Rev. 7:9-17 Psalm 34:1-10,22 I John 3:1-3 Matthew 5:1-12
A Sunday school teacher was telling her students the story of the Good Samaritan. She asked them, “If you saw a person lying by the roadside, wounded and bleeding, what would you do?” A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, “I think I’d throw up.”
The book of Revelation honors “a great multitude” of saints “from every nation” wearing white robes, carrying palm branches in their hands and standing before God’s throne. God sits on the throne, and not the Lamb. The angels worship God. The great multitude serves God day and night in God’s temple, and it is God who will spread a tent over them. The Lamb will be the shepherd who leads them to springs of living water, but it is God who will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
On this All Saints Sunday, we hear the good news of the radical inclusivity of God. The great multitude includes all kinds of people – Jews, Gentiles, male, female, African and Greek – whose unity rests in their recognition that salvation belongs to God. We get a glance of heaven.
In the Epistle, John makes it very clear that it is by the lavish, generous love of God that we can be rightly called children of God. The apostle Paul is even more specific. He tells us that it is by the work of God’s spirit that we are “adopted” as God’s children. All Saints’ is a time when, as the family of faith, children of God and joint heirs with Christ, we not only bear each other’s burdens but also claim for those who have died the hope and confidence we have together in the risen Christ. Our legacy is the gift of God’s love, present in this life and present victoriously in the life to come.
Listen to the Gospel reading from the Message – “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
With Jesus’ announcement that the kingdom was near, people were naturally asking, “How do I qualify to be in God’s Kingdom? How do I get in?” Jesus said that God’s kingdom is organized differently from worldly kingdoms. In the kingdom of heaven, wealth and power and authority aren’t important. Kingdom people seek different blessings and benefits, and they have different attitudes. What about us - are our attitudes a carbon copy of the world’s self-centeredness, pride, and desire for power and control or do we reflect the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus?
Matthew 5 – 7 is called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus gave it on a hillside near Capernaum. This sermon probably covered several days of preaching. In it, Jesus proclaimed his attitude toward the law. Position, authority, and money aren’t important in the Kingdom – what matters is faithful obedience – obedience from the heart. The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most familiar passages in all of scripture. It called the people back to the messages of the Old Testament prophets, who like Jesus, taught that heartfelt obedience is more important than legalistic observance.
Jesus began his sermon with words that seem to contradict each other. But the message is that God’s way of living often contradicts the world’s. If we want to live for God we must be ready to say and do what sometimes seems strange to the world. We must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse. By giving of ourselves to better serve others, we will one day receive everything God has in store for us.
These beatitudes are not multiple choice – to pick what you like and leave the rest. They must be taken as a whole. They describe what followers of Christ look like. Each beatitude tells how to be “blessed.” Blessed means more than happiness. It is about those who are in God’s kingdom. The Beatitudes don’t promise laughter, pleasure, or earthly prosperity. To Jesus, “blessed” means experiencing hope and joy, regardless of our circumstances. We are encouraged to find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, by following Jesus no matter what the cost.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Surrounded by new disciples, Jesus begins the teaching that will train them in the new life, which is God’s Kingdom. He is asking them to move away from their “me-ness”. It isn’t all about them, all that is within them is a sense of themselves. Self-centered people live in a fantasy world, empty of the reality of God. The humble, the poor in spirit have the great joy and comfort of crying out to God for help. The poor in spirit are deeply aware of being God-made and God-dependent: everything derives from the goodness of God and everything depends on the grace of God.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The willingness to respond to pain, to misfortune, to suffering, enables us to participate in the divine compassion that changes us. Sorrow does not get stuck in despair, but moves to discover comfort. On All Hallows Eve and All Saints Sunday and All Soul’s Day, we celebrate the impact on our lives by our loved ones who have departed. We give ourselves permission to mourn for them and to feel the loss in our lives. It is in that place that God meets us, comforts us and encourages us to use those feelings, to use our experiences to touch another who may be in a similar place. Those who weep over the pains of life can be confident of God’s healing and comfort.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. In a day when assertiveness is expected, meekness seems more like being a doormat than anything else. But meekness it is not weakness, but power under control. Those who work behind the scenes in any group are working for the common good, are living a life of conviction and compassion. They are living a life in the shadow of God, not in their own spotlight. We see it with the Altar Guild, folks cleaning out the center garden, and folks taking care of the overgrown hedges when no one is looking, and the folks who show up to help with Sacks for Saturday snacks but never see the faces of appreciation of those who receive. We see it in folks who willingly show up early and stay late to help. Living a life in God’s shadow…
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. Blessed are those who hunger for and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Righteousness is food and drink for all of us. We realize that it is not just food that folks need, but all of us need to have our spiritual and emotional needs meet too. We don’t see spirituality or Godliness listed among the basic dietary needs, but it is more important than any of them. Feed me on the bread of heaven and quench my thirst with the cup of blessing…daily I will dine at your table.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Some folks shop for God as we would for a new pair of shoes. We vacillate and live distracted lives. God honors the intensions of our hearts. When we allow God to enter into our hearts, into our lives, then we can truly experience understanding and fellowship. “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” In scripture, those who are most holy are also most joyful.
On All Saints’ Day, it is not just the saints of the church that we should remember in our prayers. It is those who have impacted our lives. We draw inspiration from the stories of the saints. They show the works and ways of a God who is full of surprises and when we remember them, our lives are changed. We remember those who have worked and served to build the mission and ministry here at Grace. We remember their commitment to the work of God. It is that work, that possibility, that dream, we acknowledge today as we close our Stewardship campaign. We want to emulate those who helped us along the way to see God and to move toward
God and toward who God wants us to be. We remember those whom we loved without knowing that we loved them. In the lives of the saints we see the light of Christ’s love and the hope expressed in Matthew - the hope for our blessedness. In that spirit of gratitude, we give to the church. Amen.