November 5, 2023
Revelation 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10, 22 1 John 3:1-3 Matthew 5:1-12
The sermon on the mount found in Matthew includes several verses which we might use to describe the saints being remembered by our church today on All Saints Sunday.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
These verses list the attributes we might attribute to saints: meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and willing to be persecuted for righteousness’s sake.
These are indeed traits we should aspire to model to others. Yet, I dare say that all of the saints we remember in the church did not always model these attributes. They fell short over and over again. No one is without sin.
Today we are also remembering the people who we have loved and lost and see no longer. We remember them for filling our lives with joy and teaching us important life lessons. They also failed to live a faithful life ALL the time. Yet, we are better for having shared this, our earthly pilgrimage, with them.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus addresses our shortcomings. He, in fact, begins his sermon by saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Jesus did not come expecting to find perfect people, he came to help each and every one of us know that we are beloved children of God.
As we read in the 1st letter of John, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Jesus is not preaching to the leaders of the church; he is preaching to a crowd of people who are hungry to hear that their suffering will come to an end. Jesus is preaching to those who are poor in spirit, those who are mourning, those who suffer as many of us do. Jesus wants them to know that God is with them and God will comfort them (and us) if we turn to God in faith.
What will be, has not yet been revealed, but as John says, “we are God’s children now.” And, as Jesus says, we are blessed even in our weakness. Knowing these things, believing these things, helps us to become the people God intends for us to be. Being willing to give up our desire for power and walk humbly (or meekly as Jesus says), enables us to inherit the earth.
Think about this. What might the earth look like if the meek were in control? What would it look like if our leaders hungered for righteousness, were merciful, and pure in heart? What would our world look like if it were run by the peacemakers? I would say it would look nothing like it looks today. “Blessed are those who are . . .” willing to be persecuted and to suffer for the welfare of others, “for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” When we are meek and merciful, when we seek peace rather than power, our prayer will be answered, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
For many of us today, we feel like those in the crowd hearing what Jesus is saying. We are waiting for things to change. The people Jesus is speaking to are oppressed and are hoping to hear that their suffering will come to an end. We may not be experiencing a foreign occupation, but many are living in fear – in fear of what might happen to our country which is far from being united, and in fear of what is happening across the globe.
As a preacher I could be having a field day preaching repentance in order to be saved from the end times, if only I took the book of theRevelation to John literally. It would be easy to connect world events to the second coming of Christ at the end of time. We may not live in an occupied country, but we are certainly weighted down with concern here at home and abroad.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus tells us, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Not only does Jesus offer hope, he meets us where we are – poor in spirit. We need not feel guilty if our concerns about the present day, globally, nationally, or in our personal lives is challenging our faith. Jesus comes not criticizing us for our lack of faith, Jesus comes with a promise of redemption.
Then Jesus tells us what faith can offer us. Faith can lead us into a life centered not on ourselves, but on God and the needs of others. Seeing the needs of others can pull us out of the trap of self-pity. It helps us see what we have as a blessing and enables us to give from the abundance of what we have.
I admit this is difficult for me. All too often I see the glass as half empty rather than half full. This is why that first verse is so important to me, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . ..” I’m not so much concerned about inheriting the earth as I am relieved to hear Jesus say that I am blessed, despite my weakness of faith. This reminds me of one of my favorite healing stories found in Mark.
A father brings his son to Jesus to be healed. He says to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, help us! Have compassion on us!” Jesus then says to the father, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” The next verse is the reason this story means so much to me, “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ “I believe; help my unbelief!” “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .”
The father and his son are blessed, just as we are blessed. Jesus comes to us as we are, not as saints, but as children of God who often mess up, get things wrong, and forget what is most important in our lives. Yes, we believe. Lord, help us in our unbelief.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we give you thanks for all the blessings of this life. We thank you for those we remember today and hold close in our hearts. Bless us, and help us in our unbelief, that we might join the ranks of the faithful who hunger for justice and righteousness and help us become the peacemakers our world so desperately needs. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.