Monday, November 21, 2011

Unexpected Saints


Unexpected Saints – Matthew 5:1=12, Revelation 7:9-17 “Gives self away”

In this time of instant communication we can be friends with anyone, anytime. We can follow the instant musing of – what’s his name – you know, that young guy who married and cheated on Demi Moore – now he has a tv series – oh yeah- how could I forget – Ashton Kutcher – you can friend and follow him. He’s made a career, it seems, at being the guy who will give you a glimpse of how the other half – other 1%? – lives.

We can live in our imaginations; we can invest our interest in other people, famous people. Marketers use our curiosity to drive us to their sites, like cattle, we are commodities. Watch and discuss Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, or whatever is the newest fad! Of course these celebrities are not in our world; of course we hope we are smarter than the marketers.

So how do we speak of saints in such a world? How do we speak of holiness when we are distracted and focused in commerce and media, bombarded by cultural and political and economic forces that would have us live in the here and now – only in the here and now, responding to whims, playing the game? How do think of ourselves as servants of God when we struggle with health issues, with decisions about family and life itself. What quality of life, of faith, of hope, of perseverance, links us with the ones who have gone before?

Jesus says: Blessed are you. He uses the truly ancient concept that God looks with love and honor upon those who follow him. To be blessed means there is a connection – between us and God. To bless something is to give it a sacred meaning. To bless a meal is to say that what you are doing is a holy thing. To bless a person, means that God’s holiness is to penetrate their very core and to make them holy. Jesus is not playing around when he pronounces, “Blessed are you.” He is offering a great gift. He is offering to his listeners a way of life by which they will be the blessed of God – the holy ones, the sanctified, the saints.

I gather from our lessons there are three elements to this saint-making process of God.

1. Set-apartness

2. Going through tribulation for the sake of that set-apartness.

3. Trusting God in midst of it all.

The first may be the hardest – to be blessed, to be a saint, to be sanctified – means to be set apart. It means to stand away from the shallow ways identity is shaped for us – to find our deepest identity, not in the nation, not in the culture, not in our education, not in our obligations, not even in our family – but to find our core identity in being a child of God.

To know, in our hearts, that we have a different call to life – I would almost describe it as to put the best old-fashioned values at the center of our lives. Listen – the best old fashioned values, like honoring the family into which you were born, and the family which you choose to create. Like serving in the greater world, not blindly, but seeking wisdom, honoring differences and respecting those who differ. Honoring the body through restraint and prudence. Sharing the wealth. Truly caring for your neighbor.

Say we ask what is needed in our neighborhood – and it’s afterschool programming. We can set ourselves apart, and live out our identity as servants, not just takers.

Second. Understand that being set-apart will be challenging. The forces of this world do not like those who don’t conform. The forces of this world will work against our seeking to serve– it can be as dramatic as ‘I don’t forgive and won’t forget what happened/didn’t happen’– it can be as subtle as the ‘I don’t want to go and help today!’ issue. Perhaps to be poor in spirit means not to carry grudges, not to remember past wrongs, and re-commit to the good of the community.

The forces of resistance are subtle, are seductive, and are everywhere – in the distractions of television, the internet and get rich quick, get healthy now, take care of yourself first. Mourn quickly and get back to work. Work a lot, hover over the children, and get priorities right – school, sports, family and then, maybe, sometimes, faith.

If our identity calls us to serve our neighbors – our real life neighbors – and our method of dong that is afterschool programming – then the subtle resistance is in the message – “someone else can lead, help, deal with it.” It is in saying “I’m tired of hearing about it already.” It is in wondering – when did I sign up for this – for this active service, for this getting out of myself?

That bring us back to the core question of our lives – whom do we trust? From where will we take our direction? From the society around us? From our own self-monitor (which is usually conditioned by those very same outside forces?) From a higher power – and where do we find that? Jesus calls those who are his sheep to listen to his voice. That’s key – it’s the voice of the Shepherd, found in our Scriptures. We trust our God.

Those who are blessed are set apart, and will know resistance, even persecution, but they will find their trust in God rewarded. They will be comforted, receive mercy, know God, be recognized as children of God. They will be part of the kingdom.

What is does it mean to take being a saint seriously in our time? Again and again, we are called to an older, realer form of life. More like the life of past generations – of the generations that built and nurtured this community into life.

Life that is lived in relationship with those around us – not with the media stars or escapist fiction – life that recognizes our deepest investment is our loved ones, our community and our faith. The promises that Jesus holds out in the list of blessings are not just for others – not just for those who have passed away, or those who are especially great in faith – for the Mother Theresas and the great reformers. These are promises for you and me, for everyday people, living everyday lives trying everyday projects – with extraordinary awareness.

We have been called out to be servants, set apart for his work – we must recognize that there will be ordeals, will be resistance, will be frustrations – and we trust and claim the promises that God offers.


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