St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Drops in the Bucket”
Collect: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“Good morning, Saints. [wait]
“Good morning, Sinners.” [wait]
Professor Leonard Sweet, a Christian writer and speaker, opens speaking engagements that way. At least he used to when he was making the rounds more. Usually when I heard him it was in a roomful of other ministers. The response to the first good morning to the Saints was loud and echoing. The response to the second, the Sinners, was less, much less.
We are often so ready to hear the Blessings, and shrink away when it comes round to the woes. It does not make us bad, but often we skip over the cautions, like we do with user agreements on the internet. We just do not want to go there.
Jesus does that in his sermon today, calling out the contradictions; he is speaking blessings to those in need, and woes to those in need of nothing. Jesus inaugurates his public ministry in Luke with what is dubbed the Sermon on the Plain. Matthew’s setting is on a mountain, much like another Moses handing down a new law. In both Gospels, the sermon comes after the calling of the 12 Disciples. Matthew’s Beatitudes is more spiritual, aspirational even. But here in Luke, Luke levels things out. Luke is willing to get his hands dirty. Luke has some blessings, but he also has some woes. Luke includes everybody. The Down-&-Outs and the Up-&-Ins. No one is excluded from this Gospel that Jesus is bringing. No one is without the need of what he is saying: the Poor, the Hungry, the Weeping, the Hated, the Rich, the Full, the Weeping, the Respected. All are in need, and change is coming for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
And the Kingdom is radically different and as controversial today as it was then. Every so often we need spiritual Q-Tips to clean out the wax from hearing things our whole lives. Listen to the words of Jesus he wants all to hear from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. This comes right after the Blessings and Woes:
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!”
And this is what it gets at. Transformation. Wholesale Change. As Albert Einstein intoned: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We need to rise above; we need to step up to another way of being.
The simple three words Love your enemies could not be more radical. In its simplicity it is clear. To make it even more clear, the noun enemy in the Greek is literal “those you hate.” It is not the ones over there across an ocean we wage war with, it is the ones who are near to us that we find contemptible, that we despise, that we hate. The call of God is for us to start where we are and grow the Kingdom where it hurts the most, where it is most real. And how do we love our Hated Ones? Think about what you really want from them, and give them that. It is so hard. It is painful. It is real.
We remember the Saints of God, the holy ones. And we are the Saints, and the Sinners. We all have fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are also the Redeemed in Christ. We are walking contradictions, so how apt that Jesus teach us to contradict our very nature. Love those you Hate. He not only instructs it, he enables it. He paints an image so clear in his life and actions, and then sends the Holy Spirit to indwell and strengthen us to do this simple, impossible, remarkable thing. And he also gave us each other so that we are not trying to do it all on our own.
On this day, All Saints’ Day (Observed), we remember those who led us down this path, who modeled for us the Way of Grace and Peace. I think of those who led me, guided me, corrected me, and loved me through all of it, who are no longer with us. Most of us can think on the saints in our lives who stay with us and with whom we are still close despite the chasm of death between us. Could be a parent, a minister, a mentor, a beloved Sunday School teacher, coach, or Scout Master. There are those whose very being made us better people. They probably were not flashy, nor remembered widely. They so intensely poured themselves in the lives of those around them that they probably were not remembered by the world at large. And that’s okay. That is the way they would want it.
I am who I am because of the Saints who loved me into the Kingdom. Many of you were shaped by this community, this fellowship, and you continue in your faith walk here and you will as long as you can. I and many others are here as part of our sojourn and are here for a few seasons coming from other fields, and perhaps on to others when God calls. I thank God that we are all here together to be the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement and work in Ashland and Hanover County.
Today it is so appropriate that we uphold the Saints of God and we gather in our harvest of blessings for the coming year. Our greatest resource is not money, though we have been blessed with so much. Our greatest resource is not our facility, as wonderful as it is and as much of a blessing as it is to so many. Some of our dear Saints’ mortal remains are even in the soil just feet from us, and will be a part of our community as long as we are here. Our greatest resource is not our heritage, though is stretches back a century and a half and it is beautiful to behold.
Over 150 years ago, faith sprang up here in Ashland. Many of our churches shared a building with the Masons till we were able to branch out on our own. Like the creek directly behind me. It has been dry a lot lately, but it flows down to become the Stony Run, which meets up with Lickinghole Creek, which soon becomes the begin of the Chickahominy River. That meanders down making swamps and eventually the reservoir at Walker’s Dam before it flows into the mighty James River, which birthed this nation. The James comes into the Hampton Roads, connecting it to the gift of God’s Nature, the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay is a wonder of life and beauty. And the bay opens to the Atlantic Ocean which connects us to the rest of the world.
It may not seem that we make a big difference, just a drop in the bucket at times. But the stream across the way is where it begins. And no one doubts the outcome. But what we do here connects around the globe with our brothers and sisters who strive to live the faith where they are. Last night I made a video with my phone to connect with our brothers and sisters in Liverpool at St. Gabriel's Church, Church of England. The Rev. Canon Malcolm Rogers is their Vicar, and today is there 125 Anniversary. They are our younger cousins. But their stream flows into the Mersey, which meets us in the Atlantic. And together St. Gabriel’s and St. James the Less reach the world.
All Saints’ Day and our giving both work the same way. We are just a drop in the Ocean, but never forget, NEVER FORGET, an Ocean is nothing but a gathering of drops. Together we can and will do mighty things. And if God is in it, it cannot be stopped.
Now before the stream analogy I named a lot of things which are not our greatest resource. But waht is? Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our greatest resource is one another, and whose we are in Christ Jesus. As we model faith, hope, and love, especially for one another, there is nothing and no one who can stand against us. Look to your left. Thank God for them. Look to your right, bless them. We are our greatest Treasure. We are our greatest Hope. How we love one another is our Future. And our future is bright, thanks be to God.
Good morning, Sinners. [wait]
Good morning, Saints. [wait] Amen