St. Mary Nanoose Bay
November 1, 2020
Our gospel reading this morning starts with the words……“his disciples came to him.”
This is a key. Everything that Jesus says next could only be heard by those who were present – those who followed Jesus, who sat at his feet, who waited for his words. For it’s only when we admit our need and approach the One who is our strength and comfort, that we can be blessed. It’s only when we bring everything to God that we will be able flourish in spite of our shortcomings and struggles.
Whether through a life-long commitment to spending time with God, or through a sudden awakening, it is clear that transformation begins with the willingness to come to God. Our good works simply are not going to do the trick. We have to spend time at the feet of Jesus, ready to listen, ready to learn. Like Mary, we have to discern the more important thing – which may seem like a waste of time, but in essence is the most important thing – to take time away from the busyness of our lives, from all the demands of others, and spend time in quiet, focused on God. This is why every convent and monastery have scheduled prayer time throughout the day and the people living there learn how to stop whatever they are doing and go to chapel.
When I spent a month living with the sisters at the Convent of St. John the Divine in Toronto, the bell would ring and it was a challenge for me to stop what I was doing and head directly to the chapel. It took a few days but soon I saw the wisdom of interrupting what I was doing to be reminded that the most important thing was my relationship with God, and it was essential to nurture that relationship. And I needed to be reminded many times a day because my attention kept being side-tracked by my own ideas and my own plans and my own sense of my importance. What began as frustration soon became such a source of peace and a sense of well-being.
“His disciples came to him……” We can only receive the strength and hope of God if we are open and present. Sometimes as Christians, we think we can only approach God the way we went to church when we were children: in our Sunday best. We have to be on our best behaviour, cleaned up, and wearing our Sunday outfits. We have to make a good appearance, not arrive weeping, distraught and certainly not angry!
But when is it that we really need God’s help? When we’re feeling down, afraid, stuck, ashamed….. exactly those times when we think we can’t approach God until we have the answers, have it all together, or are worthy.
Friends! We’re missing the boat! And missing out on God’s blessing; God’s strength, God’s hope and God’s vision for our lives. The best way through any experience is to allow God to be with us.
St. Irenaeus, a bishop living in the latter part of the 2nd century is known for having said, “The glory of a God is a human being fully alive.” To be fully alive means to experience deeply everything that come our way. Not necessarily to indulge in our emotions, but to feel and acknowledge the truth of our experience, just as Jesus did. Jesus wept for his friends, he was patient, impatient, angry and compassionate. In other words, Jesus was fully alive.
For months now we’ve been praying the prayer that we started saying together at the beginning of the Covid outbreak that begins this way: “God of the present moment….” (see the rest of the prayer at the end of this sermon) It is only in the present moment that we can approach God. And it is only in the present moment, that we can receive God’s blessing.
And so the reading from Matthew today begins this way: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” God is with those who know that the spirit in them is not theirs. They acknowledge their dependence on God, they ask for blessing, they don’t pretend they don’t need God/that they’re fine on their own, thank you very much. They know there is a God, and it’s not them. So they have someone to turn to, they are not alone. They have someone to be in relationship with. They know that If they don’t ask, they won’t receive; if they’re not present, they miss out.
So it is in our times of need that we begin to realize how God’s blessing there for us in every experience.
“Blessed are those who mourn.” God loves those whom we love. Grief expresses deep love and loss. And when we lose a loved one, or suffer loss of any kind, we can cry out to God in our sorrow, rage, and pain. God will not cajole us through our grief. In mysterious and deeply personal ways God walks with us through our loss. And when we mourn with others, we somehow take a share of the pain and make it more manageable. We make sure no one is alone. And when it’s our turn to grieve, we will find understanding and support from others.
“Blessed are the meek.” When we know our place in God’s creation; when we don’t make ourselves out to be more important than we are and at the same time when we don’t put ourselves down and diminish what God has created in us, we are humble. Perhaps “humble” is an easier word to live with than “meek,” which can sound pathetic. My husband has a t-shirt that says “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” The same goes for humility. Real humility is a strength; it means to be grounded in the love of God and in God’s creation.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Once we value what God values, action is expected. We work for justice in the world, we speak out against oppression, we help the poor and those who are struggling. And this is the most satisfying work – when our work expresses our love for God in our love for neighbour.
“Blessed are the merciful.” The word “mercy” derives from the same word that “merchant” does. The Divine exchange is about giving and receiving. This divine order of business is radically different than our system of exchange. The Divine Exchange requires that we never hoard; never cling onto anything or anyone out of desperation. It requires a profound trust in the Divine. The Holy Spirit is a perfect example of this exchange where the Father pours out love to the Son, who pours out that love out to the Holy Spirit and so on in a continual outpouring of love. Why hold on? That simply stops the flow. It isn’t the nature of love to be static. And when we begin to trust and engage with this form of exchange, we don’t hang on to grudges, to our preferences, to our disappointments. We let go and trust our needs are being met. Maybe in ways we don’t see or understand. We open our hearts and receive the love that is ever present, and pay it forward. We give mercy as we receive it.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The more we allow God to fully inhabit our being, putting on the mind of Christ, fully engaging in the Body of Christ, we come to see who we really are. Jesus tells us that the more room we make in our hearts for God the more able we are to see God.
And now we get to the tricky part. If we are engaged in the receiving and giving of blessing, if we are growing closer to God, Jesus tells us that there will always be those bent on challenging and bringing down the ones who speak truth to power and express love in action. Jesus tells us to be aware, to be prepared; there is a cost to following him, but the reward is greater: We are being blessed every step of the way. We are not alone, never have been and never will. We're not promised a life free of suffering or pain, we are promised we will never be alone or abandoned, that the peace and love of God is ours.
So our challenge and invitation is to be a person fully alive, embracing all of life; not just the parts we like. As we learn to trust that we are worthy and valued just as we are, (instead of how we think we should be), we become free. We allow life to flow in and through us.
And that life is our share in God’s eternal outpouring and expression of love that binds us beyond time and space to the saints and our loved ones who have gone before us.
God of the present moment God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart Bring hope and courage to us as we live in uncertainty Bring hope that you will make us the equal of whatever lies ahead Bring us courage to endure that which cannot be avoided For your will is health and wholeness. You are God and we need you! Your love is never changing, and in this lies our future. Amen.