All Saints Day| November 6, 2011| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Matthew 5:1-12
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” St. Matthew 5:1-12
All Saints’ Day falls on November 1. We observe it on the first Sunday in November. It is appropriate that the Church has chosen the Beatitudes of our Lord Jesus as the Gospel Lesson for today. It was Jesus’ first sermon. In this sermon Jesus describes the life of a saint.
We use the word “Christian” whereas the Bible uses the word “saint.” Over the years, the word “saint” changed its meaning to refer to a particularly impressive Christian who stands out from the crowd. But if we were to let Jesus describe a saint for us we would learn that a saint is very ordinary looking. In fact, saints don’t look like much at all. But then, it depends on who is doing the looking.
A saint is a Christian, no more and no less. The word “saint” means a holy person. We confess in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.” I believe what I cannot see. I don’t see the holiness of the saints. I must take that on faith. Faith relies on God’s word.
To be holy is to be completely without sin and to be separated from sin. Strictly speaking, only God is holy, as we sing, “Thou only art holy, thou only art the Lord.” We sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth.” We confess that Jesus Christ is the “holy One of Israel.” God is sinless and God hates sin. This means that he cannot tolerate sinners. But the Bible says that God loves sinners. How can he love sinners while they are sinners? He can love them in and through Christ.
Today’s Epistle Lesson is not from an Epistle but from the Revelation of St. John in which the saints are described as those who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. That’s how sinners become saints. They wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb. Christ’s blood shed on Calvary washes away all sins of all sinners. God gives that forgiveness in Holy Baptism. We receive the forgiveness through faith in Christ our Savior.
After Jesus bore the sin of the world upon the cross, St. John the Evangelist witnessed water and the blood flowing from Christ’s pierced side. Water and blood. God washes away our sins in the blood of Jesus. The water of Holy Baptism is joined to the blood of Calvary. We believe and are baptized. This is what makes us saints. It is the vicarious obedience and suffering and death of Jesus, given to us in God word and sacraments, received by us through faith and through faith alone.
Saints do as saints are. God says what we are. He tells us we are holy. Then he gives us a life to live. It is a blessed life. He tells us what is blessed and what is not. We listen to the one who has made us holy. Who would better know what the life of the saint is than the One from whom we receive our sainthood? Or should we listen to the fallen and dying world for instructions on how to live the Christian life?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You can be poor or you can be rich. It makes no difference. Poor people are not more virtuous than rich people. Rich people are not more blessed than poor people. Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit are blessed. They may be poor. They may be rich. In either event, they don’t put their confidence in the things they own or don’t own, but in the One who will provide for their every need of body and soul.
The poor in spirit are not poor. A flush bank account, an expensive car, a big and beautiful house, and the financial security that go with it are all fragile, temporary, and ultimately deceptive when we put our trust in them. They are here today and gone tomorrow. The kingdom of heaven is forever. The saints, the poor in spirit, have the kingdom of heaven. It is where God himself lives. Those who belong to it live under God’s grace, safe in his care, secure in his love.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” There is this bogus notion promoted by self-appointed piety experts that says a Christian must always be joyful and happy. If you’re not full of joy there must be something wrong with your faith. Nonsense! Jesus says otherwise. “Blessed are those who mourn.” It is not a sin to be sad. As a matter of fact, to be sad about your own sin is an essential part of repentance and faith. How can anyone trust in Jesus if he is happy about what he has done against God and neighbor? No, to mourn your sins is a good thing.
And not just to mourn your own sins, but to mourn the evil that surrounds us wherever we go. A saint is saddened by the sin in this world. Saints don’t rejoice in evil but in the truth. To be saddened by sin is no sin. To suffer grief when we lose money or position or someone we love is no sin. It is at times the life the saint must live in this world.
God comforts his saints. The gospel teaches us that all sin will be uprooted and all evil will be overthrown and all the miserable results of sin will be eradicated forever. We put our hope in the kingdom God has prepared for us and God comforts us in this hope.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Here our Lord asserts what is quite obviously contrary to sight, experience, and common sense. So don’t put your faith in what you see or feel or in what makes sense to you. Listen to Jesus instead! The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who push themselves succeed for a while but in time their strength and influence and attraction fade away and become nothing but a memory if that. Those who appear to be in charge are never in charge. God is. God rules. The earth is his and he rules it for the benefit of his saints. He governs everything for the sake of the Communion of Saints.
One need not buy into one of the many forms of millennialism to believe this. Let God worry about how he will keep his promises. Jesus promises his saints here that if they suffer the indignity, put up with the injustice, do not insist on vindication or retribution, they will not lose. They will win. They will inherit the earth. God will do what he promises to do in his own way and time.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” The saint wants to do good. Not, just well, but good. Doing well is performing, succeeding, achieving. The saint cares more about doing good. Indeed, he hungers for it. He thirsts for it. The saint has the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself reckoned to him, credited to his account, covering him and making him righteous before God. He wants to do what he is. Since God says he is righteous, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness in all that he does. God satisfies his hunger and thirst by forgiving him his sins and filling him with the Holy Spirit.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” From receiving forgiveness and the Holy Spirit the saints receive a merciful heart. They receive it. They give it. They receive it. They give it. So their lives are defined. Kindness breeds kindness.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The word of God purifies the heart, as Jesus said, “Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.” The word of God also reveals God. By revealing God it purifies the heart to receive him.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” God makes peace with us. He establishes peace by means of the cross where Jesus took upon himself the enmity that existed between God and sinful humanity and removed it. Establishing peace at the cross, bringing that peace to us in the gospel, we have the peace that the world cannot give. It fills us and transforms us so that we set out to make peace with those who war against us. Jesus blessed those who cursed him. So do his saints. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. We are sons of God by adoption, through faith.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is to be expected that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be persecuted for their desire to seek and promote what is good. There is a cynical saying: No good deed will go unpunished. That’s quite true. What is good will be opposed. This means that those who do good will be persecuted for it. Count on it. But we don’t expect approval from the world. We expect approval from God and that is far more precious because God’s opinion is the only one that really counts. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the saints. That is not only their future inheritance. It is their present possession.
They have Christ. Jesus, who loved everyone, is hated and despised. Oh, folks won’t admit that this is so because most of the persecution of Jesus looks more like persecution of Christians. But don’t be fooled. They are the same thing. Jesus said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
We teach that the standards of right and wrong that are revealed in the Holy Scriptures do not change with time and that the contrary views of the popular culture are corrupt and immoral. We teach that everyone is a sinner and needs a Savior. We teach that Jesus alone has done the good deeds by which we can enter into eternal life and that our good deeds cannot help to save us. We teach that there is no eternal life apart from faith in Christ. We teach that this faith is not a human choice but a divine work and that God works faith only through his means of grace, the pure gospel and sacraments of Christ. When we teach such things we face opposition, even persecution. Oh, not of the overt political or legal variety, but of the more subtle social kind that ostracizes Christians because they refuse to go along with the crowd.
When folks misrepresent what we believe, judge our motives as Christians, and tell outright lies about us – what do we do? We rejoice that God would permit us, his holy people, to be treated as his dear Son our Lord Jesus was treated. We rejoice and are filled with happiness to know that we would be counted worthy to join our Lord Jesus in being persecuted with him.
For we know that what matters in life is the promise that awaits us in heaven. Nothing of value remains but the word of God that lives and endures forever. This is something every saint knows because we know we gain our sainthood, our righteousness, our true and lasting status from the word of God that pronounces us forgiven of all our sins for Christ’s sake. It is by the measurement of God’s word, therefore, that we measure the lives of those saints who have gone before and treasure the good that God did for us through them. We treasure more than dying memories. We treasure with them the kingdom that is ours from him who blesses us here on earth and will bring us to our reward in heaven. Amen