Living fully in the present but looking to the future.
All Saints Day
If you could have one science fiction machine, what would it be? I would like a teleporter so that I could dematerialise in one place materialise in another almost instantly. If it worked for time as well as space, that would be a bonus. My only reservation is that flickering process when you are in one place or time but bits of you are gone, and then the first flickering bits of you are in the other place or time but the rest of you is still on the way.
Our New Testament reading raises questions about what it is like to live future-oriented lives that are nevertheless grounded in our present reality.
What is our present? We are children of God, loved for that very purpose. How do we know that? How do others know that about us? Only by knowing whose children we are. To know ourselves or others to be children of God is only possible if we know God. If we know God a little, we will know a little about how we have been and continue to be shaped in his image. As we know God more fully, we will know more. We do not know everything about God and we do not know everything about what we will become, about how growing in God’s love will shape us to grow as God’s children.
But we do know that this is our future. We will see him more fully and we will become more like him. To prepare for this, we purify ourselves. In other words, we strive to align ourselves and our lives to the teaching of Jesus.
You may know the Godspell song version of the prayer attributed to Richard of Chichester. Day by day
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day
We live in the reality of now and not yet. That reality is not the tension or even discomfort of cognitive dissonance, but the double blessing of the divination process, of what we are and what we are becoming, through Jesus Christ. We grow from a hint to an image, to an icon, to rich resonance, to the glory of God’s grace in our lives.
Our Gospel reading, that beautiful vision of now and not yet, gives us glimpses of this.
Many read the Sermon on the mount as what we can do to be blessed or how we can endure suffering because we will later be blessed. There is an emphasis put on the ‘not yet’.
But Jesus puts the blessing part right into the present. It is not “blessed will be …” but “Blessed are…”
To be blessed is to be consecrated or made holy. To be blessed is to be enabled to know the world as God’s own, and to see it in a way that is just a little closer to the way God sees it.
Each of these blessings from the Sermon on the Mount is worthy of long and deep consideration but let’s just take a sprint through them for now.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is … the kingdom of heaven. To be poor in spirit is to know our total dependence on God. To live in this way with this knowledge will save us from many missteps. Do you place your trust in God? You are blessed.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be … comforted. To mourn is to feel the loss of someone or something dear to us. We do not mourn what we do not love. Those who mourn are those who know firsthand about love. Have you loved? You are blessed, even when there is pain.
Blessed are the meek, for they will … inherit the earth. Meek is a word that has become more negative over time. To be meek, or ‘meek and mild’ as we often put them together, is not to be a doormat but to be quiet and patient. The meek person chooses not to express themselves forcefully, but quietly and patiently. Think of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. ... Are you growing in the fruit of the spirit? Blessed are the spirit-filled. You are growing in God’s blessing.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be … filled. What we hunger and thirst for, we will seek because our very existence and survival depend on that quest, and those who seek will find what they are looking for. Do you try to bring God’s righteousness to a world in desperate need, and make it more like the kingdom of God? You are blessed.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will … receive mercy. The Lord’s prayer says that we should ask to be forgiven as we forgive others. Forgiving others prepares our hearts to receive forgiveness. It shows us that forgiveness and mercy are not just aspirational but can be realities in our lives and in the lives of others. The open heart gives and so is able to receive. Have you shown forgiveness to others? You are open to the forgiveness and blessing of God.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will … see God. Every time we come to worship, we ask God to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, to purify our hearts, through the Holy Spirit. To what purpose? That as we come to worship, we may perfectly love and praise our God. This is something we cannot do alone, without the help of the Holy Spirit. To be pure, blameless, free of sin or guilt, is something only God can do for us and only the pure in heart shall see our God. Do you seek God’s help to move a little closer to purity of heart and perfectly loving God? Then you are moving a little closer to seeing God in all power and majesty and glory and seeing the world through the eyes of God. You are blessed to be walking that journey.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called … children of God. Is that you? You may not be a peacemaker for the nations but you may be a peacemaker in the lives of those close to you. You are doing the work of God, and so you are a child of God. You are blessed.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. These 2 are definitely about looking beyond the imperfect present and hoping and trusting in God’s future.
Those who are reviled and persecuted are standing up against all that would seek to destroy the kingdom of God. It has been said that what we do to our enemies, we give our enemies permission to do to us. Those who persecute and revile others may say that they do this because it has been done to them, but that eye for an eye vengeance and retaliation is not our path. As followers of Jesus, we are no longer “eye for an eye” people, but people of reconciliation. From Matthew 5.44 (a little farther along in this chapter) But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.
Does that change them? It may or it may not, but it will certainly change us. Our reward is in heaven, not in the approval of our enemies. We are to love them, bless them, pray for them. How on earth do you do that? Well, those who make peace in this world are good at the other thing on that list that Jesus said, Do good to those who hate you. Conflicts have not been successfully transformed into peace by vengeance and reparations but by reconciliation and rebuilding. That might be rebuilding a city, a country, an injustice, a breaking of trust, or perhaps a people who were suffering or fearful. To do good to the enemy is not to ask, What did they do to me? or What will I get out of this? but How do they see the situation? What do they need? We then seek to love and care for them as ourselves, no more and no less. Desmond Tutu said, If you want peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.
This is what Jesus did for friend and enemy alike . So often, he asked people, What do you want? What do you want from me? What do you say? What do you think?
Unfortunately for our complacent present comfort, while Jesus spoke sometimes about the kingdom of heaven in the afterlife, he spoke about it much more often in the present tense. We are to live kingdom lives now. Life in abundance, life without limits, life with love and compassion, a life lived in the Jesus way, right here, right now. When we pray Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are not making wishes or looking to a distant possible future, we are pledging our lives in the service of that kingdom, in obedience to Jesus, in our knowledge that we are God’s children and must be about God’s business right now.
Returning to 1 John 3.1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. May we live out the reality of who we are. Amen.