The Very Rev. Gary Hall
Everybody has a pet peeve. Some people can’t stand waiting in line. Others are driven crazy by those unopenable plastic packages that electronic gadgets come wrapped in. Lines and hard plastic packages do annoy me, as do people writing checks for one item at the drug store and folks with extremely complicated drink orders at Starbucks. I mean, a half-caff no foam percent vanilla cream latte? Please, people! It’s just a cup of coffee! Nevertheless, I do nurse one particular pet peeve, and it is one I have pretty much all to myself: Daylight Saving Time.
I hate Daylight Saving Time. Chances are, you don’t and will agree with my wife, Kathy (who greets the arrival of Daylight Saving Time in spring with regular joyous observations that it’s 8 o’clock and still light out), that this is a weird pet peeve for a rational adult person to have. Whenever we turn our clocks ahead, I stomp around muttering, “The government just took an hour of my life!” She and the dogs cower in the corner until the spring clock-setting ritual is done. So you can see, Daylight Saving Time drives me crazy. As an early to bed and early to rise kind of guy, I want it to be dark when I lie down and light when I get up. Is that too much to ask?
Luckily, for us Daylight Saving Time resisters there is good news: today we’re on the other side of the best night of the year. Last night, the government gave us back the hour of our lives they took from us last spring. We have restored the cosmic balance the universe so desperately craves. Sure, it will turn to night sometime around noon, but it will actually be light when we’re on our way to work and school. For a few brief shining months we will all live together in the shared Camelot of Eastern Standard Time.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to say something about All Saints Day, which always occurs right around this autumnal transition. All Saints Day celebrates the fullness of the community that gathers around Jesus. It proclaims that all of us who follow him—and that includes those present, those who have gone before, and those who are yet to come—are “saints,” that is, we’ve been sanctified by being together with Jesus in this fellowship. Let’s think together about what today’s Gospel says to us this morning.
The opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–12) are commonly called “The Beatitudes” because of the repeated use of the word we translate as “blessed.” That same word can also mean something like “happy.” For many of us Christians, the Beatitudes serve as a warrant for faithful action. When Jesus says that the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are “blessed” or “happy,” many of us hear those words as a to-do list for our ministries. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to be about serving the poor, being peacemakers, and hungering for righteousness.
That understanding is true as far as it goes. But let me suggest another that might stand beside it. Jesus’ Beatitudes are not only, or even primarily, a set of marching orders for setting the world right. They are an announcement of what Christians have always called “the Gospel.” They are a proclamation of the good news. In the Beatitudes Jesus is not so much telling us what we ought to do as he is telling us what God is already doing. These verses are an announcement of what God is up to in the world. This “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talks about is not some future blessed state up in the clouds someplace. The kingdom of heaven is breaking in even now in the ministry of Jesus and in the community that gathers around him.
In Jesus’ day as now, human culture and human values were massively messed up. The ruler of the Western world—Caesar—pretended to a kind of authority that was only appropriate to God. That same ruler oppressed and taxed and starved subject peoples like the Palestinian Jews of whom Jesus was one. In Jesus’ day as in ours many suffered because of harsh political, economic, and social conditions. We first world, educated Christians need to remember that people followed Jesus in those days not so much because he was a great teacher but because he was a healer who embodied the freedom and generosity of God.
So Jesus gathered a community around himself, and in stepping into the Jesus community, you stepped into a space or place or zone where life is lived as God intends that it be. Jesus did not come to found an institution called “the church.” In fact, the word we render as church—ekklesia—is a Greek term that means “the called.” It’s a newly coined word for the New Testament because the older words-synagogue, assembly, temple—couldn’t quite name the reality of what the Jesus movement was about. The church, the ekklesia, is the body of those called into the Jesus community to make real in their lives and in the world what Jesus calls the reign of heaven. The church is the gathering of those who want to live life on God’s, not Caesar’s, terms.
Living life on God’s terms means, of course, that we will try to live out those Beatitude values in the world. Living life on God’s terms means standing with the people Jesus names in these verses—the poor, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the mourners. Living life on God’s terms means naming Caesar and all Caesar’s successors as impostors whose pomp and pretensions are only a parody of real divine authority. But we will be neither authentic advocates for those up against it nor credible critics of empire if we can’t love and accept and forgive and celebrate each other first.
Jesus’ Beatitudes call us always to rekindle our awareness of what it is we’re actually doing when we gather in church. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to step into that zone where life is lived on God’s terms. We are coming together, as did those gathered around Jesus, to share in the good news that we can critique and change the world only to the extent that we can love it and each other first.
You and I are, together, the church. We are the ekklesia, the called. We are, together, those who have been invited into the zone that Jesus calls the reign of heaven and we might call the place where life is lived on God’s terms. We occupy the space where Jesus, not Caesar, is in charge. We are, together, those who can find such depth and fulfillment of relationship inside these walls that we can reach out to extend God’s reign of love and justice and peace to everyone else.
One of the most interesting translations of Jesus’ Beatitudes occurs in the New English Bible. Here is how that Bible renders the third verse:
How blest are those who know their need of God;
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matt. 5:3 NEB)
The Jesus community—the church, the communion of saints, whatever we call it—is the group of people who know their need of God. Caesar does not know his need of God, nor do those who organize their lives around power, accomplishment, success, or money. You might say there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe they are self-sufficient, and those who know they are not. The most pervasive lie our culture promotes is the idea that you are or should be totally independent of others. The countervailing truth of the Jesus movement is that we all finally need each other. Those who make their way into the Jesus movement are united in the knowledge that they need God. We are finite, mortal, limited creatures. True wisdom lies in owning and celebrating our finite humanness, not in projecting a fantasy of invulnerability.
The Jesus movement—the church, the ekklesia, the community of the called—extends through time and space. Tonight at the Requiem we will remember those who have gone before us. Today we welcome those who come next. In Baptism we admit the newest group of those who know their need of God. In renewing our own Baptismal Covenant, we acknowledge that we need each other to live our lives on God’s, not Caesar’s, terms.
Today is All Saints Day. How blest are those who know their need of God. Welcome one and all to the Jesus movement. This communion of saints is big enough to include everyone—even those who love Daylight Saving and Standard Time. We are united not by ideas or positions but by a shared acknowledgment of our own dependence on each other and the one in whose name we gather. For that one—and for the fellowship to which that one calls us—we proceed in both Baptism and Eucharist to give thanks. Amen.