Sunday, November 06, 2016

Holy Place, Holy People

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
November 6, 2016

Year C: All Saints’ Sunday
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Holy Place, Holy People
            So, the other day Althea Maynard and I signed a check to a contractor for over $8,000 so that he can begin work to repair the front steps that most of you climbed up (carefully, I hope) on your way into church today.
            I think Susan Den Herder gulped when she cut the check – and I know Althea and I gulped when we signed it.
            It’s a lot of money for us – and it’s just half of what this urgently needed project is going to cost.
            As I’ve thought about all that money – and all the other money that we spend to keep these beautiful old buildings standing and looking as good as possible, I’ve often envied those pastors who lead churches that don’t own their own buildings – you know, those churches that rent a movie theatre or a school auditorium on Sunday, freeing up so many resources to do ministry.
            In fact, sometimes when Vanessa Foster has presented me with the latest building expense, say the leaking roof or the colony of raccoons gnawing away at shingles, I’ve often said her, “My next church is going to be a movie theatre church!”
            But, while that’s tempting, I’m not really serious.
            I’m not serious because there’s something really important – there’s a basic human need – for holy places.
            There’s a basic need for what Celtic Christians call “thin places” – locations where, somehow, there’s only a very little distance between heaven and earth.
            There’s a basic human need for places that are set apart, where we do things we don’t do anyplace else, where some of us dress in ways we don’t at Shop Rite, where we say together the same prayers and sing special music, where we extend peace to friend and stranger and maybe even someone we can’t stand, where we line up to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, where we feast with people we’ve known forever and some we’ve just met.
            There’s a basic human need for holy places.
            And, though it can be expensive, we are so blessed to have this holy place.
            Sometimes when I’m in here with all of you and especially when I’m in here by myself and it’s so quiet, I often think of all the prayers that have been offered in here, silently or aloud, all the prayers that have been heard in heaven, all the prayers that for over 150 years have bathed these walls.
            And, when I’m at the baptismal font, I think of all my predecessors, from our first rector, Fernando Putnam, to my friends Frank Carr and David Hamilton, who have poured water over hundreds and hundreds of heads, welcoming new members into the Body of Christ.
            When I’m at the font, I sometimes think how it has been soaked with all that Holy Water, how it’s been made holy by all the hopes and joys that have surrounded it, how, in a way, it still contains traces of the Christian lives that began right there.
            And, what a joy that in just a little while, the font will become an even holier place when Malachi and Aislinn become the two newest members of the Body of Christ.
            Yes, there’s a basic need for holy places, for places set apart, places where we practice being holy people.
            Holy place, holy people.
            On this All Saints’ Sunday, we don’t just remember the saints of the past. We are also reminded that, with God’s help, we are meant to be saints, too.
            Just as this place is holy, you and I are meant to be holy, too – holy not just during the time we spend here but out there during the rest of our lives.
            We are meant to be holy at school or work or at home or on the bus or, yes, even at Shop Rite.
            In today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus’ great vision of God’s kingdom, Jesus’ downside-up vision of a holy world where it’s the poor, and the hungry, and the mourners who are truly blessed.
            We hear Jesus’ downside-up vision of how his holy followers are supposed to behave, this always radical and oh-so-difficult call to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us, to give away to those who steal from us, to treat other people the way we ourselves would want to be treated.
            That’s all very hard, and only possible with God’s help, but the truth is that, just as this place is different from other places, we are meant to be different from the average person out in the world.
            We the baptized are given the holy task of making Jesus’ downside-up vision a reality, right here, right now, by loving, and by loving some more, by loving especially those who are so hard to love.
            We the baptized are meant to be saints. We the baptized are meant to be living, breathing thin places, with heaven and earth drawing near in and through us.
            Holy place, holy people.
            And, yes, we the baptized are meant to be holy on this Tuesday and during the difficult days and weeks ahead.
            We all know that this has been the ugliest and most discouraging presidential election campaign of our lives. And, like many of you, I admit being very anxious about the outcome and its aftermath.
            The country’s bitter divisions have revealed the racism and other forms of hatred that, for many of us anyway, usually live just beneath the surface of American life.
            As you know, there have been ominous warnings about a rigged election, about not recognizing the legitimacy of the winner, of continued political gridlock, and even threats of armed rebellion.
            This is terrible and frightening stuff – and it’s oh so tempting – it would be so easy and even, for a time, satisfying – to give in and just be like everybody else – to hurl insults at the people who disagree with us – to post on Facebook unsubstantiated, misleading, downright false and hurtful rumors from obviously fake and biased “news” sites – to “un-friend” people - to scapegoat certain people as the source of all our problems – to assume the worst about each other - to fear one another – to hate one another – to threaten one another - all very tempting, easy, and even, for a time, satisfying.
            But, that’s not the way of Jesus. So, that can’t be our way. We’re meant to be different. We’re meant to be holy. We’re meant to be saints.
            That’s why you’re invited to come here on Tuesday evening – to come to this holy place where the walls have been bathed in a century and a half’s worth of prayer – to come to this “thin place” – to come here where heaven and earth draw near – to come here and see the font that reminds us that in the water of Baptism we are all one, all members of the Body of Christ – to come here and be reminded that we are called not to hate, but always, always, to love and to love some more.
            No matter what happens, some of us will carefully climb up those soon to be repaired steps and gather here on Tuesday - and even more of us will gather here again next Sunday, when, yes, thanks be to God, in the water of Baptism we’ll welcome three more new members of the Body of Christ.
            No matter what happens, brothers and sisters, we will gather here again, to pray and to sing and to feast and to love, to practice being the saints we are meant to be: a holy people in a holy place.