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November 4, 2011
In 2008, this pair of sermon meditations appeared, one for a Sunday observance of All Saints and one not. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

Imagine Our Future Joy

Blessed are the poor in spirit...Blessed are those who mourn...Blessed are the meek...Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...Blessed are the merciful...Blessed are the pure in heart... Blessed are the peacemakers...Blessed are those who are persecuted...Blessed are you when people revile you...
-Matthew 5:1-12

There is a certain gentleness in this famous collection of Jesus' sayings: the coming blessings are not all rewards for good behavior -- sometimes they're just rewards for longing. It isn't just righteous mourners who will be comforted -- all of them will. It isn't just the already-righteous who will be filled: even those who aren't righteous yet, who only long to be -- uneven people like us will be filled, too.

The beatitudes take human suffering seriously. They don't locate the happiness of the suffering in the present, where it patently does not live -- instead they offer hope for a better day. Nothing is minimized. Life is hard. But there is hope for joy in the future.

They don't try to tell us that our sorrows are all in our minds. Our sorrows are real. But the possibility of our joy is real, too,

The beatitudes are ridiculous. Walk out your door and tell the first person you meet that the meek will inherit the earth, and you will learn what such an idea is worth: it makes no sense at all. That isn't how things are.

No, it isn't how things are. Not yet. But we can imagine a world in which it is, a world ready for the meek to inherit. And if we can imagine such a world, we can be part of bringing it about.
And here is a 2008 meditation on the Amos text for Proper 27, Pentecost XXI, read in many churches which will not be observing All Saints this week.

Light in the Darkness

It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear...
-Amos 5:19

The earthquake in Pakistan is like that for its survivors -- what comes
afterward is as dangerous as the quake itself.

You seem to have survived those terrifying seconds -- you don't really know what has happened, but you crawl out of what used to be your house, standing in a gingerly manner because you're not sure you haven't broken something. You brush the heavy dust of rocks from your eyes and your hands, and you look around. Nothing is standing. Not a single structure in the entire village. You realize that this was an earthquake. You survived an earthquake.

The school is no longer standing. You can see the place where it was, but the building is gone. You think you hear a child crying from over there, so you scramble over piles of rock and bricks toward the sound. Some other people have already gathered at the school, and they are tearing frantically through the rubble with their bare hands. Some of them are screaming the names of their children.

This is Hell. There is nothing worse than this.

But there is. It is a week later, and it is getting colder. Nobody has any
winter clothes, and the nights grow darker and more frigid. There are no wells; people find water in puddles. There is nothing to eat. People with compound fractures lie on the ground, unable to move, and their untreated wounds fester. Your village was always remote; now, it is almost unreachable.

A helicopter appears in the sky. Those who can move wave scraps of blankets, rags of shirts, cry out weakly for the copter to see them and stop. It lands where the road out of town used to be and a crowd of haggard children surrounds it immediately.

The helicopter is from Peshawar. The Diocese of Peshawar has sent tents, blankets, bottles and bottles of water, bags of rice and cooking oil and flour, pots to cook in, matches to light the cooking fires. The Mission Hospital has sent a team of medical workers to treat the wounded and make decisions about which of them to transport first. They have flashlights for when darkness comes; it will be the first light in the darkness you will have seen since this happened.

No one has told you that other villages have been wiped out completely. You don't know that more 79,000 people have died. You don't know what has happened to the roads. You don't know that people from far away are weary of tragedy, that they gave money for their countrymen who had a hurricane and to others who had a tsunami and that your hell is running a distant third to those hells, for no other reason than the fact that they happened first.

But you do get a bottle of water and a tent and a blanket from the helicopter, and you share your tent and your blanket with two other people that night, the three of you close together under the thick wool, your first night under a roof. The medical team remains behind when the helicopter leaves for Peshawar in the dark. The chopper will return tomorrow with more supplies, more tents and blankets, more food.

So this must not be Hell after all. In Hell, nobody cares about your suffering. Nobody comes to find you. But help has come here, to the ruins of your village, heaven-sent.
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