Nothing is in vain.
Jesus did not give teachings, share wisdom and demonstrate love for fun and games. The church does not hold up those teachings, wisdom and examples for fun and games – these are people’s lives we are talking about. Jesus did not glamorize one thing over another, he tried to teach simply, and to simply teach about the love of God. The kingdom of God is not a philosophical exercise, or thought experiment. It is not something hoped for in some far off distant future that one day we might attain or see, if we are extra good and kind and nice. In the verses before the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching and preaching the Good News in the Galilean countryside that the kingdom of God has come near, and is here now and is in fact in your very midst.
The Beatitudes are not just words of consolation, comfort, and encouragement. They speak to a different lived reality of an immanent and present God breaking into the world everywhere and at all times. Jesus often taught in parables – and parables challenged people to think differently – they used images that were well familiar, and flipped meanings and understandings on their heads; they were and are paradoxical. The Beatitudes were challenging then and are just as challenging now, and present an almost more encompassing paradox than the parables. Chris Haslam from the Diocese of Montreal puts it this way – the Beatitudes “overturn the conventional values of society; they constitute a moral revolution which continues today.” It must continue today, because our societies and cultures struggle with the paradox just as much as they did in Jesus day.
We seek meaning in everything from our lives and actions, to the natural world around us, to our very presence – the space and air that we take up. This is not in vain. Especially in the lives of those who have died, we seek meaning. We have to be careful not to trick ourselves into seeing meaning where there is none, or to making greater meaning than there is.
You see, one of the most important parts of the stories found in Holy Scripture is this recurring theme of God using fallible, broken, mistaken, fearful, uncertain, etc. Human beings and doing amazing things with them. The saints in every age have been and are just people, and we – you and I are no different. What we do in faith and hope is not in vain.
Blessed are you. We are God’s children. See what love God has given us. A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages… All the saints in every place and age. Blessed are you. We are called not just to look to those saints as examples – to remember, commemorate and honour them – we are called to be those saints of God. In the midst of poverty, mourning, conflict, persecution and revilement, we are called to seek meekness and humility, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, be pure-in-heart, make peace – What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
We are called to live these out, and we have the strength of our ancestors, the Saints who stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we bring the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. We honour and celebrate the Saints by continuing the work that they were doing, and have entrusted to us. We make this real when we are in the world – we pass on the keys to the kingdom of heaven – we comfort, we give inheritance and birthright, we do justice and show mercy, we seek the face of God in the face of every person – especially the hardest to love, we make the kingdom of God real for others and for ourselves. What Jesus meant saying when two or three gather together in my name, I am there with you – Jesus brings the kingdom of God – by gathering together we make the space for the kingdom to break in. Then not just Jesus, but the entire kingdom of God, and all the saints, come (marching) rushing in. (O Lord I want to be in that number, O when the Saints go marching in.)
That is where I want to be. I think you might want to be there also. Let us come together and make a space for the kingdom and the Saints to come near. Amen.