Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Saints Sunday - Blessed to be a blessing

Ephesians 1:11–23; Luke 6:20–31

Luke’s Beatitudes are intended to shock the listener and the reader. These are not gentle statements, these Lukan Beatitudes. Jesus begins, blessed are the poor. Not the poor in spirit, as in Matthew.
The Greek work for poor is ptochoi. It’s where we get the cartoon word ptooey, for spit. So, in Luke, Jesus says, blessed are the spit-upon. Blessed are the ones who can’t find work; who stand at street corners begging for a dollar or two; who live in the woods or in homeless shelters. The spit-upon are hungry, and they weep because of all they do not have, and because of the injustice that has kept them from having it.
Luke goes further, turning the tables. Woe to us who have whatever we need, and whatever we want. The sense is that if we don’t help those who are spit upon, WE will be the ones who are spit-upon.
This was a radical idea in Jesus’ time, because the belief was that if you had what you needed, you were blessed. If you were the poor, the spit-upon, you or someone in your family must have done something wrong. God was withholding blessings from you. Once more, Jesus’ listeners would have gasped in horror at what Jesus was saying. It was the opposite of what they had been taught, and the opposite of what they wanted to hear.
We are not so happy hearing it, either. I know people who don’t give God credit for what they have. They believe that everything they have is the result of their own hard work. When something happens, like the great recession we have just gone through, they just work harder.
… In contrast, we, the people of Hope, recognize that what we have comes from God. We know that we are blessed in order to bless others. As we celebrate today the lives of those who have gone before us, what we often remember about them is how they blessed others with what they had. We remember today those who died in the last year: Delbert Banks, Teofilo Diaz, “Bud” Drew, John Laning, and Helga Whitler.
I remember Del’s care for Irma as he brought her to worship and made sure she was safe in her home until she needed professional care in her last weeks.
Teo loved his wife and his family, especially his grandchildren. He loved baseball, watching it as much as he could. And he enjoyed his coffee, “tepidissimo”, very tepid, cool enough to drink in one long gulp. He loved helping me remember Spanish, as I loved taking communion to him, and encouraged me as I read the familiar words in Spanish. When I said, “Oremos, Let us pray”, he launched into his own prayer, which included his family and me, his pastora.  
Bud was an example for all of us how physical disability was no reason to not live a full and happy life. His love and care for his wife Irene was evident. He greeted everyone with a big smile, and gave me that same smile as I brought communion to him.
 John was one of our snowbirds, who had a great sense of humor and a joy of helping where he could. He and Margaret often attended the noon Advent and Lent services, and thanked me for offering them.
It’s Helga whom I knew the best, because she was the most active. Her love of her family is famous, and her love of crafting hand-made cards and gifts is just as famous. Martha circle dearly misses her love, her joy, and her passion for giving to others. Unlike many folks her age who shun the computer, she kept in touch with family and friends on Facebook and by email. In her eyes, everyone else was more important. She actively shared her blessings with others, giving all she had to others.
My brother-in-law Dennis, Mike’s brother, died a week ago after a long life managing heart disease. He lived life the way he wanted to. As an artist, he wanted to paint only for the joy of painting, not to sell lots of prints and make lots of money from the same image. He passionately loved his wife Jane and his daughter Sylvia. Until he was no longer physically able to get there, he had coffee every morning with a group of friends, many of whom were painters. He had strong opinions about everything, and would share them with everyone, at length. He also had a great sense of humor, especially a love of puns, which he also shared with everyone.  
… It doesn’t matter what gifts God has given us, we are made by God to share them. We often consider gifts to be performance art, like singing, playing an instrument, dancing, and so forth. But God intentionally gives us all different gifts, because if we all were singers or dancers or pianists, who would be the listeners and watchers? Who would repair the instruments? Who would make up the programs and invitations?
Those we remember today offered joy, smiles, love of family, love of life and church. These seem like simple, unimportant gifts to offer, but think about how these folks made you feel. A ready smile and warm welcome is no simple gift after all.
As we sit here today, we have many gifts represented. We have story tellers, teachers, organizers, people who visit, handy men and women, financial people, lawn mowers and trimmers, communicators, gardeners, quilters, shoebox fillers, decorators, cooks, dish washers, bulletin stuffers, altar servers, ushers, acolytes, greeters, singers, readers, musicians, food-bringers, offering-givers, prayers, welcomers. I’m sure I missed some. What would you add? …
No gift is too small or unimportant. Together, the gifts we share make it possible for us to do ministry right here at Hope, in our immediate and surrounding communities, and around the nation and the world.
One of my favorite living saints is Casey. She learned about the need for volunteers at SOS, the food pantry we support. She has joined the crew and goes to hand out food and other needs at the weekly food distribution. The people she serves are the ptochoi – the poor, the spit-upon – in Citrus County. In addition, she encourages us to share what we have with those who need our help. Casey regularly reminds us that we are blessed to be a blessing to others.
Casey will shrug this off, and say, it’s no big deal. But it IS a big deal. She is a witness to us that at least some of us should be there in body as well as in donations.  
Today, as we remember the saints in our lives, remember the lessons they have taught us. This month, as you decide how much support you will put in the offering plate next year, pray about being as faithful as the saints who have gone before you. Count your financial blessings. And count the ways in which you share those blessings with others. Count your blessings of time and talent, too. Count the ways in which you can share them with others. Consider, are you happy with the balance between what you have and what you give? Is there anything you need to change?

Please pray with me. Good and gracious God, you give us so much. You give us each other -- people to love and learn from. You give us things – houses, cars, jobs, talents, time. You give us things to do, ministry, work, leisure. You give us your Son, who models for us extreme servanthood. And you give us the promise of life with you, today, and after our earthly life has ended. Thank you for all this. Amen