By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
November 2, 2008
Read: Revelation 7:9-17 and Matthew 5:1-12
This morning, for our opening hymn, we sang a classic Episcopal hymn: For All the Saints. I was reminded at Bible study how comforting the words can be:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might:
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, the one true Light.
O may thy soldiers, faithful true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them, the victor’s crown of gold.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array:
the King of glory passes on his way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from oceans’ farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia, Alleluia.
Some of you know that I am not fond of “war” language and this hymn is filled with it. But, I do see that life can sometimes seem like a battle. And of course, I am conscious of the spiritual realm and the fact that spiritual warfare is real. However, the light is always greater than the darkness. In the end, God wins. And that is always cause for celebration.
Today, we celebrate those who have gone before us and also all of us present here today. It’s as if there is a long, long rope filled with knots. All different type of knots. The knots represent each of us as we habitate this earthly realm and as we pass on, the knots unfold and are not as visible; however, they remain a part of that rope; in communion with us. As our opening hymn this morning states: ‘yet all are one in thee, for all are thine’.
Reminds me of Jesus’ prayer shortly before he died on the cross for us. “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
In our gospel reading from Matthew today we hear what are called the beatitudes. Blessed are…
Blessed. It’s a funny word, a strange word. Blessed. Say it over and over. It is also a bizarre word, at least in English. It comes from an Old English verb meaning “to consecrate with blood.” The Greek makarios seems a little tamer; it refers to a state of happiness, but it comes from the Greek word makar, which refers to those who have died: “the blessed.” So even though Jesus seems to be addressing the living in the Beatitudes, the dead always seem to be hovering nearby.
And if we really wrap our heads around what Jesus is saying; he is turning our understandings of what is important in this earthly realm upside down. He is telling us that things are usually not as they seem. He is asking us to put our trust, our faith in God. Somehow, it will be OK, no matter what it looks like on the surface. And our knots on the rope are all connected to each other. What is important is the rope, not the differences in appearance of the knots.
Max Lucado, a well-known devotional author, described the church–what we Episcopalians term the one, holy catholic (and for us catholic means ‘universal’) church–as God’s boat. A vessel with one purpose-to carry us safely to the other shore. This is no cruise ship, it is a battleship. We are not called to leisure, but to service. Each of us has a different task. Some are concerned with those who are in danger of drowning, snatching people from the water. Others are concerned with the care and feeding of the crew. Though different, we are all the same, with one Captain, and one destination. And though our battle is fierce, the boat is safe, for our Captain is strong and the gates of Hell will not prevail against this grand vessel. Of that there is no concern. This boat will not sink.
Max says there is concern, however, not with the strength of the boat, but with the harmony of the crew. You see, when we first came on board, we assumed that everyone here was just like us. But as we have wandered these decks we have found a few curious converts. Some wear uniforms we have never seen. Some sport styles we have never witnessed and we stop them and say, “Why do you look the way you do?” To which they respond, “We were about to ask you the same question!”
The variety of dress is not nearly as disturbing as the diversity of opinions. There is one group, for example, that clusters every morning for intense study. They promote rigid discipline and wear somber expressions. “Serving the Captain is serious business”, they say. It is no coincidence that they tend to congregate toward the back of the boat, the STERN.
There is another regiment deeply devoted to prayer. Not only do they believe in prayer, they believe in a certain posture for prayer. They believe you can only talk with God on your knees with head forward – that is why they can always be found on this vessel near the BOW.
Still another group has positioned itself near the engine. They occupy themselves with studying the nuts and bolts of this ship – they are only comfortable if they can grasp the details. They are occasionally criticized by those who linger on the top deck, inspired by the wind in their hair and the sun in their face who insist, “it is not what you know, it is what you feel”.
Some think once you are on the boat you can never get off. Others say, you would be foolish to go overboard, but the choice is yours. Some believe you were recruited and subsequently volunteered yourself for service on this boat. Others believe you were destined for service before the boat was ever built.
There are those who address the Captain in a private and personal language, while others think such conversation is gibberish. There are those who think the officers should wear special robes and others who think there should be no officers at all.
Then there is the issue of the weekly meeting at which the Captain is honored and his instructions read. All agree on its importance, but some want it loud while others want it quiet. Some want ritual, others want spontaneity. Some want to celebrate so they can meditate, others want to meditate so they can celebrate.
The consequence is a rocky boat. There is trouble on deck. Fights have broken out between sailors. There have been times, incredible as it may seem, when one group even refused to acknowledge the presence of another group on the ship.
Most tragically, some adrift at sea have chosen not to board this boat. “Life is rough out here on the choppy seas,” they say, “but, I would rather face the wind and waves than get caught in a fight between those sailors.”
Can there ever be harmony on the ship? That WAS the dream of the Captain. “That they all may be one”. Four different times in that prayer was the plea, “That they all may be one”. For all the saints.
It a little bit, we will experience Holy Communion. Communion. A coming together in our brokenness to find our healing and wholeness in God, through Jesus Christ. May God grant us the grace to recognize that a different looking knot on the rope can make a difference in our lives, a positive difference. We are all on this boat together. Let us come together striving for that oneness; one in communion with all the saints of every time and place; one long rope connecting us all. We are all on the same boat. The Lord is our rock, our fortress and our might. Our one, true light.
And the light shall overcome the darkness. Amen.
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