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

Friday, 8 November 2013

Sermon at Parish Mass, All Saints 2013

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Howard Carter, describing the dramatic discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923, wrote this:
“At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.'”
Today, the Feast of All Saints, is a day when we gaze into the hope to which God has called us in Jesus Christ, and as our hearts are enlightened we begin to see wonderful things, such wonderful things as we can hardly put into words.
Saint Paul speaks to us of those wonderful things. Admittedly there are times in his letters when he does seem to go on a bit. But in other places, like the letter to the Ephesians, part of which we heard this morning, we hear St Paul with his eyes fixed on the vision glorious, and so full of the tremendous hope and glory which he sees in Jesus Christ that words are hardly enough to contain what he has to say. He wrestles with language and bursts open the limits as he pours out his heart to his beloved Christians in Ephesus.
St Paul is writing to a church, not to new Christians but to an established church which has been around for a while. But, like the first glimpses into the Tomb of Tutankhamen, he does not assume that they see everything all at once, or have arrived at the full knowledge of God. Far from it: instead he prays that they will be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know the things to which they have been called. And what things! 
I pray that... with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
This great power of God, says St Paul, is the power which raised Jesus from the dead and put all things under his feet. And it is a power which is for us who believe.
But what is that power? It is the power at work in Jesus who was handed over to death and then raised to life. It is the power which raised Jesus - and here is St Paul straining with language - far above all rule and authority and power
Paul is here talking about two different kinds of power. The power which raised Jesus is a different kind of power to the “power” which he has defeated. That power is power as the world knows it, the power that handed him over to death, the power that casts out and creates victims. The power of might and domination is defeated by the power of God who raised its victim from the dead.
This is why the beatitudes, in today’s Gospel reading, seem to be such a statement of contradiction. Jesus describes 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. But the people who are blessed, according to Jesus, are not the people who the world expects to be blessed. 
Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you.
That is what it looks like to inhabit the world in a way that reflects the power of God. And it looks like that because the world does not reflect the power of God. The world runs, instead, according to the power of might and domination, the power of accusation and casting out. And when the Kingdom of God starts becoming real in the world 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, those are the ones in whom the power of God is at work. 
So the power of God appears as a contradiction, a way that will be opposed, in the world as it is. But nevertheless this is the power of God for us. It is God on our side, on the side of humanity, working to save us and bring us into his Kingdom. And Jesus himself followed the path of the beatitudes, Jesus himself was God’s power for us, at work in the world so that the same power might be at work in us. 
This is what the saints knew, those who in every age have followed the same path, and shone as lights in the world. So many, known and unknown. 
To be a saint is to be a person in whom Jesus lives. Jesus who is God’s power at work in the world and in us, for us. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, said St Paul in his letter to the Galatians. And that in fact is true in principle of all of us, indeed of every human being, though it may appear to different degrees. 
Christ is the Word through whom all things were made, in whom all things exist. He is present as the Word of our creation in the ground of our being, whether we realise it or not. And the vision of Christ, the knowledge of his glory, is the revelation which grows in us as the eyes of our heart are enlightened by faith. This is the “glorious inheritance among the saints” of which St Paul speaks. We come to know God more and more as we are transformed by the same power which raised Jesus from the dead and put all things under his feet.
This is what we are all called to, this is what God’s power is working in us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and put all things under his feet. That Christ should come alive more and more in us, that all the ways in which we still live according to the power of the world should be converted and subject to the true power of Christ. 
But if a saint is a person in whom Christ is fully alive, we might wonder what happens to that person’s individuality? Are they simply swallowed up? But the power of God is not power according to the world. God does not destroy or obliterate. The Word of our creation, which is Christ, is our call to full and unique personhood, realised in Christ. The saints are not clones, in fact they are the most authentically human and diverse people we know of. The more Christ comes alive in us, the more we become truly ourselves. 
Meister Eckhart, in one of his sermons, illustrates this in a beautiful image:
When master sculptors make figures out of wood or stone. They do not introduce the figure into the wood or stone, but chisel away the fragments that had hidden and concealed the figure; they give nothing to the wood, rather they take away from it, letting fall beneath the chisel the outer layers, removing its rough covering, and then what had lain hidden beneath shines out.
The power of God, which is for us, transforms us into who we truly are, as the false self that we really aren’t is gradually stripped away. The saints are real people. And we are called to be real people too, people who are truly ourselves because Christ is truly alive in us. This is our glorious inheritance among the saints, through the immeasurable greatness of his power for us.

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