Sermons and Thoughts from St. Luke's.
This blog is to share Sermons and thoughts written mostly by the clergy of the Parish Church of St. Luke, an Anglican Church in Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara) Canada.
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Epiphany 4 A 2017 - Blessed are the Cheese-makers:
St. Luke’s, Burlington
20 Jan 2017
Matthew 5: 1-12
In one of the Monty Python movies (the Life of Brian) we see
that someone portraying Jesus is preaching on a far off hillside but the people
in the foreground cannot hear. One of them runs a little closer and then comes
back to his friends.
he sayin’”, asks one of them.
are the cheese-makers” answers the other. A woman says “Blessed are the
Cheese-makers?” and her husband says. “It’s not to be taken literally dear, he
means all manufacturers of dairy products.”
that’s not what was read in today’s Gospel lesson! “Blessed are the
peacemakers”. Peacemaking is a much harder, much more dangerous, and a much
more controversial occupation than cheese-making. Peacemakers often don’t have
much to show for their efforts. With the leader of the most powerful nation in
the world engaged in what seems to be wholesale bigotry, excluding people
because of their faith and building walls of exclusion in both the literal and
figurative sense with just one week of executive orders, peacemaking does not
seem to get much attention or respect.
gospel passage is sometimes called “The Beatitudes” and is taken from a larger
section, called, “The Sermon on the Mount”. The “blessed life” or “the blessed”
are not limited to peacemakers, but also include, the poor in spirit, those who
mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful,
the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the slandered.
first glance though these do not seem to be indications of any real kind of
blessing. In fact they are often taken as indications of just the opposite.
They seem to be contradicted by both common sense and experience. We all know
that the meek don’t even get into traffic at an uncontrolled intersection, let
alone end up inheriting the earth! We all know that the world only remembers
winners, not the losers. How can all these people be blessed?
prophetic tradition called people to faithfulness for the ‘long haul’ and it
called the people to live as if the proclaimed future were in fact already a
reality. In the very declaration of blessedness, those so named actually become
blessed. In great part because they are involved in being a blessing to others.
So, blessed are the peacemakers, and
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who are persecuted for
righteousness sake. All of these things involve people not just being poor in
spirit, or meek or who mourn, but those who actually get up and get active in
peacemaking and hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being merciful.
It’s about making a difference. Because, you know it, we are now living
in a world that is actively fighting against justice, righteousness,
peacemaking and being merciful.
days ago was the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz, one of the death camps run by the Nazis is probably the best known
of the camps designed to kill Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and
others considered by the Nazis to be unfit to live. One million Jewish people
and over one hundred thousand others were killed at Auschwitz alone. They came
from all countries controlled by or allied with Nazi Germany.
stories have been told about people who tried to prevent such deportations by
hiding Jewish people in attics and basements, by obtaining extra ration cards
so that they could eat, and false documents so that they could escape, or by
claiming young Jewish children were their own. When I was in High School, I
watched a movie called “The Hiding Place” which told the story of a family from
Holland who were eventually sent to concentration camps because they helped to
hide Jews from the Nazis’. The Ten Boom family were watchmakers and committed
Christians. Their home was always an "open house" for anyone in need.
the Second World War, the Ten Boom family, far from stopping their work,
continued and branched into much more dangerous pursuits. Their home became a
refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By
protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked
their very lives. Their faith led them to hide people such as Jews, students
who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground
1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6 or 7 people illegally living in this
home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch resistance. Additional refugees
would stay with the Ten Booms for a hours or a few days until another
"safe house" could be located for them. Much of the ‘leg work’ was
done by Corrie, who was far from young at the time. Through these activities,
the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800
Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.
the 1980's Corrie, the only member of the family to survive the concentration
camps, was asked to plant a tree in to honour those who did not survive, in
Israel’s “Garden of Righteousness” and she was honoured with the title,
and her father would have looked upon their work, the sacrifices it involved,
and the dangers as an honour and would have often given thanks for the blessing
it brought them.
beatitudes call Christians to look at the world with a different set of eyes.
The world would say blessed are the rich and the clever and tricky.
Jesus knows a deeper truth, and it was one which we know as
well. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are
the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. And blessed
are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are peacemakers.
it’s certainly NOT about ignoring all of the ills of this life because they
will all be erased in heaven! By no means. We are meant to struggle with the
evil and sad things of this world and to make life better for all people, but
we must always keep things in perspective. The success is not in the arrival,
but in the journey; the joy comes from having walked together in faith with
those who are on a similar journey of love, peace, justice and faith.
much of what I see in the beatitudes involves living our lives in a completely
different way. We are called to choose an alternative to the ‘success model’.
We are called to model something other than the ‘dog eat dog’ success model
that tells us to ‘look after #1' by earning more and saving more and maximizing
our return because “if we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will.”
it substitutes another outlook. The model of Christ teaches that “it is only
through working together and focussing on the Good News of Jesus, the Christ,
that we will find true blessing. Its part of the paradox of the gospel that it
is only in losing our lives that we will find and in giving that we receive.
how can we be peacemakers and hunger and thirst for righteousness today? We
need to take the courage to resist unrighteousness and be peacemakers in our
everyday decisions. We need to make our faith determine our actions, like the
TenBoom family did.
need to follow the call of Micah: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love
kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We need to stop hiding behind
concepts like:“The church should not be in the business of politics,” as if the Gospel
Practically everything that Jesus
said was political! At this time and place, we can’t ignore that. Jesus was a
person who stood up and said no. The Beatitudes are not just blessings but a
call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus known today in our
actions when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth –
no alternative truth, but the real truth!
Now I love cheese, and I love
cheesemakers. And if you are a cheesemaker than you really are blessed, but you
need to do more than cheesemaking
The beatitudes are our call to form
another kind of resistance. To be deeply counter-cultural whenever our culture
turns into a machine of injustice, unrighteousness, exclusion, bigotry,
fear-mongering and hate. Because we know that love always wins in the end.
Let’s work to that end. Amen.
I’ll never forget
the baptism of one tiny little infant in my first parish. She was a young one
and the whole congregation was excited. Baptisms were a rare event in this
little wooden Church by the sea. We were all too familiar with burying our
people. We were used to endings, and beginnings were so much more joyous.
The parents and
grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends had swelled the
congregation to five times its usual size.
All of the action
was happening at about chest-height - perhaps four feet off the ground - the
same height as the baptismal font. The water was poured into the font, the
prayers of blessing were said over the water. The baby was carried at this
four-foot level and passed on from mother to priest at about the same height.
But down below
this level was a little tyke - about three years old and perhaps three feet
high. He was the infant’s older brother. He was remarkably well behaved. But
perhaps this was because, apart from his tiny sister, he was the only child in
While all of the
action happened over his head, he stood up on tippy-toes, craning his neck to
see what was going on. He silently went from holding his Dad’s hand, to holding
his mother’s hand, trying to find the best vantage point, but he remained
As I poured the
water over her head, three times, I said the words, “I baptize you in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And everyone said, “Amen.”
And I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil of sacred chrism as
I said, “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own forever.
At this point the
little boy’s patience seemed to have found its end and he yanked on my robe and
said in a little voice, “Let me see.”
congregation watched as I knelt down on one knee and he finally was able to
look down on his sister’s face still glistening from the water and the holy
oil. She was silent, but her eyes were open, without focus, but pointed toward
The boy broke out
into a smile and, in a voice which everyone in that little Church could hear,
he said, “My new little sister.” and laughed with pure joy.
congregation laughed with him, except for both grandmothers who simultaneously
burst into tears.
Yes, well, that
little boy got it right.
His sister wasn’t
only quite newly born - she was just reborn.
Baptism is about
re-birth and new life.
But when John was
baptizing people in the Jordan river, his baptism was about repentance and the
washing away of sins. John was preparing the way of the Lord, and while as
everyone was asking him if he was the messiah, he kept on telling them that no,
he was preparing them for the coming of the real messiah. He wasn’t even worthy
to untie his sandals, he said. And they all needed to be washed clean from
their sins before they could receive him
So we can
understand John’s surprise when Jesus comes and stands in line, just like
everyone else, and asks John to baptize him.
“But”, John says, “I
should be the one baptized by you.”
How on earth could
he possibly wash away Jesus’ sins, he thought.
But Jesus knew
that baptism was going to mean a whole lot more than the washing away of sins.
Baptism was about death and life. It was about creation and recreation.
“In the beginning,
when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and
darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the
face of the water. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.”
(Genesis 1: 1-3)
Water, to the Jews
represented chaos. But when God’s voice spoke, he created the world out of
In going down
under the waters of baptism, Jesus was going down to a kind of death. By
submitting to John’s baptism, he was taking a step into the void. He was giving
up his control and rushing into his seemingly chaotic life which would end with
his death in the not too distant future.
But, like in
Genesis, God spoke and Jesus heard God’s voice calling him, “My son, the
beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God’s creative voice is making a new
We know the story
of Jesus’ life: we know how he gave and healed. We know about his courage and
even his fears. We know about his passion for justice and about his vision of
God’s kingdom, which turns our world and our values upside down. And all of his
ministry starts from the point of his baptism.
Baptism is a new
creation, and it is a call to ministry, but it is also a call to risk..
tells this story:
‑One evening the
New Testament professor from Princeton Seminary visited a high school youth
group. After the professor finished speaking about the significance of Christ's
baptism as a revelation of God's presence in Jesus, a high school student said
without looking up, "That ain't what it means." Glad that the student
had been listening enough to disagree, the professor asked,
"What do you
think it means?"
says that the heavens were opened, right?"
were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?"
The boy finally
looked up and leaned forward, saying, "It means that God is on the loose
in the world. And it is dangerous."
Baptism is a
dangerous thing: it means that God is loose in your life, and you can’t just
depend on things being the same. Baptism means to you and me that we are called
to some kind of ministry in the world.
stepping into the void and trusting that God will recreate anew out of the
chaos. And this chaos and renewal can happen to us again and again.
baptism does mean that we, like Jesus, will burst up through the surface of the
water to new life and will hear God’s creative voice, “You are my child, my beloved, with
whom I am well pleased.” Amen.