29 January 2023 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by SPEAKER
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Welcome to the 128th annual meeting of All Saints Parish. It’s quite remarkable to think that for 128 years this community has come together as the Body of Christ, for worship, for lifelong learning, for community support. I know that 128 years is a blip in the life of some churches…I mean, on the exterior wall we have have a stone that dates from the 11th century. It’s from Hereford Cathedral and was part of a Norman restoration. But even by the time the Norman’s got there, Hereford Cathedral had already been a place of worship for maybe three times as long as our 128 years. On the other hand…128 years is nothing to sneeze at.
128 years is 6,656 Sundays. And I know Episcopalians like things, “they way they’ve always been,” and 6,656 is a lot of iterations, but in truth, not one of those Sundays was identical to another. Oh sure a lot was familiar—the structure is similar but has changed from Morning Prayer to Eucharist. The readings change week to week but repeat over time; music is sometimes familiar, sometimes new; Prayers vary week to week…But what always changes—is that each week All Saints welcomes a totally unique configuration of people… Think about that…Every Sunday is unique—an utterly unrepeatable gathering of the Body of Christ.
Never before…and never again…will this exact configuration of people be together to worship God in precisely this way. And that has been true for each of the 6,000+ Sundays that we’ve worshiped here.
The individuals who gather here are different each week, but there are some constant factors in every gathering of the faithful since…well…since before Jesus climbed that hill and started to preach. No matter which individuals are here…the Body of Christ is always made up of certain types of people…like, the poor in spirit?
Are you here? Of course you are. Don’t worry, I won’t call you out or make you stand up. But I know there are people here who are not sure why they’re here…not sure what they believe, or if they believe…not sure if they have what it takes…not sure they have enough, or if they are enough…Regardless of who shows up…the poor in spirit find their way here…without fail. It’s not always the same individuals, but every Sunday, people who are poor in spirit show up. If it’s not you, great. But take a look around…it is likely to be someone sitting near you. If that is you, and you are feeling poor in spirit today…then hear this: You. Are. Blessed.
A side note: One of the tasks—the gifts and responsibilities—conferred upon people at their priestly ordination is “pronouncing God’s blessing,” so as I go through this and say “You are blessed,” I don’t mean that in a “motivational poster” kind of way, I mean it with all of the authority to pronounce God’s blessing that comes with my ordination. You are blessed.
How about those who mourn? I know you’re here. Some of you have had recent loses. Some are having a visit from some past grief…You never can tell when grief might show up…so if you’re not grieving today, that’s great…but take a look around. Some one near you is in a tender place…is feeling sad, or conflicted, or one of the other complex emotions that grief appears through. If you have come today carrying any kind of grief, or loss…then hear this: You. Are. Blessed.
The meek? Some of you do prefer to fly under the radar…keep your head down, do your work…don’t make a fuss…We all know people with truly gentle souls. And what about the people who because of race, or class, or gender, or sexuality are too often disempowered in the world…who have sort of had meekness thrust upon them…have had to learn a lot of hard lessons about navigating through the rigid demands of the privileged…Again, if it’s not you, it’s someone you know. Look around. And to the meek, the gentle, the disempowered I say this: You. Are. Blessed.
How about all who hunger and thirst for righteousness…I know there are plenty of you here. You are blessed.
The merciful…I also know there are plenty of you here. You are blessed.
The pure in heart…? I guess that’s really between you and God, but by your fruits we do know who you are… And you are blessed.
Peacemakers…Please don’t think about this in a global sense—I mean we need people working for international peace, but let’s focus on the peacemakers in our midst…people who bring a calming presence, who seek equitable outcomes in many aspects of life. I know many of you are peacemakers in your homes, and places of work…You are blessed.
Persecuted? I hope none of you are feeling that way, but maybe you are. Maybe you’ve been reviled, or spoken of falsely? And if so…you know what?…You are blessed.
I’m always a little afraid that in our constantly striving society we can hear the Beatitudes as “impossible challenges” or “stretch goals,” a set of rules to live by, virtues to aspire to…or at the very worst, as platitudes to be glibly stated and then conveniently ignored…But today, I want us all to hear them in their simplest form…as blessings…nothing more…and nothing less.
Nadia Bolz-Weber once wondered about the Beatitudes, what if Jesus wasn’t setting up a nine-point program to a more perfect you…what if he was “actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise”….the people who “society doesn’t seem to have much time for, people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance.” That’s how I want us to hear them today. Because you are blessed when you practice humility, when you show up with your peaceful presence, when you open your heart to others, when you do justice, and practice mercy and walk humbly with everyone…especially God.
I know there are so many of you here who do that every day, and I want you to know that God sees you…and here, in this unique configuration of historical events…THIS Body of Christ blesses you. And that I am deeply grateful to be with you, in this community, learning and growing and ministering along side you.
128 years. We have a lot to celebrate…much to give thanks for. We have challenges which we will continue to face with faith and courage. And some wonderful leaders to help guide us. Next Sunday everything will be different…and similar…We will be different…and similar…You will be different…and similar, but let this truth remain with you as you live your lives between now and whenever we are together again. You are beloved of God, and you are blessed.