Wednesday, November 4, 2015

60-second sainthood

Mark 12: 28-34
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
November 1, 2015 – All Saints Day

St. Mary of Egypt
            Being a saint is one of the hardest roads one can travel in seeking God. If anything, those who we would call saints were and are far from perfect. Some had personal vices, like St. Augustine who was notoriously known for carousing like a playboy, or St. Mary of Egypt who lived a similar lifestyle, tempting pilgrims on their way to Rome and Jerusalem. Some saints had no scruples, like St. Callixtus, an embezzler, whose poor business decisions devastated his investors and whatever was left went into his own pocket. Some were even guilty of murder or collusion. Just recently Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra for bringing Catholicism to California, but Serra was also part of the systematic subjugation and dramatic decline of Native Americans.

            The most notorious story is that of St. Paul the apostle who, as Saul, was responsible for the searching out and arrest of Jewish Christians.  In the book of Acts it says he “breathed threats and murder”.  Even after his conversion experience, he wrote of a “thorn in my flesh” and of being tormented.  Mother Teresa, even though she lived a life of sacrifice and served the poorest and neediest of this world, wrote of the emptiness and darkness of faith, of the silence of God and the unanswered questions that plague us all.

            In Protestant church tradition, the saints are those who have gone before us, those who have served in their own way and passed on.  They are the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and uphold us.  The miracle of hindsight and the cloak of death can often soften their foibles and flaws into endearments, mold weaknesses into strengths—qualities that in life were sometimes thorns in the flesh.  One saint of this church, Wally McCurdy, was a procrastinator par excellence, and nothing anyone could say or do would change that.  Wally was also passionate and stubborn, which is one of the main reasons we have solar panels on the roof of this church.  And when Wally sang, there are some here who wept with deep feeling.  Wally, like any one of us, was far from perfect, but he was close to the kingdom, to the realm of God.

            Jesus tells the earnest scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God.  The scribe could have joined in the fray, with those who were disputing one another and testing Jesus to the point of pugnacity.  In fact, he may have asked his question because he already knew the answer.  When he hears Jesus’ response, there is nothing left for him to do but to agree.  How can one quibble over semantics when the answer is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength”?  How can the ego have its way when the answer is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”?

            We are all *that close*, not far from the kingdom of God.  We are all sixty seconds away from sainthood.  It all hinges on these two commandments.  When we strive to love God, love something greater than ourselves with all that we have, even the struggle brings us closer to that kingdom of compassion, forgiveness, restorative justice, and unconditional love.  When we do all we can to love our neighbor, especially when it’s the one we least want to be with or the one we love very well but hurt our feelings, it’s the effort, the readiness that gives God something to build that kingdom.

            It’s not our perfect selves that God wants, but our willingness.  It’s not our shiny best that God is looking for but our desire to show up.  I think one of the reasons God commands “all” because God knows that most of the time “all “ is not what God is going to get.  But from us God just might get *that close*, not far from the kingdom, and that sixty seconds of sainthood—the apology offered the next day, a begrudging of forgiveness, holding one’s tongue until one is out of earshot—is enough for God to fashion God’s realm of wholeness out of what Ted Loder calls the “turbulence of our lives”.  Like the mystery of these morsels of bread and the taste of the cup, our smidgens and slivers, our bits and buds of trust and hope over time become the realm of God within us.

            God calls us to sainthood, right where we are, even as we are.  We are not far from there.  Where in our lives does God need us to show up with all that we are?  Who is the neighbor that needs our unconditional love, our forgiveness?  That is where we will find Church.  Amen.

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