For Us. Here. Now.

The text of the sermon, based on Revelation 7.9-17 with reference to Matthew 5.1-12, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2020.

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For all the saints, who from their labors rest,

who thee by faith before the world confessed,

thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia![1]

The words of his grand hymn, for me, memorialize Revelation’s vision of the fulfillment of every benevolent human desire. No more trial or tribulation. No more turmoil or tears. Diversity and unity knit together. All dwelling as one. Distinctions recognized, yet a common purpose realized. Of worship. That symbol of transcendence where life’s meaning is found.

We cannot be faulted should we consider this vision otherworldly. Especially with all those angels flying around! For when has this world ever enjoyed universal peace? Never!

Surely, this year 2020 proves the point! We have been hit with a quintet of troubles.

Political polarization. Our presidential election two days away in an America most divided.

Racial turmoil. A cacophony of angry echoes of a supremacist past colliding with the frustrated rage of continuing inequality.

Viral pandemic. Worldwide, sickening millions, killing hundreds of thousands, and, in some places, no coordinated good sense of how to proceed.

Economic recession. A natural, bitter fruit of the pandemic. Companies closed. Businesses bankrupted. People thrown out of work; some with no hope of return. And, with the onset of winter, a greater number forced to answer that annual seasonal question, even in the best of times: “Do I pay for utilities or for food and medicine?”

Natural disaster. Wildfires in the West. A record hurricane season. And, in some high places, a continued denial of climate change.

Lord, have mercy, what a year 2020 has been and is!

Given all this, when contemplating Revelation, we, for sanity’s sake, might look beyond this world. But if we yield to that temptation, we do this vision and ourselves grave disservice. For Revelation, I submit to you, is a portrait of present possibility not only for “all the saints who from their labors rest,” but also for us. Here. Now.

I say this in contemplating the question: Who wrote Revelation? Who imagined this vivid vision using language prophetic, declaring the nearness of God’s kingdom, and apocalyptic, proclaiming a new age inaugurated with birth pangs of existential transformation?

Who was John?

The disciple of Jesus; later the apostle and evangelist, who, after Jesus’ death, wrote of what was to come?

Or, on this All Saints’ Day, on the flight of imagination, I float another idea.

John the baptizer. He who dwelled in the windswept wilderness of desolation and deprivation. Precisely the kind of life in the sort of place that inspires phantasmagorical imagery! John the baptizer. He who came out of the desert to proclaim the coming of Jesus.

If so, then Revelation is a vision not only presaging the second coming of Jesus, but also proclaiming the first. A vision of existence made new not only through the death of Jesus, but also his life.

Jesus who said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (those who, knowing they need God, trust never in their own strength) “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Here. Now.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus overturns every earthly idea of faithful, successful living; offering us not prescriptions of what to do, but descriptions of who and how we are to be.

Therefore, to enter into Revelation’s vision, to embrace it, to embody it, I encourage you to write your own beatitudes. What does a God-centered, Jesus-saved, Spirit-breathed blessed life, a life of blessing look like to you?

As I never ask you to do what I will not do, for me:

Blessed am I when I recognize my dependence on all creation and humanity; therefore, I perceive earth as fragile and the world, a global village deserving, demanding my care and compassion.

Blessed am I when my love and justice are unconstrainedly free and unconditionally for all.

Blessed am I when I do not prejudge others because of culture or creed, class or color, sex or sexual identity, ability or disability; therefore, I never reduce my estimation of anyone to any given human characteristic.

Blessed am I when I forgive others and myself when we, acting out of hurt, fear, and anger, do harm to others and ourselves.

Blessed am I, when amid conflict, I see all sides of an argument, seeking to interpret and translate to promote mutual understanding.

The beatitudes, those of Jesus, mine, and yours, are descriptions of who we are and who we are called to be: Blessed to be blessings for the world! Blessed to bring John’s Revelation to light in this life!

For John’s Revelation is not a vision for some other people of some other world at some other time. It is for us. Here. Now.

For John’s Revelation is not a vision only for those who from their labors rest, but

For all the saints who labor, day and night

to bring to life a world by Love made right.

Let us cry aloud and make new the victor’s song of old: Alleluia![2]


[1] From the hymn, For all the saints (1864). Words: William Walsham How (1823-1897)

[2] My text

2 thoughts on “For Us. Here. Now.

  1. Thanks Paul for this thought-provoking and call to action sermon. I always love the sermons that start with words from a hymn!

    As you know, getting Alzheimer’s is one of my greatest fears. However, even if I don’t I swear I don’t believe any of us older than the age of eight will EVER forget 2020. I keep thinking to myself, WHAT ELSE can happen, and then something else does.

    I love that homework accompanies this sermon. I’m working on a big class at the moment which is a lot of work, so writing our beatitudes is a great assignment for this week. Yours are really great!! These days Forgiveness is hard!! Caring for our earth still isn’t the focal point everywhere in the world as it should be. One of the things I’m working on in the course I’m taking is who I am called to be. So as I stated earlier, this exercise will fit in well with my planned work this week.

    love,

    Like

  2. Loretta, I feel it is a grand thing when two or more people find their thinking and feeling, intending and acting in a given moment dovetailing one into another. So, I’m happy to know the content and focus of this sermon flows into some of your current work.

    It occurs to me that the writing of one’s beatitudes can be an ongoing exercise of rethinking and revision or addition.

    Love

    Like

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