Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Christian friends: As we enter the month of
November each year, we begin to see a distinct shift in the content of our
Scripture lessons. As believers in the eternal life our heavenly Father has
prepared for us through Christ Jesus, we always try to remember that this
destiny is fully ours and yet not fully realized. Yet as the Church Year winds
down before beginning anew each Advent, we are confronted with readings that
speak of the end times and the things that will be ours forever.
Certainly this is true of the appointed lessons for
this observance of All Saints’ Day this morning. The reading from chapter 7 of
the Apocalypse of St. John gives us a vision of the praise and honor and power
we will all witness when we are finally brought before the glorious throne of
St. John also
provides a glimpse of the heavenly realm in today’s Epistle lesson. He assures
us that we are indeed beloved children of God. While not everything we will
experience in heaven has yet been revealed, John tells us that we will become
very much like our Savior. We will be made pure through the faith and the
confidence we have in our salvation.
It is upon today’s Gospel lesson, though, that I’d like
to direct our attention this morning. These opening verses of St. Matthew’s
record of the Sermon on the Mount, those statements of blessedness that have
become commonly known as the Beatitudes, also speak of promises realized and
promises yet to come.
Jesus speaks no less than three times here of the
kingdom of heaven or the rewards of heaven—and in each case He speaks in the
present tense. That is, in each of those statements, He tells those who are
poor in spirit, or persecuted on account of righteousness, or insulted on
account of Christ, that the kingdom of heaven and its great rewards are already
But Jesus has some other promises for them
too—promises of blessings with a future reality:
That mourners will receive comfort.
That the meek will inherit the earth.
That those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will
That the merciful will be shown mercy.
That the pure in heart will see God.
That peacemakers will be called sons of God.
There you have it, then: Promises of current blessings,
and promises of future blessings. Straight from the words of our blessed
Savior, for all the saints on this All Saints’ Day.
It sounds wonderful. It sounds glorious.
There’s only one problem. Those “blesseds” which
Jesus lists in the Beatitudes—and He gives us nine altogether—they don’t
describe us very well, do they?
Sure, we might have a tenuous connection to them when
we enter this sacred place on Sunday morning, and largely behave ourselves for
an hour or two. And certainly, in the living out of our lives, there are times
where might hit on a couple of them in the course of our daily activities. We
might back away from a confrontation in meekness, or mediate a temporary peace
between a couple of conflicted colleagues or family members.
But on a day-in, day-out basis, we not only have to
admit our inability to be blessed by being blessings to others, we must also
confess that often we don’t even try. Deep down, these attributes or behaviors
are not only completely beyond our capabilities, they’re also fully foreign to
Poor in spirit? Well, we’re certainly spiritually
bankrupt, that much is true. Our spirits are full, but of what, exactly? If
anything, we like to think that our spirituality is full and rich. We come to
church; we read our Bibles; we pray. Our spirits seem full enough to us, at
least in comparison to those around us. But do we pour our spirits out? Do we
empty ourselves of the corruption which poisons our spirits each and every day,
laying its filth before the mercy seat of God? Or do we maintain a degree of
pride in our spirits, pointing to our religiosity as evidence of our worthiness
to inherit the kingdom of heaven?
Mourn? Yes, we do mourn, and that’s appropriate to
some extent; we do miss the fellowship of having them present in our lives.
Yet even on days such as All Saints’, where we should remember in joy and
thanksgiving those who have departed in the faith before us, we sometimes mourn
as those without hope instead. In this way, our mourning is turned inward, and
becomes focused upon ourselves. We lament and wallow in the absence of our
loved ones and grumble about how that affects us, more than we rejoice in the
salvation Christ has granted to them and to us.
Meek? No, we’re not meek, not really. We’re
alternately wimpy and obnoxious, backing away in fear rather than humility when
we’re unsure of victory, and pressing every advantage to drive others into the
ground when we think we can get away with it. That’s not meekness, that’s
We hunger and thirst, but it’s not for righteousness,
and it’s usually not just for earthly food and drink. We all have our
cravings, and we pour our energy, our resources, our time, and our affection
We want thinner thighs and fatter financial
portfolios; clothes with the right labels and cars with the right hood
ornaments. Our pursuits of these things shortchange our time with our
families, but it’s worse than that—our time pursuing these other gods blocks
out our time seeking and serving the one, true God.
I could go on and on in great detail, but you get the
point. We can be charitable without being merciful, pious without being pure
in heart, compromisers without being peacemakers. Few of us have known true
persecution on account of our faith in Christ, and most of us are far more
willing to loudly defend our political views with half-lies and innuendos than
we are to give a clear, uncompromising witness to the unfailing truth of the
Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Repent, O Pastor, and repent, O people!
For we are not only people of unclean lips, but of
unclean minds and bodies as well. Each and every one of us has no standing to
consider ourselves among the blessed ones whom Jesus speaks of on that
mountainside, and even less reason to expect or deserve it. In fact, if you
continue on in the Sermon on the Mount—reading or hearing the statements which
Jesus makes about anger, insults, lust, divorce, honesty, generosity, prayer,
and all the rest—it would be enough to drive you to complete despair.
And well it should. None of us can hope to achieve
the standards of perfect righteousness and behavior Jesus says are necessary
for a person to achieve the kingdom of heaven. How, then, can we “rejoice and
be glad” over a great reward in heaven, a reward promised to the faithful, when
we fully realize our deep and utter failure?
Fear not, dear saints, for in the Beatitudes your Lord
and Savior is not reading your job description as Christians; He is reciting
for you his resume as Christ. Each of those nine “blesseds” which He gives
here in Matthew’s gospel account is not an expectation that you must fulfill to
be perfect; it is an inherent attribute of the perfection that He is!
Look through that list again, and marvel at the wonder
of His being and His work: He who possessed the kingdom of heaven, and all the
power and glory and holiness within it, made Himself so poor in spirit that He
took on the totality of the world’s sin. He of whom Isaiah spoke, “Comfort,
comfort, my people,” mourned over Jerusalem, and sought to gather it under His
wings like little lost hatchlings. He who not only possessed the earth but was
there when its dimensions were laid out and commanded the seas to remain in
their boundaries, remained meek and quiet as evil men spat upon Him, struck him
with fists and cords, and pressed thorns into His flesh.
Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness, not for
His own sake, but for ours—for He came filled with pure and holy righteousness,
and more than enough to satisfy our desperate need for it. Though not shown
mercy, or even respect, by the creatures He came to redeem, Jesus brought the
mercy of the Father to all mankind. With a pure heart, He took the ravages of
God’s holy wrath for the punishment of sin upon Himself, so that we might see
God in Him.
Called “Son of Joseph” by the ignorant and “son of
Beelzebub” by the proud, this only-begotten Son of God became the peacemaker
who reconciled you, the rebellious offspring, to His heavenly Father through
His own atoning death.
And who was ever more persecuted on account of
righteousness, more insulted because of His testimony, or more unjustly and
falsely accused of evil? Blessed are you, because He was accursed!
As we gather together in worship this All Saints’ Day,
bear in mind that it is just that: ALL Saints’ Day. Not just past
saints’ day. Not just departed saints’ day. It is a day in which
we celebrate the unity which all of us have as saints. We are joined as one in
the faith with all of those who have trusted, do trust, or ever will trust in
the salvation prepared for us. We are all saints through Him whose death makes
us saints: Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, rejoice and be glad, indeed, for our reward in
heaven is truly great! But, not only that. Rejoice and be glad, also, in the
knowledge that your reward is certain. Christ has fulfilled all
that is necessary on your behalf, and His death and resurrection are your
assurance that God will give you every promised blessing.
He alone can fill your poor spirit, comfort your
mourning, strengthen you to be meek, and satisfy your hunger and thirst for
righteousness. Showing you every mercy, He purifies your heart and makes you
His sons and daughters, so that in the end, you will see Him face-to-face, full
of righteousness in the kingdom of heaven. May God grant it to all the saints,
for the sake of Christ Jesus. Amen.
Join me now in singing the words of the final stanza
of hymn 503, a verse which conveys the hope and joy of those promises which our
God makes to all His faithful saints:
When we on that final journey go
That Christ is for us preparing,
We’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow,
All joy of the heavens sharing,
And walk in the light of God’s own place,
With angels His name adoring.