Meditation on Luke 6:20–31
All Saints’ Day
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Nov. 6, 2022
Pastor Karen Crawford
Here is the link to the live-streamed video:
Jim and I attended our church’s book group on Wednesday night. Isabel led us in a discussion of a book about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. The young woman’s career in 1905 is a rare occupation for women. But Belle isn’t like most women of her time. Her job is to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books—including Gutenberg Bibles—and artwork for Morgan’s newly built library.
But she isn’t who she says she is. She lives a lie. Her name is really Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first black graduate of Harvard, and a well-known advocate for equality. She’s black, passing as white.
We talked about whether she had a choice in the matter, really, since her mother is the one who orchestrated the ruse from the beginning and told Belle and her other children what to do and say. The mother is the one who reports her and Belle’s siblings’ race as white on the census and registers them as white when the children start school in New York after moving from Washington, D.C.
Belle probably worried about being caught in her lies every single day. And because of it, she never married or had children of her own. Being found out would destroy her career and reputation, and ruin the lives of her mother and siblings, who would also be outed as white. Then there’s minor detail that Belle’s family relies on her generous income as Morgan’s personal librarian.
But the lies aren’t discovered within her lifetime. Belle is famous now for amassing the collection for Morgan that is now open to the public. Her story serves as an inspiration to all women to follow their ambitions and passions, work hard and persevere, until their dreams are a reality.
Near the end of our discussion, I was asked whether I had heard of passing before, as in passing as another race, and if I could imagine the life. I hadn’t thought about it, but I suddenly thought of how my own family was quiet about being my father being Jewish in the rural and largely Christian community where I grew up. It wasn’t a secret, but it was kept private. And there were other secrets. I would later learn that my father’s uncles changed their names because they sounded too Jewish. And that my father’s mother wasn’t born in this country, as she had always told us. She had come over on a ship as a Jewish immigrant with her parents from what is today Latvia, when she was a young girl. She told a story of how she had lost her birth certificate and primary school records when her school had burned down. She wasn’t sure of her birthday or birth year, so she chose July 15—payday for her job with the Bureau of Engraving in Washington, D.C., until she retired.
All those years she kept her secrets—probably out of fear, like Belle, that something bad would happen to her and her family if she admitted to lying about her citizenship and her age, while working for the federal government.
So, here I am, thinking about my father and my Jewish family on the day we remember and give thanks for the gift of the lives of all the saints—and we consider how their lives affected ours and loved us into being. And I know that there was suffering in my family’s past and fear of antisemitism, not just in Europe leading up to and during WWII, but here, at home in the United States.
Yet, my father and his family always stayed true to their faith. Grandma covered her hair, lit candles, and said the Shabbat prayers in Hebrew as the sun went down every Friday. She fasted and prayed on Jewish holidays, attended synagogue when she could, and celebrated God’s faithfulness every year with her family gathered around the table, feasting on Passover.
It was partly due to their courage to be who God made them to be and live with hope that tomorrow will be better that helped make me who I am today.
And I know I am truly blessed!
On this All Saints’ Day, we read the familiar passage of the Beatitudes in Luke, The Sermon on the Plain. Jesus is sharing a vision of the Kingdom of God that he ushered in—and it’s nothing like the way of the world of his day—or the way of the world today.
Jesus baffles his audience of ordinary people with words that defy logic. He has their attention—and he has ours. For all of us have experienced suffering of some kind—suffering that comes without warning, that isn’t deserved, just as the audience for Luke’s gospel, the Early church, are experiencing. Many of them, as this minority religion, a sect of Judaism at first, are experiencing poverty, grief, hunger, fear, and persecution.
And this word blessing….This is a surprising thing. it isn’t the word for a priestly blessing. This Greek word makarios “implies a person’s inner happiness due to some good fortune the person has received.” So, everywhere we see the word “Blessed,” in this passage, we can substitute the words “Happy” or “Fortunate.” Which begs the question, how is it they are being encouraged and congratulated on their good fortune of being poor, hungry, sorrowful, and persecuted?” Since when did being poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted become a good thing?
This is what I want you to understand about this passage. The Beatitudes describe the Kingdom of God—which is in this present life and all around us, and it’s also not yet here. It’s coming and will be brought to fruition when Jesus returns to reign over His Church.
So, before we can show and tell others about Christ’s Kingdom and live it out, we have to first understand and imagine it. Jesus paints a picture for us. In the Kingdom of God, the poor are lifted up, those who mourn are brought to joy, and the proud and powerful are brought down. There’s justice, peace, mercy, love.
In the Kingdom of God, we don’t have enemies. We love one another. So that explains the command to love our enemies—and pray for them. When you love your enemies and pray for them, they aren’t your enemies anymore, are they?
When we do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us, we are changing the world right where we live! And yes, people will think we are being foolish—but we are not afraid to be fools for Christ, as the apostle Paul teaches us to do. For by this foolish behavior, everyone will know that we are his disciples—and others will be made ready for the Kingdom of God to become a present reality.
If you’re wondering, well, what do Presbyterians believe about the Kingdom of God and our responsibility as the people of faith? we read about it in our Book of Order. Our Constitution tells us that “in the life of the congregation, individual believers are equipped for the ministry of witness to the love and grace of God in and for the world. The congregation reaches out to people, communities, and the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, to gather for worship, to offer care and nurture to God’s children, to speak for social justice and righteousness, to bear witness to the truth and to the reign of God that is coming into the world.”
Friends, we have an important job—bearing witness to the coming reign. One way that Session has decided to do this is by remembering Kristallnacht on the anniversary this Wednesday. On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis terrorized Jews in Germany and Austria in the night that became known as Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass. Nazis killed at least 91 people that night, burned down hundreds of synagogues, vandalized and looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and arrested up to 30,000 Jewish men, many of whom were taken to concentration camps. Weeks later, Nazis escalated their persecution of Jews, forcing them out of their own homes and businesses and banning Jewish children from German schools. Kristallnacht foreshadowed the coming genocide of 6 million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
We can’t change the past, but we can work toward a more peaceful future. Let us hold onto our vision of the Kingdom of God in the Beatitudes and share the vision with others. There’s no hatred or persecution in God’s Kingdom.
It’s like Martin Luther King, Jr., once said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
We will show our solidarity with our Jewish neighbors and take a stand against the rising tide of antisemitism. We will join with synagogues and churches around the world in leaving the lights burning in our house of worship all night.
Light shall replace darkness… Friendship shall replace destruction. Good will triumph over evil.
May the sight of the lights blazing Tuesday night remind you of our hope and the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom that we can see and live by faith.
May you hear the words of Jesus, assuring you of the promise of the present and coming Reign of God and your calling to share it:
“Blessed are you!”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we are blessed—happy and fortunate—with the vision you paint for us in the Beatitudes. Thank you for your love and the gift of Christ’s peace, that defies logic—surpasses human understanding. We are blessed with the promise of the present and coming Reign of God—when the poor and lowly are lifted up and the rich and proud are brought low. And there will be no more hatred, prejudice, or persecution, no more hunger, sickness, or poverty. Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit to see and bear witness to this vision so that we can make a difference, right where we live, and draw others away from the darkness and into your light. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.