Sometimes we’ve heard Scriptures so often that we don’t really hear them. We tune out. We think we know it, so we just keep right on going, and the power of the words to transform us gets left in the dust. The Beatitudes are that entirely. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” we hear but it could just as well have been “Blessed are the cheesemakers,” stealing a line from Monty Python. Some more recent versions of Scripture change it up by using the word “Happy,” for “Blessed,” but that falls completely flat when you read, “Happy are you when you mourn.”
Biblical scholar Earl F. Palmer suggests using Psalm 1 for a lens since it begins with the Hebrew equivalent of being “blessed” when you do not walk in the way of the wicked but center your life on God’s law. Palmer tells us that the Hebrew word for “blessing” ’ashar “means in the literal sense ‘to find the right road’.” To be on the right path. “You’re on the right road when you are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
As one who trekked many miles on paths this summer, this language appeals to me. It speaks of the journey. You don’t have to be complete yet, you don’t need to have arrived. “You’re on the right path when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled.” You’ll make it to the goal, even if you can’t see it now. Keep going. You’re on the right path. You’re following the way of Jesus.
[callout]A sermon on Matthew 5.[/callout]
Which is what saints do. At times it’s easy to elevate the saints—both officially canonized and the ones in our own lives—as those who’ve achieved something nearly impossible. Sometimes when we see the finished person—the mother Theresas perhaps, or the Martyrs of Japan—we think there’s no way we’ll be able to live in that way, so we give up before we begin. Standing at the Londorossi Gate at Kilimanjaro National Park, I could have thought the same. You’re standing at an elevation of 7400 feet and the sign tells you that it’s over 47 kilometers to the summit you can’t even see, and the altitude there is over 19,000 feet. It’s nearly overwhelming. But with a guide in front telling you that the journey to the top begins with a single step, you set out. “You’re on the right path when you mourn,” Jesus told the crowd, “for you’ll be comforted.”
Even though it’s hard, we want to be on the right path. We just need a guide in front of us pointing us toward the way. Last week I asked you what St. Mark’s could do to help you love God and love your neighbor better. How could we be that guide to help you as you traveled the way of Jesus. “Provide moments for groups to serve the needy folk in our community through cleaning, gardening and providing meals,” wrote one of you. “Help me keep my focus on the need to love and accept all manner of people.” “We need to know our neighbors and hear their stories.” Another wrote, “Work on building a more socially, culturally and economically diverse parish.” “Continue the wonderful, inspiring church services with beautiful music and our choir and thoughtful sermons on the subject of love.” “Host more interfaith events,” said many of you. “Continue and build on our youth group,” said many others. This reply was also plentiful, “I don’t think St. Mark’s could do more; I need to do more, attend more events, volunteer more.” Many of you want to be on the path of the way of Jesus but don’t know what to do next, or you’ve lost your way, or gotten sidelined because of the way life is sometimes.
I know St. Mark’s can be that guide for us. This community can be a welcoming, inspiring and serving force of love for us and our world as we follow the way of Jesus as his disciples.
It will mean constantly making adjustments to our lives, to our priorities, to the schedules that dictate our days. And not only adjustments, but major realignment and sacrifices too. There will be times when we need to scale a rock wall in front of us because that’s the way the path goes to the summit we can now see. The air is thinner, breathing more complicated, and the narrow way along the sheer face of the cliff might produce anxiety. And yet pushing toward the goal, overcoming the challenges, focusing on something bigger than ourselves, that is the way that leads to love.
To better help us on that way, we’ve been invited on this journey to generosity. Sometimes we think of stewardship season as fundraising. As if we could just put some money in the plate and that’s it without thinking about what God might be leading us toward on this path toward life. That could be the case, but the work we do is so much bigger, so much more important and life-changing. You can hear it in this answer to my question about how St. Mark’s could be help us to better love God and our neighbor. It’s from a child, written in somewhat scraggly letters: “Lead us to love. Lead us to God. Lead us to kindfullness. Teach us to forgive.”
It’s for that reason that we give. We’re invited to be on the path that leads toward a life of generosity. For those just starting on this journey we invite you to pledge three percent of your income to the work of God at St. Mark’s. If you’re already giving that percentage or more, we invite you to take one more step—one more percentage of your income—toward the Biblical tithe and beyond. We encourage percentage based giving rather than a fixed dollar amount because it means more; it shows that every dollar we give to the work of God in this place is connected to every other dollar we use in our lives. Each dollar that we touch is connected to a portion that we give to furthering the way and life and teaching of Jesus, reminding us that everything is our lives are connected; that it all helps us to take a step on the path that leads to God.
So, friends, on this All Saints’ and Consecration Sunday let us help each other grow in faith, love and generosity. We are on the right path when we are pure in heart, for we shall see God. We are on the way when we are misunderstood and persecuted because the way of Jesus is so counter to everything our world knows and understands. We are walking on the journey that leads to life when we are merciful and when we mourn and when we hunger and thirst for the way of God. Let us be among those saints who change the world through the love of God that we embody together as the beloved community of St. Mark’s. Let us follow the way that is so much bigger than ourselves, the way that leads to heights that are achingly beautiful and awe-inspiring by taking that next step, by looking toward our guide, even Jesus the Christ, who beckons us to step forward and follow him. May it be so. Amen.