A Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Preached on November 20, 2016
at First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are meant to be heard. Listen here.
There is something profoundly religious, and something profoundly annoying about being stuck together. It’s why I love the church. Frankly, we don’t always like each other, and we are forced to love one another anyway. Being stuck with people I have no choice but to figure out how to love is truly the only way I know how to experience God.
I think that’s what grace looks like.
Anyone who does the hard work of being the church with other imperfect people day in and day out, every month, year in and year out, knows that to be true.
It’s Thanksgiving. Some of us are psyched to be with far-flung beloveds converging on the same house to stuff ourselves silly and drink too much wine and watch football until we pass out from a turkey coma. And some of us are about to sit at tables with family members we didn’t (or wouldn’t) necessarily choose to dine with if it were any other Thursday afternoon. So many of you this week have told me that you are skipping Thanksgiving at certain family members’ households because the inevitable political discussions will bring so much pain. Some of you have told me you’ve been uninvited. Some of us don’t know how to love family members who disagree right now. Even our own spouses. So here’s some advice for your Thanksgiving table: breathe. Adjust your expectations. If you hear rhetoric that is hurtful, by all means call it out, directly and briefly. Take breaks if you need to. Listen to understand, not to form your next argument. Breathe.
I have a friend and colleague named Laura Beth Brown who posted something beautiful on Facebook this week. Apparently, her family members had been fighting with her on the political posts on her wall. She wanted to tell her friends that the political arguments she has had publicly on Facebook with her family members are only a part of the story. That what they don’t see is the phone calls from her family who disagree with her, and the check ins to make sure all is “ultimately OK.” “You seemed really irritated in that response, can we talk about it?” “I’ve never heard you say that before, and I’m struggling with it. Here’s why.”
“The conversations we had off of Facebook,” she said, “call us back to our love and respect for one another even though we recognize that cultivating empathy is just too challenging right now. That will take time.” She said, “(religious people) know that being in relationship with those who see the world differently is a spiritual practice, and it absolutely demands respect and kindness… For me, here's what it boils down to: my family has been through A LOT, and we have always supported each other no matter what. And I'll be damned (If a president of the United States) causes a true rift. He doesn't get to take that way from me.”
There is something profoundly religious, and something profoundly hard, and something profoundly beautiful about being stuck together. Anyone who manages to live in a family knows that to be true.
Most of you know that I moved to the town of Sterling from the City of Boston where I lived for sixteen years. Most of you know that I have occasionally found the adjustment to be hard. In Boston, I used to be anonymous. I used to be able to hide from people who were mad at me, and people I was mad at. I chose who my community was. I used to be able to go to Nordstrom Rack, and I ate a lot of sushi. Now I farm-hop on the weekends instead of bar-hop. (Just kidding. I never bar-hopped! I’m a good Christian woman.)
But I have learned more about the religious life in my time being in Sterling than I ever did in seminary. Here, in this small town, we are stuck with one another. We don’t get to choose. Here, in this town, Democrats serve beside Republicans in our children’s schools. Here, Conservatives and Liberals serve at Wachusett food pantry together. Here, what ultimately matters is respect and care and most of all, Love. We have no choice but to take care of one another….this community is too small to do anything else.
I’m not saying there are not deep divisions and differences. Anyone who has gone to a town meeting knows this to be true. But it is a profound spiritual practice to be in relationship with those who see the world differently. It demands that we look around and decide that we are better together than we could ever be alone.
There is something profoundly religious and something profoundly hard, and something profoundly beautiful about being stuck together. Anyone who manages to live in a small town in knows this to be true.
In the story of feeding the 5,000, the disciples see 5,000 people gathering around, following Jesus, looking for food, and they panic. We have a few old stale loaves of bread and a couple of fishes. That’s it! “Even if we had six months wages, it would feed them a tiny amount,” Philip said. “And what are these few loaves and few fishes among so many people? We can’t even begin to help.”
I’m sure the 5,000 started bickering about who should eat, who should go first, who deserves more.
But Jesus’ response is to thank God for it. And it multiplies. Some people just think this is a story about Jesus’ ability to perform miracles, and maybe it is, but I often picture the crowd gathered looking in their coat pockets and saying, “Oh! I have a potato, which isn’t enough for everyone, but it’s something, and I have a celery stalk, and I have a carrot! And I have a little spice, and some garlic,” And I picture the moms fishing in their purse for an old piece of gum, or some peanuts they saved from last month’s airplane ride coming home from Florida. And I picture men shaking hands, and saying “how do you do?” instead of eye-ing each other with suspicion. And I picture that the real miracle that happens here is the realization that together, we have everything.
There is something profoundly religious and profoundly beautiful about being stuck together. Together we have the ingredients to make the soup. Together, we rise.
On Wednesday night this week, we gathered for a forum with veterans of combat, to talk about how we can take care of their hearts now that they are home from the hell on earth that is war. From the “not normal” that is war. In my opinion, it was one of the most profound gatherings we have had here at the church in my tenure. For those who missed it, Linda Davis created a video tape of the experience.
There is something that one of our veterans, Gabe, said that will stick with me for the rest of my life. He served in (Iraq) in 2005-2006. “You have to understand, he said, that in combat, we are trained to live together. We are all colors, guys and gals, gay, straight, all religions, all creeds. None of that matters. We sleep together, we wake up together, we eat together. And we are trained to save each other’s lives. We are trained to know that we hold each other’s lives in our hands. We have a sacred duty to keep one another alive. It’s the only thing that matters…the thing we must know best how to do.”
“And then we come home, he said. “And we realize how much we have missed while we were gone. How everything has advanced without us. Everyone has a small phone in their hand that we don’t know how to use, and everyone is in front of a screen all the time, and they are staring at those screens instead of seeing us, and each other. We go from being profoundly connected, our lives wrapped up in each other’s lives, to profoundly disconnected--to everything and everyone. In war, we were holding each other’s lives in our hands, and we come home to a civilian world that is holding screens in their hands. It is the most profoundly lonely feeling I have ever experienced.”
He summed up the American experience so clearly in that one statement. Our profound disconnection from one another is almost worse than the trauma of war. We have forgotten that we belong to one another. That is why we have no peace, as Mother Teresa reminds us. We have forgotten that we hold each other’s lives in our hands.
There is something profoundly religious, and profoundly beautiful, and profoundly LIFE-SAVING about being stuck together. Our veterans know this better than perhaps anyone in this room.
We need to understand ourselves as holding one another’s lives in our hands again, beloved. Because what is true is that we are stuck together. What a beautiful thing, being stuck with you. Because together, there is food for everyone. Together, we can transform a stone into a feast for all. Together we don’t know what scarcity means. Together, resistance and reconciliation is holy work. Together, we are a force for love in the world. Together, we have as many chances to see the face of God as we have people to meet and know. Together, we have everything.
Gather up all the fragments, beloved. Of your family, of your community, of our county, of our world. Together. So that nothing may be lost.
A Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Delivered November 13, 2016
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better heard than read. Listen here.
Our friend Cathy Nicastro reminded me this week that in the end, love will win. If love hasn’t won yet, that means its not the end.
That’s how I’m summing up the heart of the Gospel for us today. And only the Gospel matters today.
Like our poet, I believe we are still capable of attention and paying attention, that anyone who notices the world must want to save it.
Notice the world:
-The sun came up this morning, beautiful reds and oranges filling the sky on a crisp November day.
-We got to lay eyes on our shared children. Our children’s cries and laughter are what God’s voice sound like.
-We welcomed 14 people into membership at First Church in Sterling just now, 14 new ways to see the face of God.
- And we are a community united in Love to serve the Lord. Not everyone has a community united in Love to go to this morning, and boy, do we ever need one right now.
Right now, we need to let the peace of Christ rule our hearts. Right now, we need to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. Right now, we need to bear with one another and forgive. Right now we need a REVOLUTION of Love.
If this revolution is going to come, we need to arm ourselves. Not with weapons, but with a mix of humility, bravery and kindness that is foreign to the current political climate. We need to clothe ourselves with Love as St. Paul demands, because love binds everything together. We are one body. We are one. Ultimately, we do not belong to a political party, or a government. We belong to each other, and we belong to God.
I know that many of you feel relief and contentment today. And I also know that many of you feel sad and scared today. But you are not powerless, and more importantly, you are not alone.
We were made for such a time as this. We are creating a great and common tenderness here.
Perhaps your desire is to go back to bed until 2020. Don’t. Perhaps your desire is to gloat with the glee of winning. Don’t. Perhaps your desire is to give yourselves over to fear. Don’t. Perhaps your desire is to demonize “the other side.” Don’t. We can’t afford any of that right now. We don’t have time.
Instead, as St. Paul tells us: be thankful. For we are one in the Body of God, and yes, we were made for such a time as this.
Friends who are here today in this congregation who voted for our president-elect: I want you to know something. I love you. I absolutely know that you stand for love. I know that you are not racist or sexist or xenophobic, because I know you. I will not stand by and listen quietly while pundits and angry opponents call you names or place blame on you for the country’s ills. I will stand up for you. I know you only by the name “Beloved”, just as God knows you.
On Wednesday, two Clinton supporters pulled a man out of a car who “looked like” a Trump supporter and beat him. Anti-Trump anarchists have trashed town squares in major cities, burning American flags. I will not be silent while this happens. Christ said that “those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Christ reminded us that we are all to be called children of God. Those of us who stand for Christ will not stand for this.
No matter who you voted for in this election, its aftermath has been undeniably devastating for people on the margins. I know you’ve all read and seen on the news the hate that’s been emboldened in the past few days. You’ve seen the KKK’s victory march in North Carolina. The graffiti. The swastikas. Assaults on Muslims, LGBTQ folks, women, Latinos. No matter who you voted for or didn’t vote for, none of you—not a single one of you--voted for this. I know that.
So our job is clear this morning, and it is shared. Our job--as people who are called to love God and neighbor--is to do just that. Love. Loudly and extravagantly. Together. Please don’t retreat from this job, please don’t live into the divide this election has caused among neighbors, please just respond unequivocally and clearly with Love. Stand together and get loud.
And please, please pay attention. Don’t dismiss, don’t equivocate, don’t deny.
Jesus begged the disciples on the night before he died simply to “stay awake.” They couldn’t do it—it was too hard. They kept falling asleep. But you and I can do hard things. We are so divided that we don’t even watch or read or trust the same news sources as one another. So I am going to bring you news from our congregation, and our community. I only ask that you stay awake to it.
One of our young adults, the child of one of our board members, who grew up in this congregation and works in New York City was sexually assaulted on the subway on Wednesday, in the name of our president elect. She shared with her mom only a “fraction” of the hateful things he said about women, immigrants and Muslims, having “blanked out the rest in fury.” I have a friend whose parishioner in Connecticut was grabbed by the crotch and told, “I have permission to do this now that Trump’s in charge.” Black women were spat upon at Wellesley College by two Babson College students riding around in a truck emblazoned with the word “Trump.”
We need to say—loudly—that women’s bodies and women’s lives matter. That no matter who is in office, we will stand up for survivors of sexual assault, and that we won’t stand for women’s bodies being violated. We who stand for a savior whose body was violated need to stand up.
The children are listening. The whole world is listening.
Sofie—one of our beloved teenagers of color-- asked me to let you know that she was “gifted” a gigantic Trump banner in her high school on Wednesday by white kids with confederate flags on their hats. One boy said to her “I hope when he builds a wall, people will stand on it with machine guns killing Mexicans if they try to get over.” “I’m pro-life,” he said, “but their lives don’t count.”
We need to stand together as a community and affirm for Sofie and all of our children of color--that their lives do, in fact, count. I wrote to her principal to ask him what he is doing to keep the teenagers safe, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I urge you to do the same with your children’s schools.
It doesn’t matter who you voted for, beloved, we need to stand for our children, and for black and brown lives. We stand for Christ who reminded us that all lives count, so we must say this unequivocally.
The children are listening. The whole world is listening.
Sofie reports that her Muslim friends didn’t got to school on Wednesday at all because they were scared they would be targeted.
Muslim women are telling stories all over the country of men coming up to them on the street and ripping off their hijabs. Muslim women are being told not to wear their head coverings anymore to avoid getting hurt or killed. Our friend Mona Ives from the Worcester Islamic Center is trying to organize self-defense classes for her Muslim sisters so that they can protect their bodies. We need to reach out to the Muslim community we have worked so hard to build relationships with. We stand for a savior who was religiously and politically persecuted by the state, and so we are called to stand with and for our Muslim neighbors.
Our children are listening. The whole world is listening.
We have children from our congregation who woke up on Wednesday morning in tears, terrified that their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers would be deported, and they would never see them again. My own weeping children--whose father, grandmother grandfather, and uncle, are immigrants--included.
We need to say—loudly—that here we welcome the stranger. We stand for Christ who reminds us that we were all strangers in a strange land once, so we must say this unequivocally.
Our children are listening. The whole world is listening.
Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters here in our community are scared. Their brothers and sisters have been targeted for hate crimes since the election. Some LGBTQ youth have attempted or committed suicide since Tuesday. Our brothers and sisters are worried that their marriages will be nullified, their lives devalued, their rights taken away, violence increased.
We stand for Christ, who reminds us that God is love—and so we need to stand up and say that love is love is love is love. That the lives of our GLBTQ brothers and sisters matter. That our doors and hearts are open to them.
The children are listening. The whole world is listening.
We can do this. WE WERE MADE FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS because we can do hard things if we do them together.
Though it is so tempting to do so in the desire to allay terror, PLEASE do not try to minimize the feelings of those who contain deep fears for their lives, their healthcare, and their livelihoods in our communities right now. Their fears are real. And please do not demonize the “other side.” There is no “other side” in the Body of Christ. There is no other side.
“St Paul says to let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” I know a lot of you are not feeling thankful this morning. But I am. I am thankful for all of you, together in this place. One body, with Christ’s rule in our hearts. We are an ideologically and theologically diverse community that stands for love. Our diversity and our unity are our two greatest strengths. We have a lot to teach the world about hope.
I gathered with our board on Thursday night, all of us around the table at Bob Dumont’s house. There are 6 of us. Half of us are conservatives, half of us are liberals. 3 and 3. We voted differently in this election. We love each other so much that we have enough trust to disagree loudly with each other, and we laugh a lot. Knowing them doesn’t always change my mind, but it has absolutely changed my heart. And on Thursday night, after sharing the stories of the day, our fears and our anger, we prayed. We held hands, and Doug, our board chair, who I’m quite sure is not comfortable praying extemporaneously, prayed for us. He prayed humbly and with great tenderness, because he could tell how angry and defeated I was, and he could tell I had no words. Those of you who know me know how rare that is. I’m sure it scared Doug.
Doug does not agree with me politically AT ALL. But we love each other, we respect each other, and we serve this place of profound unity together. We believe with every faithful bone in our body in unity and Love over and above everything else. We know we belong to each other. That’s how this works. We pray for one another, in the Love that overcomes all differences. That’s what grace looks like, and that’s how the world changes. We can do hard things.
On Wednesday, when I came to work, I heard the preschool teachers lining kids up singing “one heart behind the other.” They are teaching the children that their hearts are in the line, not just their bodies.
We gathered in this sanctuary on the Wednesday after the election, and we stood together united—conservatives and liberals. We shared a common meal at God’s table. We reminded each other to whom we belong—not a political party or a president, but to each other and to God. We sang “Imagine” together. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
We were made for such a time as this. We are building the great and common tenderness we wish to see in our community and our world. Together. New members, we are so glad you have chosen today to join us in this effort.
Because there is no Greek nor Jew, no male nor female, no Muslim nor Christian, no Mexican nor American, no gay nor straight, no urban nor rural, no Republican nor Democrat for ALL ARE ONE in Christ Jesus. All are one.
Pray for each other. Hold hands. Sing together. And then call your neighbors--especially the ones with the "wrong" yard sign. Bake something and bring it over. Smile at someone in the supermarket. Go out and create a great and common tenderness in your neighborhoods, in your workplaces, in our schools. Love wins in the end. If love hasn’t won yet, it means it’s not the end.
Delivered at First Church in Sterling
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at Post-Election Communion Service
November 9, 2016
“All Are One”
Last week during the All Saints worship service we sang the song “For All the Saints.” We belted out the words “all are one in thee for all are thine.” All are one in God for all of us belong to God. That's just as true today as it was yesterday. We've just forgotten.
We have forgotten to whom we belong. We don't belong to a country, or a presidential candidate or a government. We belong to each other, and to God who is love. There is neither Christian nor Jew, male nor female, Republican nor democrat, for all are one in Christ Jesus.
ALL are one.
This is an incredibly ideologically diverse community here at First Church. That is our greatest strength. That we can come together in the love of truth and the spirit of Jesus to UNITE for the worship of God and the service of humankind.
And one of the great gifts of unity across diversity is our capacity for empathy for one another.
So you need to know this as an empathic people who desire to unite: regardless of who you voted for, regardless of whether you are rejoicing or weary from getting the wind knocked out of you by these election results, I need to ask you to reach out to your neighbors who are in mourning today. That is how we love God with all of our hearts, our souls, our minds and with all of our strength—we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Because beloved, regardless of who you supported in the election, your neighbors are terrified today. I know because I have spent the entire day with your neighbors. My children woke up sobbing this morning, afraid that they would get bullied at school today. Women who have been triggered from past sexual assault are terrified today. Our children of color are terrified today. The Worcester Islamic Center is terrified today. People who live in fear of losing their health insurance are terrified today.
And yes, our scripture reminds us “do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you.” But the only way that we alleviate fear is if we show up for each other. So reach out to your neighbors. They need to know you will stand against the rhetoric of this election, regardless of who you voted for. Stand up for them.
Our Muslim neighbors scared of being deported need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Our LGBTQ neighbors scared that their marriage won’t mean anything in all 50 states anymore need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Our women who have survived sexual assault triggered by the casual way in which their trauma was referred to need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Our troops, our veterans and our gold star families insulted and maligned need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Immigrants, both documented and non-documented, refugees who are our neighbors, need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Black and brown folks who fear their lives don't matter need to know that Christians will stand up for them.
Our children who are listening to all of this need to know that we will stand up for them.
The only way to dissolve all fear and mourning is to be together. To know one another, and to love one another. All are one in thee for all are thine. Alleluia.
Beloved, this may be Caesar’s week, but this is God’s world. In the end, Love *will* climb up out of the grave and win. Amen.
READING FROM THE GOSPEL (Luke 6: 20-31)
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“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. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
SERMON “Blessed Are You” by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Preached on All Saints Day, November 6, 2016
First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better heard...listen here.
We need the saints, though in a world of soundbites and short attention spans and 24 hour news cycles, we sometimes forget that we do. The primary reason we need church is because of the two most oft-repeated phrases in our scriptures: “Do not be afraid,” and “Remember.” We are doomed without our memory.
We need the saints.
Last week, in Matt’s letter to his daughter dedicated here, he said: There is something special about knowing this building will watch over you, thinking about the memories of generations hidden in the timbers of its frame. Our saints are hidden in the timbers of this frame—they hallow these hallways; they are the very foundation of this building and these people. They haunt us in the very best way. The Saints built the walls of this church, and the covenants we promise to one another. The stories we tell are their stories. They are the reason people have been coming together to this church in unity in love for hundreds of years. We live because of them.
We need the saints because our job is to become saints. They showed us how by their example.
And Lord, for those of you who are new to us this morning, you need to know that we lost so many saints this past year. I want to tell you about two of them.
Rick Dell was a member of First Church in Sterling. Husband of Pam, friend to all. Pam and I and their niece sang him “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor as he lay dying in hospice. This church was home to Rick. He and Pam were married here in 1995, and Pastor Jonathan sang the Lord’s Prayer in their wedding. Rick’s faith blossomed here, just as his friendships did. He held leadership roles here including Treasurer. And Rick meant a lot to this church. His smile was contagious, and so was his kindness. He was the kind of guy that would run into burning buildings to save people, not worrying about his own life.
I will never forget the day when the choir and I took church to Rick one day on the Sunday before Thanksgiving almost exactly a year ago, because he was too weak to sit in the pews. It was his last service with us. I was sitting with him, his hand gripping my hand so hard I could still feel his grip after I went home. And this choir sang him to heaven even while he was still here on earth with the song they will sing for you this morning. “if you would mourn me and bring me to God. Sing me a requiem. Sing me to heaven.”
We also prayed the Thanksgiving prayer by Robert Lewis Stephenson as we had in worship that day:
“Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.”
I served him communion that day, and he smiled and wept. For the joy of friendship; for the joy of remembering, for breaking bread together one more time, and tasting the sharp sweet taste of grape juice-- the symbol of our lives poured out for each other. Loyal and loving to one another down to the gates of death. Rick takes communion with us again today, too.
We need the saints.
Anita Benware was beloved by this congregation, and she loved this congregation right back. On the first day I preached here, as First Church’s new, young female settled pastor, the rest of the elders sat back squinting their eyes at me skeptically. But at the end of my sermon, Anita loudly announced to the whole congregation, “She’s a keepa!” almost daring the rest of the congregation to say otherwise.
She sat in that pew, right there, with Ken, beaming up at me while I preached each week. “I love ya,” she’d say, as she greeted me in the receiving line. “You’re a good one,” she’d say. I looked forward to seeing that smile every Sunday. She is there, in the pew, next to Ken, who she fell in love with at 80, who made her giggle like a school girl.
This was Anita’s place, and we were her people. Each week, she held up our visitor card, with a bright toothy white smile in exuberant hospitality to our guests and visitors. Every time we raise that card up in the air, we honor her memory.
We have an Aging Gracefully group, which is a group of seniors who meets twice a month here at the church. Anita was a faithful member. One day when I was there the group was talking about dealing with adult children. The folks in the group were sharing about how their adult children treat them like kids now…trying to put them in nursing homes and telling them they can’t eat this, and they can’t eat that, and they can’t go on trips to the Caribbean.
I will never forget Anita’s response.
She said, “yeah, the other day I was walking with my son, and he was holding my arm, and he told me to watch out for a hole in the sidewalk.” And I said, “Jesus, I’ve been walking on this sidewalk for 30 years, you think I don’t know there’s a hole there?
“But you know what?” she said to the rest of the group, “that’s how they love ya. They are just trying to show you that they love ya. And that’s a lot nicer than the alternative. So I just let them steer me around the holes, and I pretend that I need them to help me, because that’s how they show me that they love me, and I love them even though they are ridiculous.” We need our Saints because it is in their memory that we remember how to love—they remind us to just let people steer us around the holes, even though we don’t need the help.
We need the Saints.
Anita was not perfect. She swore like a truck driver, told you exactly what she thought of you when she was mad at you. She told me once about her erstwhile plan to piss on her abusive first husband’s grave. She didn’t do it when he died not because she thought better of it, but because she decided he wasn’t worth it.
Our friend, Jen Kalnicki just sent me a meme last week on Facebook that says, “if you don’t sin, Jesus died for nothing.”
We don’t have to be sinless to be a saint. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to commit ourselves to the process of becoming Saints. We need to commit to rehearsing for the reign of Love on earth.
“The Beatitudes”—the scripture we read this morning from the Gospel of Luke-- means in Latin a condition or statement of blessedness. We read Jesus’ Beatitudes on all Saints day every year because Saints are just imperfect people who lived the spirit of this blessedness. We need to look no further than the Beatitudes for an instruction book for sainthood.
The Beatitudes is the Manual for “Becoming Saints,” because it highlights the clash between the world as it is, and the world as it should be.
The world says, the more stuff you have, the happier you’ll be. Jesus says: “Blessed are you whose wallet is empty, and you whose credit card is maxed out, and blessed are those of you who don’t know where your next meal will come from. Blessed are you who have plenty to eat, but not enough meaning in your life, for you are starving. You will be fed.”
The world says, happiness means nothing bad ever happens to you. Jesus in the “Becoming Saints Manual” says “Blessed are you who know what it’s like to mourn the death of a husband, a wife, a relationship, a child, because you will love other people with a profound and real love exactly when they need it.”
The world says, “You have to be strong and powerful to be happy.” Jesus says “Blessed are you who know you are a little or a lot messed up, afraid and unsure and are willing to admit it--for your vulnerability is your strength.”
The world says, “To be happy, you have to be super hot, have great hair, and look good in a bathing suit” and in the “Becoming Saints Manual” Jesus says “Blessed are you who love others exactly as they are, and who love yourself exactly as you are, for you will see God.”
The world says, “Seek revenge. Take to twitter in retaliation. Return anger for anger. Hurt those who hurt you,” And Jesus in the “Becoming Saints Manual” says, “Blessed are you who love your enemies, for you will inherit the kingdom of God.”
The world says, “Win every fight. Show no mercy. Arm yourself with an arsenal of weapons so that you may protect you and yours,” And Jesus in the “Becoming Saints Manual” says “Blessed are you who are merciful, for you will receive mercy” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
The world says, “Be nice to everyone so that no one will think badly of you. Don’t talk about religion or politics in polite company and keep your voice down,” And Jesus in the “Becoming Saints Manual” says, “Blessed are you who are persecuted because you stand up for the good” and “blessed are you who are unpopular because you refuse to be silent in the face of tyranny and oppression,” “blessed are you who pull the lever this Tuesday not for your own interests, but for the interest of those on the margins,” “for your reward will be the kingdom of heaven.
The Becoming Saints manual says, “BLESSED ARE YOU.”
Jesus says “Blessed are you.”
I want to close with one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org