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November 3, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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All Saints Sunday, 11/3/2019
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Collinsville, CT by the Rev. Carrie Combs
Luke 6:20-31

There are parts of the Bible I’ve heard so many times
that it’s easy to get them mixed up.
Or the different versions of stories get blended together
into one harmonized whole.
And while doing that might be helpful in, say,
putting on a Christmas pageant,
the different versions of Jesus’ teachings and stories
are different for a reason.
Each writer has a different focus,
and the Holy Spirit moves through the text in us listeners
in a different way.
That is the case in today’s Gospel Reading,
the Sermon on the Plains.
Much more popular is the Matthew version
where Jesus is teaching on a Mountain (Matthew 5).
That is what I picture in my head
when I hear the words, “Blessed are the poor…”.

If you, like me, picture that,
I want you to take that image you have in your head,
of Jesus up on the mountain speaking down and out to the crowd,
and turn it on its head.
Turn it right upside down.
Because in Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching,
he is not up on a mountain but “on a level place” (6:17).
 
What’s more, there is a crowd not just to hear Jesus teach
but to be healed and cured.
The passage we read today
says that Jesus looked up at his disciples,
which to me sounds a lot like he was on the ground.
Imagine him crouching down,
touching a person who has been carried from miles off,
reaching out and healing them,
before looking up and beginning to speak.
He’s not even speaking eye-to-eye with his disciples,
he is speaking from the ground, from below.

Elsewhere in scripture
the idea of the “level place” is tied to wretched things:
the place of corpses, disgrace, suffering,
misery, mourning, and hunger.
You sit on the ground when your legs have failed you,
when you have no place left to go.
The ground, the dirty, cold, ground.
But the prophets also promised that these places
would be renewed by God.
And so, Jesus sitting here on this level ground,
on this broken place where many broken humans stand or lay,
is significant.
He comes alongside those who find themselves in that place.
He joins with him.

And what Jesus says is different
from the Matthew version of this “sermon” as well.
He doesn’t spiritualize his list of blessings.
He’s not talking about the “poor in spirit”
but those who are literally poor.
He’s not saying “blessed are those who hunger for justice”
but those who are literally hungry.
Blessed are those who are poor now.
Blessed are those who are hungry, now.
Not in some figurative, spiritual sense
but in a very real and immediate way.
And they are blessed.

The word blessed has been so overused
in our vernacular that it’s almost ceased to mean anything.
We say we are blessed to have wealth, or a solid job,
or a loving family.
We might even take it to social media
and say we are #blessed
when we find a good parking space
or get a good deal on bananas at the store.
But in Luke’s writing, blessed does not mean happy,
it does not mean joyous, it does not mean lucky.
It describes a person’s relationship with God,
their closeness to God.
Think of it like: God stands close to the one who is poor.
God stands close to the one who weeps.
Or as pastors Rob Bell and Brian MacLaren put it:
God is on your side.

Because being poor or hungry or grieving
are not good in and of themselves -
we don’t want to go in the direction that glorifies poverty.
Instead, we see that those who are poor,
who are weeping, or hungry, or are spoken ill of for their faith,
have fewer barriers between themselves and God.
They don’t have the same comfort and cushion to rely on
that the wealthy or full or joyous ones do,
so their reliance on God is even more important.
And God is on their side, joined with them,
the way that Jesus joined with those
who were sick and poor and hungry and mourning
in this level place.
Who will stand with them?
Who else will sit with them?

We sit here on All Saints Sunday
surrounded by lovely stained glass windows
with the faces of saints on them.
James, Peter, and Paul. Mary the Mother of God.
And they all seem so far away, up on a holy mountain,
 far removed from us.
Their halos are squeaky clean
and their faces have the knowing smiles
of someone who has lived a life of perfect faith.
Their lives took place centuries ago,
their deeds of spreading the gospel
 despite life-ending persecution seem impossible
to find a modern analogue.
Even if they stumbled and fell sometimes,
their names are legendary in our faith
and time has magnified them to mythical proportions.

Yet today is also a day when we remember all the saints,
not just the ones who look down at us
from stained glass windows.
On this day
as well as every other time we celebrate the Eucharist
we are drawn together with all those who have gone before.
Our beloved dead, our parents, grandparents,
spouses, children, friends, and teachers,
who we love but see no longer.
Heaven comes down to earth,
and the barrier between our worlds is erased
as we sit at the banquet table of God.
That joyous moment of union
is what we participate in when we sing our song,
“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”

Surrounded as we are by saints,
by the saints big and the saints lesser known,
we are buoyed by their example.
For those saints we have known in life,
we are on a more level place.
We know they were not perfect.
We know they made mistakes.
Perhaps we have seen them in a broken place.
And yet we learned from them.
Knowing that the saints are like us
makes their example easier to follow,
less impossible standard to reach.

This place we worship, Trinity Church,
is literally surrounded by saints.
The ones in our glorious windows
whose lives we read about in the Bible
and those who we remember in our hearts
who surround us every Eucharist.
It seems that what makes a saint is a firm faith in Jesus,
a willingness to follow where he leads.
And we are learning as a church
that following God in 2019 isn’t easy.
We face challenges, we face changes,
and we struggle to discern who we are called to be
in this time and this place.

Our obstacles
aren’t the persecution faced by the saints in our windows
but rather the challenge of church being perceived as obsolete,
the challenge of getting older and more tired,
the challenge of shifting our paradigm to fit our context and time.
I invite us to see the saints coming down to us,
joining us in this place.
What if we saw this place as surrounded by holy role models, calling us onwards in faith,
providing us examples but also supporting us
as we struggle to live out God’s mission in our own way.
When we gather together here,
we are reminded that we are not alone in living out our faith.
The presence of each other buoys us,
and the saints who surround us lift us up,
giving us hope and energy for this work.

My prayer for us is that God, glorious in all his saints,
will continue to stand close to us and guide us in this work.
May all the faithful departed draw near to us
and surround us with their holy witness
so that we may be ever more faithful followers of Jesus. Amen.

October 20, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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October 6, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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September 29, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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September 22, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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September 15, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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September 8, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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September 1, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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August 25, 2019 - The Rev. Carrie Combs


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May 26, 2019 - The Rev. Linda Spiers


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