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All Saints - Sermon on the Mount
5 November 2017

There can be a tendency to assume that someone will be thrilled to view all of our holiday photos, looking and sounding interested and hearing the details of how marvellous everything was.

So, those of us who returned from the pilgrimage (not holiday) to the Holy Land last Tuesday, will try hard not to gush too much, and have respect for those of you whose routines and commitments continued while we were away. In fact, there is much for those of us who went to reflect on and to process in spiritual and religious terms, you may find us not going on too much, as the right words and expressions may take time to form. But, it was a terrific experience and we all thank the Dean for his wise organization and leadership.

The thing is though, last Monday morning we were on the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus is supposed to have sat with his disciples and declaimed the Sermon on the Mount, and it fits very well with the All Saints’ Gospel for today.

The Mount (more of a hill) is on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was a surprise to me how lush a site it was; not especially arid. There has been a church on the site since the 4th century, but, the present church was built in 1937 and is cared for by Franciscan nuns (where would we be without them!). Surrounding the church is a gardened landscape with beautiful views across to the lake – and some slippery paths.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds he went up the hill. This sounds like another attempt at a retreat from those who were following him. But he calls his disciples and sits with them, teaching them in the words of the Sermon –Matthew chapters 5-7. By the time he has finished, Matthew tells us that the crowds were amazed –so, it sounds like many others might have gathered at the top of the hill as Jesus taught.

It was special to be at that site by the lake. The Sermon on the Mount is the essential voice of Jesus; his longest passage of ethical teaching which has left its mark on the church and the world for centuries. Today, thousands of people who struggle with the theological concepts about Jesus as incarnate, know that, in the Sermon, are ethical tenets that have stood communities in good stead, They’ve helped people to live in the landscape of mutual concern, respect, resilience and peacemaking, that has been the light and leaven across countless numbers of communities and nations.

Jesus sets out the first blessing or beatitude as a title and heading for what is to follow; ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. But what does it mean to be poor in spirit, and why are such people blessed? The phrase appears in the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, incidentally, we also saw fragments of in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

This isn’t so much about poverty of spirit, as about simplicity of spirit. Simplicity of spirit, integrity of spirit, dependence on the faithfulness and generosity of God. Well, that could, and should, be said of any of us. Jesus speaks of an attitude in spirit that is open, has space for thought and development, resists a sickening richness that comes across as arrogant and presumptive.

This attitude is to permeate the other beatitudes, though we need to add in a reminder that it is through the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the beatitudes are given sense and meaning. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for through the gospel, they will be comforted’ Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for through the example and spirit of Jesus Christ, they will be filled’. And the Christ-like attitude is not to swerve from wanting to see right prevail, whether it prevails or not.

The Sermon is still so powerful for countless people because it presents the blessings of the present moment. The blessings are largely about who we are here and now; not what we have been or what we might become. As a result they are not nostalgic, nor are they anxious. They speak of the saintly attitude that seizes the moment whatever the tradition might say, or the ultimate vision might direct.

At All Saints we celebrate those saints of all times and ages who have embodied the spiritual attitude of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who have stood up for the oppressed, spoken up for those marginalized, missed out on adulation because they were with those who mourned or had been trampled on. It’s their attitude rooted in the spirit of beatitude, or being a blessing, that speaks so much to us still. They didn’t seem to care where they came from, or where they might be going to – they blessed the present moment with a simplicity, a humanity, longing for right to prevail there and then in the name of Jesus Christ.

And they were usually confident about it.

Bishop Rachel has spoken this week about us as confident disciples in our own day, here and now. And that here and now means wherever we find ourselves in our daily lives, tasks, challenges, joys and sorrows. She spoke words about us being ambassadors for Jesus Christ, in the very ordinariness, and sometimes special times, of our day to day life, here and now. Many of you are a huge blessing for the voluntary ministry of the cathedral, but, the Bishop was speaking more about how we are confident people of faith beyond what we might do for the church, important though that is.

If we were to work out what we’re all doing during the weekdays ahead, there would be a huge range of aspects of human life. It would feel like a tremendous breadth, a spaciousness of life, where the spirit of God dwells and where the spirit of Christ is active through us in many different daily encounters. It’s in those encounters where we are called to be confident people of beatitude, of blessing.

The Sermon on the Mount is rooted in a landscape –the hill of beatitude by the Sea of Galilee. The teachings of Jesus, though, are about the landscape of the lives of those who sought and seek, as we do, to follow him. That is the landscape of the saint. It’s in all those encounters and issues, and amongst varied people in which we live our lives from day to day, the familiar family and the unfamiliar new experiences. In that spaciousness of our lives God calls us in Christ to be blessings. That’s why the Rule of Life for the cathedral is so helpful, those of us who’ve worked on it, we would want to say.

Hospitality, work, study, prayer and recreation all play their part in our lives. Openness to others, tasks to be done, reflections to ponder, times of quiet and stillness, activity to rejuvenate –are all in the balance of life. As we move through each day, certain aspects within the Rule become our frontline, become the main theme of who we are. Our work giving powerful encounters with colleagues, our hospitality in getting to know someone at a club or welfare group whose path has crossed ours.

Sitting on the top of the Mount by the Sea of Galilee today is that church building. For all of us gathered here in this cathedral for worship, we are, in a way, the followers, the saints, the disciples of Jesus Christ, sitting on the Mount of Beatitude. Here we receive Jesus’ teaching, and grace and presence and are fed. At the end of the service we go as confident people of blessing to others and the world, we go from this gathering to our daily encounters; we go from this Mount to Galilee.

The Reverend Canon Richard Mitchell

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