Pastor Lisa Horst Clark
November 3, 2019
Luke 6: 20 – 31
Then he 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.
It has been years that I have been keeping my phone by my bed at night, just in case someone dies. This might be a pastor problem, but I didn’t quite realize it until earlier this week. I’d left my phone on a charger in a different part of the house and I woke up worried, checking the screen to see if there was a message I had missed. And although it might be, in part, part of my job description, I think I might not be alone in this for I know there are those who, for a night or for a season, keep the phone next to the bed because the kids are staying out late tonight, because someone promised to call you if there was anything you needed to know, because you were waiting for news of a loved one and as you are sent home to sleep you know that the only news they might wake you up for isn’t good. I realized I have kept this phone next to my bed as a ritual, as an altar to my fears of what might be. I can say at the best that it’s a recognition of mortality, that none of us knows what the next day will hold and we promise to be present whatever may come. The other side is a monument to my fears: of illness or injury or death, of the things that can rouse one from your sleep with a startle and a gasp at an unknown number or just one more telemarketer who doesn’t understand the Pacific Time Zone.
A place to hold our fears, I think, is common as is a place to hold our grief. It could be that you have a box in some closet, or maybe the attic or under the bed that holds within it a grief that feels too close to name: the gifts, the clothes, the papers that felt hard to go through and so you found a place that is safe where they can stay in the hopes that your grief maybe can stay there, too.
I’ve been listening to a podcast of two folks that listen to self-help books and then live by them for two weeks with comical results. They did this one that was on death, on dying well, and they said there were some listeners to their podcasts who wrote in to say that even seeing the word “dying” on their feed made them too anxious. I understand. If you start thinking about death you confront a whole gamut of things that make us uncomfortable. We think about our own mortality, the fact that each of us will, in fact, die. Death is related to the things we may fear most, of pain, of illness, impairment, dependency. There are plenty of things to fear in this life, like poverty and illness, and it’s one thing to fear for yourself and another to worry for someone you love. And there is, of course, this: that when we look and focus, death calls questions of what does it mean, it asks the questions of our life that maybe don’t come during the busyness of day.
So all of this is to say, if we were going to put up a big banner of today and it said to the neighborhood, “We are in particular talking about people who have died and death,” I wouldn’t expect hoards. Which is why it is almost surprising that Jesus has such a large crowd that has come to hear him as he is hemmed in from all sides and talks about poverty and hunger and weeping as all those who had diseases and spirits pressed in close. Jesus is not a self help kind of person. He is not going to tell you all the ways your life is going to be bright and shinier if you just follow these three easy steps. Instead, Jesus comes and meets the people where they are, in the midst of their brokenness and pain and says to each, “Blessed are the poor … Blessed are those who hunger … Blessed are those who weep.”
And we know that in our lives, no matter where you put your altar to your fears or your box of grief, it is unlikely to stay in that corner. We know how grief can hit you as you’re just walking down the street, minding your own business, when somehow a song comes on and somehow it strikes a chord within you that you didn’t know was waiting there as you’re going through and have forgotten what this day was on the calendar until your body reminds you. And this week marks days in the Christian church that have been associated with death and with those who have gone before. Traditions around the world can vary, but part of what we recognize is that we are not the first generation to walk this earth. We are not the first generation to seek to be faithful to the ways and love of God. In the Protestant church we don’t talk about saints in the way they might be canonized, but instead to name the ways that those who have gone before us and those who are among us give a glimpse of what it is to walk in the ways and love of God, how they have been a blessing to our life and faith and a blessing to this world as we seek to be the church.
As we are talking about death and those who have passed, our language tends to break down because we are talking about the grand mystery of death. And so, it seems a better fit for the poets than for the great solid descriptions of “this is exactly what it looks like on the other side.” In Holy in between, we trust where life and death intersects that God’s grace is big enough to hold us, insuring that nothing is lost and all is held in God’s love and in God’s grace.
When we talk about preparing for memorials at the church, we say that a memorial needs to do three things: give thanks for the life that was, hold a place for the grief that this love has left a hole in its wake and a place to trust that this is not where it ends, that the worst thing is not the last thing, but we sit in rest in hope of resurrection.
And so, as we look at the cloud of witnesses who came before us, we feel as well all of these emotions: gratitude, the loss and the pain and the hope that they leave us. We can look in the back of the cloud of witnesses who came before us whose stories now have that ring of certainty, that they knew what they were doing, but instead that they, as human as us, took one step at a time with their own brokenness and their own openness to grace. Those who faced the challenges before them with all the faith they had and the God who did not leave them on their own, who just as human as us with their own faults and failings in a world just as broken as ours, that God found them there in that brokenness, who walked even through the things we most fear of illness and poverty and dependency and death and who now, on the other side of the veil, have journeyed on before us to where God holds them even now.
And so, if we are sitting around waiting for the other shoe to drop, fearing to face the world, or ask the doctor, or look at all the facts, or say the hard things, or not know the way, or feel the pain, in short, if we tried to take all our fears and griefs and worries and put them into a small contained place that occasionally wakes us up in the middle of the night with gasps, then we lose the chance to be a part of the crowd of witnesses who gather, who can remind us we have been here before.
I was at Pilgrim Firs the last day or two, for the Women’s Retreat, and it struck me as I was in the car even driving down there how much I missed a member of this church, Judy Bordeaux. In a few moments we will read the names of many who have died in this church in the last year and it sometimes strikes me how I notice someone’s absence in a moment or a place. Judy Bordeaux was a member of this church who had a gift of storytelling and laughter and community, whose days were a blessing, and I know I am not alone in wishing there could have been a few more. Over the years I would lead women’s retreats and she was always a leader. Something she always did was write table blessings: unique for each year, always on theme and she had this gift of marrying the profound with a punch line without missing a beat. I realized driving down we didn’t have any and so, as we were gathered there, I was grateful for a few women who gathered with me to write in her honor, to ask God’s blessings upon these tables that were gathering. I felt, as was doing it, how lovely it was to set a place for her at the table where we were eating, where we were having our conversations in the midst of our lives.
In the scripture for All Saints we see Jesus not on a mountain but on a plain, coming to where the people are in all their brokenness to speak his words of blessing. And so, here is my prayer today: that for each of us we might be invited, rather than keeping our fears at bay and even perhaps our griefs in a place that feels safe. That today, if it feels so moved, to invite our fears, our gratitudes, our mournings, our hopes of resurrection and to invite them to our table today, that we might remember that we are not at this table alone but surrounded by generations of the faithful with Mother Teresa and her work with the poorest of the poor, and St. Francis and his love of creation, that we are here with Martin Luther and his calls to reformation and Harriet Tubman who led the enslaved to freedom, that we are here with generations of artists and activists and servants and sages and those who in our own lives have blessed us, have shown us the way, and even those who we miss deeply, as we hold the gift with tenderness and try to understand in the words of (I’ll name her) St. Mary Oliver, that even the socks of grief are a gift.
We remember the great ancestors of our faith, from Abraham to Sarah, Paul and Phoebe, ancestors of faith we remember you.
We remember the prophets and priests, the ministers and teachers who have taught us the way of God; teachers of the faith we remember you.
We remember our grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, god parents and chosen family of our heart, those who have gone before us in our lifetime. Family of faith, we remember you.
We lift up the memories of children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives and parents whose lives ended too soon. Those close in our heart, we remember you.
We lift up to you, oh God, the names of those we have lost in this past year from our lives, knowing that they are with your heart forever. As we read these names, we pause to remember and pray and give thanks:
Betty Ann Kindem
We celebrate the lives of those we have named, oh God, and lift up many more names in our hearts. Family of God, we remember you and we honor you. We know you are with us in the spirit of worship and you will not be forgotten.
We give thanks, oh God, for all who have gone to join you beyond this life. We trust in the hope of resurrection and promise of new life in Christ and know that in our grief and celebration you are with us through it all and we are not left alone. In the name of Christ in whom love lives forever, we pray.
For we come this day to this table of memory. For on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread, and giving thanks for it he broke it and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat; this is my body broken for you. As often as you eat of it, do so in remembrance of me.”
And in the same way, Jesus took the cup. He reminded us and said, “This is the cup of the new covenant and as often as you drink of this cup, please remember me, my love for you, the words and examples of my teaching.”
As we come to this table you are invited to receive bread and cup and if so moved to as well light candles in prayer and in memory.
Ministering to you in the name and presence of Jesus Christ, we offer this bread and this cup.
Will you be with me in a spirit of prayer? Holy God of generations, you who have been with the faithful from age to age and beyond, we give you thanks for those who have been saints in our lives, those who have been blessings and showed us the way of love. We pray that their presence might be near us, that we might be inspired by their memory, that we might trust in your presence among us that we might seek to be your saints for this age, this moment, this life. May your blessing be with us today and tomorrow. Amen.
© Copyright. Lisa Horst Clark. 2019. All rights reserved.