Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Once again I come to this Feast of All Saints filled with the words I have heard from many of you, words heard at fall gatherings (like last week’s “7:30 coffee clatch”), words in the lovely “Voices of St. Paul’s” video series, and in the words from parishioners sharing this pulpit on October Sundays. Talk about a feast!
In the gatherings—I think we held nine of them—we asked: “What is St. Paul’s? What might St. Paul’s be to the world in such a time as this?”
The questions we asked you to consider are essentially one question, for all time: what does it mean to be the Church in a world where….fill in the blank. What does it mean to be the Church in a Pacific Northwest world where the Church has no place, or a marginal place, in most people’s lives? What does it mean to be the Church in a world where we are reminded every day that misogyny, racism, xenophobia and economic injustice are the law of the land? What does it mean to be the Church when the way we gather and pray in this place is so different from the ways of the the world?
What is St. Paul’s in these times? What is St. Paul’s for all times?
In the small group conversations, the most common words in response to the questions were “refuge” and “sanctuary.” A safe place. A to escape the world and enter a different world. This is true. This is lovely. This is important for all of us. And, if we think that refuge is the primary purpose of Christian community, I find that a little bit scary.
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In the world of architecture and design, there’s something called “The Prospect-Refuge Theory,” articulated in 1975 by a British geographer named Jay Appleton. In his book, the Experience of Landscape, Appleton proposes that, when choosing or developing a place to be, humans seek to satisfy an innate desire to have opportunity and outlook—prospect—while being safe—refuge.
To be a place where humans function with our whole selves, refuge needs to have prospect, and prospect needs to have refuge.
Many of you know far more than I do about our 2011 renovation and I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the only place where the actual footprint of the building changed was in the earthen (that’s Anglican for the entry area just beyond the worship space). Where the baptismal font now sits, there’s a seam in the floor where the original concrete floor and where the old entrance to the church used to meet the sidewalk. The new glass entry opened us up to the world around us. This is a wonderful thing in many ways. My favorite is that baptism becomes a very public act. This reminds us that when we are baptized, we bind ourselves not only to the communion of saints but also to the needs of the world right outside our doors, to the people whose dignity we vow to respect, the people in whom we are to seek Christ, always and everywhere, the people to whom we are bound, even as we find refuge in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.
As we affirm the place of baptism as such a public act, it becomes the prospect to our refuge.
Refuge needs to have prospect; prospect needs to have refuge.
Jesus knew this. One way to read the Beatitudes is from the standpoint of refuge and prospect: Blessed are you, now, at this moment here in this refuge, because you hunger and thirst for God’s justice, because you are poor in spirit, because you long for peace, because you are meek, because, by following Jesus, you risk persecution. Your “prospect” is that you will be filled, and you will possess the Kingdom of Heaven.
The saints knew about refuge and prospect. Even someone like Julian had a window in her cell, connecting her to the needs of the world for which she prayed. St. Antony had the entire desert as his prospect but he always maintained ties to the village that raised him. (Or perhaps the village was his prospect and the desert his refuge.) The Anglo-Catholic Socialist Frederick Maurice described the Lord’s Prayer as a refuge from the turmoil of the self and of the world. For Maurice, the very words “Our Father which art in heaven” functioned as a kind of link between refuge and prospect.
When we are here in this beautiful refuge, our vantage point needs to be our hunger and thirst for righteousness and our longing for the Kingdom of God. What we share with the saints is that longing that propels us out to do the work God has given us to do in the world.
Last night at Evensong we sang that wonderful hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God.” Some of you know this hymn; others of you may never hear it in this place unless you come to Saturday Evensong the night before All Saints. Here’s what the words say about the saints: “You can meet them at school, or in lanes or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea…” These are ordinary Christians, living their lives-in-prospect, seeking the Kingdom of God.
When we are at our best, this church is our training ground for the work God gives us to do, whether that work is on a train or at tea , the place where we engage practices of prayer and communion, practices that fueled the saints and fuel us. Our Eucharist is holy food and drink but it is not food that assuages our hunger and thirst for righteousness, or for the Kingdom of God. It is food that whets our appetite for the heavenly banquet, simple daily food transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. As we share it, we are transformed into Christ’s Body, the Church. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness.