Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday of All Saints Sermon -- Matthew 5:1-12

November 2, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are . . . .”

Blessedness is not a human trait despite how much you might want it to be. None are born with it, though it would be good if it were so. Much grief would be avoided. But blessedness is not a human trait. Rather, people are properly described as vengeful, angry, depraved, and unholy.

So you hear Jesus say: “Blessed are . . . .” And what must you think? Those statements don’t apply to me. They don’t describe me. Jesus lists a number of different attributes of blessed people, but they are not what you experience or what you witness about yourself. He lists all sorts of rewards and resultant actions that stem from blessedness, but they are not to be received by those who are unholy or unblessed.

Recall what Jesus says: “Blessed are . . . the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” All sorts of blessed attributes Jesus gives, but just how opposite they are of your behavior and character.

You who exalt yourselves are not “poor in spirit.” You who take joy in other’s misery, who experience schadenfreude, are not “those who mourn.” You who seek retribution against those who cross you are not “the meek.” You who delight in pleasing your own desires, even the most wanton ones, do not “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You who withhold your gifts and ignore those in need are far from “merciful.” You who harbor anger and ill will for others are not “pure in heart.” You who encourage and inspire unrest at home or in the workplace or between friends and neighbors do not “make peace.” And every time that you have not spoken up for what is good, right, and salutary, you are not “persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” but are the persecutors, whether active or passive.

Jesus “opens His mouth and teaches,” but His words seem to miss the mark about you. His teaching is all wrong. Or more properly, you miss the mark that His words of blessing set. Speaking to you and the crowds, Jesus should give a list of woes, not a list of beatitudes. He should say: “Woe to the prideful, the revelers, the bullies, those who hunger and thirst for sinfulness, the miserly and vengeful, the depraved in heart, the warmongers, and the persecutors of the sons of righteousness.” And indeed, He does say such things. Read through the gospel accounts, and you will find such statements from the open mouth of Jesus. For Christ neither minces words nor speaks in vain.

But in that last statement there lies something great, something that needs to be noted and heard. Jesus does not speak in vain. And if that is true, then what should you make of the Beatitudes? If they neither describe your attributes or character nor the attributes and character of the crowds Jesus preached to, then why did He speak them? Why would He “open His mouth and teach His disciples, saying: ‘Blessed are . . . .’”?

Jesus does not speak in vain. His words may not describe you or the crowds, but they do testify about Him. The Beatitudes are all about Him. They tell about His attributes and His character. They tell what He will do and experience. They detail what is truly His because He does so. These words of Jesus point out that He is “the Blessed One,” as you yourself will testify in minutes during the Sanctus, echoing the words of the company of heaven that you heard from Revelation this day. “The Blessed One”: that is the identity of Jesus which must be known by those who would have Him as their Redeemer.

Your Lord speaks the Beatitudes and says: “I am poor in spirit. I mourn. I am meek. I hunger and thirst for righteousness. I am merciful. I am pure in heart. I am the peacemaker. I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Yet, the Beatitudes are not simply a description of Jesus. Rather, they speak about why this is so: Jesus is all of this for your benefit. Jesus is this way, so that the rewards and resultant actions of His blessedness may be your own.

This is alluded to in the other Scriptures that were read this day. The Apostle John writes: “We know that when [God] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” This is so as you have received the character, attributes, and actions of Christ as your own, as you have been called “the children of God,” as the apostle reminds you. It is the result of “wash[ing your] robes and mak[ing] them white in the blood of the Lamb.” As the Lamb of God, the Blessed One Jesus Christ has given Himself in sacrifice for you and you have been incorporated into Him through Holy Baptism, what is His is now yours. His character, His attributes, His actions: they are all reckoned by God the Father as your own, as if you had always been like that.

Christ’s blessedness is imputed to you. That connection to the Blessed One is what makes you blessed. It delivers to you everything that Jesus said. He does not speak in vain. There is a reason why the Beatitudes are in the plural form, why Jesus says: “Blessed are . . .,” not “Blessed is . . . .” As you have been given the blessedness of Christ, what He Himself has and what He shares, each of these statements that He makes becomes a statement of about you.

So you can hear the Beatitudes again and you can say: “Because of Christ’s sacrificial death; because I have been made part of His Body, the Church, through Holy Baptism; because I share in His blessedness, having been washed in His blood: I am poor in spirit. I mourn. I am meek. I hunger and thirst for righteousness. I am merciful. I am pure in heart. I am the peacemaker. I am persecuted for righteousness’ sake. What is true of Christ is now true of me in this new reality, in this new life that I have been given.”

This is what all the saints of Christ, all “the children of God,” can say as they have been received the “salvation [that] belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” His blessedness is now yours and your unholiness is no longer counted against you. Even though the Beatitudes do not always describe the present, earthly, visible reality of your lives, they do truly describe what you have been made and continue to be made into. Remember what the apostle John said: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure.”

The apostle mentions the “not yet” aspect of your new life and new reality. He did so also in Christ’s revelation to him, in the depiction of the heavenly worship taking place in front of the Lord God’s eternal throne. That is what this All Saints’ Day commemoration reminds you. It tells you of your identity, a shared identity with all of Christendom: past, present, and future. Yet, it also shows you what some have already received—as Geraldine Gibb, Harriet Kruger, and Nora Kauffman did since last All Saints’ Day—but what you still await.

So it is with Christ’s Beatitudes. First they teach you who and what He is, and then they tell you who and what you are. But they also teach you what you have yet to receive, what still awaits: “the kingdom of heaven, comfort for your mourning, inheriting the earth, satisfaction of your new hunger and thirst for righteousness, receiving mercy, seeing God, being called sons of God.” This has been given in part, but it will be fulfilled. It shall be as the Apostle Paul told the Philippians: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

You have been given a glimpse of this in the readings for today. As you have heard and believed, the Holy Spirit continues to do His purifying work in you. He has already delivered Christ’s blessedness to you. He has renewed it again as you were forgiven of all your sins. You will receive the Blessed One’s pledge, seal, and token of your inheritance of everlasting life in the Lord’s Supper, the foretaste of the eternal feast to come. You have His blessedness which is yours through Holy Baptism and the renewal of it.

On this Sunday of All Saints, your true identity is again confirmed. Blessedness is not a human trait, despite how much you might want it to be. But blessedness is the character of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is the character and attribute is imputed and given to you to be your own. So you may hear His words: “Blessed are . . . the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” And you can know that those words describe you and the promises are meant for you.

That is what the Blessed One Jesus Christ has made so. It is what He has achieved for you and for all His saints who have been washed clean by Him. Lay claim to that identity and to those promises. For Jesus does not speak in vain, but He says: “Blessed are the children of God.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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