Saturday, November 4, 2017

All Saints' Sermon

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I was reading a story about John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, about his life after Washington:

“After leaving office, Boehner says a longtime family friend approached him. “You’ve always had a purpose—your business, your family, politics,” the friend said. “What’s your purpose now?” Boehner says the question gnaws at him every day.” - What’s your purpose now? -

Maybe when you retire that question stares at you waiting to be answered as a new chapter unfolds in your life. Or maybe all of us ask that question in our lives, trying to find meaning and hope in what we do.

For a grandmother, Catherine Corless, at the age of 63, in TUAM, Ireland, she found her purpose, in pain, in trying to help a country reckon with its past and remember the lost Children of Tuam.

In the mother and baby home of Tuam, run by an order of nuns at the behest of the Irish government, “kept watch over unmarried mothers and their children. Sinners and their illegitimate spawn, it was said. The fallen.” Mothers who had children out of wedlock.

And of course, the sad thing is, when we delegitimize human beings treating them as “the other,” terrible things happen. Through her work, Catherine helped people in Ireland come out from the shadows, to tell their stories about their time in the home. The Survivors of a place & culture that didn’t want them, the children who were raised their in the home, the mothers who had children their but lost custody.

Over the course of the homes 36 years of existence: the “illegitimate” children who had died in the home numbered 796. But there was no burial ground. No memorial. Only a small grotto for the Virgin Mary.

And that grandmother wanted to know why. Many discounted her work. She’s just a mother, an amateur historian. But her questions, her search for truth would help lead them to discover the terrible secret: in a decommissioned septic tank - investigators had found the missing human remains. (NY Times)

To help heal the past, you can’t bury it. Catherine helped many in Ireland to begin to heal, to face its troubling past, and to begin to properly remember those who died.

What’s your purpose now?

On this All Saints’ Sunday, I want us to think about our purpose as Christians through the Beatitudes, the Gospel reading for today. (The saints found their purpose!) Jesus begins his sermon on the Mount, the beginning of his ministry among the people. A sermon for all who would come follow him. I have been reading a book called the Ladder of Beatitudes by Jim Forest & he put this reading into context:

“We are supposed not just to memorize the Beatitudes — that’s only a first step — but to let them burn in our thoughts like candles. Quite literally, they are meant to illumine us.

The Beatitudes connect with each other and depend on each other. Each Beatitude builds on the ones below. For example if you want to be a peacemaker but have an impure heart, what you will do in the name of peace will only drive people further apart and increase violence in the world. If you hunger and thirst for righteousness but have no mercy, your righteousness is likely to damage rather than heal.

We can describe the Beatitudes as a ladder, 8 rungs, reaching from the hard earth on which we live to a paradise more perfect than the Eden of Adam and Eve, what Christ calls the kingdom of God.”

Let’s take a moment and remember the first rung, the foundation for our discipleship, Blessed are the poor in Spirit.

“None of the Beatitudes that follow are possible without being poor in spirit. “But what does poverty of spirit mean? It’s my awareness that I cannot save myself, that I am basically defenseless, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death, and that no matter what I achieve and acquire in this life, it will be far less than what I wanted. Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. Poverty of spirit is getting free of the rule of fear, fear being the great force that restrains us from acts of love. Poverty of spirit is a letting go of all that keeps me locked in myself, imprisoned in myself. In the words of Dostoevsky, “Blessed are they who have nothing to lock up.”

Poverty of spirit — the condition of being a spiritual beggar — is seeking to live God’s will rather than one’s own… What is crucial is the way we possess what we possess, the care we take not to let our possessions take ownership of our souls, and how we use what we have to express God’s mercy in the world. It is an outlook summed up in a French proverb: “When you die, you carry in your clutched hand only what you gave away.”

What is our purpose now? How do we live following Christ?

"One of the saints of the Egyptian desert, Abba Dorotheos, told a story which reveals poverty of spirit in such a way that an Alexandrian of great importance was able to grasp it:

I remember once we had a conversation about humility. One of the notable citizens of the city was amazed on hearing our words that the nearer one draws to God, the more he sees himself to be a sinner. Not understanding, he asked, “How can this be?” I said to him: “Notable citizen, tell me how do you rank yourself in your own city?” He answered: “I regard myself as first in the city.” I say to him, “If you should go to Caesarea, how would you regard yourself there? He answered, “As the least of the civic leaders there.” Then I asked, “And if you should travel to Antioch, how would you regard yourself there?” “There,” he answered, “I would consider myself as one of the common people.” “And if,” I asked, “you should go to Constantinople and approach the Emperor, how would you see yourself there?” And he answered: “Almost as nothing.” Then I answered him, “So it is also with the saints. The nearer they draw to God, the more they see themselves to be sinners.”

How do we see ourselves? The saints today beckon us forward to find our purpose with Jesus, in a spirit of humility and hope.

At the end of the story the reporter asked John Boehner: “Have you found your purpose?” Boehner shakes his head. “It will become clear. But you can’t force the big guy to give you an answer,” he says. “Just do the right things for the right reasons, and good things will happen.” Boehner shakes my hand and smiles softly. “Be nice to me,” he says. (Politico Magazine)

On our journey, may we be poor in spirit, following our God like the saints of old, in humility and love, doing the right things for the right reasons. May we live into our purpose now. Amen.

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