Series: November 2023
Speaker: Rob McClellan
7‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5 You
6 ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
How did you arrive here? The further back you take that question, the more fascinating it becomes. In our Wednesday class, we’ve been studying the work of Thomas Berry, priest, cultural historian, interreligious scholar, and what he calls a “geologian.” He and mathematician Brian Swimme wrote a book called The Universe Story inspired by the work of priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin. Their interest is in connecting us to the fullest story possible, that we might find our place in it. From the Big Bang to now, with the birth and death of stars, how you got here, breathing, alive, is miraculous.
Here today, our worship will be a full telling of the Christian story ritually. We will baptize, which is a death to an old world and birth into a new, very cosmological if you think of it, since “death and birth” in the cosmos is what leads to our life. For us, baptism is a rebirth of the individual and a birthing into a community, which means we are reborn today.
We also celebrate communion, the paradoxical meal that prepares Jesus for his death, only for him to live again in resurrection. Christ leads us through death and all the forces who employ it with a greater integrity and trust. At the table we find a meal that sustains, heals, forgives, overcomes, and connects, even to those who have gone before us in death.
On that note, we also commemorate All Saints Day, recognizing the ancestors who formed us. They bequeathed to us their DNA, their culture, their stories, their wounds, their triumphs, their patterns, their way of worship, the atoms of their bodies released into the soil and air. Their legacies are rarely simple and so we open ourselves to the fullness of who they were, and it helps us recognize more fully who we are and our place in the story.
Because and maybe in spite of them, our presence here is a miracle. For the past weeks we have been exploring the Sermon on the Mount, which really is a teaching about how to handle being here, how to decide what’s of value, what to prioritize, and what to resist. In it, Jesus calls us back home. Today we remember him telling us not to judge, not to obsess over the speck in the other’s eye, while ignoring the log in our own (Mt. 7:1-4). New Testament scholar Herman Waetjen clarifies that we are still to exercise judgment, just not to be judgmental because that places us over the other and denies the reality that we are fundamentally a “shareholder in the Reign of the Heavens.” There we go with the heavens again.
Then there is that last line about not throwing pearls to pigs, which may sound like a throwaway line, the kind the preacher slips in and slides past, but it may be a key to the whole instruction. Having good judgment about where you spend your energy is how you exercise your shareholder responsibilities.
Among all those who led to us being here today, our question is who, among them, has given us the wisdom that carries us? Who has taught us the way of the heavens and now resides in them? Who are our ancestors, elders, teachers, those who showed us how to judge well and how to love? How will we bring them before us so we can see with their eyes and judge wisely?
I saw a posting this week of someone who said they keep their Day of the Dead altar up all year around, complete with pictures of their ancestors. For them it wasn’t a sad reminder, but one of blessing, one of guidance, even of forewarning. It reminded them of the bigger story and their greater lineage. In our version of the Christian tradition, we tend not to do that—altars, pictures, treating the dead as if they’re still connected to us rather than being “up there,” but our way is evolving. It has always evolved. In honoring the dead, what might be reborn in us?
I fretted this week about how to ritually commemorate All Saints Day in a service filled with so much else. Then it came to me, perhaps from beyond. In a moment, we will name the dead who we are morning this year as we have done before, but then I invite you to go home and make altars of your own to the dead. Interpret that however you want. Be creative. Then, if you’d like, photograph it and share it, either on our social media pages or send it to me to post.
It’s not a contest or a performance, just an invitation to show the diversity of expressions of our recognition of our greater stories as part of the great story.
Now, let us name those we’ve lost and are still grieving…
Build your altar, for when you recognize how you got here, you start to realize who is with you here, now, and always.
1 Herman C. Waetjen, Matthew’s Theology of Fulfillment, Its Universality and Its Ethnicity: God’s New Israel as the
Pioneer of God’s New Humanity (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 96.