Somewhere along the line I was told or read that some passages in scripture summarize the entirety of the good news. It took me awhile of cycling through the lectionary and studying scripture for myself to recognize the truth of adage.
Three passages embody that truth for me that I would like to discuss this morning. Three passages that summarize: how to see God at work in the world; how to determine how to faithfully act in the world; and how we are, and all of us do in different ways, called to faithfully preach towards building up beloved community around us alongside the kingdom of God within us.
First, Paul’s most eloquent teaching on the eternal law of love. It is a passage most of us know quite well – If I speak in the tongue of mortals or of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” which ends with the famous – and now, faith, hope and love abide and of these three the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13).
Paul transcends his own writing in the midst of that letter. Verse upon verse he’s telling people specifically what to do, and then he just stops. Stops to write that chapter on love. A reminder to remember the law of love prevails over everything. All the time. No matter what.
He doesn’t talk about how love feels. He describes how love acts in the world. How you recognize love manifest in the world. Love is patient, kind, it is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not point out another’s wrong doing but points toward and rejoices in the truth!
The whole letter is an instruction for those early followers in Corinth on how to build, work and govern in their using the law of love. Love isn’t easy, but Paul writes it is love that enables us to grow up! To recognize when we are to stand for more than just our individual wants and needs, for when I was a child I spoke like a child, but love moved and led me to put an end to childish ways.
It’s a passage of timeless and eternal hope. An eyes on the prize long view of the wisdom of God. A wisdom that is so patient and encouraging as we tend to forget just how much goodness we are capable of bringing into the world.
The second passage is a story, you got to have a story! It’s the story of the Prodigal Son. Part of Luke 15 – a whole chapter devoted to stories of God’s never-failing amazing grace with the best story for last! The story of that no good, wayward child who spent all his dad’s money, lost all his respect and greedily (he was hungry, don’t forget) decides to return home.
Is he punished? Is he scolded? Is he put to shame for all his wrongdoings? No! When his father sees him through the window he runs – HE RUNS – to meet his child and wrap him in his arms! There are no calls for punishment only calls to celebrate! With the best food, the best clothes and the best party ever. Amazing grace how sweet the sound!
Except, of course, when you’re the older sibling. Remember how the brother, angry and resentful, tries to dampen the mood? How come he gets a party when I am the one who has proven my love, he sulks.
And you hear the father’s, you hear God’s voice ask just like God does in the Book of Jonah or Job or the parable of the field workers, or in a myriad of other places in the bible, what is it about my abundant generosity that makes you so mad? What is it about the outpouring of love, forgiveness and grace for someone else that hurts you?
And that parable, that story of God’s love experienced through the tumultuous relationships of familial love takes me through the joys and the heartaches, the jealousies, and the celebrations that I too experience in my life with God. In my heart, in my family and in my communities of faith.
How often do I make determinations based on cultural conditioning, economic circumstances, or social mores, that reflect my biases and ignore God’s clarion call to live into the law of love? A call that invites me to run towards the people and places that need amazing grace?
And finally, the third passage is the one for today, the Feast of All Saints.’ A day to remember that we are knit together with a community that bridges the divide between this world and the next. And we hear the description of that community from Jesus himself, Matthew 5, the Beatitudes.
Jesus lays it out in plain speak. Here it is he says. Here is everything you need to know about citizenship in the kingdom of God for all time and in all places.
And for the sake of plain speak, I’d like to read a translation from The Message of the passage we just heard,
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (Matt 5)
I know like all of you that this week is an important week. And no matter the outcome of high-level positions the same daily realities on the ground in this country remain.
And the law of love that resounds in these passages says: pay attention to that. Get to work loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry through Assistant Center of Towson Churches where food distribution is up by 200% right now. There is an abundance of riches in this country to be shared.
The law of love that resounds in these passages says – it is ok when things get uncomfortable – that is a blessing of the kingdom because it means you’re getting closer to the truth! And you know what? That truth is being lived by those of us who are in our Sacred Ground series – or on our newly formed committee to “repair the breach.”
It is uncomfortable and it is a blessing to learn, uncover and dig deep into the realities of systemic injustice. But together wrestling and wondering and praying that is being knit together in real time, embodying the words of another saint and prophet – “All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (MLK, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail)
Christmas Café and Camp Imagination are just the beginning of the work we are called to do for our brothers and sisters in Baltimore. It is through the patient and kind nurturing of those relationships through SLYC that they will lead us in figuring out what repairing the breach and restoring the streets looks like on the ground.
On all Saints Day we remember that since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses – let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…for Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb 12:1; 13:8).
The Christian life is governed by the law of love, loving self and loving neighbor. Yesterday, today and forever.
The Jesus movement runs with perseverance enacting amazing grace where two or three or thousands are gathered. Yesterday, today and forever.
The Kingdom of God is here on earth and blessings abound for anyone who wants to be in good company and get into some good trouble. For when we are lost the goodness of God, amazingly, can always be found. Yesterday, today and forever. Amen.