Finding the Lessons

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Meditation on All Saints 2011

"What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture's games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility?"

Dylan's Lectionary Blog, Epiphany 4, 2005. Biblical Scholar Sarah Dylan Breuer looks at readings for the coming Sunday in the lectionary of the Episcopal Church.

All Saints Day Wiki-link

Prayer
Great is the multitude, God of all holiness, countless the throng you have assembled from the rich diversity of all earth's children.  With your church in glory, your church in this generation lifts up our hands in prayer, our hearts in thanksgiving and praise.  Pattern our lives on the blessedness Jesus taught, and gather us with all the saints into your kigndom's harvest, that we may stand with them and, clothed in glory, join our voices to their hymn of thanksgiving and praise.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and riegns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Collect

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12
This week most congregations will be celebrating All Saint's Day.  Yet, as we we do so we attempt to weave a major Feast of the Church into the Scripture from Matthew.

I want to step back and take a look at Matthew first; then see how we might allow the scripture to speak to our Feast.

As we look at Jesus’ ministry, it is important to see that there is a framework at work in Matthew.
In the first chapters of the Gospel of Matthew we see that the individuals who come in contact with Jesus do not have to do anything, Jesus is not teaching about discipleship, he is not charging them to reform the religion of the time -- he is simply giving of himself.

Jesus is intentionally offering himself to those around him. The people in the first chapters of Matthew and in the Sermon on the Mount receive Jesus; this is the primary interaction taking place between those following and the Messiah himself.

Jesus is giving of himself to others.

The Sermon On the Mount begins in Chapter 4.25 and the introduction runs through 5.1. We are given the scenery, which is the mountain beyond the Jordan (previous verse). This continues to develop an Exodus typology which is the foundation of Matthew’s interpretive themes in these early chapters. It follows clearly when one thinks of the passages leading up to this moment: the flight from Egypt, baptism and now the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel the first five chapters parallel the Exodus story. So, Jesus now arrives at the mountain where the law was given.

The structure of the following verses are beautiful and I offer them here so you can see how they play themselves out in a literary fashion (5.3-5.10).
5.3 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

5.10 Inclusive Voice: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven

5.4 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be comforted

5.9 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be called sons of God

5.5 Future Active Voice with Object: They shall inherit the earth

5.8 Future Middle Voice with Object: They shall see God

5.6 Divine Passive Voice: They shall be satisfied

5.7 Divine Passive Voice: They shall have mercy
Matthew uses these formulas and structures throughout the Gospel.
Scholars tell us that the classical Greek translation illustrates the pains that Matthew took as he rewrote Luke’s and Q’s Beatitudes to create the parallels we see. Matthew also writes so carefully that when he is finished, there are exactly 36 words in each section of the Beatitudes (5.3-5.6 and 5.7-510). This combined with the parallels highlight the two sections that must have been meaningful to the church at Antioch (comprised of those who have fled persecution).
5.3ff describes the persecuted state of the followers of Jesus

5.7ff describes the ethical qualities of the followers of Jesus that will lead to persecution

This view is taken from the work of Allison and Davies in their hallmark text on Matthew's Gospel, volume 1. 

It is easy to see here in the Beatitudes offered by Jesus that these words are blessings, not requirements. The teachings therefore are words of grace.

In the initial teachings of Jesus’ ministry, healing comes before imperative statements, here Jesus preaches that grace comes before requirements and commandments. This is a perennial Christian teaching: one must receive first before service.

The difficulties required of followers of Jesus presuppose God’s mercy and prior saving activity.

The Beatitudes are clear that the kingdom of God brings comfort, a permanent inheritance, true satisfaction and mercy, a vision of God and divine son-ship. This may be Matthew’s most important foundation stone within the salvation story. We are given, through grace, our freedom to follow.

We are like the Israelites and sons and daughters of Abraham, delivered so we may follow and work on behalf of God.

The Beatitudes also are prophetic as in the passage from Isaiah 61.1. Jesus is clearly the anointed one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah, bringing Good News to those in need. Furthermore, the words of Jesus are the result of the prophecy and so they set him apart from all other teachers.

The beatitudes then are also words which not only promise Grace to the follower, they fulfill the prophetic words of the old message from Isaiah: Jesus was meek (11.29; 21.5), Jesus mourned (26.36-46), Jesus was righteous and fulfilled all righteousness (3.15; 27.4, 19), Jesus showed mercy (9.27; 15.22; 17.15; 20.30-1), Jesus was persecuted and reproached (26-7). The beatitudes are illustrated and brought to life in Jesus’ ministry, they are signs that he stands in a long line of prophets offering comfort to God’s people, and he is also clearly the suffering servant who epitomizes the beatitudes themselves. Origen wrote that Jesus is offering this grace he fulfills and embodies his own words and thereby becomes the model to be imitated.

The Beatitudes are words of proclamation. Are we in a place where we can articulate Jesus’ story and life as a fulfillment of God’s promises to his people? God's promise to me personally?

The Beatitudes are words of mercy. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ words for us? Have we allowed ourselves to be saved before we begin to work on Jesus’ behalf?

The Beatitudes are words of care for the poor. Are we in a place where we can hear Jesus’ special concern for those who are oppressed in the system of life? Are we ready to follow him into the world to deliver his people imitating the work of Moses and Jesus?

As we reflect then on the Feast of All Saints it is more clear how this passage might speak to the church. We understand the saints of the past (holy and common) and the saints of today, along with the saints of tomorrow to be those who in their lives offer us a vision of this grace, mercy, and vision for God's special friends - the poor.  Who are the ones we look up to from the past?  Who are the one's in our life today?

Can we see the potential of saints yet unknown to us already out int he world working and serving? Can we be open to the next saint who is yet to cross our path and offer us a vision of the kingdom of God? 



Excerpt from Holy Women Holy Men

In the New Testament, the word “saints” is used to describe the entire membership of the Christian community, and in the Collect for All Saints’ Day the word “elect” is used in a similar sense. From very early times, however, the word “saint” came to be applied primarily to persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by later generations.

Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day—as a sort of extension of All Saints—on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church. It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.

Though the observance of the day was abolished at the Reformation because of abuses connected with Masses for the dead, a renewed understanding of its meaning has led to a widespread acceptance of this commemoration among Anglicans, and to its inclusion as an optional observance in the calendar of the Episcopal Church.  (page 664)
Matthew 5:1-12
5When 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 kingdom 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 kingdom 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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