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I Can Tell You This

Matthew 5:1-12

The Rev. Jon Roberts

1 November


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I Can Tell You This

The Sermon on the Mount by James Tissot, 1886-1894

One day all the promises of heaven will be revealed but not until many doors will become unsealed.[1]
Yes, there are many doors we must go through in our lives.

Once upon a time there was one particular gentleman who felt that the door he must go through led to sainthood. He felt the best way to do it was to strive for holiness by becoming a priest. He put all his supplies into a wagon, leaving his hometown. He set his eyes ahead and took his horses through this winding path through a forest. Along the way he came to a sign that read, “Seminary ahead.” That is the place they train people to become priests. He thought he was on the right track. The forest opens and he was met by a bright light shining across miles and miles of tall corn. The ears were as tall as the horses’, and with that he snapped the reins and through the middle the trail continued, taking him to a place where there was a lake, glistening in the sun, and a church that sat on its bank. White stone and a red, barrel-tiled roof, not long ago covered in ice that hung down.
He went up, to the big red doors and gave a loud knock. He was met by a man in a black cassock and he announced that he was there to become a priest; a saint of God. The man looked him up and down and said, “Wait here, one minute. I will go and get Father Superior.” A few minutes later, the good Father greeted him saying, “I understand you want to be a saint?” “Yes”, the man replied, “I want to be holy.” “So you want to become a priest. Well the first thing you have to do is sell everything you own.” The man thought long and hard about this and knowing he wanted everyone to think he was holy, he sold everything and returned the next day. “I did what you said. Am I holy? “Very good, but I cannot tell you. You are not a priest.” “The next thing you are required to do is to go out to that field over there and count every rock that is the size of your fist and come back and tell me the correct answer.” The man lived in a small tent out in the field and every day he would take a section and count the rocks. After several months, he finished his work and came back to report.

He met Father Superior at the big red doors and said, “I have your answer. There are exactly 144,000 rocks in the field. I am now ready to receive all the mysteries of heaven. Am I holy?” Father Superior replied, “I cannot tell you. You are not a priest.” “Next, do you see all that grass over there by the chapel? You need to go count and tell me how many blades of grass all share the same common root, then come back to me with you answer.” The man sighed but did as he was told. This time, it took three years but he came back surprised in what he discovered. He said, “Father Superior, in God’s infinite sovereignty the field of grass, with common roots has the same number as the rocks in the other field, 144,000. This must be a sign from God. Am I holy?” The good Father looked at him and said, “I cannot tell you. You are not a priest.” But, this was very endearing and Father had pity as the winters were cold, giving him indoor tasks to clean the floors, repair furniture, cook, and so forth. Every day he would ask, “Father, am I not holy?” and every day, he would hear, “I cannot tell you my son. You are not a priest.

One day, the man was hard at work in the chapel, admiring the seats where the clergy sat, thinking he would sit there himself. He was scrubbing the floor, when down below, what seemed to be from the basement was the most beautiful and lovely music he had ever heard. He stopped what he was doing, went to the small side door, opened it and taking a candle, walked down the cold, dark passage of stairs. In the basement, in front of him was a big wooden door but it was locked. He went back to tell Father Superior about what he heard and what he found, excited to think this is where he would find what he was looking for. “Father, is this where I will find holiness?” “I cannot tell you. You are not a priest. But take this key and it will help you find the answer tomorrow night.” And so he did. The music could be heard. He put the key to the lock and it opened, only to find a bronze door…locked. He went back to Father Superior who gave him the same answer and a different key. The next night it was a silver door. The night after that, however was made of gold. This must be it, he thought. Now, with a new key, his hand shook, he put it in and turned it, and there it was. Do you know what he saw?...
“I cannot tell you. You are not a priest!”

The feeling of moving through life wondering about the mysteries of God, putting in all these works, thinking it will get us closer and closer to the meaning of God. Why are we doing this in the first place? People in those days of long ago, striving to expand the size of their phylacteries that contained the scrolls of Isaiah and letting the tassels of their stoles grow long. They thought it would give value and worth to their lives. Jesus lowers the boom on us about sainthood, letting us know it doesn’t come until long after we are gone. Much like the ending of that story, I just shared. Why are we trying to become something like that? We want the treasures of heaven for sure. We want that for sure, but we are also told the first shall be last and the last shall be first and there will be lots of work involved. God has chosen us to be diligent servants of His field, but sometimes we feel all that we are doing in life is counting rocks and blades of grass, going nowhere.

We hear the promises of God and we know they are there, if only we can see them. How many saints have gone before us, thinking they have the key that opens the door, and reveals the mystery, only to hear God calling them to work a little more? Why does God set this up where we cannot unlock it until the very end? He does not do it for you to earn it. He does it so that He can work with you in the field of life. He wants to do it with you because in your toils and efforts is where you become closest to Him. The place of honor is held long after we are gone from this world. Do you ever think about the characteristics of the saints? St. Stephen, the first deacon, the first martyr of the church who was stoned to death for believing in Jesus. St. Francis, who had to give up everything he had. People thought he was nuts. He lived in the forest and the fields. St. Augustine, who had to come to a pear tree, to reflect on the prayers of his mother and another priest who wanted him to change from his ways. St. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of God, but he denied Jesus three times. Can you hear him ask Jesus who would sit at his right hand, who would bind and loose the kingdom of God? “Sorry Peter. I cannot tell you yet. You are not a priest.”
Jesus has revealed himself. The mystery is unlocked through the Cross.

The promises of heaven are revealed by the legacy and sacrifice of the Church. These doors are not there to frustrate us but to instruct. We sacrifice all we have for the love of God. It is a mutual understanding. The collect this morning, “Grant me the grace not to stumble, so that I may receive the heavenly promise.” There will be many moments when we stumble, and yet God continues to unlock another door so His will for us is revealed. Do not be troubled, frustrated in working the field, when you discover one locked door after another as it is an opportunity to grow with Christ. May we see Him for who he is and through our efforts to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to be hungry for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker…to be persecuted.[2] To be in His presence may we also join the royal priesthood. You may not be a priest, but I can tell you this. For those who open their hearts to Jesus, and let him work inside you, you are destined to be holy, to be a saint of God.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Matthew 5:1-12

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