All Saints' Sermon - 1 November 2020
Father Damian speaks about Saints, both those recognised by the Church and those every day saints, including NHS and Key Workers today, whom we pass day by day.
“...for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
What is your kingdom attitude? Well, I wasn’t expecting to be here this morning – I was due to be preaching at the Patronal Festival of All Saints, Leighton Buzzard where my good friend Cate Irvine is Vicar, but then yesterday evening the government announced that from Thursday we will return to lockdown in England, and I realised I needed to come back early and address the church today.
So, we hot-footed from Norwich from my parents-in-law down the A11 last night. Fr Gerard was all lined up to preach – sorry to ask you to stand down today Gerard. I’m sure there will be a swirl of feelings among us this morning, from ‘here we go again’ to something of the ‘inevitable’ to a sense of deeper ‘foreboding’ and even fears of loneliness – and more besides. We will need to take time to process what we are living through and learn to come to terms with the change we are experiencing. I know just how much St Mary’s means to you, be it worship in person or online and I want to reassure you that we will be here for you, even though St Mary's Church will be closed to congregations from Thursday 5th November until Wednesday 2nd December. All our services will move online, with many broadcast from the church or our own homes.
So, throughout this coming period we will maintain all advertised services via Facebook every day at 10am. St Mary's Church will still be available for Funeral Services and we will work to re-establish a rota of people to open St Mary's every Wednesday and Saturday from 2-4pm for individual private prayer because we, the people of faith have a mission and a message which no lockdown can prevent – God’s kingdom is real, tangible and there for everyone!
But you know, people have all sorts of funny ideas about God’s Kingdom and what heaven means – and there are so many jokes and stories to choose from on this theme, some of which can’t be repeated in a sermon, but I did enjoy this one:
A man died and went to heaven. He was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter who led him down the golden streets. They passed stately homes and beautiful mansions ending up in front of a rundown cabin. The man asked St. Peter, “Why have I got a tatty old hut when there were so many mansions I could live in?” St. Peter smiled and replied, “That’s heaven for you, I did the best I could with the money gave us.”
The Gospel writers all speak of the ‘Kingdom of God’ or, in Matthew’s Gospel, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as an essential part of our Lord’s teaching in what we call the Beatitudes, a Latin noun simply meaning "happiness" because, to even glimpse God’s kingdom is surely joy. And this text, part of the wider Sermon on the Mount, takes the form of eight blessings, but what do these mean for us today?
There is certainly a lot of talk of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ contained within them. Jesus teaches that heaven is more than the next step after life as we know it because, “Heaven” is a way of describing God's relationship through Jesus with us today as the church, and as individuals on a faith-journey. That relationship continues; however, we worship be it in person in a church building or online via a computer – Jesus longs to be our bridge to God.
And His kingdom is experienced now, in our lives, today if we have the right attitude. The saints whom we celebrate today knew all about hardship and struggle and they too point in faithfulness to that new relationship which Jesus brings about. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer reminds us; “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus brings about this new heavenly relationship for all time – heaven and earth bound together, right at the heart of the teaching in the Beatitudes which are not Jesus’ prescription for how to get into heaven, rather his description of what it is to live in an outpost of God's kingdom now – today! Welcome to heaven - you have already made it!
But, to live for the kingdom, we must have the right attitude – and we should not be surprised that the world doesn’t appreciate what we have and treasure. After all, God's saints and martyrs down the ages knew this too. We may be asked to close this building again to congregations, but we are never actually closed as people of faith. God’s kingdom is experienced today, in action, in worship from our own homes in these extra ordinary circumstances – but we need to have the right attitude.
Just think of the ongoing sacrifice of so many people in the face of covid-19, the care of health workers and many other front-line key workers, including your own clergy and lay leaders here. Or the essential work of our Foodbank here in Runnymede, or nationally the amazing and prophetic campaign by Marcus Rashford to feed children from low income households during the school holidays. As the prologue to John’s Gospel describes it perfectly, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.’ (John 1) these are kingdom moments.
As we prepare to proclaim, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus,” allow these next four weeks in the wilderness to be a time or prayer in anticipation of Advent and Christmas. For our Lord’s teaching is liberating: those who are poor in spirit or who seek peace might not be welcome in this present world, where the seasons change along with the whims of many, but that does not mean that they do not belong. God’s kingdom, brought about by Jesus relationship of love is inclusive – for all - as reflected in today's other readings from Revelation and 1 John; the spiritual, political, and cultural forces of this age are real, but they will pass. This time of Covid-19 will pass too. The kingdom will never end. We must be kingdom people, from home, from church, always. That is our attitude.
The witness of the Saints stands in contrast to the whims of worldliness; those whose lives have been lived for God’s values and have an attitude for heaven for Saints are those who truly live for peace, the inheritance of the earth and the righteousness which is perfect justice.
All these virtues are God given not man made! So ultimately, to taste the kingdom we must be open to that relationship of love which liberates everything and be generous in the love we have for everyone else, especially at this challenging time.
Friends in faith, the kingdom promised by Jesus is not an intangible fantasy. Heaven is not that far away – we can indeed glimpse it on earth, today, as it is in heaven, if we have the right attitude, if we are willing to prepare ourselves, and open our hearts, for as people of faith, following the great example of the Saints and Martyrs and the teaching of Jesus, we are in it for the kingdom of heaven. So, what is your kingdom attitude? Amen.
Father Damian Stewart Harrison-Miles, November 2020