by Joan Kessler
The Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel as we heard Jane read this morning, are one of those overly familiar passages. We know these lines, maybe not by heart, but we certainly are not surprised when we hear Jesus’ words. But imagine his first listeners so long ago and their reaction: Blessed are the poor in the poor in spirit, the mourners, the persecuted… for great things will come to them… comfort, justice and righteousness. Jesus’ list of circumstances were not what his listeners that day were expecting to hear… those who experience grief, depression and persecution will be noticed and their suffering temporary, for comfort, peace and vindication will be theirs… radical statements for sure! But this is not some pie in the sky promise Jesus presents today… the Beatitudes are the circumstances of life. They are an active reality. As my friend described her impression of these words from Jesus, they are like gravity she told me… one turn leads to another, sadness to happiness… it’s just the way it works. Life is not immune from suffering and setbacks, disappointments. Jesus isn’t setting his listeners up for the perfect life but rather a Beatitude Life. When we have knowledge and understanding of this, we become the stuff of Saints, to make a difference in our world. There are no platitudes offered here but rather promise that our suffering is but temporary… what side of the beatitudes do we find ourselves on? Are we feeling mournful, diminished, overlooked… or are we the ones who are offering comfort and compassion, fighting for justice for those with not voice and filling the hungry with god things?
I heard the beatitudes spoken in the book, Me and White Supremacy, which our study group completed this week. I recognize from this work that as a white person with immense privilege and power over others that I have ongoing work to do… to address my white silence when I have failed to speak up in defense of a Person of Color… there is also work to be done in my conversations with other white people. We also learned of the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia, the terrorist attack on a church in Nice, France by Islamic extremists. Where is our hope is such a polarized and deeply hurting world to be found? I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” In a similar posing, Richard Rohr this morning considers his relocation away from worrying about his own personal salvation and the shift his focus outwards to what it means to be the Body of Christ… to look outward and to ask the questions of how I can be good for the sake of my neighborhood, my community, my church and my world? Jesus gives us the Beatitudes today, I think, to help us figure out the answers to these good questions.
In the United Church, coming out of the Reform tradition, we do not canonize saints. We believe in a ministry of service, inclusive of all abilities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations… there are no barriers. Lay and ordered, young and old, assured and questioning… all make up our community. I recall a conversation I shared with Bob McCoubrey the other day and said his Mum’s motto for life was that we should work to accept one another’s beliefs and just get along.
Our Saints are folks we encounter on a daily basis, going the extra mile, seeing the journey through to the end. Could it be that those we admire and miss are ones who understood that there are two sides to Jesus’ Beatitude way of living? Our grief is met at the door with compassion and a casserole… we watch from our screens the victims of injustice and raise our voices in a call for the overturning of the established way power is held… we strive to live with respect in Creation and be stewards of our environment in order to sustain it and pass on for future generations coming after us. Today as we observe All Saints day we are going to take some time to remember those who have inspired us as individuals and the life of our community as Winfield United and have left their mark on our hearts. When COVID arrived and saw us move out of the building and on to online services, we didn’t have the first thing figured out about how to bury our dead or extend the comfort and sympathy we would have normally experienced with in-person contact. But today we are living into the reality that this is going to be our way of being for some time to come.
So let us join together as we are remember: Joan Taylor, Ken Phipps and Pat McCoubrey, three individuals who were an active presence in this congregation.