November 4, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet appeared; 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.”
Great words of promise are spoken to us, as we celebrate the Festival of All Saints on this morning. The Apostle says: “We will be like God, for we will see Him as He is.” What a promise that is! It is a miraculous thing, indeed, that we poor, miserable sinners will actually be like God. We truly will be like God, not falsely as the serpent in the Garden promised in order to deceive the Woman to take and eat the forbidden fruit. We will be changed, made by God to be like Him.
The significance of the Festival of All Saints is rooted in that promise. We remember those who have gone before us in the faith, the saints in heaven above. They were like us, but now they have been made more like God. They see Him face to face, seeing God as He is, as John recorded for us in his vision: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Today we focus on the change in fate and status brought to people through Jesus’ death and resurrection—the great act of love, grace, and mercy performed for us. Through Jesus’ actions and having their merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, we have been made God’s children. This is the love that we have been shown: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” The Eternal Father calls us His children and considers us just like His eternal Son Jesus, granting blessing upon blessing to us and to all who have gone before us in the faith.
The Scripture readings for this day are full of statements of blessing. Already, we reviewed the promised blessing that John wrote of in his letter to the Church. John’s vision spoke of an eternal blessing that people receive: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And the Gospel Reading for this morning spoke all about blessing.
The teaching of Jesus recorded by Matthew that you heard is called The Beatitudes, because they speak all about blessing. Jesus says: “Blessed are” all sorts of categories of people. What’s interesting about all those statements of blessing that Jesus makes is that none of them would rightly apply to us, certainly not at all times and places. Think about all the people He calls “blessed”: 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. These people Jesus calls blessed. But trying to strive to meet such categories and thus receive blessedness will prove vain.
How well do we fit those categories—poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Consider your own lives, and you will recognize that you don’t fit those categories well at all. Certainly, all of us can recognize a time when we do. But we know just as well how we are the opposite of them. We are proud. We revel and find joy in the things of the world. We desire the things of this world and are quick to find pleasure in sinful deeds. Extracting revenge is our typical reaction to being wronged. Our hearts are full of lust, greed, and scheming. Arguing and brawling become our standard practice and ways of entertaining ourselves. Faced with opposition from others, we are quick to cave and not stand up against them. In fact, we often join in their attacks.
Compared to Jesus’ stated categories of blessedness, we fall woefully short. Based on what we are and have done, we deserve to be called cursed, not blessed. We receive such condemnation when the Lord looks upon on our thoughts, words, and deeds that run contrary to His will. Every time that we are the opposite of these categories of blessedness, we fall into the areas of curse and condemnation. The Lord’s words of Law—words of judgment just as clear as the words of promise and blessing we heard today—are spoken against us.
But our fate is changed. We are changed. The divine promise is given to us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” We are God’s children. We will be like Him. Since that is so, then we will be blessed by the Lord, the source of all blessing. Then those categories of blessedness will describe us well, as we are made to meet them. Note that well: the categories of blessedness do not describe us because we have striven to conform to the Lord’s image and character and achieved that; rather, His work done in us makes us that way.
All those categories of blessedness that Jesus spoke about in our Gospel Reading apply to Him. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us a depiction of Himself. He is saying to us: “I am the Blessed One. But not only am I the Blessed One, I am the One who brings blessing to those under divine curse.” Jesus’ words direct us away from ourselves and focus on Him. Can you make yourself poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers? Can you change who you are by nature? Jesus says, “Think again.” The leopard can’t change its spots. No matter how much we try, how much effort we put into it, we will never meet those descriptions of blessedness that Jesus outlines for us. Not even the saints who have gone before us were able to.
And yet, those descriptions of blessedness apply to us. We are made to meet them. That is what undergirds the statements that John made to all of Jesus’ people, even us: “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” The blessing is not acquired by us, not taken by our force or effort. No, it is given to us by the Blessed One Himself. Remember the focus of this day: the change in status that Jesus gives through His death and resurrection. We have been made God’s children, made like Jesus, by having His merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. The central thought of this day is that Jesus, the Blessed One, has made us blessed by connecting us to Him and applying Himself to us.
This is what the Lord has made known to us. Remember the vision of heaven given to John. Recall that great depiction of innumerable people in white worshiping the Lamb of God before the throne of heaven. In that vision, there was an explanation of why that crowd was there, what got them to that point. It really had nothing to do with what that group of people achieved or accomplished, but what was made to be theirs.
When John was asked about the identity of that group of thousands, he was told exactly who and what they were: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence.” The multitude had this status because of what had been done for them and given to them. They were connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection; His work granted them access to the eternal blessings of Paradise.
So it is for us: we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It’s what happened to us as we were brought to the holy font. That’s what we saw happen during the last several months, with the baptisms of Holland and Sarah Bede. It happens repeatedly as we are absolved and as we partake of the blood of the Lamb in His heavenly banquet here on earth. This is what numbers us among the countless thousands who have gone before us in the faith. It is what makes them and us the children of God. Their story is the same as ours.
We are blessed, since have been connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection, knit together into one holy communion, incorporated into His body, the Church. Credited with what Jesus has done for us, we fit the categories that Jesus described in the Beatitudes. His actions make us so. It’s what John was talking about, both in his vision of paradise and his letter to the Church. It’s a matter of reality now and a reality yet to come: “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” That is what we will be, when we are resurrected and stand among the countless number of those arrayed in white who eternally stand in the presence of God’s throne. May the Blessed One who granted this privilege to those who went before us fulfill the same promise made to us.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.