Archives for November 2007

He remembers us as we are, Christ the King, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79 or Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

“It’s good to be king!” says Louis the Fourteenth in Mel Brooks’ film “History of the World, Part One,” but the Feast of Christ the King makes many of us uneasy. We have little experience of kings and queens, and much of our experience has not been very positive. Of course, the United States was born out of a rebellion against royal authority, and the last two hundred years of Western history is the story of the gradual decline and disappearance of royal power and its replacement with that of duly elected representatives. Historically, we know kings and hereditary rulers as tyrants, refusing to yield power, or as buffoons, unable to see that their time had passed. In either case, they were forced from power. Say “king” and an American with some historical knowledge is likely to think of France’s Louis the Fourteenth saying, “I am the state,” or Marie Antoinette dismissing the hungry and their cries for bread with her notoriously callous comment, “Let them eat cake.”

Christ the King may also make us uneasy because of its association with religious imperialism. If Christ is the king, then does his church occupy a privileged position? The Anglican cross followed the British flag throughout the British Empire and enjoyed a privileged status, sometimes reinforced by bullets and bayonets.

So what kind of king is Christ, and how does he exercise his authority?

First, we need to recognize that kingship was central to Christ’s mission. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak with one voice in telling us that at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that the “kingdom of God” was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. This world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of this world are about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings surround themselves with throngs of fawning courtiers; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected as his companions.

Two of the three sayings of Jesus from the cross illustrate the nature of his kingship. One of the powers of kings is to pardon those accused of crimes. The irony of the crucifixion is that Jesus was sentenced to die for claiming to be a king. However, even while being nailed to the cross, Jesus demonstrated that it was his executioners who were in need of pardon and he alone had the power to grant it. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

In pardoning those who were executing him, Jesus showed us the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees not only those who are forgiven; it also frees the forgiver. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of anger and resentment. In forgiving others, we exercise the royal power that Christ delegated to his followers.

The power of forgiveness is also illustrated by the example of Sir Thomas More. During the English Reformation, More, who was Henry the Eighth’s Lord Chancellor, would not recognize the king’s authority to rule the church as he ruled the state, so Henry had More tried on charges of treason and bound over for execution. After being sentenced, More addressed the judges at his trial, saying, “I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.” More knew and demonstrated the power of forgiveness.

Secondly, kings and rulers are usually surrounded by throngs of sycophants. One thinks of Louis the Fourteenth’s palace at Versailles, deliberately built to keep France’s nobles occupied in an endless round of meaningless ceremonies so that they would have no time to plot against the king. In contrast, Jesus surrounded himself with the poor and marginalized. He crossed social, moral, and religious boundaries by accepting women as disciples. His critics charged that he ate and drank with thieves and prostitutes. United Methodist Bishop William Willimon remarked that Jesus does the same thing every time we celebrate the eucharist!

Even on the cross, Jesus continued his habit of associating with the despised and disreputable. Poignantly, the second thief pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What persuaded the penitent thief to believe not only that Jesus was a king but would survive the cross and “come into” his kingdom? Had he observed Jesus pardoning his enemies? Or was he able to see that the cross itself was Jesus’ royal throne?

“Remembrance” is central to Jewish thought. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Exodus tells us that God “remembered” the covenant he had made with the patriarchs. The kind of remembering that God did in Exodus and that the thief was asking Jesus to do is not the opposite of forgetting; it is the opposite of dismembering. The thief was asking to be made a part of Jesus’ kingdom.

In his Easter sermon for 2004 Archbishop Rowan Williams suggests that remembering is central to the concept of resurrection. He said:

“At Auschwitz there is an inscription in Hebrew from the Old Testament, ‘O earth, cover not their blood’; the Holocaust, along with the mass killings of the thirties in the Soviet Union or the revolutionary years in China, went forward at the hands of people who assumed as blandly as any ancient Roman that the dead could be buried once and for all and forgotten. … Some lives, it seems, are … forgettable; some deaths still obliterate memory, for those of us at a distance. … When deaths like this are forgotten, the gospel of the resurrection should come as a sharp word of judgment as well as of hope.”

The judgment of Easter is that the Crucified and Risen Christ remembers not only us but also those whom we have forgotten and neglected and marginalized; he remembers us as we are – right and wrong, good and bad.

“Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” prayed the penitent thief; but it is our prayer, too. Indeed, it may be the most important prayer that we pray. Like the thief crucified beside Jesus, we pray that we may be a part of the great kingdom he is building in this world and the next. But we must always keep in mind that we make our prayer to Christ the King, whose judgment is ever against those who trust in their own righteousness (and at times that is all of us) but whose arms are always outstretched in love.

Written by the Rev. Dr. J. Barry Vaughn
The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Ph.D., has led congregations in Alabama, California, and Pennsylvania. He has preached at Harvard, Oxford, and the Chautauqua Institution, and more than fifty of his sermons have been published. He is a member of the history faculty at the University of Alabama.

Engaged in Christian worship, Pentecost 25, Proper 28, (C) – 2007

[RCL] Isaiah 65:17-25 or Malachi 4:1-2a; Isaiah 12 or Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

It is hard to hear today’s epistle without recalling Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants. Thinking about the fun-loving grasshopper who showed up at the hard-working ants’ door, cold and starving during a winter storm, seeking food and shelter, it’s easy to imagine what the ant doorkeeper had to say. Maybe something like: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
It would be easy to consider this a very appropriate answer. It would sound about right if we were to imagine ourselves as parent ants seeking to protect our innocent baby ants from the irresponsible grasshopper who might eat the precious food we had saved for our little ones. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat – especially the able-bodied but lazy among us. This is a natural opinion.

Engaged in Christian worship, however, we might consider that such a view clearly seems more in keeping with the realities of modern politics than with the teachings of the church. Yet, of course, we realize that the response made by the ants to the grasshopper is nearly an exact quotation from today’s Epistle reading.

St. Paul reminded the Christians in Thessalonica that “We gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” And he added, “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

This doesn’t sound like the gentle, caring Jesus we normally think of, does it? Perhaps we even wonder if Paul misunderstood the Messiah, who seemed far less judgmental. Wouldn’t it seem more like Jesus to tell the ants, “You need to share what you have with this poor creature”?

How do we understand these seemingly inconsistent views?

We can begin by recalling the context in which Paul wrote. The new Christians in Thessalonica were caught up the spirit of believing the Second Coming of Christ would occur immediately. Assuming that was the case and that all would be fulfilled very soon, some of them appear to have decided not to do anything except wait and watch for Jesus to return and bring in the fullness of God’s realm. What riled up Paul was that the idle were taking advantage of the loving, outreaching and given nature of the local Christian community.

It is important to remember that what is being called into question here is a refusal to work – an unwillingness to contribute – like the grasshopper in the fable. Paul obviously was not referring to those who have no ability to produce. We must be careful not to apply this lesson to those who have lost their jobs, or are disabled, or to retirees reaping the fruits of a lifetime of work.

The refusal of some Thessalonians to work is bad enough, but what Paul seemed to dislike most was what the idleness was causing. These people weren’t just playing away the summer like the grasshopper, but their idleness had led them also to become busybodies. Paul is alert to the fact that there are few sins more damaging than gossip, especially in the life of the church. Malicious interest in the business of others is harmful and hateful. Even gossip that is not intended to be harmful has little chance of becoming productive and has no place within a life lived in the spirit of Christ.

We don’t have to be lying around waiting for the Second Coming to fall prey to this malady. It is all too easy to have enough time on our hands to spend it as busybodies. We see this among our friends and acquaintances and in ourselves. We recognize it as the familiar peeping-out-the-window desire to know what the neighbors are up to. We see it as a growing phenomenon that feeds on a culture of celebrity in which people take undue interest in every detail of famous people’s lives.

Listening to and spreading gossip about public figures, about anyone in authority, or about anyone in the church or our local community is something St. Paul warns us against. The warning he issued to the church in Thessalonica is a warning for us too: This is not the way Christians love their neighbors as themselves, and it not a way to respect the dignity of every human being, as the Baptismal Covenant requires of us.

What led to the Thessalonian busybodies’ refusal to work was a fundamental misreading of basic Christian ethics. They understood the beginning of our faith: the grace of God, love given without our having to earn it, given with no strings attached; God loving us and forgiving us regardless of our sins; unconditional love. But they missed the fact that this is only the surface view, only the beginning.

The idle people in Thessalonica took advantage of God’s grace, asking “Why should I exert myself to do God’s will? Why should I work? Why should I take risks? Why should I sacrifice and give myself away for the sake of others? Why not just sit back and take it all in?”

Perhaps in our time we have moment of relying on such a surface view, wondering “Why should I, too, not also become idle?” And so we ask, “What is the incentive?”

In today’s epistle reading, Paul used his own behavior as an example. “We were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” St. Paul understood better than anyone about the power of God’s grace, but he did not “rest on his laurels” or take advantage of God’s love. He did not fall into idle pursuits. Rather, he did what he could to contribute the well-being of the community. He did not become a busybody or gossip or talk maliciously about others.

The incentive for us not to be idle comes through the development of a thankful recognition of what God has done and continues to do for us. In grateful response, we Christians do all in our power to respond to God’s love by loving God in return and, in so loving, also love our neighbors as ourselves. We do share as we are able, day by day, discharging the stewardship opportunities the Christian life lays before us. Using our God-given abilities to their fullest, keeping focused at all times on the values of God, we will not have the idle time to lapse into being busybodies.

Knowing that God loves us unconditionally, with no strings attached and regardless of our sins, we still have an incentive to refrain from the idleness that reaps such a bitter harvest. Our incentive is to gain the richer, fuller, more meaningful life to which God draws us.

Written by the Rev. Ken Kesselus
The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, TX. Email: Kesselus@juno.com.

Strength, comfort, and assurance, Pentecost 24, Proper 27 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Haggai 1:15b-2:9 or Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or 98 or 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

In today’s gospel reading, the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, confronted Jesus with the question of what life would be like if there truly was life after death. They wanted Him to assure them that the human laws, given by Moses, would also apply if there was life after death. In a powerful statement about the reality of the resurrected life, Jesus declared that it is absurd to compare physical life with the resurrected life:

“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica were devoted to addressing the issue of how to wait for the return of Christ. In this passage from the second letter, Paul confirmed the wisdom given in the passage from Luke, assuring the people that in the resurrection the faithful would be united with Christ: “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.”

Certainly, this letter addressed the doubts that many followers had about the return of Christ and the context of life in the resurrection. As time went on after the crucifixion and resurrection, the early Christians began to lose hope of the imminent return of Christ. They began to question the promise of their own resurrection to a new life. But Paul gave them this assurance: “God chose you as the first fruits for salvation, through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Like many of Paul’s letters, this one sought to give strength, comfort, and assurance to the new Christians who were challenged in their faith by both external persecutions and inner doubts.

Holding faith in the mystery and power of the resurrection is a challenge to all of us. We, like the early Christians, are tested and tried by both internal and external powers. The powers of death and evil are ever present. When we find our faith wanting, we have many verses of scripture that help us focus on the reality of the resurrection; both Christ’s and our own. Unlike the first followers of Jesus, we have a deposit of faith through both the Old and New Testaments to strengthen and inspire us. Although the gospels and the epistles bring us encouragement, perhaps the most powerful affirmation of resurrection is taken from a book in the Hebrew scripture.

The book of Job is often recommended by pastors responding to situations that call for words of hope and inspiration. It is used to give people faith when it is impossible to understand or explain the mystery of suffering. What is so significant in this book is the exploration of the depth of faith in the midst of suffering.

The simple story is that Job was a righteous man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It is a difficult book because the story of Job becomes a contest between Satan and God for the soul of Job. Satan challenged God to abandon Job and see if Job would continue to be faithful to God. The book recited the many trials and tribulations Job suffered, including being taunted by his friends to forsake his faith in God. In the passage we read today, Job responded with perhaps the most well-known affirmation of faith in the resurrection:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has thus been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

This powerful affirmation is well known to Episcopalians because of its use in the Book of Common Prayer. We hear the priest recite a paraphrase of that passage from Job as an anthem at the beginning of the Office of the Burial of the Dead: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

The other place in our culture where this passage has become widely known is in “The Messiah” by Handel. Perhaps many people think of that aria immediately upon hearing these powerful and moving words.

The question of what happens to us in the resurrection transcends time. Christians in all ages have posed similar questions to ministers and to themselves; just as the Sadducees confronted Jesus. In our technologically advanced scientific and medical world, the concept of a physical bodily resurrection is one dismissed by many.

Clearly belief in the resurrection of Christ is the central article of our faith. It is our foundational doctrine, which gives us the hope and the assurance that we too shall live in the resurrection of our own lives at our mortal death. When we come to that state of resurrection, we shall be united to Christ in a state for which we have no foreknowledge. Through our baptism and through taking communion, we affirm our belief in Christ’s promise of a resurrected life.

We must not trouble ourselves, as the Sadducees did, about what laws would or would not apply in the resurrection. Like Job and countless faithful people throughout the ages, we must believe in the resurrection. We must believe that, in the mystery of the resurrection of Christ, we are promised a life in the resurrection with Him and with all of the saints and angels who have gone before us. This is Christ’s promise to His followers throughout the generations.


The Rev. Frederic Guyott, III, is a priest in the Diocese of New Jersey serving in parish ministry and has also served in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, and Delaware. He received a Master of Divinity (1993) from the Episcopal Divinity School and a Master of Sacred Theology (1997) from the General Theological Seminary. The Rev. Guyott has been a private school and university chaplain, and he founded an after-school youth enrichment program in Philadelphia based on academics and squash racquets. E-mail: urbansquash@myexcel.com.

Jesus is already here, Pentecost 23, Proper 26 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 or Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 119:137-144 or 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

“Just looking, thanks.” When a salesperson in a store approaches us to see if they can be of assistance, we may say these words to keep them at a safe distance: just looking. We’re interested, but not willing to commit; curious, but don’t want someone pressuring us into making a purchase. Just looking, thanks.

Zacchaeus was curious that day when Jesus came to Jericho. The crowd was big and he was small, so shinnied up a sycamore tree – the perfect solution. He was high above the noisy crowd and he could get a glimpse of Jesus from a safe distance. Besides, let’s admit it, he didn’t have any friends in the crowd.

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for the Roman government in this prosperous town, and his position may have made him the most hated man in all of Jericho. He worked for the occupying forces and was therefore a traitor to his own people. What’s more, he made money off his neighbors as part of a system primed for corruption. He was obliged to send in only what the Romans expected. Anything he took in above that, he was free to keep. “He was wealthy,” reads our text, in his case an indictment rather than a description. Who would make room for him in a crowd? Who would want to be seen with him?

One day, along comes Jesus. The word has spread about Jesus, and Zacchaeus is one of the many in Jericho who want to see him. But what does Zacchaeus expect to see? Would he like what he saw in Jesus, or not? On the one hand, maybe he has heard that Jesus was known for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Maybe he has heard that in some of Jesus’ stories, it’s the tax collector who is the hero, and the Pharisee who comes across as the fool. Maybe he has heard that a man named Levi, who was a tax collector, is among Jesus’ closest followers. On the other hand, maybe Zacchaeus has heard that Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and follow him. Maybe he has heard Jesus’ statement that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. And after all, Levi had to leave his tax collector’s booth behind in order to follow this Jesus.

So maybe the most we can say with any confidence about Zacchaeus is that he is curious. He wants to see Jesus; he doesn’t want to meet him. He doesn’t want to touch him, or be touched by him. He certainly doesn’t come to him for healing. He wants to observe from a safe distance.

Zacchaeus thinks he is safe in the tree where he can watch, where no one will confuse him with the cheering crowd, where no one needs to know where he stands. Where he can’t touch or be touched. Where he is safe to say, “Just looking, thank you,” if anyone accidentally spies him up there. “Just looking.”

And suddenly this strange little man in a tree seems a little more familiar. Don’t we all have times when it is easier to stay in our tree, to watch the events of the world as a spectator, rather than come down and get involved? Rather than come down amongst the crowd, and the dirt, and the noise, and the needs, and the confusion, and put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus? Isn’t it easier sometimes to say, “Just looking,” when asked to help, to give, to get involved?

There’s a different sermon for those among us who try to do everything, who need to learn to say no, who need to work on some Sabbath time. But for others of us, is it time to get involved, to stop being a spectator, and join the action? Maybe it is time to take on some ministry in the church, to get involved in the community. Maybe it’s time to vote, to serve, to say yes.

Sometimes getting involved in a church takes a leap of faith. “Church shopping” is not a bad thing – many of us “shopped” our way into the Episcopal Church, or into a particular parish church. It’s important for people to look around, to explore different faith communities, to find a place where they can worship, grow, participate, serve, be at home, and yet, be challenged too. But there can be a danger sometimes that people don’t ever come down out of the tree and say, “This is it. Here I am. I’m getting involved.”

Or in our faith lives: wanting to see Jesus is a good thing, but do we keep him at arm’s length? Do we ponder him from a distance, rather than meet him, come to know him, to love him, to serve him, to be changed by him? Rather than grow more and more into his image and likeness? Rather than discover the meaning of our lives through a deep relationship with him, empowered by prayer, nurtured by participation in the faith community, nourished by the sacraments?

That day in Jericho, Jesus looks up into the tree. He sees the little man clinging to his branch and commands him to hurry down, because Jesus needs him – his hospitality, his welcome, his company. Jesus plucks Zacchaeus out of his tree, and Zacchaeus is happy to welcome him.

Zacchaeus could have said no. It would have cost Zacchaeus less. It would have attracted less attention. It would have prevented the townspeople from having one more reason to grumble about something Zacchaeus did. We know it may seem easier to go on with our own lives and continue our preoccupation with ourselves and our own agendas rather than allow the Messiah to invite himself over to lunch and allow him to delve into our truest selves. It might be easier to say, “Just looking, thank you.”

But if we’re honest, we know from experience that it is not easier to go on with our own preoccupations, to try to take care of our worries ourselves; that actually there is a tremendous ease and grace in letting Jesus take our burdens from us, to giving ourselves over to Christ, to letting Christ set our agendas. It really is easier to stop scrambling up trees and allow ourselves to know the one who knows us completely and loves us still. Like Zacchaeus, we can take the chance, invite Jesus in, and watch the radical realigning of our lives.

Zacchaeus’ life changes greatly. Something in his encounter changed the way Zacchaeus saw the world. Now he could see people in need, whereas before he only saw people he could use.

That’s part of what happens when we come out of the tree and allow Jesus to touch us. Whereas before we might just be looking, Jesus enables us really to see. Now we see real people with real needs. We see real opportunities to get involved. We see true beauty in others. We see the astonishing array of gifts God has given us and our community.

Salvation comes to Zacchaeus’ house and he is forever changed from a taker into a giver. And Zacchaeus is not unique. We see it over and over again. When Jesus finds a home with us, the result is a generous heart. Giving is a joy, not a burden. What’s given may be money, may be time, may be some ability that can be shared. But time and time again, when Jesus plucks us out of our tree, we ripen into givers, not takers; workers, not watchers; people who serve, not observe.

Jesus isn’t just coming to our town. Jesus is already here. And he may be looking up at you, inviting you out of some safe, but lonely perch, and into the kingdom of God.

Written by the Rev. Amy Richter
The Rev. Amy E. Richter is Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation for the Diocese of Maryland. E-mail: arichter@ang-md.org.

Being a saint, All Saints Day (C) – 2007

[RCL] Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 ; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Most Episcopalians are familiar with the church year: that great cycle of prayer and liturgy that takes us from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, on through Lent and Easter, and into the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost. Fewer among us may be familiar with the cycle of the saints’ calendar. While most of the saints and great lights of the Church have a special feast day or celebration assigned to them, it is rare that they get a mention in Church on Sundays for the simple reason that the assigned Sunday liturgy nearly always takes precedence.
It is, in a sense, a pity, for there is always much we can learn from the lives of the saints. Some were great scholars; others illiterate. Some were ancient; others modern. But what is particularly striking about the calendar of the saints is that it is a hodge-podge – messy and unpredictable. In the calendar of the blessed, saints come and go in no particular order. Ninth-century saint follows twentieth; European, American; young, old; and so on.

Just this month, for instance, ancient Willibrord, whose feast is kept on the seventh of November, hobnobs with Reformation-era, Richard Hooker, of November third, and medieval Margaret of Scotland, of November sixteenth. It must make for some very interesting conversations in high places.

The calendar mirrors our own lives in many ways. People come to us in no particular order. We probably did not choose the particular members of our parish community, for example. Friends and future spouse appear seemingly out of nowhere, although we often impute order to their presence among us after the fact. And we do not get to choose the people without whom we would not be here: our parents.

Those described as blessed, or saints, in our gospel text today are also a pretty heterogeneous lot – perhaps an unfortunate and desperate one. They are not particularly popular, or well-off, or prosperous. They are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the despised. If they have anything in common, it is perhaps that they are those not in control of things. They are those who are often described as victims and vulnerable.

No one – martyrs and saints included – wants to be victimized, used, manipulated, cheated, or made a chump. And certainly Scripture does not require that of us. We read the daily papers and shake our heads as we learn of all the evil things our fellow human beings are capable of, including the shedding of innocent blood. We certainly do not want such things to happen to us – no matter how committed we are to the Gospel.

But somewhere in our fear of being hurt or made a victim we may, if we are not careful, also lose our ability to be vulnerable; to take a chance on another human being, on life, on God. For if we open ourselves to others it is quite possible, some might say likely, that we will be hurt. But unless we take that risk, we may find ourselves living lives of fear and loneliness – in other words, lives not worth living – lives devoid of human warmth and caring and love.

So the saints do have something in common, in spite of their variety and age and culture. They have learned to become vulnerable, to be fully human, and to take chances on others, even when it may seem to go against common sense or one’s own self interest. And like it or not, each of us will also be given plenty of opportunity to experience this vulnerability in our own lives – at work, at home, among friends, and sometimes at church as well.

So what about being blessed? What about being a saint? We can determine our state of saintliness and blessing by our willingness to be open to the needs of others. Sainthood becomes not so much some unattainable goal of moral excellence as it does a way of life marked by commitment to others and their needs.

We will not always be good. We will not always get it right the first time. We will fail. We will have plenty of reason to witness to and accept our own vulnerability. But then we are in good company. After all, what words other than “vulnerable” and “committed” can we use to describe a God willing to become one of us with all the messiness of our self doubts, and strings of failures, and hurts, and even death?

It probably does not take much effort to be poor, grief-stricken, or hungry. But being blessed – that is something else. That involves a radically different way of seeing the world. It requires a worldview that embraces the poor, and the exiled, and the remnant, and the refugee. Not just for the reward enumerated by our Lord in the gospel story, but because we recognize ourselves in the very least of those we know. We recognize that our saintliness and blessing comes only in embracing wholeheartedly and without reservation those others in need of God’s blessing.

Is it easy being a saint? I am afraid it is more difficult than we ever thought. Difficult, that is, if we try to do it on our own power and with our own wisdom and cleverness and effort. But it is paradoxically easy when we embrace the blessed cross of Christ that irrevocably committed God to the world; the cross that consecrates us in the blood of the Lamb, who gave himself that we might live.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is completing his ministry as priest-in-charge at Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church in El Cajon, California, and is looking for work. He can be reached at frankhegedus@hotmail.com.