All Saints Day| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 2, 2008| 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.”
The Second Lesson for All Saints Day, from the Revelation of St. John, describes heaven and tells us how to get there. Those who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb go to heaven. They repent of their sins and trust in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ’s bitter suffering and death. They are baptized into Christ, put on Christ, and are covered by his righteousness. One does not get to heaven by doing good. One gets to heaven by being good. One becomes good only through faith in Jesus. That’s because the only goodness that passes the test of heaven is the obedience and suffering of Jesus, the Lamb of God. The only way to obtain a white robe is through faith in Jesus. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sins. This is how sinners become saints. Only saints go to heaven.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the beginning of our Lord’s first sermon. In these words Jesus does not preach about how to become a saint. He preaches about how saints are to live. He does not preach about how to get to heaven. He preaches about how those who are going to heaven live here on earth. This portion of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is known as the Beatitudes. God blesses his saints.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
They are poor in spirit, not necessarily poor in material things. To be poor in spirit means that you do not put your trust in the things that you own. You love God’s kingdom more than the things of this world that can be lost, stolen, or destroyed.
The market crashes and the people panic. They cry out to their god and he throws a trillion or so dollars their way and their panic subsides at least for the moment. The saints are not unconcerned about material things. They work, invest, plan for their retirement, eat, and drink, and live as others do in this world. But spiritually they are bound by affection to heaven. Their first love and their deepest love is the love that will find perfect fulfillment when all earthly treasures are destroyed. For they love the Giver of all earthly gifts more than the gifts themselves.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Woe to the false prophets who in the name of Jesus teach that the Christian’s life here on earth should be free from pain, trouble, struggles, and sadness. They preach a prosperity gospel that promises health, wealth, and worldly success. They confuse material prosperity with divine blessing. They mislead greedy and selfish Christians to hold on to their greed and selfishness as virtues to be prized rather than as sins to be confessed.
The saints mourn. They mourn the loss of those they love. They mourn the pain their loved ones suffer. They mourn the abuse of the weak at the hands of the strong. Most of all they mourn their own failure to believe firmly, to hope boldly, and to love purely. They mourn their own lack of holy virtues. They mourn because they are not what they should be and they will never be satisfied with their lives until they are conformed perfectly within and without to the holiness of the God who called them to the life of a saint.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This world belongs to the God who created it. This is the God who covered up his majesty under the form of deep humility. He became not only a man but a lowly and despised man. When insulted he spoke not a word. When slandered he took it silently. He spoke only to confess the truth and he did so with humble respect for the powers that be. This is our God in the flesh whose righteousness is reckoned to us. This reckoning is how we become saints. This is why the life of meekness and humility is the life of a saint.
God blesses the meek. The world is theirs as their inheritance. They don’t need to grab it, fight for it, cheat, steal, or intimidate anyone to get it. They wait for what is theirs. They wait on him who controls heaven and earth for the benefit of his saints.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
They see evil triumph over good. They see the bad guys winning and the good guys losing. They hunger and thirst for what is good and right and holy. After all, they are saints. They want holy things. They have holy desires. They shall be satisfied. The God in whom they entrust their own lives is the God who judges the peoples and the nations of this world. He will see to it that righteousness is done. Did he not do what was righteous for us, in our stead, as our Redeemer? Did he not in righteousness meet the demands of his own law for our sakes? He will bring about the justice for which his people hunger and thirst.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
They help those in need because God has met their own need. And in showing mercy to others their own needs are met as well. The generosity of the saints is its own reward as God gives them the opportunity to love him by means of loving his brothers here on earth. But more than that, the merciful shall obtain what they give and much, much more. The mercies of God are new every morning and God is far more generous than we can imagine.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
They do not purify their own hearts. Their hearts are made pure by God’s word. God’s word enters in and expels our own carnal wisdom. What emanates from the sinful flesh is sin. What comes from God is holy and pure. So we obtain pure hearts from God’s pure word. It is our daily bread. It is our source of wisdom. It is what brings us joy and hope. It establishes us in the true faith and strengthens us in it until we die. Then we shall know as we have been known. We shall see God as he is. We will not shrink away in terror. We will embrace in love him who is love.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
God makes peace with us by the blood of his Son. We who have received that peace make peace as well. It is what children of the heavenly Father do. They see how the source of all conflict and war and misery in this world was concentrated in that universal mass of human sin imputed to the innocent Jesus. They see in him how good overcame evil once and for all. Peace was established by that holy death: peace between God and all of humanity.
Peacemakers confess this gospel truth by replying to anger with love and repaying insults with kindness. They imitate him who suffered the violence of the cross, knowing that they are true sons of God not because the world says so but because God says so.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As long as we are living in a fallen and sinful world we will suffer for doing good. Teenagers who refuse to engage in immorality; students who insist on the truths of God’s word; mothers who won’t cave in to the changing standards of the world; fathers who take seriously their God given duty to raise their children in the divine truth; all of these saints suffer opposition and outright persecution for doing what God calls us to do. And they are blessed precisely in being persecuted. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
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.”
Blessed are you, whoever you are, who suffers insults, slander, and persecution because you are a Christian. You make a Christian confession. You take a Christian stand. And you receive a Christian’s reward. It is hidden from sight but someday it will be revealed. And you will see it. Everything you as a Christian confess to be true will be confirmed visibly and unmistakably and your entire being, body and soul, will be filled with pure and holy joy.
Meanwhile we live under the shelter of the cross where our sins are forgiven. It is where we sinners become saints. When God forgives us our sins he thereby makes us saints. Holy people live holy lives. God does not bless us because of what we do as saints. We do what we do as saints because God blesses us. And since we remain sinners as long as we live here on earth we struggle with a conflict. God says we are holy but we feel sinful and we sin against God every day. The good things we do are tainted by the sin within us. The sinful things we do are forgiven by the blood of Jesus shed for us. We are sinners and saints at the same time.
So we look to Jesus, not only as he has died for us to make us holy by his blood, but also as he is risen from the dead and ascended up on high. We fix our eyes on Jesus, surrounded by angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, including our Christian loved ones who have gone before. In the Lord’s Supper today God gives us the body and blood of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is a foretaste of heaven above. We look forward to heaven. We must live here for now. But here in this world God blesses his saints. Amen