Monday, November 5, 2012

All Saints' Day (Matthew 5:1-12)

“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 on the Festival of All Saints 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, you are not alone. In fact, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, you are surrounded by the saints. This cloud of witnesses is the repentant faithful, some living, and many departed, who heeded the call of our Lord by God-given faith. So you are a saint, and so am I. A saint isn’t someone who is perfect, it is someone who belongs to Jesus. And saints are blessed. That is the message of our text: saints are blessed. You are blessed; I am blessed; that great cloud of witnesses that went before you is blessed. We are blessed and in great company, though to our eyes and to the eyes of the world, we appear cursed and alone.

When you suffer, not when you struggle in this world of sin, you feel alone, you feel cursed. You feel like God has abandoned you, that you are the only one to suffer the way that you have. You feel downtrodden, trampled upon by this world, by physical and spiritual enemies. You are the poor in spirit, for you struggle to maintain your faith, you struggle to stand up against Satan’s attacks. He isolates, he divides, Satan makes you feel alone and forsaken by God and everyone else. You mourn; you mourn your own sin, and you mourn the dread effects of this sin in this world. You mourn your own mortality, you mourn the loss of loved ones, you mourn the corruption of sin that fills you. You mourn because your own life is threatened, you mourn because you will one day die. You are meek, because this world runs over you; it has little regard for those who don’t exalt themselves. Every day is filled with challenges and new suffering, with Satan’s arrows and the world’s attacks. You hunger and thirst for righteousness, for blessing, but fulfillment seems impossible, for your know your sin, you know your mortality, you know the sufferings that you deal with in your life.

You are not alone. All the saints suffered. We think of the saints, from those we read about in the history books to those whom we know and love personally, as exalted people, as supermen or superwomen in the faith. But they too mourned; they mourned their own sin, they mourned their poverty, they mourned over the death of loved ones and their own deaths. They were poor in spirit, struggling with doubt and the attacks of Satan. They were meek, beaten down by a world that has many ways of making the saints miserable. The world laughs to hear such a wretched, pathetic band called ‘blessed.’ All the saints suffered. Some were cast to lions, some were burned at the stake, some lost their heads in the guillotine. Some suffered from cancer, from heart disease, from Alzheimer’s. They tried to bring peace, but were persecuted; they showed mercy to others, but the world showed them none.

This world has no mercy, no peace to show to the saints, for it had no mercy or peace to show Christ. The saints are not alone; they follow the pattern of their Lord. The eternal Son of God humbled Himself, becoming poor in spirit and humble. He came not as a triumphant king, but as the poor in spirit. Jesus mourned; He mourned the sin that filled God’s good creation, He mourned the death that afflicted His people. Jesus mourned when Lazarus died, He mourned when He looked to His own death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was meek, refusing to fight the world as they seized Him in the garden, as they put Him on trial, as they used the scourge against Him. For Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness, He hungered and thirsted to make us righteous, and this was the only way. He was merciful, healing disease and caring for the poor, but the world showed Him no mercy as they nailed Him to the cross. He was pure in heart, without any sin at all, but the world treated Him as the worst criminal when they crucified Him. Nothing the saints have suffered in two thousand years of persecution, nothing that you have suffered in this world of sin, was avoided by Christ. The saints are not alone; you are not alone. Jesus suffered all. Jesus suffered for all.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Christ made Himself the poor in spirit, He humbled Himself, becoming last of all, becoming obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. And for that He is called blessed. He is blessed for in that moment of suffering, that moment of sacrifice, He received the kingdom of heaven. He was enthroned upon that cross. Jesus is blessed, despite all appearances to the contrary, despite the opinion of the world. He is blessed because He went to that cross in obedience to the Father’s will. He went to that cross bearing the sin of the world on a mission of salvation. He went to that cross as the Peacemaker, shedding His blood to make peace between God and man. He went to that cross as the merciful One, showing mercy to those under the penalty of eternal death for their sin. He is blessed because He did this in accord with the will of His heavenly Father. He is blessed, and He is the source of blessing to His saints.

Like their Lord, all the saints suffer, they all suffer the effects of sin, they all suffer the persecution of a world that despises them. You are not alone. But in the midst of that suffering, all the saints are blessed; they are blessed through Christ. To be blessed is nothing else than to be delivered, redeemed, saved by Christ’s shed blood. They are blessed because they will receive the kingdom through Christ, an inheritance that no one can take away. They will be comforted, comforted forever. They will inherit the land, as Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” What awaits them is not some disembodied existence in the spirit realm, but a physical eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Their hunger and thirst will be satisfied, forever, at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end. They shall see God, for their hearts have been made pure, not on their own efforts, but by the cleansing of Christ. They will forever be called sons of God through Christ. To the world, all the saints are a miserable, pathetic band, hardly worthy of the effort it takes to squash them; but in God’s eyes they are blessed—forever.

You are not alone. You are a part of that great multitude that John saw, you are a part of all the saints. You are poor in spirit, impoverished, without any merit to bring before God. But Jesus comes to you and gives you what you need; He has suffered and died for your sin, to give you a kingdom that will never fail. You mourn now in this world, but a Day is coming when you will be comforted, forever. Death itself has been defeated, and you are looking toward an eternity without sin and without death. You hunger and thirst for righteousness, yearning for holiness, but in Christ you will be fully satisfied. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” You will see God, face to face, with your own eyes, for Christ has cleansed you, He has made you pure in heart. You will be called a child of God for eternity, as John tells us in our Epistle lesson: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”  Today RayLee is called a child of God, for she has been cleansed and made pure in heart, she has been filled with Christ’s own righteousness in the waters of Holy Baptism. She has joined with all the saints through the washing of the water with the Word. She is not alone.

You are not alone. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: all the saints, some named, but many, many more unnamed. Some are remembered by history; some are remembered by the friends and family that held them dear. Some still labor, some are at rest. But all are together the great cloud of witnesses, all the saints. You are not alone. Together with all the saints you possess all things; you possess the kingdom, you possess Christ’s own righteousness; salvation belongs to you. You enjoy Christ’s gifts here in this place: forgiveness of sins, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the fellowship of the redeemed. The kingdom belongs to all the saints, to you and to me, right now. But yet, all the saints still wait. All the saints wait for the final and full bestowal of all that Christ won. Yes, our loved ones who went before us, along with all the departed saints, now dwell with the Lord, but even they are waiting, earnestly crying out, ‘How long?’ For the final destination of the departed saints is the new heavens and the new earth. It is the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. They wait for Christ’s return along with you, for on that Day all the saints will receive the promised inheritance.

You are not alone. All the saints possess the kingdom now, but they will possess it fully only on the Last Day. So all the saints now wait, some away from this world of sin and some still in the midst of it. Suffering will characterize life here on this sinful earth; you will still mourn, you will still be persecuted. But this suffering, this mourning and persecution is transformed, because you have a promise of future glory that is more certain, more powerful, than anything that this world of sin can do to you. You are blessed, with all the saints, now and for eternity. In the name of Jesus, who became poor in spirit to bring the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit, you, me, and all the saints, Amen.

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