Sunday, November 1, 2020

Saints and Blessings


Today we remember some special people – those members who have died in the last year, as well as others who have been special to us. We call these folks “saints”.


Let’s think about what it takes to be a saint. According to the American Bible Society, a saint is a person of exceptional holiness, formalized by the Church. There is a process of investigation to name someone a saint. For example, Mother Teresa has recently been named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. 

The American Bible Society also says that in the Bible, the word “saints” refers to holy people – not holy in the moral sense but in the sense of being specially marked as God’s people. These saints are seen as faithful servants, living according to God’s holy character. For example, the disciples and the earliest believers in Rome and Corinth and Philippi are saints. 


In a more general sense, the word saint refers to those who believe in Jesus. So, we think of all of us gathered here this morning as saints, because we are all believers. We think of those whom we remember today as saints, too, not perfect people, but as people who tried to live life Jesus’ way. 

Today’s reading of the Beatitudes give us a good idea of what holy living looks like. We like to think it is the wealthy and powerful people, the ones who appear to have it all, who are blessed.


But according to Jesus, it is not the wealthy and powerful who are blessed but the poor and meek. The hungry and grieving and despairing – they are the blessed ones. Today, the ones who have to work 3 part time jobs to house and feed their families; they are the blessed ones. The ones who are told they are not capable of doing a certain job because they are overweight, or deaf, or gay, or have brown skin, or are too old; they are the blessed ones.


Jesus’ message was the opposite of popular belief in his time. How can people in such sorry states be blessed? And a related question: Who is doing the blessing? Is it God? Or is it us? Since God formed the relationship with us thousands of years ago, surely it is God who does the blessing. It is God who declares people to be blessed. And, it is also us. We are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. When we offer a blessing to others, we are blessed in return.


We are blessed when we offer mercy; when we advocate for justice; when we are peacemakers. We are blessed when we feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, give good news to those who are in despair. We are blessed when we advocate for better pay and health care and childcare for poor families. We are blessed when we intervene when we see unfairness happening. We are blessed when we work to make lives better for all people.


… Last week I was stunned and deeply saddened to read the news that Police Chief Greg Graham had died in a plane crash. While I didn’t know him well, I believe that he cared deeply for the people of Ocala.


He recognized that the police can’t solve all the problems in a community, and wanted to put in place systems to make life better for the whole community. He intentionally gathered people together to discuss issues that are more easily solved by a diverse group of people.  I think Chief Graham was a blessing to the people of Ocala.


… There are plenty more ways to share blessings. Here are a couple stories I saw recently on Facebook.


A little girl has a very old pug with severe arthritis. Today I saw her gently strap him into a baby stroller and wait for the UPS truck so they could chase after it. They were running and laughing as the pug barked like crazy. You know, just in case you forget what love means. Who received the blessing? The girl? The dog? Or the storyteller? Or us, as we hear the story?


And this story: An anthropologist invited the children from an African tribe to play a game. He placed a basket of fruit near the tree and announced to the children: "Whoever reaches the tree first will get to eat the whole basket of fruit." When he signaled to the children to start the race, they locked their hands tightly and ran together, and then they all sat together and enjoyed the delicious fruit.

The astonished anthropologist asked the children why they all ran together, because each of them could enjoy the fruit for him- or her-self. To which the children replied: "Obonato". Is it possible for one to be happy if everyone else is sad? "Obonato" in their language means: "I exist because we exist." … It didn’t make sense to the children that only one of them should be blessed.

As we take time today to remember the lives of loved ones, let’s reflect on how they were blessings to us. In what ways do we think of them as saints, loved by God? And, of course, how have we been blessings, saints, to those in our lives? Amen