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Sermon for All Saints Sunday 2023

First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

2I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 9After 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, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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. 15Therefore 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. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For 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.”

Psalm 149

1Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful. 2Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. 3Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp. 4For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory. 5Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; let them be joyful on their beds. 6Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two edged sword in their hand; 7To wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples; 8To bind their kings in chains and their nobles with links of iron; 9To inflict on them the judgment decreed; this is glory for all his faithful people.  Hallelujah!

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, 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. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

1Seeing the crowds, {Jesus} went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


They’re not Rules, but an Attitude

The gospel readings for the last four Sundays after Pentecost, are a continuation of Matthew’s emphasis on the teachings of Jesus; primarily His focus on what the kingdom of God is like.  One of the reasons that Jesus came, was to usher in God’s kingdom, thus the reason a good amount of His teachings focused on this subject.  Jesus’ lessons were about breaking the paradigm of popular thought, and in many cases, the teaching of the religious leaders, and introducing God’s kingdom of love and peace.  Jesus’ teachings were firmly centered on two things, love of God and love of neighbor; obedience to God and of service to others.

We’re also reminded in these lessons, that while the disciples were gathered to hear the words of wisdom Jesus had to share, Jesus was also focused on the crowds that were gathered.  This fact reminds us that Jesus’ teaching are not limited to those who gather each week as faithful disciples, but are meant for any who will listen.  Jesus’ words are meant to be shared, both in the church, and to a world in need.  And as part of the body of Christ, we recognize that Jesus is the primary teacher of the Christian community, and a foundation stone of His kingdom teaching, is the Sermon on the Mount.  The beatitudes, as they are commonly called, reflect Jesus’ vision for the world, and are the central theme of His proclamation.

God’s kingdom breaks through at the beginning and end of the beatitudes, and deep in the center, is the promise of righteousness and mercy.  The beatitudes aren’t doctrines to live by, rules that we’re to adhere to, or good wishes for a better world; rather the Sermon on the Mount shows us a proper mindset, an approach to life that Jesus Himself modeled, as well as life-giving truth for all who seek righteousness and mercy.

The words and ideals that Jesus introduced, were meant to shake us up, to get us to think, and to get us to respond to others in a more loving and responsible way.  Jesus also, at the end of these sayings, gave us a warning that not everyone would embrace God’s kingdom, and the results of that rejection, would be persecution.  However, despite any possible oppression that may be experienced, there’s also a promise that those who learn from His wisdom, will be blessed.

But this word happy, or blessed, means so much more than simply receiving something; it also means we have a spiritual and emotional peace that can only come from God.  It’s a peace that comes from the knowledge, that this life doesn’t end at the physical death we’ll all experience, but the peace of knowing, that as children of God, our lives will continue throughout eternity, in the presence of God our heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  For the kingdom of God isn’t just about a date sometime in the future, it’s also about the way we live in the here and now.

It’s about living a life worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27), it’s about loving and serving our neighbors, and letting our lights shine before others so that they see God’s love in and through us.  It’s about recognizing that God supplies all our needs, and that He is the only source, for our salvation.  To be poor in spirit is to have the attitude of one who is penitent in heart.  In Psalm 51:17, the psalmist reminds us, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

To have a broken spirit and be contrite in heart, is to guard against arrogance.  It’s recognizing that it’s only through God’s endless mercy and grace, that we are called His children.  To be poor in spirit is to think about, and to earnestly pray, our confession each week, to recognize that each day we fall short in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  It’s about coming before God to confess that we’ve not only sinned against Him, but we’ve wronged others as well.

It’s about admitting that we’re in bondage to sin, and that our freedom can only come through the atoning blood of Jesus.  And because of our bondage to sin, we sin daily, not only in our hearts, but in our words and actions as well, and for this we need daily forgiveness.  It’s recognizing that we fail to love God with our whole heart; instead, our hearts are divided between God, and the idols and the cares of this world.  It means that we regularly lose sight of the fact that it’s God who supplies all our needs, and we instead allow those blessings to dominate our lives, and even fail to see the needs of others.

To be poor in spirit is to recognize that we need three things; first, that it’s only through Christ that we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Second, that we need the renewal that comes from the peace of knowing we are forgiven, and have a future as heirs in God’s kingdom.  Finally, we need the leadership that comes with Christ as our Lord and shepherd.  It’s through this knowledge of God’s amazing grace and love that we look out into the world and see others in need.  And when we see the needs of those around us, it grieves us deeply in our hearts.

The blessings of God for those who mourn, and for those who hunger and thrust for righteousness, go hand in hand.  For those who have received God’s mercy and grace, we will naturally look out into a world in need, and we cannot help but mourn.  God’s children mourn with those who suffer the injustices that occur, not only in this country, but in the entire world.  We mourn with those who are trapped, for example, by the evils of human trafficking, of pornography, including child pornography, and in child prostitution rings like the one that was broken up not long ago.

In raids conducted by police, some 260 people were arrested and 17 children ranging in age from 12 to 17, were freed from oppressive situations.  We also grieve with those affected by the illegal drug crisis, as well as the financial crisis, that has entire families on the streets, and for the shelters who must put them on waiting lists, because there is nowhere to place them.  We lament the senseless loss of life, each time oppressive groups and leaders throw societies into chaos, and the innocent lives of adults and children that are taken.  We grieve for those trapped in, or fleeing war-torn areas, for the refugees and the innocent children who know nothing but fear and poverty.

As Christians we look at our world and see the results of sin, and we mourn with those affected by it.  But we need to do more than be concerned about the sin and its effects on our world; we also need to pray that the Holy Spirit would direct us, in how we’re to act to overcome, as Luther says, “satan and his minions.”  We need to diligently work toward overcoming the ills of this world.  We need to be aware of the signs of hatred, abuse, and slavery so we can react or alert the authorities when needed.

Luther put it this way; “[A person] is righteous and blessed, who continually works and strives with all his might, to promote the general welfare and the proper behavior of everyone, and who helps to maintain and support this by word and deed, by precept and example.”  Luther felt that it was no accident that Jesus used the term “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  He said, by using this phrase, Jesus’ intent, was to point out that this requires great earnestness, longing, eagerness, and unceasing diligence, and that where this hunger and thirst is lacking, sin will prevail.

We need to be the kind of people who are strong in the face of sinfulness; people who will not let ourselves be frightened off, dumbfounded, or overcome by the world’s ingratitude or malice.  In short, our ministry in this world requires a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can never be curbed, stopped, or satisfied.  A thirst that looks and cares for nothing except the accomplishment and maintenance of what’s right, resisting anything that hinders this end.  We must be active in seeking justice against those who would otherwise prey on others.  However, actively seeking justice, doesn’t mean that we must be vindictive, Jesus was clear, vengeance is God’s alone.  Instead of retaliation, we’re called to pray for our enemies.  Jesus then tells us that the meek will also be blessed.

As I’ve reminded you before, being humble doesn’t mean a person is a doormat for others.  In a world that openly promotes narcissism, humility is an attitude that’s desperately needed, not only in our social lives, but in our work lives as well.  In a society that stresses individuality, upward mobility, and getting ahead despite collateral damage, being meek seems like a contradiction.  How can a person be meek in today’s business world, and still inherit the earth?  Again, Jesus’ teaching is counter cultural.  What Jesus is telling us, is that meekness has to do with how we live as Christians in relation to each other.

Over the course of my previous career, I saw a good number of people progress through the ranks.  Many of them advanced by hard work, and genuine support of the mission.  However, there were too many that achieved the top ranks through less than scrupulous means.  The interesting thing was, that of those who achieved the upper ranks through hard work, they were the ones who seemed to be far more satisfied later in life, while those who achieved the top on the backs of others, were suspicious and unsatisfied.

Meekness is an attitude that pushes us to do our very best each, and every day, in both our public and private lives.  Meekness helps us to love our neighbors and to want what’s best for them.  It allows us to focus not on the things it takes to get ahead, but on each day and opportunity, and on what’s best for others.  In our community and neighborhoods, being humble is about treating others with dignity and respect; steering clear of those who spread gossip and unkind remarks.  And when others do injure us, we’re not to look for revenge, rather we’re to love and to treat them fairly.  An attitude of humility also means that we have and show mercy to others.

Jesus’ fifth blessing is pronounced on those who show mercy.  This is something we pray for each week, and anytime we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s an attitude that goes with being contrite in heart.  Anytime we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God forgive us our sin, as we forgive the sins of others.  God first showed us mercy when He sent Jesus to die for our sin.  Jesus’ teaching about mercy is also seen in His response to Peter, that “we’re to forgive others seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).  Another parable that Jesus told compared the kingdom of God to the actions of a king and his servant.

In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus tells of the king who forgives his servant a debt of 10 thousand talents.  A talent equates to about 15 years wage for the average worker.  Yet despite the fact that the servant was 150,000 years in debt to the king, the king had mercy and forgave the debt.  However, the servant didn’t share the mercy extended to him to others.  Another slave owed the forgiven servant 100 denarii or 100 days wage.  Forgetting the debt that the king had forgiven him, he threw the second slave into prison until he could pay the debt.  The point of this parable is that we must be merciful just as we have received God’s mercy.  Finally, Jesus tells us that the pure in heart will see God.

Like the beatitudes before it, being pure of heart is about what motivates us.  We obey the law because there are penalties for its disobedience.  On the other hand, how we accomplish our job, treat our family and our neighbors, has to do with our attitude.  Our heart isn’t pure if we treat others well, only because we expect to receive something in return.  In what’s commonly called the golden rule, Jesus in Matthew chapter 5 commanded us to love others as we love ourselves.

If we truly love and deal with others as we would ourselves, then our motivation is for their best interest, not our best interest.  By being pure of heart, our thoughts, intensions, and our moral disposition will be one that is pleasing to God.  It’s about a right relationship with God and with others.  Being pure of heart also means doing all these things not because we’ll be rewarded here on earth or in heaven, but in response to God’s undeserved mercy shown to us.  The beatitudes are not a set of rules given for us to obey, but an attitude and outlook that recognizes and shares God’s endless love for us.  The beatitudes are about our relationship with God and with those around us.

On All Saints Sunday, we take the time to celebrate those who have gone before us.  In a few moments, we, in our prayers, will remember those who have died this past year.  All Saints Sunday celebrates the baptized people of God, the living and dead, who are the body of Christ.  As November heralds the dying of the landscape, the readings and liturgy call us to remember that we are living in God’s kingdom now, and we recall the promise of eternal life as we remember all who have died in Christ and whose baptism is now complete.  At the Lord’s Table we will gather with the faithful of every time and place, trusting that the promises of God will be fulfilled, and that in God’s kingdom to come, all our tears will be wiped away in the New Jerusalem.


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