St. John’s Church Downtown Yonkers
Sunday After All Saints’
Pineapple upside down cake is a wonderful thing. It is cooked with the top on bottom, the pineapple rings and cherries on the bottom slightly caramelizing and browning to make a wonderfully delicious and attractive top to the cake once it is turned upside down.
Luke’s Gospel is a kind of pineapple upside down cake. He sees much of what goes on in the world upside down to what our normal human understanding tends to think.
In Luke’s gospel the Baby Jesus, savior of the universe, is born in a stable. Angels announce this wonderful birth not to kings or to the entire world on the BBC but to poor shepherds, the poorest of the working poor. When Mary sings her song in thanksgiving for the child she bears, the “Magnificat”, she says the poor have been filled with good things and the rich sent empty away, the mighty have been cast down from their thrones and the lowly have been lifted up.
And as if this was not enough we have another great upside down turning today in Luke’s version of the beatitudes which we have just read. Jesus says that the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted are the ones who are blessed. And he says that those who are rich, have plenty to eat, who laugh and have a good time, and are praised by all are unfortunate. Woe to them!
Of course all the gospels have the greatest turning upside down of them all, Christ comes to us in this world bringing healing, wisdom, truth, compassion and fellowship with God and rather than being welcomed like the Red Sox were in Boston this weekend with a parade, he is outcast, executed as criminal.
I think there is an attraction for us when Luke turns our normal thinking upside down. We deeply sense that the world is not what it should be. Though humanity has done many wonderful things, no matter what our accomplishments, we watch as injustice, hatred, violence, greed, back stabbing, intolerance, cruelty, snobbery, indifference infect our lives like mold in bread which sends its ugly smelly putric tendrils all through the loaf making what is good repulsive.
Humanity has a sense that the world lacks something it needs, and much of our private and corporate lives is spent trying to put our finger on it, and seeking to correct. The writer of the book of Daniel, who wrote our first reading, also had this sense.
He was brought up on Moses and the Prophets and he saw the world as a place where God was the center of life, the king subordinate to God in order to serve the people, and the priests and peoples live in peace justice and harmony as a community. The law of Moses even has periodic correctives to any imbalance that might happen with years when the slaves were to be freed when debts were to be cancelled and ancestral lands returned to the correct clan. They had an idea of what it meant for there to be “Shalom” in the world, rather than this mold we experience.
But dream goes unrealized. Kings misbehave. Neighbor exploits neighbor. foreign armies and kings conquer the land, exile or kill the people, and destroy the temple. The beasts in our first reading represent a series of empires which upset the balance of the people of God in this way, with the most cruel being the fourth empire, that of Alexander the Great and his successors, who even set up statues of foreign gods in the very midst of the temple.
But Daniel has more to say not in today’s reading. He also sees one like the Son of man coming to restore the Shalom, the order that should be for God’s people, with God in the center, and the king and people serving God. He calls it the kingdom of God. And this is the hope the prophets create, an expectation for a king, a messiah, an anointed one, who will set all right, who will establish the kingdom of God.
But Jesus and Luke insist that we see upside down. Jesus and Luke tell us we need to change our expectations, set them up as God desires. A great king cannot come to impose order on the people. The kingdom of God cannot be top down. That simply leaves the very mold of force and coercion in the very fabric of society which spoils the dream every time.
Jesus and Luke turn it upside down by saying that shalom comes not from outside, but from inside us. The kingdom enters not with the king but with the subjects who choose the shalom of the kingdom of God. It is not by forcing others, but by opening ourselves to God that the kingdom of God takes place. When we commit ourselves to the process, and it must be a great commitment, the world begins to be put aright, it gets turned upside down in the correct way, like pineapple upside down cake, because we are allowing the kingdom of God to take place in our lives.
This is visible in the lives of saints whom we celebrate today. When we think of saints, we think of the extraordinary ones. But we know that Sainthood is not only heroic acts. If sainthood was about heroism it would not make sense of the Beatitudes and the woes. Sainthood is a quality of heart, a humble heart before God, open to God’s healing. Most of the saints who have gone before us remain unnamed. They may not have done great heroic acts, but they allowed the kingdom of God to take place in their hearts and lives. They became the kingdom of God in the world, just as Christ did, through the Holy Spirit. It is not a quick fix. It is not like taking a pill. It is more like athletic training, it is more like marriage.
St. Ephraim of Syria says that when simply one person allows the heart to be fixed on God the resulting benefits touch the lives of thousands.
We at St. John’s are asked to be that for Yonkers. In our simplicity, and in our humility, we are asked to let God touch our hearts and make us the kingdom of God in the middle of a world off track.
In just a moment we will be asked to renew our commitment to Christ. And we will be asked to renew vows concerning our whole lives, vows which we know we can only keep with God’s help. And we will pray for God to enable us to keep these vows. I challenge myself, and I ask each and everyone of you to take these vows and these prayers very seriously. Yonkers needs saints, not necessarily heroes, but people humbly open to God. And I believe God is asking us to be those people. In..