This Sunday as we Celebrate the Feast of All Saints, and, at our 10 and 12:15 services perform baptisms,
we are invited to reflect and meditate on what Jesus says in this passage about being blessed. A little about this section: immediately prior to this, in Matthew’s Gospel chapter four, verse 18, we see that Jesus is calling the disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John.
As a person who tries to organize other people, I’ve come to appreciate what Matthew’s Gospel shows us of the strategy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because being our Lord Jesus Christ, I’m sure he could have just gone and done this work all by himself. He could have done his miracles alone, he didn’t require anyone else. He could have spoken to the crowds and the people alone, no one else was needed. He could have proven his points and bested the Scribes and Pharisees and taken on the Sadducees without anyone else around. No help was needed for that.
But Jesus didn’t work alone. He didn’t pray alone except occasionally when he went off by himself. But mostly his prayers were together with others. He didn’t travel alone, the crowds followed everywhere he went. And he didn’t envision a Christian life as being alone in this world, solitary in the faith, struggling by one’s self to be a better person without anyone else there. But Jesus envisioned Christianity as a group project. And he taught us to pray that way. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. And deliver us from evil.
The I in Christianity is not so much the all-important I that drives us when we are out in the world and demands that we are successful and important. The I in Christianity is not a measure of our success or importance. These things are measured by the we. In Christianity, the I succeeds when it is engaged in the work of we, of us.
We triumph in our faith as we love our neighbors as ourselves, as we serve others, especially those in need. As we practice togetherness. Through our prayers, worship, service, we are together, and in every way this is how Jesus envisioned a Christian living.
As Saint Paul says: Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. In him we are one. You and I. We are one with the people sleeping under the bridge, or those in jail. We are one with those suffering from the terror attack this past week in New York city. We are one with children and others who are dying in Syria. We are one with people everywhere, even our enemies, whoever they are.
And so in thinking about this Feast Day of All Saints, we think about those whom Jesus Choose as his disciples as well as all the saints who came after them. And think about how they brought us all together.
Growing up in the Episcopal Church and not the Roman Catholic world of saints, I confess I always imagined that the saints were people who were like the Super-heroes of the faith. They were like the 12th and 13th century versions of Spiderman and Superman, whose powers were mighty and whose image was beyond reproach.
But as I’ve learned more, I come to find that it’s actually much more complex than that. And the saints are really a mixed bag, and that many of them were just kind of strange, they were awkward in the eyes of the world. They were not well received, many, by the community around them. They did not focus their lives on being good citizens or upstanding individuals in the community. They focused their lives on God. And everything else just followed from that.
The Saints of Christianity were not in it for their glory, but for God. And I love the fact that one of the keys to being a saint, in addition to having lived a life of piety, is that you need to have performed a miracle of intercession for someone else. In other words, you have to have contributed, in some profound way, to the we.
And this gets into Jesus’ calling of his followers, those disciples whom he asked to join him in his mission. For Jesus, in calling followers, is clearly not thinking about what the world judges as success. He’s not choosing people based on qualities that we in the world see as having value.
If I am going to hire someone to cut my grass, I’ll put an ad in the paper that says: wanted: someone to cut my grass. And I will interview people for the position based on certain qualities.
At the very least to cut my grass a person has to be reliable –they have to show up and follow through with the things they say they are going to do. And they have to be competent and know basically what they’re doing. Otherwise they might cut off a finger. Which happened in our church in Los Angeles when the sexton reached his hand under the mower to see if it was on, and it was, and he found the tip of his finger gone. Not a good hire. And the people I hire to cut my grass will have to understand what I’m saying, otherwise how will they know how long I want my grass to be.
And so you can imagine that Jesus, in picking his disciples, who are all by the way handpicked, that he would go about choosing and interviewing and finding the best from the community of ancient Galilee. For he knew that these would be the ones to do the important work of furthering his kingdom after he was gone.
But you know what happened. Jesus chose people who were not what the world would say are “the best.” They were not reliable. His disciples abandoned him at the cross. They denied him three times. They sold him for silver and turned him over to the enemy.
Jesus chose people who were not competent. His disciples fell asleep on their watch. They made lots of mistakes. And Jesus chose people who did not understand him. Again and again the disciples fail to get the message and even the simplest thing he had to say, which was: I will be back. They didn’t understand that.
And the way I would choose someone and the way Jesus chose is very different. For the saints do not operate according to the ways of the world. They do not operate according to the I. And the disciples would have made terrible employees, they would have been fired. Yet here we are, 2000 years later, so something about Jesus’s plan worked. And Christianity survived. And what made it possible was the emphasis on the we.
What Jesus values is not the perfection of a well formed self or the individual glorified in his or her own faith, but what he values is a blessedness produced by those who make peace. And a blessedness which comes from those who have mercy. And a blessedness generated by those who are pure in heart. And this blessedness, discussed in the Gospel today, directs and guides and moves the energy away from the human pursuit of the I into the common service of the we. Service comes through peace, service comes through mercy, service comes through purity. All these qualities in the Gospel today.
Baptism, like Sainthood, may seem like it has to do with the betterment of the I, the upholding of the child or the adult being baptized. But I can tell you after years of study that baptism will not make this child into a towering Christian. Baptism will not insure that this child will be a worldly success. Baptism will not make this person great or mighty in his or her own right, according to what the world sees as great and mighty.
Baptism actually goes the other way. It upholds that the true Christians, the best among us are actually losers. Those who are poor in spirit. Those who are mourning, meek. Those who are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that which they do not see, for they know that this is what must be done for the sake and the betterment of the we, the whole. And that hunger they have is divine. And that thirst is from God.
Parents, are you sure you want to ask God to make your children poor, hungry, mourning and meek? Wouldn’t it be better, instead, to follow what the world says: blessed are you when you have a billion dollars. Or blessed are you when you can do whatever you want because of who you are. Or blessed are you when you don’t have to sacrifice anything in this life.
All that message which sounds good to the ears and accords to our cultural concepts. But it is not the message of Jesus. And baptism is the start of our discipleship with him. It is the moment when he grabs our hands and the little hands of the children, like he did those disciples on the beach, and he says, come, let’s walk together and let me tell you what really counts. Not what others will say counts, but what really counts. For it’s all about love. Let me tell you about caring. Let me show you about sacrifice for others and giving. Let me show you what the saints knew. Let me show you what the first disciples knew.
That we don’t have to be or do any more than we’re doing, that we just have to intentionally do all things with an outpouring of love for each other, the same love that he showed us when he took our hand at the beach and said: follow me. Or when he took the water and poured it over us and said: I baptize you. Or when he called us, even before we were born, in the womb, and said: you are blessed, you my child, are blessed because of who you are. Because of my love. Now go forth and share that. Give that as my gift to the world.
Today let us remember the gift to the world we have is not a bigger or better I, but it is using that I for the sake of us and we.