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Islam in America

Dema Kazkaz, Hasina Waziri and Fred Steinbach before Sunday's presentation by Dema at St. Andrew's 

Dema Kazkaz was the guest presenter yesterday at St. Andrew's on the topic Islam in America.  Her presentation was very informative and helped to give us an accurate understanding of Islam itself and the experiences she has faced as a practicing Muslim in the United States.  The Lucas Countyan has a much more thorough description of her presentation to the 40+ people who attended

All Saints Day - The Sermon

  • Image result for all saints day

The Gospel

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

The Sermon

November 1st was All Saints Day and in the Episcopal Church we have the option of reading that Gospel passage on the following Sunday which is today. What I just read to you is the Sermon on the Mount. It is such an uplifting sermon that I felt it might just perk everyone up. I believe that sometimes we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the things we do wrong. I mean the times when we make choices that our better natures would not approve of. We sin.

This is the longest recorded sermon by Jesus in the new testament and in it Jesus tells us we are blessed. Jesus reminds us that there are so many good things that good people do.

Let me go through them:
  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. This is one of the most talked about of the beatitudes. What does it mean to be poor in spirit. One interpretation has it that we cannot reach God's Kingdom on our own because we are simply not good enough. Another is that the term 'poor in spirit' actually in ancient times meant those living in poverty. Anyone who has been poor knows that hope is sometimes all that keeps you going. A kingdom in heaven is that hope.
  2. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. We have all had loss in our lives and we can take comfort in these words by Jesus
  3. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. The world is not won by conquest and domination. True inheritance of the earth comes through humility.
  4. Blessed are those who hunger for rightness for they will be filled. When we stand up for what is right and true we will find comfort in our beliefs.
  5. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. There is a saying 'you get what you give'.
  6. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. We are all works in progress and I can safely say that I am not pure but I am headed in the right direction.
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. God wants us to find peace. When we are at peace with ourselves, it will be seen and experienced by others.
  8. Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Have you noticed in this reading that Jesus frequently mentions the kingdom of heaven? I believe the kingdom of heaven is inside each of us. We just need to open ourselves up to it. When I think of each of you I see blessings in you all. You have mourned someone because you loved them. Many of you are humble. You stand up for what is right. Some of you have been persecuted in your lives. The kingdom of God is in your grasp. Jesus has promised it to you.

Does this mean that because you are blessed you will no longer face hard times? That you will never get sick. Of course not. A blessing is not like a vaccination. We will all have times that try our souls. Know that God is watching out for you. You are marked as one of God's own.


The Greatest Commandment

The Reading

Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The Sermon

This reading from Matthew starts out with the Pharisees trying to trip Jesus up again. The want him to name the most important commandment. After all there were over six hundred commandments they were expected to follow. Three hundred sixty five of them were what they should not do. Most of us today think only in terms of the ten commandments which seems relatively easy compared to back then.

When faced with picking one out of six hundred it would seem like a daunting task but Jesus was up for it. He said, “love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This comes out of the book of Deuteronomy and would not be one of the ten that all of us were to memorize from our catechism. But, he does not stop there. He gives the next commandment in line. It is love your neighbor as yourself.

Most of those six hundred plus commandments were pretty straightforward. You were either to do one thing or not do something. Jesus says only two things are required. Love your God and love your neighbor as yourself. WOW, I only have to do two things and I am straight with God.

If you think about it though, these two commandments can be difficult to keep. Loving is not so easy. Pure love requires much of us. Pure love requires us to expose ourselves, to give a piece of ourselves to someone else. Love of God requires that we surrender to God all that we are, heart, mind and soul. We must die to our self centered ways. These are not easy things to do.

And what about loving our neighbor as ourselves. I often hear the question, “What about people who don't love themselves?” That is a very insightful question and it begs the question, “Why do you not love yourself?” I believe many people, for whatever reason, do not love themselves because they feel as they have made so many mistakes in life that they are not worthy of being loved even by themselves.

Love can also be paired with forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the steps in learning to love. Forgiving yourself for the mistakes you have made in life is an important first step in learning to love yourself. If it is true that God can forgive then we can forgive as well.

Another argument given against loving your neighbor as yourself is that some people do despicable acts that it is impossible to see past that and not just forgive but to bring yourself to love. We have all heard the phrase, 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. As much of a cliche as this seem there is truly a kernel of truth to it. We have to somehow find it in our hearts to look beyond the misdeeds of others and remember that there is a soul in each of us. For some it is a very troubled soul.
Remember, there are two main commandments and they both require love. It's all you need.