Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
- “Blessed are you who are poor,
- for yours is the kingdom of God.
- “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
- for you will be filled.
- “Blessed are you who weep now,
- for you will laugh.
- “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
- “But woe to you who are rich,
- for you have received your consolation.
- “Woe to you who are full now,
- for you will be hungry.
- “Woe to you who are laughing now,
- for you will mourn and weep.
- “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
My grandfather, Papa we called him, died when I was very young – maybe three or four years old. I have very few memories of him, but the ones I do are all good. I remember him taking me up to his study in the attic of his house and showing me all his books. I remember sitting on the front porch shooting a BB gun at an old burn barrel across the road. Some time long after his death I was visiting my Grandma and I had a Coke to drink, after I finished I was still thirsty, so I poured some iced tea over the ice and the bit of Coke that was left in the bottom of the glass. My Granma smiled and said that was exactly how my Papa liked to drink his tea – sweetened with a bit of coke.
My great-grandfather and my Papa were both Church of God ministers. Up until the time she died last year at 101, my Grandma never once wore make-up, wore jewelry, or put on a pair pants. The Church of God was very strict about these things, at least they used to be. One day, while visiting my Grandma she told me of a time that I had come to visit them. It seems that my Papa had been outside doing something and when we came in, with his hand on my head, he declared to everyone present, “This is going to be my little preacher.” Everyone laughed… but him.
My grandma didn’t tell me this story until after I was ordained a priest. She said that she didn’t want to influence my decisions and knew that if it was the Lord’s will, I would become a priest. I’m not sure if my Papa was some kind of prophet, some thought he was, or a lucky guesser, but after I’ve made my way through the Pearly Gates and all the proper introductions have been made, I’m going to find my Papa and ask him why he didn’t say, “This one’s going to win the lottery!”
It was a few years back that my dad had a stroke. He was in Dallas, and I was up here. I wanted to jump on the first plane down south, but everyone said, “No. Wait a few days. See how things go. The doctors wouldn’t let you see him.” I’m sure you all know the feelings that storm through your mind at such a time. The only thing I could do was pace around and try to pray, but I was so distracted with the “What ifs” that I couldn’t. So I asked others to pray and they did, but there was still no peace. I asked the Blessed Virgin to pray and even though I know she did, my heart still did not find that calm. I remember walking around the house and when I looked up I saw this great picture of my Papa when he was just a young man. Without hesitation, I pointed my finger at that picture and said out loud, “You need to pray for your son!” In that moment, I knew everything would be OK.
I have a painting in my office that my Dad gave to me at my ordination. In the center is the preacher boldly proclaiming God’s word. To his left stands the Lord Jesus with his hand on the preacher’s shoulder. Also standing behind him are Paul, Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, and King David. The painting is called “The Legacy.” For me, not seen in that picture is my Papa, my great-grandfather, an author by the name of Frank Peretti (I’ll share that story with you someday) and so many more. They make up that great cloud of witnesses – those that have gone before us, that have been such spiritual influences on us, and are even this day keeping us in prayer. Together, we do not make up the Church militant – those who are alive – or the Church triumphant – those who have died and now reside in that heavenly kingdom. Together we are THE Church. The Body of Christ.
In our church, the altar rail is straight across, but in some churches it is a half circle. It may look to some to be just an architectural preference, but it also has a symbolic meaning. Because in our spirits we are not to see it as a half circle, but a full circle, extending back behind the altar, to that which we cannot see, but which truly exists. An altar where those who have gone before us kneel before the real presence of our Lord with us, and with us, receive Body and Blood of Christ.
Today is the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – All Souls’ Day. We can consider those who have died and think of them as gone, but that is not accurate. As we say during the Eucharistic Prayer at a funeral, “to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended… Life is changed, not ended.”
So far, this probably all sounds like a hodge-podge of random memories and thoughts: My papa and granma, dad, pictures, church architecture, blurbs from the funeral service. For you, maybe it is, but for me, these things make up my heritage. From how I began to how I got here, standing before you today. We all have these kinds of stories. Ones where when we look back on our lives, we understand that they defined us and made us who we are. And, for many, but not all, at the heart of these stories or maybe only as a backdrop, you will find the Church. Whether it’s St. Luke’s or the Church of God on the state campgrounds in Weatherford, Texas, the Church – not necessarily the buildings, but the people and its ministers, the hands and feet of Christ Jesus – are present, forming our decisions, assisting us in times of trouble, reaching out, marrying, burying, baptizing, teaching… standing. Standing as a testament to the holy and our need to encounter our Creator. Our innate desire to be near to our God.
Does the Church always get it right? Absolutely not. Remember those words of Billy Graham, “By all means look for the perfect church, and when you find it, join it. But remember, when you join it, it ceases to be perfect!” The church on earth will never be perfect, because it is made up of us, the imperfect, but it is the church we have. It is our church. This is your church… and please, please do not tune me out on this next sentence… This is your church, for many of you, it is a part of your heritage, and you must be the ones who provide the financial support to keep it moving forward.
This is supposed to be my big pledge sermon, but I am confident that the vestry and I know the Bishop would be sorely disappointed to learn that I disdain standing up here and asking you for money. I don’t like asking you to tithe, to give to the church, because for so many they think I’m asking them to pay the light bill, to buy new carpet, to pay my salary. Truth be told, I can scripturally support asking you to do each of those things. I can ask you to be obedient to Holy Scripture and give. I can cite both the Old and New Testament, which will tell you that giving is what you are supposed to do, but the thing is I don’t want you to give out of obedience. Instead, I ask you to give as a response. A response to the heritage and gift that has been handed down to you through the ages. A response that says, “I have encountered the Risen Lord in this place. I have encountered God’s holy people – those here present and those who have gone on before me – and I want others to have those same encounters.” I ask you to give for the sake of love. Not some sort of hippy trippy “all you need is love” sort of thing. I ask you to give for the sake of a love that extends all the way back to the Cross on Calvary.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Everything done for the sake of love acquires greatness and beauty.” Over the next few weeks, as you consider your pledge for next year, I want you think on how great, how beautiful you would like for St. Luke’s to be and then in love, I ask that you respond. If you are one that needs the scriptural support to give, then give me a call or stop by the office and I’ll be happy to fill your head up with it, but for those who have walked up this aisle or been passing through the halls and have had an encounter, an encounter with the Risen Lord, then I ask you to respond to that encounter… respond in love.