Saturday, November 2, 2013

Blessed Are the Saints

Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 3, 2013 (The Feast of All Saints)

Today’s Gospel lesson is the very first part of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is, for obvious reasons, often called “The Blessings.”  Well, usually we say that in Latin.  But that’s what the word beatitude means: blessing.  It’s not the “be-attitudes,” as some Christians call it, because it’s not supposed to be a list of laws to follow (not to mention the fact that “be-attitudes” is a complete misunderstanding of the Latin word itself).  It’s not what we’re supposed to become by our own reason or strength.  Granted, some of these do describe things we can outwardly at least pretend to do by our own decision or will.  But mourning and being persecuted are things that happen to us, not things we do.  It’s something that the world imposes on us, not something we can or should seek out.  A person who goes out and actively seeks to be persecuted, is usually not being persecuted for his faith.  Usually that sort of thing lands you in trouble not for Jesus’ sake but because you’re simply being an annoying jerk about it.  And while trying to do the other things in the beatitudes isn’t as likely to land you in trouble, it won’t work.  You can’t do those things with any degree of perfection.  You always want to get ahead.  And even when you try to live humbly and meekly, you get proud of your humility.  It’s hopeless and just runs you around in a desperate circle that ultimately winds up in despair.

Instead of being things we’re supposed to do to gain the blessings described, these things are descriptions of what God’s people, His holy ones, His saints, really are, even though in the world’s eyes they often seem to be the very opposite.  The poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, and the ones who don’t get very far in this life because they don’t do what’s necessary to get ahead at others’ expense, and even those who are persecuted, really are the heirs of the true riches of God’s kingdom.  All of these things are descriptions of what it means to be a Christian, fruits that come from the tree of faith in our Savior, not works that we do to become a Christian.  You can’t tape a bunch of apples to an oak and make it into an apple tree.  Not even if you use duct tape.  Rather, these are descriptions of what we have become because God has created in us a clean heart and renewed within us a right spirit, by uniting us with Him who is clean and pure, but for our sake became sin and death on the cross.

And, really, isn’t that the point?  Jesus is the One to whom the Kingdom of heaven truly belongs, the one who is the sender of the Comforter, the One who is the Heir of creation, who is Himself righteousness and salvation, who is, as the creator, the one who mercifully provides for everyone and everything, who is in the eternal fellowship of His Father and beholds His face always, namely the Son of God Himself, became poor, mournful, meek, hungry, thirsty, self-sacrificing, and so on for us.  The ultimate persecution for righteousness’ sake was the death of God Himself on the cross.

But that’s why the Beatitudes are descriptions of saints.  Because it is His righteousness that He gave to us when we were crucified with Him and raised with Him in Baptism.  These aren’t things we go out and do to become great in the Kingdom of God.  They are things that simply describe us because we have become united with Him who is the rightful Heir of all these things.

The other thing that is paradoxical about the beatitudes is the strange combination of present tense and future tense in several of the sentences.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Blessed shall be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  He also doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they are comforted.”  Even the first beatitude, which sounds like the end of the sentence is in the present tense, speaks of an inheritance, which is something one will get in the future.  Jesus speaks of a present reality which is nevertheless in the future.  Here again, since we’re dealing with the almighty God, the creator of time itself, things don’t always need to match up to an orderly progression from past to present to future.  We will experience the full glory and benefits of our citizenship in the Kingdom of God in eternity, but that glory and those benefits belong to us even now, here on earth.  It is the full reality of the heirs of heaven which belongs to us right now, even though to all the world we might look poor and miserable indeed.  For example, inheriting the earth doesn’t just mean that we’ll eventually rule the world, it also means that even right now the earth itself exists for the sake of God’s Church.  The only reason God keeps creation itself in existence is so that the Gospel can be proclaimed to all the world.  If there were no more Christians to do that, then it would be pointless for God to keep this old, broken world in existence any longer.  Our hunger and thirst being satisfied doesn’t just mean that in eternity we our needs will be filled even before we are aware that the need exists, but that our hunger and thirst for righteousness is filled today, here, in this room, with the body and blood of Him who is righteousness itself.  Receiving mercy also doesn’t just talk about the fact that all our troubles will be over in eternity, it also means that what God does right now by making us heirs of His kingdom is something He does out of mercy, out of His own love for His creation, even while we were yet sinners.

All Saints’ Day, in other words, is a day that is about all Christians, both those who now experience these blessings, and those who possess them even though they don’t yet experience them with their five senses.  It’s about the fact that God’s Church transcends time and space.  There’s only one Jesus, so all those who are in Him are united with each other as well.  That includes not only those who have gone on before us and all those believers who currently live in this old creation, but even those who have yet to be born.  There is a multitude which is beyond numbering here today, gathered around the throne of the Lamb whose body all Christians eat and whose blood all Christians drink.  The altar of God in heaven is joined to our altar here in Elmwood Park.  And, as Jesus promised in the beatitudes, they neither hunger nor thirst anymore, the sun and the heat shall not scorch them, and the Lamb is the Shepherd who gives them the living water will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Both today in this room, and in eternity, you are the holy ones gathered before the throne of the Lamb, praising Him forever.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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