People are Strange- first sermon for Hope (Nov 3, 2017)

“People Are Strange”
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange
When you’re strange
When you’re strange

 

It is hard to be a stranger, wouldn’t you agree? It is odd for me, a stranger to many of you, to begin my first sermon with these lyrics, but if you will permit me this idiosyncrasy, I believe you will find that they are a beautiful complement to our lectionary for today.

Everyone has been a stranger at some time. And each of us have experienced what it is to feel out of place, out of tune and out of rhythm; to not look or act like everyone else did, to not speak the language, or know the customs of the place we were. It is lonely and scary and exciting and full of potential.

So when Christ had so many folks (strangers) around him that he had to walk up a mount to be heard, I think he could have been thinking what Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger immortalized in these lyrics for Rock and Roll. In Matthew’s Beatitudes Christ looks around him and realizes he is surrounded by strangers- all of whom are also strangers to one another. And as Jesus always seems to notice the underside of every situation, the side we rarely pay attention to, he walked up to a high point and sat down and began to share the famous beatitudes. It might have started off with these words ”When you are a stranger, there is no solace.” and continued,

“When you are a stranger, there is no solace, and blessed are those poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As he continued, Christ reflected for all who would hear the sorrows and hardships of this world. And it can be frustrating to read, especially when we are in that moment ourselves. How can the poor have anything? How can the grieving be comforted? How can the hungry and thirsty be filled? In our world, the reality is the hungry get hungrier and words of blessing do not fill a growling tummy. Grieving hearts are given a timer. When the timer goes off, the world seems to cry the words of the food channel competitions: “Time’s up. Step away.” And we are to act as though our grief is now complete. But grief doesn’t play by those rules, does it? So we are left with these kind and generous sounding “platitudes” and the subsequent burning question: How then can these circumstances that are so heavy and hard possibly be blessed?

The answer may be in our 1 John reading: “what will be has not yet been made known.” Is it possible that the way the Beatitudes will be made real is not here, but in the everlasting with God? A Colleague wrote a blog about this, entitled, “Mazel Tov! You are suffering!” In it he ponders the Buddhist observation of suffering; one where acknowledging suffering can lead to a place where suffering can end. In other words, a leaning into the suffering so well that we fall through the other side, into the waiting arms of God.. What if John really has it figured out? What if the Beatitudes of suffering and pain are about the possible that we don’t know yet; the blessing that “is” already and not yet? You see, if the beatitudes are blessing, and the heart of being blessed is the recognition of God as God, those who focus their lives on God and value that relationship with God are thus blessed. They find the blessing by leaning into the covenantal relationship itself- by leaning into the pain and trusting that God is there as God has promised

 

If so, then John is reminding us that within that promise, our future is wide open and it is full of possibilities. It is full of new and strange things that we cannot know yet and it is full of strangers from so many places and spaces. In fact, it points to the reading from Revelation today, to the great multitude who are gathered before the throne. A multitude of strangers who do not look like, speak like, or even eat what we do. An innumerable crowd of people with skin of every hue and languages we cannot understand. A crowd of strangers who are not really so strange at all.  A crowd of Saints.

 

And there it is… the Saints, the strangers and not so strange who inspire us. The known and unknown of history and even our community today to whom the beatitudes are an implicit imperative to live consistently with God’s justice. Saints because they chose to “do” something. I have heard many times that the biggest regret of every dying person is not what they did, but what they left undone. And our saints, they chose to do. They saw the world of hurt that Christ speaks of in the Beatitudes and they chose to do something about it now- to bless and lift up humanity here and now in this place, in this day and age.

Not because they were earning a way to heaven, since we can’t, or because they had to do it to pay Christ back (how would that look anyway?) they are good Lutheran’s whether they realize it or not, (we can claim them, right?) but they do these things, live this life of implicit imperative because they were and are confident in their role as God’s beloved. As such, they trusted that no matter what they put their hand to, God would still love them- even if what they did was scary and strange and they totally messed it up. They didn’t earn their way into that great throng of humanity in the Revelation text, Jesus Christ did that for us.

 

We celebrate All Saints not just to honor the ones gone before us and also around us, but also to learn from them, to remind ourselves that we too, should be living this implicit imperative of Christ. So why don’t we? I think we often choose not to do things because they are new and strange, or that we may mess it up. Being a stranger, doing strange things, it does not feel connecting, it does not feel sustaining and comforting. Yet we need to remember that we are not strangers, not really. John reminds us of this; “dear friends, NOW we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known, but we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him.” You see, we are not strange, we are not strangers- when we lean into this baptismal promise of Christ for us, we are then the heirs, the children of our God and even when we feel like we are so different, we are already becoming like Christ himself.

You see, when you are known, you cannot be a stranger. And to be known, you must get out there and know others first. It is scary. It is hard. And it is blessed work because God doesn’t forget us, and we can cling to the promise that we are God’s beloved children even in the midst of the unknown. Yes indeed, the lyrics had it right- partially. Faces do seem wicked when you’re unwanted, but they were also wrong. Someone does remember your name, our God in heaven has written your name among the list of saints, your robe is washed in baptismal waters and your name is called out- known among the multitude and most importantly, by Christ, who lived and died for you, for your sins, for your life, so that you might be known.

In Christ, we join the multitude, our names are on the roles, we are no longer a stranger in a strange land, but a child of the God most high, part of the biggest family you can imagine and we are not alone. We can lean into the hard stuff of life because our God is with us. Never Again will we hunger, never again will we thirst, for the Lamb is our Shepherd who brings us to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.   Amen.

 

 

Author: mistressofdivinity

Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Riverside, California; a congregation of the Pacifica Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Even though the diploma reads "Master of Divinity," the learning continues. I lean into this pastoral role more each day, learning to balance vocation and family, life and passion, living and loving.

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