The Rev. Teri Daily
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Conway, Ark.
November 6, 2011
All Saints Sunday, Year A
Revelation 7, Matthew 5
There are two kinds of people in the world. If you’ve ever sat in board meetings or worked on group projects I’m sure you know this to be true. There are people who are goal-oriented, and there are people who are process-oriented. And working across types can be quite a challenge. Process-oriented folks believe the journey itself is the goal—the process is just as if not more important than where one ends up. Goal-oriented people focus on the dream or vision more than the process by which it is attained. Process-oriented people often charge those who are goal-oriented with failing to enjoy the moment, believing that the ends are more important than the means, focusing on the result more than personal growth, and sacrificing people for goals. On the other hand, goal-oriented people sometimes accuse process-oriented people of being high-maintenance, lacking vision, never finishing what they start, and exuding inefficiency. Just to give you an idea of how these two types play out in real life, one article I read claimed that most professors are process-oriented, hence the long time it often takes to finish a Ph. D. Most students are goal-oriented, hence the question: will this be on the test? Now I think the distinction between being goal-oriented or process-oriented is overly-simplistic, as is the example I just gave. But I think many of us do have a tendency to lean in one direction or the other. And so when I read the scriptures for today I wondered if the goal-oriented among us would be drawn to the passage from Revelation while the process-oriented among us would drawn to the gospel lesson from Matthew.
Some scholars associate the writing of Revelation with the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire in the first century. In the midst of such suffering and persecution and death, the community of believers needed a dream to hold on to; they needed something to hope in and for. It’s that dream that we see in this beautiful scene in today’s reading from Revelation. Here, gathered around the throne of God and before the Lamb, we’re told, are the ones who have made it through the great ordeal. And now they are in the full presence of God—there’s no more hunger or thirst, no heat that burns the skin, only the shepherd who guides them to springs of living water and a God who wipes away every tear from their eyes. It wasn’t the first time the people of God had had such a dream—we hear the same hope described in almost identical terms in the book of Isaiah at a time when Israel found herself scattered during the Babylonian Exile. Both Israel and the early Church needed (and we still need today) to know that God has a plan for the world, that there will be a day when all is as it should be, even when we look around us and know that’s not the case right now. We need to know the end toward which we’re working—we need to know the goal. So this passage fits well for those among us who are goal-oriented.
And then there’s today’s passage from Matthew—the Beatitudes. I suspect these words of Jesus must have seemed as strange to the goal-oriented folks of Matthew’s day as they do to goal-oriented people today. After all, Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah—which goes right through King David, the epitome of the monarchy of Israel. We then have the story of Jesus’ birth and the wise men from the East who come asking about the new king—the one who is to be King of the Jews. There is the escape of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt and their return from Egypt to Nazareth—and here we see glimpses in the story of that great leader of the Israelites, Moses, who delivered God’s people from slavery and led them to the promised land. So far in Matthew everything about the gospel has set the people up to expect this great leader—one who follows in the line of the prophet Moses and King David, one who will lead the people of Israel back to the glory days. But then in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus sits down on the mountain and begins to speak. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” I can imagine those Judeans there that day with Jesus who were ready to take a stand, those who were focused on the goal more than the process, thinking to themselves: “OK, wait a minute…what is he talking about.” This wasn’t at all what they had in mind. They had waited a long time for the Messiah. So what about that day when all would be made right? Isn’t that what Jesus is supposed to be about? Forget about being poor in spirit or meek or peacemakers. Aren’t we ready to make something happen?
Well, we might think that two thousand years later we’ve got a grasp on the situation, but even in Christianity today there’s the temptation to separate the goal from the process, the dream from the reality of life. We hear it and see it all around us. Sometimes there’s the idea that we just have to endure what we have to endure in the here and now, no matter how difficult it is, and bide our time until we get to that real place of joy and happiness—heaven. It’s all about waiting for the goal. On the other hand, there’s also the belief that Christianity is really just a set of principles that tells us how to live our lives in the here and now. You have to have a set of guidelines, right? And this one happens to be ours—we don’t need to worry so much about where we’re going; it’s more about the experience of driving. It’s all about the journey. But the truth is that the destination inevitably maps out the journey for us; the end dictates the means.
See, the Christian life is really about our dream being so real that we can’t help but live it in the present. This dream God has for the world, the dream of a day when those from every nation and tribe and people and language will worship God in a place where there is no war, poverty, hunger, racism, or tears of suffering—it’s a dream so compelling that we’re called to bear witness to it in the here and now in such a way that the dream becomes a reality. I believe that’s what makes a saint. A saint is someone who makes God’s dream for the world his or her own path in life, someone for whom the goal and the process become one and the same. In the life of a saint, we see something of the shape of Christ’s own life, something of the kingdom of heaven in the here and now.
Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, lamented so much the plight of the sick and the poor that she sold her jewels and used the money to establish a hospital. In her life we see glimpses of a day when hunger and disease will be no more. And we hear Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who was a leader in the Confessing Church, a center of Nazi resistance. Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian who died as a result of his participation in the civil rights movement. We look at these saints and dare to imagine a day when a multitude from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages will stand shoulder to shoulder, and we hear the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The mystic Julian of Norwich is known for her single-hearted devotion to Christ, and her revelations of God’s love continue to speak to Christians the world over. We find in her our hope that one day we will know more fully the presence of God, and we hear the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” James Hannington, the Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, was martyred on the way to Uganda by the guard of King Mwanga. His last words were: “Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.” We hear the story of Bishop Hannigton’s life and we long for a day when there will be no violence, no war, no more blood shed, and we hear the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…for your reward in heaven is great.”
As Christians, the plan God has for the world changes the way we live our lives. But we don’t have to look for something big and dramatic and worthy of the world news to be saints, to live God’s dream for the world in the here and now. Opportunities to do just that come to us day in and day out, right where we are. We speak against racism, sexism, and classism in our workplaces and among our friends, and we bear witness to a world where all God’s children stand side by side. We volunteer at the Food Pantry, give to the discretionary fund, or pay the remaining amount when the person in front of us in the grocery line is short on cash, and we bear witness to world without hunger. We lay hands on one another and say prayers for healing at the Wednesday night service, and we bear witness to our belief in a day when there will be no more sickness, no more death, and no more tears. We give of ourselves in relationships with one another, we take time for Sabbath, and we give of our money, and we bear witness to a world of abundance that we call the kingdom of heaven. The pathway to sainthood runs right through our backyard. And so as we offer ourselves up to God on this Feast of All Saints, may God’s dream for the world become our dream, too, and may that dream become our path in life. Amen.