“The Beatitudes are the aroma of unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, unconditional blessing.”
Sermon preached at All Saints Church on All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017, by Mike Kinman.
Oh Amor eterno, llénanos,
Con tu fuego, empoderarnos
Con tu luz, ilumínanos.
Por tu consuelo, confórtanos.
Por tu gracia, guíanos.
No permitas jamás que nos separemos de Ti,
Dios Espiritu Santo, escúchanos.
Con el dedo de tu gracia, tócanos.
Memory can make us love the strangest things.
I love the smell of cigarette smoke infused for years into the upholstery of an old, overstuffed armchair.
That’s a pretty strange thing to love. Definitely not the first thing I shared with the search committee when they brought me in to talk about becoming your rector. Possibly even a revelation that has some of you right now revisiting the wisdom of their decision!
And yet, I love it so much, that aroma of stale carcinogen and 1950s-era fabric. I love it so much that just standing here, closing my eyes and inhaling deeply I can almost smell it. And as I do. As my brain recreates that odor, my blood pressure drops, my heart smiles and the tiniest tear begins to well up in my eye.
Because that smell to me … is my grandmother. Grandnana, I used to call her. It is the smell of going over to her mobile home, the security of her gaze and the warmth of her smile. It is the smell of my very presence being a delight.
It is the smell of safety.
It is the smell of love.
And when the emphysema from those decades of cigarettes took her life, it is the aroma that I clung to. Curled up in that chair, my nose pressed into that upholstery, inhaling deeply, trying to recapture that feeling. Trying to pretend that chair’s arms were her arms, longing to feel that delighted in, that safe, that loved in that way only Grandnana could love me just for a moment more. Longing to believe I truly was who I was in her eyes and not all the awkward, unlovable things the world was beginning to tell this 10-year old he was instead. Oh, memory can make us love the strangest things.
What is it for you?
What strange smell do you love?
What specific odor for you is the smell of being delighted in, the smell of feeling safe? Is it fresh tortilla or motor oil on pavement? Or is it just that unique smell that lingered on a pillow or a shirt after it had touched their skin?
What odd and magnificent aroma is the memory of that person whom you loved but see no longer? The person who believed in you and delighted in you? What, teasing your nostrils, reminds you of the one who saw you the way you wished you could see yourself, as beautiful, lovable and free?
Breathe in deeply through your nose. Even through the incense, can you almost smell it now?
Today we observe the Feast of All Saints. It is a day to remember. Not just the names in our book of remembrance, but why we treasure them. It is a day to remember. Not just the faces that gaze out at us from our altar de Los Santos y Fieles Difuntos, but how their gaze made us feel. Why we still long for the touch of their hand, the sound of their voice, the smell of their clothes. It is about who they are, but it is about so much more than that. It is about the glimpse they gave us of ourselves. The way they saw through our facades, broke down our walls, saw us for who we really are with all our exquisite failures and flaws. The way they not only loved us in spite of them but loved us because of them.
Our relationships are so complicated. We disappoint and wound one another with disturbing regularity and frightening intensity. We take one another for granted and find ourselves standing at the grave regretting words that were said and regretting even more the words unspoken, the miles between us sitting in the same room or sleeping in the same bed, the silences that sometimes spanned years.
We can get so bound up with trying to please one another to earn a sense of acceptance and worth that we can forget just to be who we are, that there is wonder and great beauty in who we are as we are. And then there are those rare people — the grandmother, the sister, the lover, the friend — who become our sacred paradoxes. Who gaze on parts of us of which the world tells us to be ashamed and call them … beautiful. Who see power in our weakness and strength in our vulnerability. Who remind us we are loved not becauseof what we do but just because of who we are. And that our life’s work is not to strive after worldly success and adulation or even just plain acceptance but just to be and flourish as the beautiful child God created us to be. And though we are parted, in an instant they come back to us with a smell or a song or a line from a movie. Oh, memory can make us love the strangest things.
What is it for you?
Who is it for you?
There’s a reason we read the Beatitudes this morning. Because like the saints of fame and the saints known to us alone, these Beatitudes are sacred paradoxes that speak a subversive truth of power and rove. In a world that blesses all those who escape misfortune, in these Beatitudes, Jesus gives us a radical reversal of all human values.
In a world that assigns value by wealth, Jesus says blessed are the poor.
In a world in deep denial and fear of death, Jesus says blessed are those who are mourning.
In a world where might makes right, where blaming and shaming are standard operating procedure, where vulnerability is weakness, Jesus says blessed are those who are gentle, blessed are those who show mercy, blessed are those who work for peace.
In a world that tells us that our lovability and worthiness are based on how we look or how much we earn or how clever we sound or what events we get invited to — and who we sit with when we get there — in the Beatitudes, Jesus is that grandmother, that sister, that lover, that friend – reminding us that before anything and above everything we are blessed. Blessed not in spite of our blemishes and wounds but because of them.
After my grandmother died, I felt alone in a way I had never felt before, and maybe you know that feeling. I was blessed with plenty of people who knew me – but nobody who it felt knew me like she did. I was blessed with plenty of people who loved me — but nobody who it felt loved me like she did. And so I would go to that chair and press my nose into the upholstery and breathe in deep and try to remember. And try to trust that I still was that known, still was that loved, still was that blessed.
That’s what the Beatitudes are. They are a big overstuffed armchair to curl up in. They are the aroma of unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, unconditional blessing.
They are God’s reminder to us that what the world views as failure, we wear as badges of honor.
That our poverties and shortcomings are blessed opportunities for the inbreaking of God’s grace.
That our tears are not signs of weakness but fountains of healing and strength.
The Beatitudes are God’s reminder that no matter how much condemnation and judgment, insult and persecution we suffer be it from the world in which we live or the powerful chorus of voices in our heads, there is one in whose gaze we are pure delight, and in whose arms we will always be safe.
The Beatitudes are God’s reminder that we can risk everything, give, live and love deeply, secure in the knowledge that we are beloved and blessed by none other than God herself, and nothing ever can take that away.
There are those rare people — the grandmother, the sister, the lover, the friend — who become our sacred paradoxes, who become our Beatitudes because they saw the Beatitude in us. Who believe we can but whose love for us is not contingent on whether we do. Who gaze on parts of us of which the world tells us to be ashamed and call them beautiful. Who see power in our weakness and strength in our vulnerability. Who remind us we are blessed not because of what we do but just because of who we are.
Today we give thanks for them. Today we celebrate them. Today we remember them.
What is the smell that reminds you of them? Breathe it in.
Breathe it in and know that what may be gone has not been lost.
Breathe it in and believe that the truth you felt in them is still true today.
Breathe it in and trust that you are known, you are blessed, you are loved. Amen.