As we sit here this morning and think about feasting with the saints, I’m thinking about eating a honey and butter sandwich with my grandpa, my Deda. I’m Czech, you know, and my Babi and Deda were big parts of my life growing up.
He was a really quiet sort of guy. He didn’t say much unless you had spent an hour or two shelling walnuts with him at the kitchen table. Every so often, you would get a story out of him about peeling potatoes in the Korean War or about a neighbor down the street. He also loved to make up stories and when I was little he had all sorts of silly tales that he would tell us.
In October of 2006, my dad’s dad, my grandpa, my Deda, passed away. It was a long and slow and painful process – with diabetes doing a number on his body and its ability to heal itself. I was living in Nashville at the time, attending seminary, but it was fall break and he was still with us, so I went home to see him.
I got to spend an entire day in the hospital with Deda. It was probably the best day that he had had in a long time. The Hawkeyes were playing that morning and he was aware of the game and together we watched them win. Five or six of us were gathered in the room and he would try to talk, but his throat was sore and ravaged from the breathing tube that had been there. He grunted and moaned, tried to tell us things, but mostly we just held his hand and tried our best to understand. The next day wasn’t nearly so good and the next evening he passed away. Because of my break from school, I was able to be there not only for the funeral, but also stay farther into the week.
Because I was, you know, the seminary student, I did a lot of care-giving during that time. I gave one of the eulogies at the funeral. I sat in with my dad and uncles and aunt as they planned the service. I helped to decorate the funeral home ( complete with stalks of corn, pumpkins and gourds). I sat with my Babi.
It felt so good to be home and surrounded by my family during that time, but I remember the hardest part of it was going back to Nashville. Going back to a place where no one knew my grandfather, or even that he had been that sick. Going back to a place where no one knew that he had died or what a gaping hole was left in my life.
But I hadn’t missed any classes because of how the break fell. I didn’t have to call any professors about making up a test or getting the notes from lecture. Everyone had been gone, so there was no reason to notice I was gone.
And so I didn’t tell anyone. I kept my grief to myself. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself out there and be greeted by all of the condolences and “I’m sorry’s” right then, so I hid it all. I don’t think I really wanted to be left alone – but I was somehow embarrassed by my grief. I felt like I had done an okay job of caring for everyone else and I could probably care for myself too. I guess I thought that I could handle it on my own.
As long as I’m being honest, I’ve always had this attitude that says, “I can do it myself!” Whether it is putting something together or cooking a new recipe, or, as it turns out, grieving – I’ve always wanted to figure out my own way of doing something. Like I know better than how countless people have done it in the past or will continue to do it in the future.
Our whole culture it seems has that do-it-yourself mentality. We are expected to be strong, resourceful, and even if we don’t have it all figured out – with the right tools, or YouTube video, we should be able to do-it-ourselves.
But you see, the problem is, we were not made to do things ourselves.
It is exactly when we are down and out that we are more in tune with what it really means to be part of the body of Christ.
Christ tells us that it is precisely our places of vulnerability that we will find the promise of God being fulfilled.
The world may think that being vulnerable means you are weak and you can’t cut it, but in the strange and wonderful ways of God, our vunerability is the source of our greatest blessings.
Hear again some those very familiar words of the Beatitudes, but through the Message translation of the bible:
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are-no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
Not only that-count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.
The world gets uncomfortable around us, because they don’t understand the Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim, the kingdom full of good news for the poor, freedom for captives, and comfort for those that mourn.
We have been blessed, precisely because of our vulnerability. We have been the poor, the down and out, we have grieved, we have struggled for peace. And we are blessed, because every step of the way, Jesus has been by our side.
The world can’t comprehend the love God has for us and the love we have for one another. And a big part of that love we share is the trust and belief that we can be vulnerable with one another. Our love is the most powerful, when we share our lives with one another, when we are honest about our weaknesses and our need for healing and love and grace.
And yet, that is precisely why the world doesn’t recognize Jesus. It is why the world doesn’t know him. Caught up in our bravado, believing we can do it on our own, John writes in his letter that the world can’t see the love God has for us. If the world can’t understand that love, they it can’t understand why the poor and the brokenhearted would be blessed.
And I experienced this. I tried to grieve on my own when my grandfather died. But I realized I couldn’t do it myself when I back our car into a parking barrier after church the first Sunday I returned to Nashville.
I was actually so anxious about getting away from the church where everyone seemed so happy and whose lives seemed to be so together that I wasn’t paying attention and clipped the parking barrier.
If I had been just an ordinary person of the world, I probably would never have gone back into that church. I would have backed my car out, gone straight to the repair shop, and would have continued quietly carrying my burden. I wouldn’t have known, I wouldn’t have recognized the love God has for us. I would have believed all of those happy people inside of that church building were strange and out of touch and in my grief, I didn’t belong.
But, I worked in that church and for half a second remembered that it was exactly because it was full of strange people that I loved it and them. Those peope inside that building were not perfect. They were happy and blessed precisely because they refused to handle their problems on their own.
I carefully shifted the car back into drive and parked it back in the spot. I got out and I walked back inside. I would deal with the car later. I sat down on the couch in my friend’s office and I just cried. And I finally let someone else be there for me. And I was overwhelmed by the love that community demonstrated.
The church – this body of Christ – should be a place where any and all of us can stand up at any time and freely share our lives with one another. It should be a place where each of us can trust that those joys and concerns and struggles will be heard faithfully and held onto sacredly – that they will be gently placed into God’s hands and that together we will weep, together we will laugh, together we will learn to forgive and live a new way.
That is why our lives are unrecognizeable. It is why we seem so strange to the rest of the world.
So many of the saints that we lift up this morning were those strange and unrecognizeable and wonderful people. They gave so much of their lives to this church and to other people.
You know their stories far better than I do.
You know how they loved one another.
You know how they shepherded the church through adversity.
You know how they leaned on one another in difficult times.
You learned from them what it means to be strange and unrecognizeable… what it means to be blessed.
And from them, we have learned how to share those blessings to others.
I’ve heard this saying many times in my life – when you share joy, you double it, when you share a burden, you cut it in half.
That is what community is for, that is what the body of Christ is for – to help you to carry your burdens and your joys.
Being a part of community means being vulnerable with one another, but the strength of the body of Christ is shown when we do whatever we can through God’s power to overcome that weakness.
And we can do so because we know death is not the end. Because we believe that sickness is not a curse. Because we have faith in the power of the resurrection and because we have seen miracles. We have felt the power of prayer. We know what hope truly is.
The saints we celebrate today are part of the people of God and present with us in this very room as we break bread and feast at the heavenly banquet.
And that is why this place and this people are so strange and wonderful.