Looking in the Mirror, Pastor Fred
My mother and father continue to surprise me, even in their deaths! That’s right, surprise me from beyond the grave. Not like ghosts, like we just celebrated on Halloween. But like how they shared their DNA with me; like how they gave me birth, and somehow still live-on in me – give and sustain my life now, even today. Like scatterers of seeds, or farmers, who watch their fields grow – and I am the harvester of their free gift – I take up the fruits, of their labor.
In my family now, by which I mean me, and my partner and spouse, Kim – we don’t have any family pictures on our walls. We’ve just never gotten into those kind of galleries. Whereas, in my parent’s house, they had a whole room full of family photos going all the way back to our immigrant ancestors who arrived from Germany and Wales in the 1850’s.
So, the year my parents gave all 4 of us kids a portrait of them for our Christmas present, we just smiled and said thank you. And looked at each other knowingly, like, where are we going to put this?! It was an ‘good’ picture. Not their best, I don’t think. But it would turn out to be their last formal photo together, about a year before my dad died in 2010, which gave it special significance for me.
I think it sat in a pile of papers and things on my desk at home for that whole year, awaiting my decision. I couldn’t bear to get rid of it – but I didn’t know where it rightly belonged either! Kim and I, still had no desire to start a family gallery, and didn’t really have room for that anyway.
But a funny thing happened one day. Because, in our apartment we have two bathrooms, one for each of us, it worked out. Out of the blue, I noticed for the first time that there was a thin little nail on the bare wall opposite the sink, that must have been there from the last tenants – and I thought, that’s it, it’s made for the picture, that’s where it goes!
You can tell I’m not much of a decorator, right!?!
But now every morning and every night as I brush my teeth, I can look in the mirror, and right over my left shoulder, their they are, together, and smiling at me, just as I remember them!
It still took a while to fully appreciate – I wasn’t sure it was appropriate at first. But gradually, unexpectedly, they seemed to come alive, more and more. And now I remember new things, like the ways I’m like them – sometimes for better, and sometimes in ways I’m trying to change! And that inspires me to redouble my efforts to be my best self. The self God gave me, through my parent’s gift of birthing me – the self I have become, with their help, and, on my own. And especially their gift of bringing me to the baptismal font on Thanksgiving Day, when I was a month old, which set me off on this incredible faith journey!
“Blessed, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said to his disciples, and the surrounding crowds, in his Sermon on the Mount. These, and the 7 other Beatitudes, were a gift he gave them, and us – that at first, is not all that easy to understand – but definitely is a nice picture to have hanging on your wall, that you can go back to, again and again!
Part of the mystery of the Beatitudes is how to translate them. Some say “blessed are you”, others say, “happy are you,” while other suggest, “honored are you…” But all agree, and point out, that they are declarative! The first one pronounces a state of blessing, or honor, in the present tense – right now. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven! Then, ‘blessed are those who mourn; honored are the non-violent; happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice; blessed are the compassionate; honored are the contemplative in mind; and happy are the peacemakers; for they WILL’ – in the future – ‘be comforted; inherit the earth; be filled; receive compassion; see God; and be called children of God.’
We pray today, for these blessings for ‘all the saints’ we know, and remember, on this All Saints Sunday, just as Jesus taught his Disciples, including us, to pray, that God’s kingdom and realm of heaven, where these blessings live already, would come to us and live on earth, through our community of faith.
The Beatitudes are the characteristics of God’s kingdom and realm, among All the Saints. And as such, they are a radical departure from the expectations we normally encounter in our lives. When we look in the mirror, we usually look for the face of success: for riches not poverty; for self-assurance not mourning; for strength and social status not meekness or non-violence; for abundance not hungering, thirsting or sacrificing for justice; for power and a charming wit not compassion; for the readiness to strike back when attacked not working for peace.
So, the beatitudes are Counter-cultural. The agenda and values of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated, are ‘not of this world.’ They are the blessings of ‘Life,’ and not temptations towards the culture leading to death.
Brian McLauren describes the Beatitudes, which are the opening salvo of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in this way: “Jesus has been speaking for only a matter of seconds, and he has already turned our normal status ladders and social pyramids upside down.
“Our choice is clear from the start: If we want to be his disciples, we won’t be able to simply coast along and conform to the norms of our society. We must choose a different definition of well-being, a different model of success, a new identity with a new set of values.
“Jesus promises we will pay a price for making that choice. But he also promises we will discover many priceless rewards. If we seek the kind of unconventional blessedness he proposes, we will experience the true aliveness of God’s kingdom, the warmth of God’s comfort, the enjoyment of the gift of this Earth, the satisfaction at seeing God’s restorative justice come more fully, the joy of receiving mercy, the direct experience of God’s presence, [and] the honor of association with God. That is the identity he invites us to seek.” (We Make the Road by Walking, pp. 127-29)
How can we live well in this world God created for all people? How can we honor the gifts of our parents and grandparents and ancestors in the faith? How can we live with ourselves when we look in the mirror?
On All Saints we remember and celebrate, how thin the veil is that separates us in this world from the next. And that baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we no longer have to fear death, but live in the kingdom and realm of God already. The older I get, the more I feel that I am closer to my parents, who are now on the other side of the veil, who, like all our ancestors in the faith, have gone before us in the cloud of witnesses, and who seem more real to me, in a new way, all the time.
And so as the children of Abraham and Sarah, we all live by faith, as St. Paul says, which makes us, siblings of our true family. And as sisters and brothers, we all walk a journey of faith together – a journey that comes from God and is going to God. Let us chose this path of life! A path that joins all the saints who are gathered ‘before the throne of God, where in our white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb,’ as Revelation says, we live in the realm of God where ‘there is hunger no more, and thirst no more, …and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.’
May we be blessed by the rich mercy of God, and joined to each other in faith, wherever we are on our spiritual journeys!