a sermon on raising the dead + Matthew 5:1-12 + November 1, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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When you are in seminary, preparing to be a pastor, you have to take classes on worship.  This, quite obviously, makes sense.  You go to class and you read all kinds of literature from why the service has four parts, to the more practical, this is how one raises one’s hands and at what time, this is what you should do with your arms so you don’t look weird and awkward, this is how to tie those peculiar knots in the rope that holds up your alb.  There is sort of a famous question that many a worship professor asks a new seminary student- “what happens in worship?”  Of course, because seminary students are sometimes exceptionally bright eyed and sure that we know exactly what happens in church, students say things like, “we love God and learn to love each other,”  “we slow down and recognize the holy,” “we feel good about ourselves, and see hope in the world,”  there are lots of answers, some might get you an A, others might get you a look of confusion.  But, that is when, at least when I was in seminary, the professor got sort of silent, and looked at us really seriously and said, “what we do in worship is raise the dead.”

Raise the dead.  That’s what we do in worship, and there are a lot of dead rising up here all the time.  On this day I am thinking of friends and family who have passed this year, and in all the years past.  Saints who were imperfect but still called saints, who taught me about what it means to live in the world as a person, who taught me about love and Jesus, and the church and hope.  Sometimes when we sing a particular hymn, or a particular verse is read, they come back to me.  When we ring bells, or we say names of those who have died, I remember the people I have loved and lost.

But this isn’t the only way we raise the dead.  Because, week after week, this church is filled up with other imperfect saints, and sometimes, people who wander into this space feel pretty dead inside, too.  Lost.  Scared.  Abandoned.  Not sure about the future, or ashamed and guilty about the past.  The dead that need to be raised- but they aren’t always the ones that are gone, sometimes it is us, when we feel dead inside, because we are consumed with loss or with grief, or shame or fear.  It isn’t always the big death, the final one that requires raising, sometimes it is the little deaths, the little losses that pile up one on another.  

Yet today, we confront the power of death both big and small.  We recognize that grief will knock you down, and knock you out, and suck the very breath out of you.  Grief is not a friend, it is hard, and so this day, all of us, we gather to celebrate All Saints Day and remember those who have died, this year, last year, in these recent days, and long ago, but still who have a grip on our hearts that sometimes makes it hard to even say their names out loud.  We call them saints, these that we remember– mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, even enemies.  Today is a day we remember, who they were, dream who they are now, and sit in the midst of all of that and worship.  And we also have the audacity to call our very selves Saints, to call those who sit next to us saints.  We remember that we are God’s holy people.  God’s claimed people, who are made into saints for no reason beyond God’s extravagant love.

Today we raise the dead.  Just like Sunday after Sunday we are doing something here in worship that changes us, that makes the space between heaven and earth thin, that calls us to think about time as if it is all here, right now, the past- saints we have loved and lost here with us, the present, and the future, when our names will be read over baptismal fonts and bells will be rung in our memory.  

Worship, in this community, our friends and family gathered here on Sundays, it is definitely about life.  We teach each other how to live, we pray that we will be a part of creating a space for God that is right now, we say that what we do here transforms the people who show up and changes the world.  Worship is about life- about our lives, the lives of our friends, our community, it is about the lives of our children, about the life of God.  

But worship is also about death.  It is about the big death, and the little ones.  You can’t get around it, you can’t pretend it won’t come knocking some day, you can’t buy your way out or run fast enough to get beyond it, all of us will one day die.  And so what we do here, in worship that is about life, and in acknowledging death, is train ourselves to die differently.  To believe that death does not have the last word, that there is something beyond this life that is as true as this one is, that we are God’s children now, but that we can’t even dream what we will become.  

In these waters, the waters of baptism, God changes our lives, makes us saints, gathers us up with the famous saints and the not so famous ones, calls us one family.  God changes our lives, makes us to live differently, binds us with a promise that cannot be unbound.  But, God isn’t just into changing lives, God is into changing death, and so in these waters we are also washed to die differently.  To die with hope, because we know, we believe that the story has already been written.  The end of the book is finished, we are just a part of its writing.  God will let nothing separate us, not death, not even for a second, from God’s love.  

Week after week, as we gather together for worship, we talk about living new lives now.  Here at St Luke’s when you gather for worship, you have boldly called yourself a powerful church that transforms lives and changes the world.  You say that about yourselves, and what you say about yourselves matters.  You claim that God is doing a new thing in us, that here there are opportunities to meet God in new ways to see God differently, to believe differently about ourselves.  And the truth is, if you want to change the world, you can’t avoid raising the dead.  You can’t avoid new life springing up out of what has only seemed like a hopeless pile of death.  You want to be a powerful church?  Then raise the dead.  Raise them up to new life, to a life that they can only begin to imagine.  You want to transform lives?  Help people who feel like death is the only card they have been dealt see that when we live in God hope is never completely lost.  Life is always possible.        

Raising the dead, it happens here in the waters of baptism, when we remember that we are named and claimed as God’s children forever.  Nothing can take it away.  But the thing with God’s saints is that they don’t always act like saints.  I think many of us might remember on this day names of those who have died who weren’t all that wonderful in this life.  They were imperfect people who hurt us, or hurt those we loved.  Maybe they weren’t always sure how to live into the promise of God’s love.  In these waters, we realize that the one being baptized is just a regular old person, just a regular child who is going to live an ordinary life.  And yet, somehow, something extraordinary happens.  They are made a saint, bound up in the love of God, raised to new life, knit together in a body of Christ that we don’t always understand, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that is real, is true, connects us with each other in ways we only begin to discover in this life.

That’s where the raising begins, in those waters of baptism.  And it continues well beyond death.  When we sing and praise and worship God we worship with the famous saints and the not famous ones, we sing with people who have died thousands of years ago, who have died last week, who have died today, we sing with those who are not yet even born.  You can feel it sometimes, in your heart, when the dead are getting raised.  You can feel it when you get a shiver up your spine, when something is so beautiful that it must be holy, when the world fades for just a second and you can see that we are connected in this life and beyond.  That is what worship is supposed to do, take us out of time, and put us in the place where things are a little messy, where we are joined by saints we have loved and the ones we haven’t met yet, praising God for knitting us together.  God’s love is so big, so real, so deep, that it can raise us to new life right now and usher us beyond death.  So, it is a good day to raise the dead.  A good day to see beyond just now, to see the past and the future, to see the saints of yesterday, today and tomorrow.  We belong to God, in this life and in the next.  Living or dying, we are God’s.  So we are raised even now, raised to live a new life, raised to die a death in hope.  May it be so.  Amen and thanks be to God.  

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