All Saints Day Observed – November 5th and 6th, 2016 – Matthew 5:1-12
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One of the temptations for every pastor is to turn the sermon into happy advice time. Guys like giving advice. We like to be the folks who can sweep in, say, “Well, you should just do X, Y, and Z, and everything will be fixed.” And for the last three hundred years, there's been a strong trend in Christian pulpits to basically turn Christian teaching and preaching into advice time. In the 18th Century in Germany, you'd hear sermons about the virtues of growing potatoes. Now you can walk in the bookstores and find books about the Christian way to balance your budget; there are sermon series on all sorts of “handy” advice, from how to vote, how to have perfect kids; so on and so forth.
And then, All Saints' Day, we hear our Lord Jesus Christ begin to preach. And it's not happy advice time, not in the slightest. Jesus begins with some of the most audacious statements ever spoken. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Do we think of those as being blessed? If someone is poor in spirit, is feeling down-trodden, don't we try to get them feeling better as soon as possible? If someone mourns, we don't say “congratulations”. If someone is shy, we don't say “great” - we find the article about 7 simple ways to overcome your shyness. And if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, well, go on out and do something – there's surely some protest or social justice cause de jour for you to go and help out with. That's how we think today – we are problem solvers and go-getters and we expect everyone to be problem solvers and go getters, and that's what we try to make everyone be. Fix everything, make everything right, be part of the solution.
And yet, even today, with all that we do, with all our advice and endless books and articles about how to get better, with all our wondrous technological advancements and with all our material wealth... what do we still see? People who are poor in Spirit. People who mourn. People who are meek, who don't want to run the rat race to get ahead. People who see injustice in the world that they can't fix, and who hunger and thirst for true righteousness. See, part of the problem is we want to think we are in control – that if we just had that little bit of information or good advice, we could flip the switch and make everything wondrous. And we can't. We can't. There are simply times when we can't change what's going on around us – and sorrow will come, and mourning will come. Feeling ineffectual and out of control, feeling helpless against the wickedness of the world, these will come. As Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” There's a time, a season – and we are no more in control of those times than any of us gets to control the weather or the seasons. Some days are good, and some, not so much.
So here we are – and Jesus begins to preach, and He doesn't tell us how to take control of our lives and situations – instead, we are presented with our utter lack of control. Because that's our lot in life, we don't get to control the things we'd most want to control. And yet, here comes Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and He looks at you, and He says to you, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You and I, we don't have much power. We don't have much control. Even whoever gets elected President, they'll get to spend the next 4 years learning how little power and control over things they actually have. Yet there is Christ Jesus, and He has power and control, and He says to you that yours is the kingdom of heaven. Are you down-trodden now – well, Christ comes to give you the Kingdom of heaven. And what does this kingdom look like? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Not a there there, or a pat on the back, or you'll adapt to the new normal – but comfort, comfort that comes about from seeing the dead raised again to life come the last day. Comfort that comes from being reunited in the life of the world to come.
Do you see what Jesus is saying here, what He's doing? He is laying out how His salvation works. He's laying out what He is going to do and accomplish as true God and true man, and what He will give to you. Not mere advice to slog along for a few more days, but eternal life and everlasting salvation. And how does He do this for you? He comes down from heaven and takes His place at your side, in the midst of a world full of suffering and pain, and He takes it all upon Himself. Jesus Christ becomes poor in Spirit – weeps tears of blood in Gethesame, that's poor in spirit. Because He will have you in His Heavenly Kingdom, and He will suffer even the Cross to get you there. Jesus Christ Himself mourns – shortest verse in the bible – Jesus wept – and He Himself will see that He is comforted when He calls you, His own friend, from your tomb come the last day.
It goes on. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Christ's reign as king doesn't come with armies and might, it comes when He lets them beat Him, whip Him, place a crown of thorns upon His head and crucify Him with a sign that says, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. Yet, because He dies and rises, He may say to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And then He uses this authority, and gives life to you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Christ Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness. When He goes to be baptized, John would have stopped Him, but Jesus tells John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” And Jesus constantly fulfills all righteousness, from there even unto the cross – He does everything well, and he even takes up the entire punishment that we deserve – and He is satisfied enough to cry out, “It is finished.” Nothing pertaining to righteousness is left undone, and so there is now salvation in Him.
And all these things Christ gives to us. He calls us away from a world that is full of strife and contention, a world that tells us all sorts of varied things we must do to get ahead. And Christ Jesus tells us, “No, not that – you are baptized and joined to me. You are my own righteous and holy ones now, so be not like the world, but think like Me.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The world hates mercy – mercy is for suckers. You don't just give freely – if you give there had better be a string attached. Over and against that, Jesus says “I am totally focused upon mercy – and I would have you give mercy as I have given to you – and I shall keep pouring My mercy upon you.”
Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity isn't praised by the world, in fact, when the world saw Christ Jesus who was indeed pure in heart, they hated Him so much they killed Him. Yet who are you, O Christian? You are the baptized, you are one who has been washed clean of all your sin, given a pure heart by Christ. And why? So you will see God. You are forgiven by God because God wants you to see Him, see Him for all eternity and remain in His presence forever.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peace isn't popular – we've always got to be fighting, whether we're war hawks or social justice warriors. Yet Christ came to make peace – true peace – peace that says, “I forgive you.” Do you know what really denotes a Christian, what is the most Christian thing? Saying, “I forgive you.” It is what the Son of God says to you, and as you are now His brothers and sisters, it is what you are given to say. No matter what the strife, the pain, the anger, the hurt – you are authorized by God to say, “I forgive you” - because you know Christ Jesus who died upon the Cross, and you know that His Cross, His death and resurrection, are bigger than any sin you come across in this life.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” No, no advice on how to make the world like you more – rather this. If you are focused upon Christ and His righteousness – upon the fact that we are sinful and need Christ's forgiveness, His perfect righteousness that far surpasses our own, you'll get kicked in the teeth for it. That's the way it is. But you are sons and daughters of righteousness, and everlasting life is yours. Indeed, Jesus says, “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.” We know how the story goes – we've seen it played out over and over again in the Scriptures. The world attacks the church, attacks your faith, attacks you. That's the way it is – but you see beyond just this world, beyond just the here and now – you see the bigger picture, the picture of eternal life and salvation, won not by your actions, but won by Christ Jesus.
This is why we rejoice today. This is why we give thanks to God for the saints who have gone on before us this day. Even as the world did its worst to them, they spoke and proclaimed the wonders of God's love, and now theirs is the kingdom of heaven, with great reward. And we shall see them again, and we shall dwell with them again, and together we will be with Christ forever and ever, safe from all sorrow, together in joy and love for all eternity. That's what Christ preaches to you today, and it's certainly better than the Christian guide to buying a better house. Heavenly mansions top that.