Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sermon, Parish Mass, All Saints 2012

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

What kind of city would you like to live in? A week ago the Camden New Journal was much taken up with the “Wheelie Bin Rebellion”; the front page and the letter writers highlighting the resistance of some borough residents to having wheelie bins for waste disposal in their front gardens.
On a rather different level, the Evening Standard has been running a “Ladder for London” campaign which aims to get disengaged and disadvantaged young adults into employment though apprenticeship schemes, young people who would otherwise be unemployed and lacking in opportunities.
Both stories are linked in a way, in that they are both about the kind of society that we would like to live in. Is the space in which we live enjoyable? Is it beautiful? Does it work, practically? Who is able to participate in the communities we build? And who is left outside?
Today we heard the beatitudes: Jesus’ description of a society that that he calls “blessed”.  To be blessed is to be in tune with God’s purpose in creation. You are blessed if you inhabit the world in a way that reflects what God is like. And, according to Jesus, it is the victims, those on the margins, those who live precariously, those who take risks for peace and justice, those are the ones who are blessed, who reflect what God is like. 
Now, the prevailing power structures of the world say something quite different: happy are the strong, the powerful, the rich, the successful. The world says it’s the winners, not the losers, who determine what society is like. You’re happy if you climb to the top of the heap, and never mind those you’ve trampled underfoot on the way. 
Jesus preaches something radically different. In a world which is fallen and distorted by sin, a society which reflects what God is like is bound to appear as a contrast, as a protest, against the way things are. A stumbling block to be rejected. Just as Jesus can only do the Father’s will and reveal his love, in the world as it is, on the cross.
But the society described in the beatitudes, which is such a sign of contradiction to the world as it is, is nothing less than the Kingdom of God and the Communion of Saints. This is the great truth which we celebrate today. The Communion of Saints is human society made holy - that’s what the word “saint”means. It is human society perfectly reflecting what God is like. It is humanity sharing the Divine nature. 
Jesus, in theological language, is God incarnate. Jesus is the meeting point, the face of God turned towards humanity, and the face of humanity turned towards God. And Jesus shows us God as Trinity. God is the Son finding himself in the Father and the Father knowing himself in the Son and both delighting in one another in the self-giving love of the Holy Spirit.
And because humanity is made in the image of God, we can only reflect what God is like in communion, in society. We only find our true selves in mutual love and self-giving, each to the other, reflecting the life of the Holy Trinity. 
In the beatitudes Jesus calls us to enter into and reflect that life by repenting of our individualism, our self-assertion and self-aggrandisement. We can only find our true selves by turning our attention away from ourselves to God, and finding ourselves in God in one another.  
So, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for what is right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. Blessed, because they are finding themselves in God, in one another. Blessed, because they are entering God’s Kingdom, and becoming the Communion of Saints. 
And this vision of Jesus has very little to do with religion. Jesus nowhere says, “blessed are the churchgoers” or “blessed are the devout”. Instead, the beatitudes are about what it really means to be human. They are the blueprint for being human as God intended in creation. Because to be fully and truly human is to be holy, to be in the Communion of Saints. 
Jesus’ vision of society is more than just human beings getting along with one another. It is not a na├»ve humanitarian dream. Human society ordered as it should be is founded and rooted in God. Human relationships become transfigured in the light of God the Holy Trinity. True society, is what happens when we acknowledge our need of one another and recognise and receive each other as we find ourselves in God. 
The beatitudes express this perfectly: “blessed” and “happy” mean the same thing.  True happiness, true blessedness, lie in becoming perfectly what God has created us to be. As St Irenaeus said, the glory of God is humanity fully alive.
The Communion of Saints is the mutual recognition that God is the ground of our being. It is seeing the ultimate truth about one another, and in that seeing there is blessedness. This is the beatific vision, the “blessed” vision. In that Communion the veil is parted and the dualities of our earth-bound sight fade away. Time and eternity, earth and heaven, no longer stand apart. The living and those we call dead are bound to one another in one communion and fellowship in Christ our Lord. We have a foretaste of this in the Eucharist, this astonishing action in which all the saints in heaven and earth in every age are truly one, worshipping with the angels and archangels, breaking one bread, becoming what we receive, one body, in Christ. 
Eternity and time intersect on the altar, and worshippers on earth stand in the sanctuary in heaven. And glimpses of glory overflow and appear wherever in this world the Kingdom of God is becoming real, wherever human society begins to reflect the life of God. And, most often, those glimpses will be not where we expect, but on the margins, among the dispossessed and the ignored, among the poor and the meek whom we so easily fail to see. This should not surprise us - Jesus has told us this is where the Kingdom is happening!  But so often still it does.
Last week, at the end of a busy day in the parish, visiting, celebrating Mass, praying with people, I got on the bus to begin my journey home, thinking, I rather suspect, “oh well, that’s a day well spent, now I can have a well earned gin and tonic”. A dishevelled man was sitting on the bus, drinking from a can of beer, quite possibly going nowhere where he could relax or be comfortable.  He saw my collar, and this touched off some deep vein of hurt and alienation. He started swearing and shouting at me. For the first time in the day I felt quite helpless. His rage was directed, I suppose, at what he saw as authority and privilege and being at the centre of things instead of on the edge. And I realised how much I had been unconsciously assuming those things myself. It can be uncomfortable but very teaching to see yourself as others see you.
I had no idea how to respond, and stood there mute, looking away. He gradually quietened down, and as I was getting off the bus, I glanced in his direction. The man sitting next to him, who looked nearly as careworn as he did, had taken his hand and was gently massaging his fingers, and my man with the beer can was leaning against him and, I think, crying. 
And that was where I saw the Communion of Saints, that day. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

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