Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sermon: Blessing Are You When

dok logoSermon for The Order of the Daughters of the King
Southern Area “Quiet Day,” All Saints Propers
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, November 2, 2013
Lectionary readings for the day, click here.
Sermon based on Luke 6:20-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our sustainer. AMEN

Good morning!  What a joy it is to be here this “quiet day”
and to get to know more deeply
the faithful Daughters of the King from Southern Arizona.
Thank you, Jean, for a meaningful reflection and meditation.

When I first arrived at St. Philip’s only a year ago,
Liz Weber invited me during my first week,
to participate in a DOK meeting. 
I joined that day’s meeting and found it to be
deeply relational and prayerful. 
In the weeks and months that followed,
I gained a profound sense of how the DOK
live into the rule of life – of prayer, and of service.

Every week, I receive, from parishioners or guests
these blue cards requesting prayer from DOK.
Every week, at our mid-week services,
we, as a gathered community,
read the entire list of prayer seekers, maintained by our DOK. 
Every week, faithfully, the DOK serves our community by praying, by serving and by leading others nearer to Christ.

The readings for All Saints, today,
uphold the sentiment of being a DOK.
These readings reflect what it means to be a disciple
and about which the concrete realities of prayer
and need for blessings are named.

In Luke’s Gospel, we hear Jesus speak of concrete realities
to his disciples.
“Jesus looked up at his disciples and said,
Blessed are you who are poor…
Blessed are you who are hungry …
Blessed are you who weep …
Blessed are you when people hate you…”
Jesus speaks of concrete realities and human needs
– individual and communal.
Jesus models, of course,
a standard for which every disciple should strive –
beginning with pronouncing God’s blessings.

In pronouncing God’s blessings, the “beatitudes”
are active statements that declare God’s favor. 
Jesus declares God’s favor on people
who have concrete needs –
they are poor, hungry, weeping or are hated.
How fortunate are these people, utterly dependent on God.
Their livelihood, food, comfort and love is sourced
in the kingdom of heaven. 
And, in pronouncing God’s lamentations, the woes –
or ‘woe-itudes’ – are statements that declare
a forthcoming calamity on those who prosper now
through their own power.
Alas, how terrible it will be for them, Luke emphasizes. 

The four woe-itudes correspond to
the four beatitudes in the same sequence.
Together, these eight lines emphasize
Jesus’ scandalous overturning
of every conventional expectation. 
And we follow this teacher into these scandalous overturnings!

Importantly, note that Luke’s beatitudes
differ from Matthew’s.
Luke’s speak in the second person –
“you” rather than the third person “they.” 
Luke’s speak about concrete socio-economic conditions
rather than spiritual conditions, of specific people.

As Daughter, you know first hand
from the prayers that you offer each day
about the concrete conditions of which specific people
have need – illness, loss, brokenness, despair. 

From Jesus’ teachings,
the disciples gained insight to the kingdom of heaven. 
The disciples learned to take a Divine perspective into prayer,
and in obedience to God’s will,
the disciples sought out opportunities
to offer blessings and to heal others. 
In this same way,
the Daughters gain insight to a Divine perspective
and follow Jesus, as disciples. 
By living into your rule of life,
you are in the thick of opportunities to offer blessings
and prayers for healing and reconciliation.

Long ago, the election of Israel began with God’s promise
to bless Abraham and his descendants and make them
a blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Gen 12:1-3). 

No wonder, then, that we resonate so deeply
with the Aaronic blessing from Numbers,
“The Lord bless you and keep you.” 
This prayer tells the good news that
God not only redeems us but that God blesses us as well. 

So what has happened to the art of blessing? 
The beatitudes we hear today call us back
to the power of blessing and of being blessed. 
In blessing, Daughters are in the unique position
to lead others nearer to Christ
through this specific and mutual form of prayer. 
In mutual blessing, a prayer need is set apart
for divine purpose:
In mutual blessing, Daughters
bear witness to the creating, redeeming, and sanctifying
love of God
As the Spirit empowers the pray-er,
the pray-ee and The Church (capital C)
are blessed and strengthened.

Celtic philosopher and poet, John O’Donohue,
offers guidance on the art of blessing.
He cries that “the commercial edge of our culture
[cuts] away at [the] human tissue and webbing
that held us in communion with each other…
we have fallen out of belonging.”[1]

And I would add, we fall out of community
because of those concrete life challenges. 
Yet, it is in those life challenges
that we find the crucial thresholds crying out
for prayer and divine assistance:
of illness, job loss, relationship challenges, death, addictions.

There, at the edge of our culture,
these crossings demand the use of new words. 
Yet what is nearest to the heart at these times
is often farthest from any word. 

Your blessing, your prayer, is to offer,
“…[words and images] which present
a psychic portrait of the geography of change.” 

A blessing, a prayer, describes that new Divine geography
and a new pathway for God’s presence.
A blessing, a prayer, that daughters offer, can touch
what O’Donohue calls,
“…tender membrane
where the human heart cries out to the divine ground.”[2] 

Through your touch, your prayer, your blessing,
you join the quiet eternal that dwells in all souls –
the eternal that is silent and subtle. 
You invoke the Spirit to emerge and embrace
those concrete needs of specific people.

In your blessings and prayers, Daughters, remember that when the word “God” is too huge,
your role in prayer is to name that
“…life itself as the primal sacrament –
the visible sign of invisible grace.”[3] 

Your blessings, then,
are windows into the divine for those with whom
and for whom we pray. 
Your blessings, then, name God’s presence
and grace that is already there. 
That is the spread of Christ’s kingdom.

The language of blessing is invocation – a calling forth. 
When you invoke a blessing,
the Holy Spirit springs forth and surges into presence. 

As a Daughter, you are called
to give and to receive
blessings upon blessings,
prayers upon prayers,
grace upon grace.
That is your gift to The Church.

Scripture reminds us that
“we see through a glass darkly.”
That is the place on which the Daughters’
rule of life depends –
that threshold between the visible and the invisible.[4]  

In that “thin place,” in that place of concrete needs,
God calls the Daughters to invoke
the invisible structure of kindness and prayer
for divine assistance in ours and others’ lives.

O’Donohue reminds us today, as we celebrate All Saints,
“…that one of the great storehouses of blessing
is the invisible neighborhood where the dead dwell.”

He continues…
“Our friends among the dead
now live where time and space are transfigured.
They behold us in ways they never could have
when they lived here on earth. 
Because they live near the source of destiny,
their blessings for us are accurate and penetrating,
offering a divine illumination not available
according to the calculations of the visible world.”[5] 

All the Saints remind us that
time behaves differently when blessings are invoked.

may you realize your power to bless, to heal
and to renew one another through God’s steadfast love. 
may we all be given the grace to trust
that the gifts God gives
will be sufficient to accomplish the work God calls us to do.

May we joyfully participate with God
in making the world the place of blessing
it was created to be.


[1] John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, (New York, Doubleday, 2008) p. xiv
[2] Ibid p. xiv
[3] Ibid p. xvi
[4] Ibid p. 188
[5] Ibid p.212