Reading(s): Luke 6: 20 - 31. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at St Mark and All Saints.
As Christians, we do not live isolated lives. Through baptism we become members of a company of saints, and today, on All Saints Day we celebrate that mutual belonging. We celebrate women and men whose lives show powerfully the grace of God at work, and we give thanks for that grace that is part of all that we encounter in our lives with God, for the way God shapes our lives, our thinking and our hearts.
We are all Saints. We are here because God has called us to be here, in this time and this place. Every single one of us has been called by God to join this little group of faithful ones. Have a look round! Give each other a wave! We each share in that calling of the Saints. It’s quite incredible!
I think that sometimes we can feel rather weighed down and sad that the church is not quite as full as it once was. We might feel rather poor and even perhaps compare ourselves with other big shiny churches that are around us. But All Saints is a day to rethink that perspective and to celebrate who we are!
Jesus said in our Gospel reading – “blessed are the poor, for ours is the kingdom of heaven”. We have this kingdom of heaven right here, and right now. The word blessed is an interesting one. It’s often rather overused these days, as something that might mean lucky or special or happy – but actually the word Makarios as used here in the New Testament has other connotations. Perhaps ‘unburdened’ or ‘satisfied’ – a rather different thing. When we know the kingdom of God – that reality of God’s grace in our lives – we are satisfied, we are unburdened from pressure and expectations. We have a freedom to live as who we are – to be the people we are meant to be, to be the community we are called to be.
What the beatitudes tell us are that the things we assume are advantages are actually illusory – money, wealth, power, status. These things impact our souls because we become so fixed on them that we forget to see God and we lose that sense of contentment and peace.
The same is true of our Church community. We are blessed, we are satisfied, content because we have the gift of the Kingdom of God. The communion of saints creates a community, a new social reality. We might be an odd community, one whose values don’t match the values of the world. Perhaps we value caring for each other, hospitality, compassion and love more than wealth status and power. Perhaps we look at who people are - their kindness, their creativity, their thoughtfulness – and value those things more than the car they drive or the clothes they wear. But we are blessed, we are content because we are a culture and a community sustained by our encounter with the living God.
We have the gift of the Kingdom of God as much, and perhaps more than, all the big shiny churches. We have all we need to be the people God calls us to be now. Let’s have a look over the last few weeks, and see where the Kingdom of God has been present in our Benefice – where have people been encountering the presence of God?
The children of Ampfield school encountered God in the Harvest service. 30 people encountered God through the Friends' Harvest lunch. We have built relationships with over 60 people who have come to the wine and paint evenings at All Saints. The toddler group is growing and today we have the baptism of Sophia whose family we got to know through the toddler group. We had over 30 children attend the craft morning this week. We are hosting the community library, supporting preschool, demonstrating hospitality to dozens of people through the welcome café – we are showing God’s love in so many ways. Many, many people are encountering the presence of God because we are being all we are asked to be. And we take each step in faith and trust.
Someone once said ‘the local church is the hope of the world’. We are that hope of the world because we hold sacred those values that are so different to the rest of the world. We hold hope of light and life and love in the darkness of consumerism and individualism. And we are the local church. Us. Each one of us sitting here – those people you waved to just now! No one else – us. It’s our job to shine that light and love – but first we have to know, feel and experience that blessing, that Makarios, that unburdening in our own lives.
How does coming to church on a Sunday morning fire you, meet that need, enable you to experience that blessing? If it does, do you invite your friends to experience that peace, that blessing too? Our church community needs to be that place that we want everyone to be a part of – it must fire us up in our encounter with God so much, that we want to invite our friends to experience it too. If it doesn’t do that, why not? What do we need to do differently?
The church won’t grow unless we do some inviting! The church of England Christmas campaign this year has the strapline of the great invitation. Who will you invite? Is there someone who needs some space and peace, who might like to come along to the pre-Advent quiet day? Is there a family in your street who might like the Christingle or the crib service? Do you know someone who has been bereaved and might welcome the chance to give something of their grief to God at the All Souls service?
May you know today that Makarios in your encounter with God, and may you be inspired to shine that blessing to those around you.