Sermon for All Saints Sunday-
By the Rev. Claire S. Burkat, Bishop, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA-
But I have to tell you; it’s the “woes” section of this text that is speaking to me of late.
“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.”
Do you know what the Greek word for “woes” is? Oi!
It’s an expression of grief or denunciation. I heard it often from the Jewish mothers and grandmothers- Bubbe –(That’s Yiddish for grandma) where I grew up in New York. “Oi, you never call, you never visit…”
Oy vey – woe is me!
“Oi! to you who are rich . . .Oi! to you who are full . . .
Oi! to you who are laughing now . . . Oi! to you when all speak well of you.”
Friends, when I look at these woes, I realize Jesus is talking about me.
Oi! I live in the richest country of the world. When I check my income level against the rest of the world, I am shocked that 80% of the world’s people have to survive on just a fraction of what I earn, and I realize that like Jesus says…I am already receiving my consolation. Oi!
When I go to the grocery store and realize that I do not have to worry any more like I did in seminary about how I will make my paycheck stretch to meet my basic needs, I am grateful, yes. But I am also keenly aware that I benefit from a system of privilege and affluence that keeps me quite well fed. Too much sometimes! Oi!
How about laughter – what’s wrong with that?
Well the way the word is used here implies laughter that comes from being self-satisfied. Laughter that comes with ease of an implicit knowing that you are safe, you are not judged, you are not in danger of losing your life at a routine traffic stop because of, say the color of your skin. Laughter that comes from having no doubt that your life matters, and you can rest in happiness with that thought. As a white person, that is the kind of laughter I’m privileged to enjoy. Oi!
And what’s wrong with people speaking well of you? Don’t we want to cultivate a good reputation that inspires admiration and approval?
Certainly, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about here.
This is the kind of approval that comes from not rocking the boat, from upholding the status quo, from keeping a low profile – even when you see injustice happening.
It is approval that comes from those who say the church should only focus on spiritual issues and not concern itself with the justice concerns of the world. It’s the approval that is lost when a Pope decides to write about the need to protect the poor and the planet, and is told to keep the church out of politics.
It’s the approval that is lost when Lutheran leaders go to Standing Rock, ND, to stand with the Sioux tribe and the hundreds of native peoples who have gathered from around the world to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline incursion on their sacred land. Bishop Eaton and your Bishop Erwin (who himself is of Native American descent) have been taking flak from some people for this act of solidarity. But what she and the other bishops and the other people of faith are doing in that place is an act of courage on behalf of tribal peoples and God’s Creation.
In fact, what they are doing is enacting the first part of this passage, the beatitudes – the blessings. The Greek word is markarios.
Here’s what markarios - blessing - looks like on the wind-swept lands of people who are fighting for their land and water and cultural heritage. It looks like dancing and rejoicing with people who realize they are not alone – that thousands of people have come to their aid and stand in solidarity with them.
And here at Mt Olive is what markarios-blessing looks like. Being a Beatitude Church looks like the kind of radical self-giving love that responds to the needs of homeless college students by opening up a shelter so that they have a safe place to stay while attending school.
Being a Beatitude church looks like rolling out the rainbow carpet for those in the LGBTQ community so that they know there is a place of worship where they are welcomed, accepted, valued, and affirmed for who God made them to be, and the gift of love God gave them.
A Beatitude church looks at what Jesus says and realizes,
“Oh wait! I get it! The poor will be blessed because
WE will bless them!
WE will bring the kingdom of God to them.
WE get to fill the hungry with good things.
WE will share our space to give shelter
WE will cry with the ones who are hurting until their mourning turns to laughter.
Laughter that is borne out of a wondrous joy knowing that God has the last laugh on death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
WE will rejoice with the ones who are receiving ill-treatment because they are standing for justice.
WE will Bless those who curse us.
And so it was probably in Sunday School at my local Church in Queens NY that I must have first heard these words. Be kind to mean people.
The children’s version of –Bless those who curse you.
Probably in some way I was taught from Allan Jahsmann book “Little Visits with God”. First published in 1957, reprinted several times, translated into 18 languages, sequels added and more than 3 million sold!
From a chapter called- “How to Treat Mean People”
Here’s the concluding prayer for children.
“Dear God – You are good and kind even to those who don’t like you. Help us to treat others with kindness. Help us to say nice things even to those who say mean things to us. We ask this in Jesus Name. Amen”
The grace of God to move from woes to blessings starts with someone doing what Jesus did – caring enough about people to teach them.
Someone to sit down and write books and share the wisdom of God and the love of Jesus with our littlest believers from the time they are very young. This is the priceless gift Allan gave for our children and grandchildren that multiplied by God’s grace brought millions of children and many generations to faith.
Here in the blessing on the Plain, words that are so gentle and yet profound, we receive the teaching of Jesus.
This was Allan Jahsmann’s work for a lifetime.
And it does take a lifetime. The process of moving from woes to blessings is not a Hollywood moment with singing violins and credits rolling on happy faces at the end of the movie.
Friends, we are engaged in a long process filled with fits and starts, sudden jumps ahead, followed by stumbling backward with mistakes and missteps. So we need each other, we need the church; we need all of our resources of education, liturgy, financial generosity, creativity, hearts for justice and minds for organization to apprentice ourselves to the blessing.
A word about Tuesday (Election Day) No matter what happens with this election, whether come Wednesday morning you will be rejoicing or saying oy vey, remember this.
Jesus never leaves us stuck in the woes. He gives us a way through to the other side of oi to find markarios. And here it is:
“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.”
We are learning to be apprentices of the blessing. God is making us a markarios people, a Beatitude
the Rev. Claire S. Burkat, Bishop,
Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for All Saints Sunday
Written by the Rev. Claire S. Burkat
Nov. 6, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church