Monday, November 7, 2011

All Saints' Day Observed (Matthew 5:1-13)

“Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this All Saints’ Sunday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, the saints of God are in this world an oppressed bunch. They are harried by sin, threatened by death, and persecuted by all those who belong to the dominion of Satan. To the world, the saints of God are a miserable, pathetic little band. They are poor in spirit, they mourn, they are meek, they hunger and thirst. Following God hasn’t seemed to earn them anything. The world looks in scorn upon the Church, disgusted that they are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. Those qualities only mean that it is much easier to trample on the saints, and the world does this all the time. But yet, Jesus Christ points to this wretched group, hated and despised by the world, and declares them ‘blessed.’ They are called ‘blessed’ despite every evidence to the contrary, despite the clear opinion of the world. They are blessed because of Jesus.

The poor in spirit are blessed. They have nothing to give to God, not their good works, not their pure lives, not silver or gold, not power or influence. Before God all the saints are equal, from the man dying in an African refugee camp to the president of the United States. They are all beggars, and come to God empty-handed, with no right to expect anything. And God Himself stepped into their midst and took for Himself the form of a beggar. Jesus laid aside His glory and submitted to the shame of the cross. He is Himself the poor of spirit, who won for His afflicted people the greatest treasure imaginable, the kingdom of heaven. He gives that gift into the beggars’ open, empty hands. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.”

Those who mourn are blessed. The saints mourn over the sin and death that surrounds them. They live in a dying world, a world that is fallen, a world that gives them tragedy and hardship as a constant diet. They mourn for those whom they have lost, they mourn for the suffering that occurs every day in this corrupted world, but they also mourn for themselves. The saints see the sin that fills them, the death that one day will take them, and they mourn. They mourned on Good Friday as Christ hung upon that cross. But Easter morning dawned on an empty tomb- Christ has risen, triumphant over sin and death! “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Christ has destroyed the power of death, and the saints of God will now live, even though they die, in a new creation where death is no more. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The meek are blessed. The saints humble themselves before this world. They do not seek their own advantage, they do not exalt themselves, but instead they place the needs of others above their own. This is a recipe for persecution, for hatred and scorn. The world doubts their motives, for it cannot conceive of anyone who is not self-centered. The world takes advantage of the saints, scornfully calling them ‘meek,’ as they walk all over them. Jesus Christ humbled Himself before this world, He became meek; like a lamb led to the slaughter, so He did not open His mouth. And the world saw it as weakness, striking Him on the cheek, calling on Him to come down from that cross. But He remained humble and meek, and won for His saints an inheritance that will last forever. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are blessed. The saints are not victims, for they are filled with the same sin that afflicts all of mankind, the same lack of righteousness that dooms all men to hell. But while the world seeks to satisfy that hunger and thirst in a multitude of other ways, the saints cry out to God in their affliction. They desperately hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, for without it, eternal punishment is the only destination. And God feeds them, He fills them with the very righteousness of His Son. Jesus gives His righteousness to hungry and thirsty people to eat and drink at this very table. The feast of His Body and Blood satisfies spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst, pointing forward to where hunger and thirst will be no more. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The merciful are blessed. The saints show mercy to those around them, those who have a variety of different needs. They bind up wounds: physical, emotional, and spiritual. They do this not to earn God’s favor, but because God Himself has shown them mercy. It is in God’s nature to show mercy, as Jesus demonstrated throughout His time on this earth. He bound up the brokenhearted, He healed the sick, He drove from people the corruption of this sinful world. And on the cross, Christ showed mercy to all people, those who were under the threat of eternal death, those who had earned no mercy. He now shows mercy to all the sainst by forgiving sin, by delivering from death. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

The pure in heart are blessed. No one can approach God unless they are pure. The elaborate system of washings and sacrifices found throughout the Old Testament were all meant to make the priests and indeed the entire nation pure so that they could interact with God. A sinful person cannot see God and live, for the hot fire of His wrath burns against sin. Unless the saints are made pure, they cannot see God, they are doomed to spend eternity separated from Him. But Christ has washed them in the blessed waters of Holy Baptism. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The saints have been made clean and pure by the water joined to the Word, able to stand before the throne of God forever. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The peacemakers are blessed. The saints were at war with God, divided from Him in their rebellion and sin. But Jesus Christ is the peacemaker. Through the blood of His cross, Jesus reconciled God and man, He removed the dividing wall of hostility between Creator and creation. This is the peace that characterizes life in the new heavens and the new earth: peace between God and man, peace that will last forever. Because of this reconciliation, the saints are truly called the Sons of God. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” The saints, having been reconciled with God through Christ’s death and resurrection, then extend that peace to others. They speak the Gospel to their neighbors, calling on people to be at peace with God through Christ. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed. In some countries, the saints are actively persecuted, hunted down to be thrown into jail or killed for following Christ. In other places the saints are mocked, subtly persecuted in schools or in the media, scorned for following Jesus of Nazareth. But nothing that this sinful world throws at the saints can remove the eternal treasure that they possess for the sake of Christ. They are simply following His pattern as He promised them they would; the pattern which He set in winning that eternal treasure through His own suffering. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are blessed, for you are the saints of God; all the blessings that Jesus has proclaimed in our text belong to you. You will struggle in this world, as the saints did before you, you will mourn, you will suffer persecution, but you are blessed! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you, and you will be comforted, you will inherit the earth, you will be satisfied, you will receive mercy, you will see God, for you are truly a child of God. Christ’s death and resurrection applied to you in your baptism has made you a saint, and now all of those gifts are your present and future possession. He won them for you, He gives them into your empty hands. You are poor in spirit, but the kingdom of heaven belongs to you, as it does to all the saints.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil falsely against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Rejoice and be glad, dear saints of God, for you have an eternal reward. Despite whatever happens to you in this world, your treasure is eternal, it is everlasting, it is a gift won by the shed blood of your Lord Jesus Christ. The saints who have gone before you now enjoy what will one day be your own, for you are a part of that eternal company, those who still walk on this earth and those who worship in heaven, in every place and in every age, all the saints purchased with the blood of Christ. In the Name of the One who was poor in spirit, who won peace between us and our God, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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