He Said
Matthew 5:1-12

by | Nov 8, 2023

He said, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”.  I first met David when he was maybe 10 years old.  Anna and I were good friends with his mom who was raising him on her own.  And, I thought at least, that David was a pretty special kid.   He loved magic tricks.  He was an expert joke teller and was great at riddles.  He knew how to juggle.  He was, if memory serves, an avid reader; he loved science fiction.  David’s mom was poor; they lived a very minimalist life.  David was poor in Spirit.  He didn’t have a lot of reason to have hope.  She could not give him the things that his friends had.   Sometimes dinner was a baked potato and vegetables.  As he got older – I guess in his high school years – David started doing things he shouldn’t have been doing.   He was looking for hope – a way to escape being poor in spirit.  Those things eventually killed him.   I imagine that it was very difficult for him, growing up with little sense of direction – without hope. His mom did the best she could, but she had to work to support him.  She couldn’t be around him every minute of every day making sure that he was occupied by things that would uplift him and keep him safe.  He looked for, and found, alternatives to being poor in spirit that did not make things better.

From David, I have learned that all solutions are not necessarily good ones, and that the only solution, when we’re up against the ropes, is turning to God.  I learned from David that a quick-fix is not the answer.  David’s death teaches me – teaches us to bring our despair to God, that true healing comes from Jesus Christ and that discerning God’s purpose – God’s call in our lives is something that we are all supposed to do.   And I also learned the importance of having a strong faithful community to surround you to keep the light shining to better enable people from turning down those dark roads.  I learned these things from David because Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

He said “Blessed are those who mourn”.  I knew Jeanne my whole life; she was one of my mother’s best friends.  Jeanne-the-bean, as we called her, was always one of my favorites of my mother’s friends because she always made people laugh.   She was Irish.  Not just a little Irish, she was a full-on blarney stone kissing Irish woman who could entertain you for hours with her stories.  As much as she loved to talk, she was also a great listener who cared deeply for those around her.   My most vivid memory of her was when her husband Ed died.   When her husband died, I expected her to shrink away and fall apart.   Not Jeanne.   She was a woman of faith. When I first saw Jeanne after Ed died, she was fully devoted to ensuring that others were OK.   She cared so deeply for others and cheerfulness never left her.

Jeanne taught me the value of facing our fears.  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for God is with me.  She taught me that humor and compassion can go hand-in-hand.   I learned from Jeanne because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn”.

He said, “Blessed are the meek”.  I met my best friend Richard in high school.  His mom Esther had three kids from a husband who was, to be blunt, not a good husband.   He left her with the three kids and she did her best to raise them.  She had a tremendous faith, raising her kids in the Lutheran church.  To my knowledge, Esther never once complained about her lot in life.  She gave everything she had for her kids and for others.  She was a nurse, and from what I understand, she was one of the most caring compassionate nurses anyone had ever known.  When my eldest daughter was baptized, she made a beautiful needlepoint for her, which we still have.  In the late 1980’s she started having heart problems.   She died about 6 ½ months before our second daughter was born.  Esther was a year younger than I am now.

From Esther, I learned the joy that comes from serving.  There was seemingly no end to her ability to care, to her capacity for compassion.  She thought of others first and always.   If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then there will undoubtedly be a country called “Esther” because she was one of the most self-less people I’ve ever met.   I learned from Esther because Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek”.

He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”.  I did not know Soneni well or long.   In fact, I did not know her at a time when she did NOT have cancer.  I was in a Disciple Bible Study with her.  She was dying, but still wanted to… needed to take this class.  She had such a compassion for those less fortunate than she.   That’s a pretty ironic statement to make considering her condition.   She didn’t let anything stop her.  She started a thrift store for working people who could not afford to buy new clothes.   She started a card-writing ministry whose goal was to ensure that no one felt disenfranchised.  These were things she started, by the way, WHILE she was fighting cancer.  She was a mother – a sister – an activist – an all around remarkable woman.   Cancer may have taken her body, but not her spirit.

From Soneni, I learned a passion for what’s right, no matter what the circumstance, no matter how hard things may seem.  Soneni had a passion for justice and mercy for others.  She fought for others as passionately and as strenuously as she fought for her own life.   I learned from Soneni because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

He said, “Blessed are the merciful”.  We called my maternal grandmother “Granny”.  She was not “grandma”, “grandmother”, or any of those stodgy words.  She was “Granny”.  She worked in a department store until she was 77 or 78 years old.  She ate chili dogs until she was 99.  I always got the best Levis jeans because of her.  Unbeknownst to me, my wife and her family knew Granny before they knew me because they shopped in her store.  Everybody who worked with her, loved her.   For most of the last 25 years of her life, she lived in a mobile home park by herself.  She cooked for other people in the park who could not cook or care for themselves – and they were all (every single one of them) younger than she was.  She would check in on her neighbors to make sure they were OK.   She never drove a car.  Ever.  She loved animals more than anyone I ever met.   She always had a dog.   Granny fed stray (and wild) animals; she had no fear whatsoever about whatever dangers may have existed from doing that.   She cared for others and, to the best of her ability, she made sure that others were taken care of.

I learned a determination from Granny.  A determination to make sure that others are OK – safe.   I learned from her example that as long as there are others in need, our job is to provide.  I learned from Granny because Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful”.

He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart”.  At my Mom’s funeral, we all wore something yellow.   Yellow was not just my mother’s favorite color, it spoke to her undying optimism.   My mother didn’t see the glass as half empty or half full.   My mom saw the glass as overflowing – a veritable cornucopia of opportunities.   Over the course of her life, she was in love with two men:  My father (They were married for 59 years), and Frank Sinatra.   She grew up in a broken home.  We never met her father.  He died before I was born.  And we knew that he was not a good man, but we didn’t really find out the scope of his abuse until after mom died.  She managed to find it in her heart to forgive him for what he did to her family, but she never did speak of him.  She could not tell a story without breaking into a series of tangents to the point that she would forget what her original point was.  More than anything, she loved having her entire family around the dining room table, and as we grew – getting married, having kids and so on – she loved it even more.  When my parents planned their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, she decided that they would take the entire family – at that point more than 30 of us – to Disney World.  I cannot remember her ever disliking anyone.  She was robbed of her life by Alzheimer’s disease.   As the disease stole her from us, I would sit at her bedside and pray with her.   She didn’t necessarily know who I was, or even who she was, but when we prayed The Lord’s Prayer, she knew that.

I learned love from my mother. Unconditional love.  I learned love of family, love of others, and love of life.  I often describe myself as a bleary-eyed optimist because of her.  I learned from my mother because Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart”.

He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.  Norman moved into the house next door when I was 10 years-old.  He died when I was 20.  He and his wife did not have any children, and I think that’s why they were so welcoming of me.  They always let me hang out with them; I like a surrogate son to them.  Norman was always a friend to me.   He was as big a Yankee fan as I’ve ever known.  He gave me my first grown-up book. It was a book about Yankee history.  As I moved through my teenage years – Norman was a source of peace from the very typical relationship that teenagers have with their parents.   When Norman died, my father and I were at each other’s throats.  We were not getting along at all.   Norman’s death was what brought reconciliation – peace – between the two of us.  My father and I never fought again after that.

One other thing about Norman.  His brother Tom committed suicide in the late 70s / early 80s.  It turned out that Tom was one of the many who could not handle the stigma that society puts on LGBTQ people.  Today in 2023, there is a greater understanding of how much more likely LGBTQ people are to attempt suicide when they are not accepted, but in the mid-seventies, there was nothing.  After Tom dies, Norman made sure that I knew that if I ever had problems that seemed overwhelming to me, that I could talk to him.

I learned peace from Norman.  The friendship I received from him taught me that a genuine friendship can be a source of comfort – a source of peace.   Norman never put any pressure on me to be something I am not.  He never made me feel unwelcome.  I learned from Norman because Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

He said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”.  Pat was born and raised in Hawaii before it was a state.  She lived near Pearl Harbor and remembered being woken up by the sound of Japanese planes flying overhead in December 7, 1941.   Years later, she met her husband George, who was from New Jersey, when he was serving in the US Navy in Pearl Harbor.   When Pat was pregnant with her second child, she contracted polio.   She gave birth in an iron lung.  She spent the rest of her life – about 35 / 40 years – in a wheelchair and dependent upon others to help her do everything.   She slept on a bed that pivoted up and down for the entire night.  When her head was elevated, it allowed her diaphragm to bring air into her lungs.  When her head was down, her diaphragm pushed the air out of her lungs so she could exhale.   She slept like that every night for more than 30 years.  Pat was a woman of great faith.  She went to church every chance she could.  She participated in Bible Studies.  She inspired others.  The church had a ministry for Pat that ensured that there was always someone to help her.

Pat taught me that life is not always what we might see as “fair”.  Pat taught me that we can lament all of the things that are wrong or we can celebrate what’s right.   She chose to celebrate what was right.  She chose to live out the old expression “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” by making lemonade.   I learned from Pat because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness”.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.  And the second commandment is like it – to love your neighbor as yourself.  My dad never stopped telling me that.  He struggled to understand why it was necessary to go through three or four years of seminary when all we really needed to know is that greatest commandment.  He was a devoted man of God.  Growing up, I learned what it meant to be a good neighbor from him.  He was involved in running our church’s Sunday School, he umpired little league games, he coached.  He was a Plainfield City Councilman.  He went to every concert and every play I was in.  He was selfless – devoted to his family and most especially to my mother.  When my mother got sick, he stopped doing all of the things he loved – like golf – so that he could take care of her.  He was a man of God who gave all his heart, all his soul, all his mind, and all his strength.

After he fell and broke his hip in 2017, he was trying to tell us all that his fight was over.  The pain medications were causing his very analytical brain to falter and that was unacceptable to him.  He seemed confused and unable to communicate.  SEEMED is the operative word.  But one night, the week he died, he was mumbling and I was struggling to understand what he was saying.  As I leaned in, I realized he was praying.  A good Catholic to the end, he was praying the Hail Mary…  “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.”

I broke away from the Roman Catholic Church when I was 18.  It upset my mother, but Dad was always very matter-of-fact about it.  He knew that we were worshipping the same God and that the label didn’t really matter.  He knew that all we have to do is Love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.  He knew that because that’s what Jesus said.  And that’s what he did.

We have all had those saints who have come before us.   Our family, our friends, people who we have known personally and people that we only heard about.   Those people – those saints of the church or of our individual lives – live on in our memory and we celebrate them today on All Saints Day.   Our faith comes from them.  Our strengths come from them.   Our vulnerabilities come from them.  Our hopes and dreams come from them.  Our compassion and love comes from them.  We learned from them; we grew from and with them.

Who are those people in your life? Name them.  Who are those who have gone on to glory in God’s kin-dom – those saints?  I invite you to name them now and perhaps share how your faith is strengthened by them…

I’d like to invite you to come to the table and light a candle for a saint who informed your faith journey.  Say their name.  If you’d like to share a memory, whether just a word or perhaps more, please feel free to do so.

As you remember these people – these saints – think about how you will be remembered years from now.  When people read Blessed are the peacemakers, will they think of you?  When they read Blessed are the pure in heart, will your face be in their minds?  Make your commitment on this All Saints Day to remember those who came before us in the faith by being memorable to those who come after us.

Let us pray:

God of life, we have remembered, this day, the saints who have come before us, and in so doing, we renew our commitment to learn from them.  We remember and honor these people who came before us and gave us life in so many different ways.  They remind us that life is fragile and that we have to care for it and nurture fullness of life at all times.  We remember these saints especially to strengthen our belief in the resurrection and life eternal.   We give You praise and thanksgiving for these saints that we remember today and ask that you continue to help us learn from them, as we remain mindful of the fact that there are those who learn to care for and nurture fullness of life from us.   Keep us ever-mindful of the influence we have gleaned from others as well as the influence we have.   We pray this in the name of the Christ, from whom your redeeming love and grace comes.   Amen