Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sermon for 11/4/12--Feast of All Saints (observed)


Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Like much of Scripture, the Beatitudes are not easily understood. There have been as many interpretations of the Beatitudes as there have been interpreters. The most obvious interpretation is that these are principles for Christian living, moral lessons for your best life now. Rationalists have seen them as a structure for establishing a humane society—which ignores the fact that these were given only to Christians. But if they’re not either of these things, what are they? The answer is found in what they are named. A beatitude refers to a state of blessedness, and blessedness is something we can never give ourselves. It must come from outside of us.

Perhaps the problem is that the Beatitudes are given by Jesus in a scene that reminds us of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai: a divine revelation of truth from the mountainside. But Jesus is not a new Moses; He is the fulfillment of what was given through Moses. And the Beatitudes are not a new Law or new interpretation of the old Law. The beatitudes are pure Gospel! Look no further than the word “blessed.” There are no threats in the Beatitudes. There is no admonition. They are words of promise, and so they are descriptions of what we are by grace as Christians. When we hear the words of the Beatitudes, we hear them as descriptions of who and what we are.

But when we take an honest look at ourselves, we see that we are none of these things. We are not poor in spirit; we are prideful and full of arrogance. Though we do mourn, our mourning is self-indulgence, a way of drawing the sympathy of those around us. We are not meek; we are brash and loud and disrespectful, especially when it comes to how we think God has been too hard on us or is giving us too much to handle. We do not hunger and thirst for righteousness; we satisfy ourselves with material wealth and instant gratification. We are not interested in showing mercy—unless, of course, someone has shown it to us first. We are certainly not pure in heart; it doesn’t take the Shadow to know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. We are not peacemakers; we carry our grudges like badges of honor. And we are never in the mood to be persecuted; the Christian faith should make us comfortable, at ease. How can the Beatitudes be speaking about us? We aren’t these things…and yet we are. How can this be?

Remember that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. First and foremost, the Beatitudes describe Him. He was truly poor in spirit, humbly becoming Man to save us. He mourned the sin that afflicted creation, and was comforted in knowing He would redeem His creatures. He was truly meek, allowing men to do their worst to Him without flinching. He hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and, indeed, came to fulfill all righteousness. He was merciful in all ways—look at the cross and try to deny His mercy. He was pure in heart, always in communion with the Father, always doing His Father’s will. He was the great peacemaker, for He reconciled man to God through His blood. And He was persecuted to make us righteous.

Jesus was and is all of these things; we are none of them. And yet, in Him we are all these things too. This is the great paradox St. Paul described when he said of Jesus, “He was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” All that we are, He took upon Himself and bore it to death on the cross. In return, He gave us all that is His—His innocence, His blessedness. In Christ, we are everything the Beatitudes depict. This is our blessedness, and it comes as every blessing does: as a gift.

On the Feast of All Saints, our thoughts often and rightly turn to those who have gone before us—mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and congregation members like Adele, Karen, David and Tillie—all the faithful of the Lord who have lived and died, clinging to their Baptism. In one respect, our lives are diminished by their passing, for we have lost something we will not regain in this life. But our faith has been strengthened also, for we commend them to the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Surely they are saints. But so are we. The difference between them and us is not one of blessedness. The difference is that we see the truth of the Word of God dimly, as St. Paul wrote, through a dark glass. We continue to walk by faith; they see our Lord and the truth of the Word of God clearly. Or as we just sang, “We feebly struggle; they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia!”

We share blessedness with all the saints of God. We are His blessed ones, forever united with all who have called upon our Lord Jesus Christ by faith—“with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” And we sing together our praise to the Lamb who was slain, evermore praising Him and saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory; Hosanna in the highest!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

No comments: