All Saints message on Matthew 5:1-12 on November 3, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas.
This sermon was an adaptation of the one preached for the Installation of Bishop Susan Candea of the Central States Synod of the ELCA on October 20, 2019 at Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas. You can listen to that sermon here.
One of the characteristics that attracted me to St. Luke’s when I interviewed here was your desire to grow in being an inclusive, diverse church. You had created a wonderful Statement of Welcome (which is on the back of every bulletin) and you started conversations about what such inclusion means.
These are important conversations in our increasingly polarized society which needs the church to be a witness to a different kind of community—a community bound together in Christ where we learn and grow from diversity rather than are threatened by it.
I was reminded of the importance of learning from and being blessed by those different from us when I preached at the Bishop’s Installation in Kansas City two weeks for my best friend, Susan. We have been friends for 26 years, but the most interesting thing about our friendship is that we are just about complete opposites on every personality spectrum. But I am a more whole person, and a more faithful pastor because she is a part of my life and her gifts, and way of being in the world are different from mine. Perhaps one of the saints you wrote on a white ribbon was the opposite of you and helped you learn and grow.
Learning from those who are different from us is much easier in our personal relationships and much harder in our life together as the church. We tend to want to be with those who are just like us. But the Beatitudes always push us out of our comfort zones into the margins, and into the lives of those who are different from us, and new to us. The poor in spirit, the meek, the mourning, and the persecuted challenge us to explore what it means to be a Beatitude-church.
We must wrestle with the question: Can we move beyond viewing people at the margins, as recipients of our service, and instead, truly allow the Christ in them to transform our church and our mission?
We all know that one-third of Millenials and Gen Z’s have no religion, forgetting that means that two-thirds of them are spiritual and are interested in a grace-filled God-conversations! Jesus, who embraces all the complexities of their lives, is dying for a relationship with them, but we just wonder about “how to get ‘them’ in our church,” which is more about anxiety than mission. They are poor in spirit and the kingdom of heaven is with them, but we have not done much of the spiritual work in connecting our ministry with their life. As a Beatitude-church we must be on the move into our community, willing to ask, and learn, in order to be changed by their stories, and by the Christ in them.
At the beginning of October, I attended our Synod’s Leadership Convocation on Anti-Racism at Briarwood. I was powerfully reminded that the ELCA is the whitest Protestant denomination in the country despite our many commitments to increase our diversity. We have not done enough of the spiritual work of humility and openness to allow the identity, gifts, and worship forms of other cultures to change who we are.
This was painfully brought home to me this past summer in a conversation I had with a retired African American woman in our synod who has been Lutheran since she was young. She has served her congregation in many capacities. She and her husband decided to stop serving as Greeters on Sunday mornings because there are a few of their brothers and sisters in Christ who pass by them and will not shake their hands.They have remained members of the congregation, serving in other ways, yet still feel out of place in their own church. They hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake. As a Beatitude-church we must be willing to do the work of anti-racism so that this behavior becomes unthinkable, and so that we might be filled with kingdom of heaven together.
We can give other examples of those who live at the margins whom we may serve in our ministry, pray for, but who are not as widely represented in our pews or even pulpits on Sunday morning—immigrants, the working poor, those with mental illness or who are differently abled, homeless people, and those in the LGBTQ community to whom the kingdom of heaven also belongs.
God calls us to be a Beatitude-Congregation—to be transformed and changed by those whom our Lord calls, Blessed and endows with the kingdom of God. How willing are we to step out of our traditions and customs, our liturgies and expectations to be transformed by the poor in spirit, to be blessed by the downtrodden, to be changed by the meek, to be shaped by the pure in heart, to be set free by the persecuted?It is so hard to do. But when the Beatitudes shape our life together, the Holy Spirit makes us into a new community.
John is a developmentally disabled man who worshiped regularly at Trinity Presbyterian in St. Louis when my husband, Dan, was the pastor. John made some people uncomfortable and presented challenges for many members. John had a booming voice and when it came time to say the Lord’s Prayer, John’s voice was a half-beat behind everyone else’s. So, the prayer would always have an echo—Our Father (Father), who art in heaven (heaven). A Beatitude-member who recognized that John was pure in heart suggested that once a month, he lead the Lord’s Prayer from the pulpit. John was thrilled. Over time, an amazing thing happened. John’s prayer sped up and the congregation’s prayer slowed down. They started praying together in one voice, in true unity. Musicians call this “entrainment.”
“Entrainment” happens when each musician tunes in so closely to the person next to them—and through deep listening, and the subversion of their own ego’s need to stand out—they are able to match their sounds and blend together, in one voice, in true unity!
We feel it here singing hymns together—we are not individual voices, men or women, young or old, black or white, gay or straight—we praise God with one voice…Our souls are taken to a higher place where the ego melts and the union of diverse members, voices and hearts join together in Communion. In this moment of holy “entrainment”—we feel One with God and each other—the very experience God desires for the church, the kingdom and all of humanity. Trinity Presbyterian Church did not just allow John to join them, they did not just tolerate his presence, they surrendered themselves in order to be changed and transformed by the Christ in him.
God calls each of us to be a Beatitude-member who engages in the spiritual practices and kingdom work of surrendering to Christ and being and transformed by those at the margins. The Holy Spirit empowers each of us into deep listening to those who are not yet included in our community—continually inviting us into relationships of “entrainment” with the Christ in the outcast.
The kingdom of heaven is alive and active in God’s people who suffer, and they have a story to tell and gifts to share, just like John! God calls each of us to hear and receive them, so we all might be made new in Christ! Can you imagine our congregation, our synod, our whole church, as places of “missional entrainment” (pause) where we engage the poor in spirit, those who have been shunned and rejected, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, in relationships of humility and story that change and transform who we are, and how we are church.
As we become a church that listens deeply and closely, surrendering ourselves to the Christ in those at the margins—be it immigrants, the poor, or diverse cultures—we “entrain” with them and they with us, coming into true unity as God transforms us and our communities into a Beatitude-world. What a vision for the church!—that the suffering people of this world would no longer experience ours or any church as a barrier to knowing God’s love, but rather, the very place where they can experience Communion fully “entrained” with God in the body of Christ.
The church’s Beatitude-mission is embodied every time we come to the Lord’s table, as Jesus extends forgiveness and grace to all. At this table, Christ empowers us with his life and Spirit to fulfill this holy calling. In this Holy Communion, as we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus, we are “entrained” with Christ and he with us, that we might be Christ’s hands and feet, his heart and voice in the world. Continue to be nourished by the love of Christ, for this world needs a Beatitude-member of a Beatitude-congregation in a Beatitude-Church that has the faith and courage to be changed by the Christ at the margins.