“Best of all, God is with us!” In a time of uncertainty, John Wesley’s dying words are the one, sure thing: God is with us, extending grace sufficient for every time of need. And yet we so often look elsewhere for support and sustenance. Throughout this series, we will explore the choices that are before us—weighty choices that affect not only our own lives but the lives of others. And, together as a community of faith, we will engage a simple daily practice to connect us as we remain physically distant and also remind us of God’s love and presence in our lives—no matter what may be happening in the world. Join us and find support for the living of these days.
A homily preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC, October November 1, 2020, All Saints Sunday, “Choose This Day” series.
Texts: Revelation 7:9-17, Matthew 5:1-12
“Choose this day whom you will serve…” These words were spoken by Joshua to the Israelites at a key moment in their history. What God will you serve? The question is always before us and our answer has implications for every aspect of our lives. This choice affects all our other choices. And every moment of life, from the most significant to the mundane, involves choices at some level.
As a nation, we are on the brink of a big choice. Like every choice, the outcome will have consequences. Each one of us is responsible for our own discernment and action. After the election, we will still have choices. Every single day. Regardless of the outcome, there will be important work to do, decisions to make, priorities to discern.
And as followers of Jesus we’re not left without guidance. In the wilderness place, Jesus was tempted to serve a god who twisted scripture to try to draw him away from a life of self-giving service, away from the God of love, peace, humility, vulnerability, and justice. Jesus made a choice—and, in case you don’t know the story, Jesus didn’t choose to only feed his own belly, to take the money and power, or show off to get praise and fame. (Mt. 4)
And today we receive the opening lines to Jesus’s most famous sermon, the “sermon on the mount.” Honestly, every time I am given this text to preach I feel compelled to counter the ways I’ve heard it interpreted as the “BE attitudes,” that mourning or being denied righteousness (justice) are our ticket to getting blessed. That feels like a ridiculously slippery slope.
It helps me to remember that both Jesus and the writer of Matthew were speaking to particular communities, both of whom were vulnerable and suffering persecution, exclusion, and subjugation. Again and again, they were faced with choices about how they would respond and where they would put their loyalty and trust. What God would they serve? In the midst, these communities followed Jesus—or at least tried to. And they, like us, are drawn to Jesus and look to the wisdom and way revealed through him for guidance and encouragement.
What if the opening words of Jesus’s sermon are an acknowledgement of the realities and varieties of human feelings and experiences in the crowd? Imagine Jesus simply offering a blessing, a promise of God’s grace and presence in whatever circumstance folk are experiencing—a promise that things won’t always be this way.
Are you humbled or feel like the wind has gotten knocked out of you? Blessing upon you. Are you swallowed up in grief? Blessing upon you. Do you feel powerless or taken advantage of because of your gentleness, kindness, and mercy? Blessing upon you. Are you starved for a crumb of justice in your life? Blessing upon you. Are you seeking to act with purity of heart, with good intentions, seeking righteousness and peace even when it is difficult to stay the course? Blessing upon you. Are you pouring yourself out for the sake of others, for the sake of justice and, as a result, being slandered and persecuted? Blessing be upon you.
The God revealed in Jesus blesses us in our humanity, in our struggle and pain, and in our trying to live aligned with God’s wisdom and way.
That way has at the center loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And as we reflected upon last week, it’s not always clear exactly what that will look like. This means we have to discern and then choose…
The famous prayer of Thomas Merton comes to mind:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I love this prayer for so many reasons. But perhaps chief among them is that Merton names our situation as those who choose to try to love God and neighbor. We desire to do God’s will but cannot always know if we’re getting it quite right. Even still, we try and trust that God knows we are trying.
On this All Saints Sunday, we celebrate the Saints of our tradition and culture—known and honored by many—and the saints of our own lives who may have been known only in their small circle. But we give thanks for each one of them and for the ways that they tried. No human is without fault and yet there is a beauty and power in trying to love God and love neighbor as ourselves, to trust God’s love and mercy as we deal with the consequences of failure, and to keep on going regardless of the circumstances with as much grace and strength as possible.
Today, I hear Jesus blessing us in all the circumstances of our lives right this moment—blessing us not with a promise of a winning lottery ticket, our desired outcome in the election, or quick resolution to the overwhelming challenges of our time, but with the promise of God’s love and presence and an inheritance that far outlasts this moment and our time in this world. I hear Jesus blessing the saints who have crossed over into the next life—“a great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…they who have come out of the great ordeal.” (Rev.7:9, 14)
And I give thanks for the vision in Revelation that points toward a place and time beyond our confusion and our struggle to choose rightly, a place and a time in which the barriers between us have been broken down and God’s beloved children across the earth will no longer hunger for food or thirst for justice, where all will be willing to honor our common humanity, our shared life, where all will be nourished by love that bubbles up like a spring, and will humbly allow God, like a mother, to wipe every tear from our eyes. (Rev. 7:16-17)
Why not choose to try and live that vision now?…For it may be that in trying and trusting…we are blessed…