A Sermon for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

I don’t know why exactly, but when we were kids, my sisters and I did something really rotten to our little brother. We told him that he had come to our family as a refugee from an Eastern European country. Why a refugee and why one from Eastern Europe? Who knows. But what that implied was that he wasn’t actually one of us, he wasn’t really a part of the family. Why did we do that? I have no idea. But we did. We were a pretty lively crew, the four of us, so maybe it was just a normal part of the general nonsense that regularly went on between us. Or maybe we thought it was just too ridiculous to be believed.

But it really struck a chord with my brother. For some reason, rather than just pushing back (which would have been the usual thing to do) he found himself wondering if maybe, just maybe, it was true. His memories couldn’t refute it because our memories only go so far back. Maybe he really was a refugee our family had taken in. Maybe he really wasn’t part of the family. It was pretty upsetting to him.

I didn’t exactly understand his reaction at the time. Why didn’t he just push back in the usual way? Maybe I didn’t understand his reaction then, but I do now. We had touched on a really tender place in us human beings without knowing it. It’s a basic need we all have to have, or our lives can go sideways. We all need to know that we belong, somewhere to someone.

I do want to say before moving on that there was hell to pay for this little prank we pulled on our brother. Our mother took care of that. But in a surprising way. But it also happened in the ways that it does for all of us, I’m afraid, where we’re on the receiving end of messages and actions that say you don’t belong. The world is called ‘the school of hard knocks’ for a reason. Who belongs at the cool table in the school cafeteria and who doesn’t. Who belongs in this neighborhood and who doesn’t. All of it. There’s a kind of great sorting of the wheat from the chaff that seems to be a part of human nature, or at least fallen human nature. Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, black, white, immigrant, native, believers, non-believers, and on and on, answering the question who belongs and who doesn’t.

Which on this day, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, in one way or another is the situation Jesus wades right into the middle of, standing in the Jordan River. His cousin John is there thundering away at the miserable state of affairs of people who assume they belong to God, or assume that they don’t, or aren’t too sure. None of that matters to John. For John, the people are grass, sprouting with dew in the morning and gone by sunset.  He shouts that God is coming and you had better get it together and clean up your act as if your life depends on it, because it does. But then he spots Jesus making his way with the crowds of people by the water. He knows at once who he is. He says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So why is he there with all the rest? John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. He isn’t worthy and besides, Jesus doesn’t need it. But Jesus won’t have it any other way. His place right beside us has nothing to do with being worthy or not. His baptism upends all of that because with his baptism he says, “Here I am, with all the rest, right where I belong.”

After Christmas time, our lost-and-found basket here at church is generally fully restocked. There are scarves and reader eyeglasses and car keys and gloves and other little thises and thats that wash ashore from the high tide of Christmas. I was looking through all those things the week after Christmas to see what was there. I saw a sporty pair of green and black gloves, the kind that don’t have fingertips. I picked them up and thought about the hands that fit into them and wondered if they would ever be reunited with the hands they belonged to. Which, from that thought, in my mind at least, was just one small step to bringing to mind the lost-and-found basket that Jesus puts himself into with us when he is baptized. John thinks all of us lost gloves can find our way back to the hands we belong to. Jesus knows better; sheep get lost and can’t find their way back. John thinks we need to clean up our act to save our own skin. Jesus says God will do the saving for us. Jesus finds the place our lost lives belong.

I told you there was hell to pay when my mother caught wind of what we’d done to my brother. She would have been perfectly within her rights to have gone John the Baptist on us, putting the axe to the roots as John said God is going to do. But that’s not what happened. What she did was go to the closet where there was a big box of pictures, stacks of black-and-white Polaroids back then. She picked through them, found the ones she was looking for, and then got my brother and they sat down at the kitchen table. And she told him a story, his story, using those pictures. A picture of her in the home stretch of her pregnancy just before he was born, him wrapped up in a blanket carried by our dad when he came home from the hospital, her sitting on the floor with him in her lap while our dog licked him, his first Christmas with the rest of us in front of the tree, between his sisters on a sled.  She said, “Trust me, I brought you into this world. You’re mine. You belong in this family. I’ll deal with your sisters and brother.”  That sealed it.

Isn’t baptism like that too? In the prayers over the water, we hear the story of God’s great saving deeds from the first day the Spirit blew over the face of the deep till that same Spirit rested on Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, and throughout the life he led to show us what it looks like to belong to God and to live like that. And what that looks like is a table around which are seated down-and-outers who suddenly feel like up-and- comers, and people you wouldn’t be caught dead with from the wrong side of the tracks and from the right side of the tracks and everyone in between. And because of the one breaking bread for us all to share, you see, we belong.

In just a few minutes, that same Spirit will be hovering over the water in that great baptismal font, and God will establish an indissoluble bond with Kate and Charles and Coleman and Brooke and Davis; they will receive the grace of heaven through the sacrament of baptism and be sealed as Christ’s own forever. And a place at the Lord’s Table will always be set for them. And for you. Because it is the Lord’s Table – the place we belong with him. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

One of the unexpected joys of my work here at St. Mary’s is that I have been given the opportunity to age up. In the congregations I have been in previously, my work centered around children and youth, and I rarely ventured into the territory of people who had mostly stopped going to the orthodontist.

I am grateful that my life here includes coordinating a number of book studies, some adult forum programming and preaching. Turns out I like grown-ups too.

Currently our Friday morning book has just completed, Miracle on 10th Street. It is a compilation of writing by the great Madeline L’Engle, an author who wrote for both children and adults. It is full of pieces of prose and poetry about Advent and Epiphany that have given us a great many things to talk about over the last few weeks.

I could not help to think about today’s Gospel when I read these lines from her poem “First Coming”:

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

Mark’s Gospel does not begin with any sweet birth narrative or genealogy. Mark comes out swinging, right in the midst of the tarnished world.

There’s no gussying up with any pedigree showing how Jesus is from the House of David. There are no angels sweeping in and upending Mary’s world. No trip to Bethlehem. This isn’t John’s beautiful, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”

Right out of the gate in Mark’s gospel we meet John, the crazy cousin, clad in camel hair and eating bugs and honey in the wilderness. He jumped right into the messy world to make way for Jesus.

John has something to say. And it’s not particularly sunshiny. Most prophets, including Isaiah who we heard today as well, have some pretty hard things to say. Prophets are not people who have any particularly great status or power. They are usually not from “the right side of the tracks.” But prophets are undeterred by their lack of credentials. And they make it their work to point out the ways that people are not behaving how God intends. Prophets open the “thing drawer” in the kitchen, that place where you stuff all the junk, and reveal that not all is well.  They look at God’s people and shout, beg, whisper, cry whatever they can to get us to see something we do not want to or cannot see for ourselves.

One time with a group of four- and five-year-olds I asked about believing in things we cannot see. So, we talked about things that we know are there, but we cannot see with our eyes. There were answers like germs and wind. Some kids mentioned love and God. One child looked at me incredibly intently until I called on her.

“I cannot see my face.” she said. “Oh,” I said, “but you can see yourself in a mirror.” To which she replied, “But that’s just my reflection. I’m not really seeing my face. And I can’t see my own eyes.”

Prophets take us by the shoulders, look at our faces and tell us what we cannot or will not see about ourselves.

The words of comfort we hear from Isaiah today come after 39 chapters of Isaiah taking God’s people by their shoulders and telling them what their faces look like.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (1:16-17)

The first portion of Isaiah speaks to the leaders and people and shows them the ways in which they have failed to live in God’s justice and righteousness. How instead of living in the Covenant God had made with them, they had ignored the needs of God’s people and sought their own power in arrogance.

But prophets speak out not to obliterate God’s people, but because they have the imagination to see how things can be different. Prophets can tell of God’s love that passes all understanding for the same reason they can tell us where we are off track, because they can see our faces.

So, Isaiah also speaks words of God’s saving grace. Of hope. Which is what we heard today. Which is how Mark begins his whole story of the life of Christ …

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,

John came proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins. Which is to say John came proclaiming that he could see God’s people in ways they could not, reminding them of the ways that they were not living into the Covenant God had made with them so long ago. He looked into their faces asking them to change, to repent meaning to turn their hearts towards God’s love.  And he told them that God was at work bringing the power of God’s love and righteousness into their very midst.

I often wonder if John the Baptist were to appear today if I’d go out into the wilderness to hear him. The Gospel says that many people were going to him. I wonder what drew them there.  Was it the power of his clarity, knowing the nearness of the proximity of God’s love? Was it that the people who came were desperately tired of the way the world was working?

It may seem a strange juxtaposition in the midst of preparing for the birth of Jesus to in this Gospel be placed on the banks of the Jordan River with John. I suppose no less strange than last week’s Gospel either, grappling with when the world will cease and begin again.

There is a want, at least for me, to just to rest in the comfort of knowing that sweet baby Jesus is on the way. Not so easy, according to the prophets.

It is good and right to wrestle in these coming weeks as we await the birth of Christ with John’s call to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. To prepare for Jesus’s arrival with anything less that this would be cheap grace.

What would John the Baptist say to me were he to look at my face? What would John the Baptist say to all of us? That is a question worth turning over in these next weeks.

I confess that I am disheartened by what I imagine John would say. Not only by what he would say to me but about the state of the world. I can see how prophets throughout the ages have looked around and let loose with harsh and painful words. I don’t think a one of us would say the state of the world today is our best effort. And I lack the imagination to begin to think of how things could ever change.

But then I remember that the prophets speak hope too. A hope that imagines…

Valleys lifted and mountains laid low.

A hope that promises us that

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

And in this sense of hope, I’m struck that Mark’s story begins by calling people to be baptized, one at a time, to begin again.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

I do not want to come to the wonder of Christmas morning without stepping into the Jordan River with John.

I want to be willing to heed the warnings of the prophets, willing to acknowledge and bewail the ways in which I have fallen short, the ways in which this still tarnished world falls short of making pathways made straight for all of God’s beloved creation.

This Christmas I want to peer into the manger, ready to meet the gaze of the one who sees my face, the one who sees your face, and in great love shines on us all the Light that will never go out. And then our faces although we cannot see them for ourselves may reflect that love, that light into this broken, tarnished world and we together begin again.

Amelia McDaniel

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

Driving to church a couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a story on the radio about the death of the sun – our sun, the one that’s a little scarce this time of the year, which makes the time it’s shining even more lovely and welcomed. The scientist being interviewed calmly described how the life of the sun will end. He said, eventually, the sun will burn all its hydrogen fuel and then cool and finally explode. He said the timeframe for this to happen is about 5 billion years. I was struck by how matter of fact he was in his description of these events. He said, “Then the sun will explode and the solar system with it and all the matter and debris will drift away forever into the infinite silence of space.”

While he was talking, I was stopped at a red light and saw two children, probably aged six or seven. They had enormous backpacks on their backs and were facing each other, talking and talking. (By the way, what does a six- or seven-year-old need that requires such a big backpack to hold?! Sorry, a question for another day.) Anyway, one of them was listening to the other with eyes wide open, and I saw her mouth the words, no way! and the other little girl nodded and laughing did a funny little dance that ended in a twirl where she lost her balance and the two little girls fell in a heap together. Up above I saw the jet trail of some big passenger jet streaking 30,000 feet up in the clear blue sky. It was filled with passengers on their way somewhere; a plane full of people, probably named Jeannie or Buck or Salmon, each with their own lives and their own stories. Like a 25-year-old flying out of a dangerous part of the world to safety and wondering if he’ll ever see home again, or an older woman on her way to a place she promised her husband before he died that she would visit for him, or maybe just someone trying to get home. And then, some kind of teensy flying bug I had never seen before in my life landed on my windshield. In its own way, it was perfectly perfect. Perfect little legs moving it across the slick windshield. And then it furled out tiny little wings and was gone so fast it was like some kind of disappearing act.

“Then the sun will explode…” the scientist was saying as the light turned green and I headed on.

I know 5 billion years is a long time. None of us will be around to see that ending. Truthfully, I don’t know what will be around in 5 billion years or if it will bear any resemblance to a day with a jet flying high in the sky full of lives or a magical bug lifting off from my windshield. But that didn’t stop me – for just a moment – from feeling this sharp pang, this oh no! in my spirit. Oh no, that plane full of people and the sky it’s flying in and those two little girls on their way from one great moment to the next and that amazing bug, gone, poof, forever.

These are sobering thoughts to share, I admit, to begin this new season in our lives with the beginning of the season of Advent. Why worry about the end of the world, especially if it’s 5 billion years away from now? Today has its own challenges that I can’t keep up with as it is.

Yet this is where the Spirit of God is leading us in the Gospel reading for this first Sunday of Advent. Each year, we hear Jesus describe the end of all things and how he will come again to us. We hear his words, or try to, but it’s hard when you’re on board the train racing towards Christmas that feels like it could jump the tracks at any moment. More sober souls among us have always been inspired by these readings to search out the signs of the times to calculate precisely when the Lord will come again even though Jesus says no one knows when that will be except the Father.

Honestly, sometimes, I think his second coming could be lost on me. I was raised with these images of how it’s supposed to be, Jesus coming like a hero on a winged white horse breaking the darkness of the collapsing world with the light of his love. But what if – Jesus being Jesus – his second coming will be more like his first coming? There are similarities. There was a great heavenly light in the mighty firmament of heaven the night he was born (which you’d think more people would have noticed), and the angels of heaven – a multitude of them – came pouring out of heaven singing, rejoicing. But all that seems to have happened largely unnoticed except by a few bedraggled shepherds. What if Jesus’s Second Coming is more like his first? It will be Jesus, yes, with a heavenly light show in the sky to end all light shows. But it will be him, coming with the same perfect love God gave us as a baby. And maybe his coming will be in the way he always comes among us now, somehow hidden in a stranger, or someone hungry, and coming when you least expect it we’re told.

So, keep alert. Keep awake. But how do you do that?

My grandmother used to put a rubber band around her wrist. I asked her about it one time, asked why she did that. She said that when she noticed it on her wrist, she’d snap it to help her remember something she was supposed to remember. I asked her if it worked and she said, “sometimes.” Are we supposed to have something like that to keep awake, that we can snap and remember the Lord is coming? What is it that we’re supposed to do?

Well, “Look at the fig tree,” Jesus says. It’s just like him to bring us back to earth a little. Consider the lilies of the field, or a seed planted in a field, or a fig blooming tree. Don’t try so hard. God is already speaking through all the life that’s going on all around at every moment. So that every square foot could be crammed with parables of the Kingdom if God reveals that to you and you were paying attention at the time. Like two kids rejoicing, or a plane full of stories, or a tiny magical bug, or even a church full of people, where you notice a face you see every Sunday but realize you had never really seen before, until now anyway. Stay awake to that, love what God loves, care for what God cares for. And sense the preciousness of all of it – including you! – to God, which is what Jesus came to give us in the first place.

Whether Jesus will come again to us in 5 billion years or five minutes from now is less important than living like he’s about to come into our lives now – not because you have to, but because you can, because he was born for us to see and love like him, awake for his next coming. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May

A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Years ago, I had a conversation about God with an acquaintance who later became a friend. My friend was an alcoholic who had finally gotten sick and tired of being sick and tired, and he had become ready – as people in recovery will say – ‘to give up the high cost of low living’ and started going to AA meetings. And at these meetings, he heard people talking about their ‘Higher Power’ whom they chose to call God. He heard people say, “If you don’t have a Higher Power, you need to get one.” They said if at first, it’s not God, don’t worry, for now it can be your sponsor or it can be the sky you look up at at night or it can just be the group – anything bigger than you are. But get one.

My friend said, “I know I need a Higher Power to stay sober, but I don’t believe in God.” And then he talked about the God he didn’t believe in. He described God as being harsh and far away and judgmental, and ready to punish him for just being human. I said, “Well I don’t believe in that God either.”

He didn’t know it, but his description of God was right in line with the description of the Third Servant in the Parable of the Talents we just heard. Remember, he says, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid…” I don’t know where my friend got his idea of what God is like. I don’t know where the Third Servant got his idea of what the Master is like either. All we know is that the Master said, “I’m going away and won’t be back for a while. So, while I’m away, I’m entrusting you and the others with everything that’s mine, all my property. So, here’s a talent for you to use and take care of while I’m away.”

Many sermons have been preached about this talent describing it as an ability you’ve been given, like painting or singing or an ability to read the financial markets well. But that’s not what the word that Jesus used meant. It meant a sum of money. In fact, a lot of money. When Jesus first told this parable, a talent was roughly equal to the amount of money a regular worker would earn in 15 years; a really unimaginably large amount of money. If you used the median income in the U.S. from the 2020 Census and multiplied that by 15 that would be $1,035,315. The point is, he gave his three servants everything he had – all his property – to use and take care of while he was away. And it was a lot. It was all he had.

I don’t know about you, but I might be afraid about that, too. What do you do with something that big? The odds feel pretty high that you could mess it up.

My father-in-law purchased a new computer and a printer for me to take with me to seminary. He said, “You’re going to need these.” This was 1990 and the computer and printer together cost almost $5,000. Could the use I would get out of them, could anything I could possibly accomplish with them, be worth that much?! I thought it was way too much. But he’d said, “I want to do this for you because you’re going to need them.” He had more faith in me than I did. I remember thinking of him when I sat down to start working on one of my first paper and thinking, “OK, not sure it’s worth all this but here we go!”

We’re coming to the end of the Church Year and every year we’re given three Gospel readings to prepare us for Advent and a new beginning that lies just ahead of us – as brand new and unimaginably fresh as a brand-new baby. Last week, Harrison preached beautifully on the first of these three Gospels and next week, we’ll hear Jesus’ great vision of the separating the sheep and the goats at the end of all things. Along with today’s Gospel, all three of these readings ask us to lift up our heads (maybe from the latest alert on our phones) and look down the line a little and to think about the future and what’s out there. How do you think about the future? Where are we headed? Which in the short-term in our lives is pretty unsettling because it feels a little dicey. Where are we headed? Are things going to get worse – more contentious, more angry, more violent? How does this time we’re in end – with a whimper or a bang? Do we just buckle down and get through this, circle the wagons, hope for less, put that ‘still small voice’ speaking in our souls on hold with its words of forgiveness and justice and mercy and peace till things calm down a little? When the world goes temporarily ‘to the dogs’, what do cats do till all the woofing ends? If it ends?

All the commentators on this passage wonder about the same things. But they all agree that that’s why this passage is such a precious word for us. This word sees further and deeper that this present moment. We have been given a gift as great as the one described in this parable, almost beyond being able to count. You, we have been given a life that God sees as eternally precious, born from God’s own loving gift of creation and bound for love at the end. In the meantime, we are now, already, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, our true home. And Jesus says that God’s Kingdom is among you now because he is among us now, here and there, now and again, like yeast growing secretly in the dough, signposts of grace to light the world on its way home to God. It’s worth risking everything for – not burying in the ground because we’re afraid.

Sometimes I think our lives are like parables – signs that the future Kingdom of Heaven is already among us. Like this one. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a group of people who went out to plant 3,000 daffodil bulbs so that in the spring the beauty of God’s work would be there for all to see and a sign that God’s grace still abides. Some wondered if it cost too much to get that many bulbs. Some wondered if there were so many bulbs that maybe they wouldn’t all get into the ground and the unplanted bulbs might dry out and wither and be wasted. But then many people showed up so that there were enough and more than enough to get the job done. Some bulbs were planted expertly at just the right depth. Some less so. Some were planted in good soil. And some in not such good soil. But they were all planted. That happened here at St. Mary’s a week ago. We’ll have to wait to see what God will do with this. But I’m glad we did it. I hope we keep planting seeds of the Kingdom with our lives, acting from love and not fear, giving and receiving forgiveness, trusting that the future belongs to God no matter how much the world seems to have gone to the dogs.

Dear friends, we – God’s Church on earth – have been given a great gift. Like the servants in the parable, we have been given all that God has – the promise that God’s Son, the Lord Christ, has laid down his life for us to bring us all home. Apparently, he has more faith in us than we do. Still, God’s grace abides, and the Kingdom is among you now. Amen.

The Rev. David H. May 

A Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday

For several years I worked as the Christian education teacher at an Episcopal day school. I went into work early on Fridays to set up for the all-school eucharist. Having to come so early meant I came in without my kids in tow. So, for 10-15 minutes every Friday morning it was quiet in my car, and I was able to actually listen to the radio. My timing meant that I managed to hear StoryCorps on NPR, a brief segment with just two people talking to one another. This was a huge highlight of my week.

StoryCorps began in 2003 with a sound booth set up in Grand Central Terminal in New York City for people to tell their stories to each other. The mission of StoryCorps is to help us believe in each other by illuminating the humanity and possibility in us all — one story at a time. This sounds to me an awful lot like part of what we do here every Sunday.

Each Friday morning, I listened to two people. One asking questions of the other about a particular event or situation. The daughter interviewing her father who knew he was slipping into dementia. The student asking his teacher just what she had seen in him and how she had managed to help him get into college. The grandmother recounting to her grandchild what life was like in the Jim Crow South.

Every Friday morning this beautiful slice of humanity was laid out for me in the quiet of my car, by people who I would never cross paths with. But their stories of love and loss, regret and redemption, humor and solace forged some kind of connection. Most Fridays by the time I pulled into the parking lot at school I had already tested the limits of my waterproof mascara and my heart had been broken open.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Sunday — the day we remember the saints and all those who have gone before us. It is the most human of our holy days when we recall those who have left their imprints on us, who have left imprints of God’s love on this world. It is a day that we hold up for each other the wonders of people whose lives have been a blessing, one story at a time. It is also a day that reminds me why I wear waterproof mascara and it most certainly breaks my heart wide open.

“God gets stuff done through flawed human beings,” pastor Nadia Bolz Weber says. The saints we celebrate today, the famous ones who have done good deeds of great note and the ones known to us only in the most tender places in our hearts, are just people, not perfect people, not perfect stories. Just people through whom God gets good stuff done. And if ever there was a time to hold up for each other the work that God can get done through people it is right now. Today.

Lines drawn. Boxes checked. Guns pointed. Bombs dropped. Human beings being summarized into categories and columns and charts. It seems to me that the stories we are hearing about other humans rarely begin with what we share, but rather how very far apart we are from one another.

This story of separation we are immersed in makes it fearfully easy to forget what the lives of the saints teach us. That God gets stuff done through flawed human beings. Not perfect people. Not the people who seem to have it all together. Not the people with the best teeth or the best ad buy. Not the people whose authority rests in powers and principalities. Not the people at the front of the line. Not necessarily the people we agree with.

Although we may be drawn into thinking that power, influence, riches, and perfection are the means to glory, Jesus teaches us something very different today as he begins teaching the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his teachings not by telling anyone what they are doing wrong, but by proclaiming their blessedness. Blessings in places where we humans might least expect to find them. These blessings for the poor and hungry and persecuted people standing in the crowds as Jesus spoke these words were not just for that day. These blessings are for today. We are not so very different here now than the original hearers of the Sermon on the Mount were. We are flawed humans. They were, too. People through whom God can get good things done.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those at the end of their rope. At the end of their bank account. At the end of the last loaf of bread. God is there with you.

Blessed are those in deep grief. Those who feel that all is lost because what is most dear is gone. God will hold them.

Blessed are the meek, the ones who know that their worth lies in their belovedness to God and nothing more. They inherit the earth because they know their place in it.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, those who want to see God’s mercy and love poured out into this world. They will find themselves full as they empty their lives out for others in the name of God.

Blessed are the merciful because in extending mercy and forgiveness they find themselves forgiven and connected and whole.

Blessed are the pure in heart, who know it is not perfection that God seeks, but only that God is the dearest treasure. And to treasure God like that brings clarity.

Blessed are the peacemakers, the crazy ones who insist that there is a different way to live, a way that respects the dignity of every human being. They know their place in the family of God.

Blessed are the ones persecuted because of their courageous love for God. God holds them fast even as they are harmed while proclaiming LOVE.

Blessed are you when you stay true to God, refusing to let your worth or anyone else’s be defined by anything other than the LOVE OF GOD. That might make people uncomfortable. Let them be. Because in heaven there is a great cloud of witnesses who have done exactly that, singing your praises. Jesus is revealing the character of God. He is showing us how surprising and accessible God’s blessings are.

The saints are people, some rich, some poor, some with power, many without it. People who led mostly straight and narrow lives and people who had some major detours. But each of the saints in different ways has been able to live a life that reflects and responds to these blessings for others and for themselves.

This day is as holy a day as was the day Jesus taught the Beatitudes. This ground under our feet, it is no less holy than the ground that was under those listening to the Sermon on the Mount. No less holy than the ground that the saints before us have stood upon. The water that will be poured over the heads of those baptized today, as holy as the Jordan River. God has not withdrawn from us. God has not stopped blessing the poor and the meek and the humble. God has not given up on us. God is in our very midst. The saints are not only people who lived in ages past, long ago heroes whose likes will never be seen again. There are saints here today, showing up and getting good stuff done for God.

What are the stories of the saints that you want Weston, Hattie, Harper, Molly, and Fritz to know? How might God ask us to show up for these children, for all our children? So that, like the saints before us, our lives of faith may be a blessing to them?

StoryCorps is the single largest collection of human voices ever gathered. Amazing. It is the largest collection of human voices recorded. But I believe today as we come at this font and to this table, a far larger collection of human voices gathers, voices more numerous than the stars, all of the saints, all of the company of heaven, with us now in this place at this time. Each one witnessing to us, witnessing with us that God’s blessings abound. Voices reminding us that we too are a part of this story. On this most human of holy days may we know the blessings of God and find the strength and courage and love to show up to be the saints we are called to be. Amen.

Amelia McDaniel