A reflection on Luke 6.20-36 by the Rev. Marnie Peterson
On Tuesday evening, some of us came here to be a part of an evening of music and reflection with William Paul Young and others, including Andrew. We were reminded through the story that Paul told, about the ripples that roll out from our interactions with one another, from the places where your life touches mine.
We have no idea what the impact that each of us has on another might be. How a conversation with you might change completely how I do something or what I say to another.
Jesus sitting with his disciples, is teaching them, he looks up at them and begins: Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry for you will be satisfied. Woe to you that are rich for you have received your consolation.
It’s like Jesus is offering us operating instructions for being his disciple and its really good news for anyone who is sad, or hungry or broken but really not at all for anyone who is happy or has money and are attached to it. Unlike in Matthew where these same blessings and woes are about people who are poor in spirit or hunger or thirst for righteousness, in Luke we are talking about the poor and the hungry. These words – the ways in which Jesus is encouraging us to have dominion is not to have dominion at all. Anything that seems to be our source of power over – more food, more riches – those things will be shared among those who have nothing or less. Maybe there won’t be dominion in the kingdom of God.
Tonight we are celebrating All Saints and All Souls and thinking about the lives of those who have crossed our own and the impact of their lives on us. Anyone of us could offer blessings or woes – the lives that we live can fit into either category given a particular day and the bent of our energy. Tonight we consider memories that we have about experiences of lives well lived and lives that we wish were lived differently.
When we remember people – we remember where their lives intersect with our own. We remember things that we loved about them, lessons that we learned because of them, arguments that we had, funny or strange things that they did that were particular to them.
I think about my friend Jim, who was a father, a pastor, a bishop, a teacher, a friend. He was someone whom many of us felt close to. Ours was the last service he attended and when he spoke in our shared reflection, it was difficult not to hang on his every word. He was wise and beautiful. His son in my good friend. He was a beloved member of this Cathedral community and my memory was only tiny piece of his story.
I think about Anna Maddox, who came to us already sick but we didn’t know how sick. She folded origami cranes and she often brought candies in her pocket. She watered plants at another Anglican church in the city – I was never clear why. She loved Jacob. She struggled with the church and I think the church struggled with her too. And when she was in hospital, it was to us that she turned and Liz Hamel, who was a deacon here then and is a chaplain at VGH, who saw her and kept Andrew and I in the loop so we could hold her in prayer before she died.
Jesus offers the Blessings and Woes that we heard just now – pointing us towards what the Kingdom of heaven is like. He used his words to try to turn the world on its head and encourage us to do the same.
I think about all of the things that are happening in our immediate world right now: the election next door, the protests happening at Standing Rock and my colleagues who went down when there was a call for clergy to go, the talk of schools closing, the site C dam. And I worry about how we are exercising this dominion that we are said to have. I worry about what we are leaving for my children and what they will remember about this time. I wonder about the legacy that we leave and whether this time, my life will be looked upon as a blessing or woe. Maybe both. I think about the people who show up when they are asked. Over 500 clergy went to Standing Rock to be in solidarity with the Dakota people. The number of you who walked in the Pride parade to show your care the LGBTQ community. The opportunity that I had this morning to come and sit with friends whose family members names were read this morning.
I think about the many and varied people who came before. Those who helped me see what God is like and pointed me towards the kingdom of God, whether they meant to or not. People who loved me, people who I loved. People who turn the kingdoms of this world on their head, by offering blessings of the kingdom of God.
As we consider tonight All Saints and All Souls, we will offer space and silence. We will say the names of the dead and remember people who have died particularly in the last year, but in general, it is good to have a day set aside to call attention to people who have died. To remember. I think about how far away God feels when I am in grief – and our own interest in filling that silence with words of consolation or lament. Jesus reminds us again and again that God is never very far away. And the people that we will remember tonight remain with us, remain in our hearts and our memories.
My son continues to recall my uncle who died a few years ago of ALS. How his life was woven all throughout my own and now my sons even though my uncle isn’t here anymore.
I wonder who you are remembering tonight. Who will you light a candle for? Whose name will you say? What does it mean for you to invoke the names of the dead and honour their memory tonight?
What about them makes you want to remember?
Jesus is teaching his followers what life will need to be like for those of us who follow God here on earth, which is really the only place we can do anything about. He’s giving the crowd his best campaign speech that makes me wonder why anyone of any means would want to follow him: what could possibly be the appeal? Jesus looks at us and says: love your enemies, do good, lend your stuff and don’t expect anything in return. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. There is something in this for us and in following these rules – we just have no idea the ripples we send out.
And then I think about the people I remember and love – I think about the people who helped me see more clearly and live into the kingdom of God. Who forced me into the uncomfortable place of acknowledging where I needed love or showed me what it looks like to share or live with less and that it would be ok.
Tonight I am remembering some people who came into my life with very different offerings and all of them helped me to be a better person. All of them reminded me that I needed to leave space for God. I found some of them frustrating and got into an argument that I later had to apologize for, with at least one of them. Many of us have lives that intersect with the list of blessings and the list of woes. Life is complicated. Tonight – I just want us to remember the lives of people we have loved and who we do not get to see anymore. Tonight I want us to remember that lives are complicated and none of us has any idea how we will be remembered once we are gone. Tonight let’s remember the dead – say their names – remember what you love about them. And remember that God is in this with us – you are not alone.