
Those who are persecuted when they try to do what is right...

The shock, the surprise, is that Jesus does not say what is expected.
He does not say
blessed are the powerful
blessed are the ones who have the answer to everything
blessed are the ones who triumph over others..

If you want help identifying the saints of God,
read the beatitudes. 
They are the description of those we know as saints.
Saints are the ones whose lives surprise.
Saints are the ones who look to God not to the world 
to receive their blessing.

Francis does not join his wealthy father in the family business.
He loves his father
but Francis finds his happiness, his blessing
in living in poverty, with the poor, as one of the poor,

Hildegard of Bingen defies the label of a “poor,weak woman”
in her 11th century world.
She goes on to become a writer, an artist, a composer, 
the founder of multiple Benedictine monasteries
and even an advisor to the Pope.

Frances Perkins ,an Episcopalian, could have just enjoyed her status
as being the first woman appointed to a cabinet position,
Secretary of Labor.
But she defied bureaucratic boundaries
and fought tirelessly for American workers.
She did not care if people liked or admired her 
but she cared about reforming labor laws so that children could go to school instead of work long hours as cheap labor,
so that the elderly would have a secure if modest income when they retired,
and more.

Blessed are the saints of God--
only they have not idea they will become a saint
when they start on their journey.

This kingdom of heaven is a different kind of party.
Jesus invites the lowly and the downtrodden,
those who don’t strive to make others lose
so that they can be lauded as the winner.
This party is about those who are kind, 
those who are merciful to others.

Jesus invites people who are at the end of their rope,
people who are broken-hearted,
people who feel they have lost everything.

Those who receive true blessing
are those who care about others and not just themselves,
those who work to resolve conflict,
to help people learn to work together instead of fight.
Those who do the right thing
even when there is so much encouragement to turn their backs
and go along with the crowds.

Okay. We get it. 
We were a bit surprised at first,
when those beatitudes were jumping out of the cake,
but it’s starting to make sense now.

Now of course we all want a blessing.
We all would like to go home with the beatitude party favor.
But we will have missed the real point of the party.
The real surprise is that 
the blessing has already been given.
To all of us.
God created each one of us to be a saint.

Indeed some read the beatitudes as warnings
on how we should behave.
And some read the beatitudes what’s going to happen at the end of time.

But I think they forgot to put on their party hats.
It’s not about deserving the blessing,
or earning the blessing.

It’s about living into the blessing.
Living in to the blessing we have already received.
It is about the grace that is already given..

The Rev. Dr. David Lose is a Lutheran pastor, a very gifted man.
He now serves as the head of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia.
He tells a wonderful story about when he was in graduate school.

One of his professors consistently addressed him as “Dr. Lose.”
Eventually he felt like he had to say something and correct the professor.
He said, 
“Dr. LuRue, I haven’t earned my doctorate yet. 
I don’t think you should call me that.”

“Dr. Lose,” his professor responded, 
“ in my church tradition we are not content
to call you what your are, 
but instead 
we call you what we believe
you will be!
Our names are being called.
Right along with the other saints.

There’s a party on the mountain
and we are invited. 
We are invited to come and celebrate all that God believes we will be,
all that God believes we already are at the deepest part of our being.

Blessed are those who accept God’s invitation.


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