A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Gil Dyck at Crescent United Church on March 21, 2014.
Thirty years ago I was the minister of this church. It was here that I first came to know Gil Dyck. I recall, in particular, a day when Gil invited me to coffee at Gil and Marion’s home down at the beach. In the course of our conversation we went downstairs in search of a magazine. It was "Sojourners", the publication of a group of evangelical social activists living a in a poor neighbourhood in Washington, DC. I went home and ordered a subscription. Today I still keep up with the Sojourners community, though now I do so via Twitter. Thinking of my conversations over the years with Gil I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s famous line: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Or more to the point, given Gil’s Mennonite background, these words written by Menno Simons in 1539 come to mind: “True evangelical faith ... cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it ... clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”
A few weeks ago Gil and I found ourselves sharing another cup of coffee in Crescent Beach, over at the Sunflower Café. We have been neighbours all these years, but when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma three years ago Gil and I found we shared not only a faith but also an illness. Since then we have caught up with one another from time to time, comparing treatments and sharing information, offering mutual encouragement. Brothers in arms. Companions on the journey. Sojourners.
I selected the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount as the text for today, in part, because I can well imagine a lively conversation with Gil about these confounding blessings. From early times when newcomers to Christianity asked about this faith, the church has invited them to meditate on the Beatitudes, to root these peculiar sayings of Jesus deep in their hearts, souls and bones: “Blessed are the poor in spirit ... Blessed are those who mourn ... Blessed are the meek ... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These are peculiar sayings. Blessed are the depressed, the uninspired. Blessed are those who ache night and day in grief. Blessed are the trampled upon. Blessed are those whose deep longing for justice to be done goes unfulfilled. Really? This is not a description of the real world we know. In that world it is the happy and content, the well-off and powerful who are surely blessed with good fortune.
To enter the world of the gospel, the world of Jesus, is to enter an upside-down world in which things are not as they seem. In this world the curtain is drawn back so that another dimension of reality is revealed. In the world of the kingdom come, where God’s will is done, healing and reconciliation and justice are on the loose. Jesus does not simply bless the status quo of despair or of grief as if to say “There, there.” On the contrary, Jesus’ blessings break the logjam of the status quo, they open up a new and unexpected future. Where now there is ache there will surely be comfort. Where now there is abandonment there will surely be an inheritance. Where now there is empty longing there will surely be great fulfilment. Mercy and purity and peacemaking will no longer fall victim to market forces or surrender to brute strength but will bear rich fruit in the kingdom come where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. In the Beatitudes Jesus speaks a new world into being. It is a new world in which suffering and grief and death do not have the final say. This is the Easter testimony of the church which, in the Resurrection, has learned a new beatitude: Blessed are the dead, for they will be raised to life.
The gospel inverts our so-called “real world.” The Kingdom of God is a new, upside-down real world. In it the Lord is a servant and dying is the path to life. The Apostle Paul says that this gospel message is scandalous to religious people and foolishness to reasonable people. Yet, surprisingly, to some it rings true and becomes the way to life, life in all its fullness. Such people bear suffering in hope, persevere through grief in faith, live with brokenness in love. Jesus says that such people are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They are healing agents. They are light-houses of hope. They are brief glimpses of what a hidden God is up to, incognito, in the world. Paul says that such people are the first-fruits – only the beginning – of God’s new creation, a creation in which death is being overcome by life. Gil Dyck was such a person for me. But he was, and is, not alone. For the blessed work of God continues. Jesus’ peculiar, salty people is always and everywhere being called into being. You, too, are welcome on the pilgrimage. You, too, are invited to join the unlikely company of God’s kingdom seekers, fellow sojourners on the way. Blessed are those who seek God’s kingdom, for they will be welcomed home.