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Sermon for Sunday 1 November 2020

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                                                            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.”

What the World Needs is Shalom

Today is All Saints’ Day, a day when our vision of the church sweeps the horizons of history and of heaven, all at the same time.  It’s a day when we also witness, and bear witness, to the many arenas of faithfulness of God for His people.  Today, we recall how God has worked our salvation faithfully and with mercy.  Today we recall the generation upon generation of the saints who have lived and served faithfully, preserving until our day the saving grace of God’s Word and sacraments.  At the same time, we see the horizon of heaven, the first light of a new day, the dawn of the fulfillment of God’s will in all of creation, a day when all creation joins in the hymn of the heavenly hosts: “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12).

All Saints’ Sunday is the day when we call to mind the size and solidarity of the holy Christian church, a community of God’s people extending beyond all the usual boundaries of time and of race, culture, language, nationality, partisan politics, and socioeconomic status.  All Saint’s Sunday is a day when we remember the whole company of the saints both in heaven and on earth; all of God’s people who await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell.

All Saints’ Sunday is the day when the church, with a strong affirmation, first and foremost, lays claim to the living hope we have through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second to this, today we give thanks for the life and witness of all the faithful departed.  We have affirmed it before and today we will affirm it again in the words of St. Paul: “If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

All Saints’ Sunday is more than a remembrance of the faithful now at rest in Jesus, it’s the day when we reach beyond time as we know it, leaping over the open pits of our own graves and the graves of those we love, to a new understanding of Easter’s resurrection.  More than a remembrance of those who have preceded us, All Saints’ Sunday is a further “commentary on Easter,” which carries us beyond the good news of our personal survival, to the exciting affirmation of God’s ultimate justice, history’s righteous fulfillment and the return to God’s perfection as He intended.  All Saints’ Sunday tells us to what, and for what, we shall be raised.

In Christ, we shall be raised in the mercy of God to share in the fulfillment of God’s righteousness.  This is the day that sets into perspective the words of St. John: “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, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  Yet there are still misconceptions of what happens after death, and many ask, “What will we be?”

It was Easter morning.  The nave of Saint Luke would be filled to overflowing every hour from 8 a.m. until noon.  On the front of the bulletin there was a single brief paragraph, strategically placed: “There are just two kinds of people here this morning: Those who believe in the resurrection, and those who wish they could.”  Central in the preaching of the New Testament church is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We know our history: of how the religious leaders found Him guilty of blasphemy and treason.  The civil authorities believed it to be expedient to permit His execution.  So, the judgment was rendered on the life and ministry of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth.  The crowd had turned against Him and with one voice cried, “Crucify Him!”  And it was done!  On Holy Friday, “He suffered death and was buried.”

But on the third day, first day of the week, Resurrection morning, God intervened, overruling the decision of the authorities and the crowds, and raised up His Christ.  The resurrected Jesus then deputized His disciples: “You are witnesses of these things.”  He then sent them to preach in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.  All the world would be the new jury and the “witnesses would tell the story over and again.”  So Peter preaches, as written in the book of Acts: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you and killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead.  To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

And although we find Jesus’ resurrection a comforting assurance that death does not have the final word, the resurrection affirms so much more.  For one, it affirms God’s faithfulness.  God does what He promises!  Number two, Jesus’ resurrection affirms the validity of Jesus’ teachings – all of them!  Number three, the resurrection affirms God’s victory and power over death.  And finally, it affirms the eternal destiny of all believers.  Having these affirmations, our faith is strengthened, and we are given hope as we place our trust in God.  

The writer of Hebrews (11:1) tells us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  This is our trust of God!  Isaiah writes: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock … In the path of thy judgments, O Lord, we wait for thee (Isaiah 26:4, 8).”  Together with the affirmations of Easter, we’re also given new meaning and a new urgency for our lives.  We’re given a sense of direction: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:17).”  Having the hope and promises of the resurrection, All Saints’ Sunday is also acall to Discipleship.

It’s no accident that Matthew places the Beatitudes at the very beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and this sermon comes very close to the beginning of His ministry.  In the closing verses of Matthew chapter 4, having finished the calling of His disciples, Jesus begins teaching in the region of the Galilee and in the synagogues of that region.  People brought the sick to Him for healing, and great crowds were gathering from as far as Jerusalem, the Decapolis, Judea and areas beyond the Jordan.

Matthew records that seeing the crowds, Jesus gathers the disciples and goes up on a mountain.  The opening of His sermon appears to be directed only to the disciples, the “inner circle,” but we know that it’s also directed at all the faithful.  Jesus begins to prepare His chosen for their lives as disciples, and for the ministry they will share with Jesus.  Jesus sits down and begins His teaching: “Blessed are the humble in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  These are amazing principles, and it didn’t take long for these teachings to sink in.

As the disciples quickly realized, these teachings of Jesus were no mere collection of sentimental platitudes, these sayings were frontal attacks on most of our assumptions about how things are in the “real” world.  The pattern Jesus uses appears to be a reversal, humiliation now and glory later.  Such teaching makes no sense whatsoever, unless we trust God to “deliver” on all His promises.  As the ministry of Jesus unfolds, it becomes clear that the Beatitudes reflect the style of Jesus’ own life and ministry, and what His disciples will be expected to follow.

These words become a prologue to the gospel Jesus will preach, the examples He will set, and the counsel He will give.  We recall the question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Jesus said to him: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matthew 19:16, 21).”

On the surface, Jesus’ teachings, poverty of spirit, mourning and humility appear to be spiritual virtues in themselves, but this isn’t the case.  Underneath each one of the Beatitudes is the call to live our lives in full trust of God.  Spiritual “have nots,” those who know that they have no righteousness of their own, are those who will hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness.  Because God can be trusted, they shall be satisfied!  It’s only when we have this confidence in the promises of God, that we can begin to understand and follow Jesus’ example and His mandate.  To fully understand what Jesus is teaching here, the Beatitudes must be studied in the context of a community of trust, of vision and of hope.  Neither platitudes nor political platforms, the Beatitudes are serious expectations for those who live confidently in the light of Christ, and of His resurrection.

To be disciples of Jesus, we must pray for that solid trust that gladly accepts whatever condition we find ourselves in, as places in which God can and does act.  In such matters, our faith in our Father’s plans for the future does much to inform and enable the faithfulness of a given moment.  What we need to realize is, that the Beatitudes are also the work of faith.

From the first four of Jesus’ “Beatitudes,” it would appear that the followers of Jesus are more like “victims” than “disciples.”  If we misunderstand the Beatitudes, we see disciples as being spiritual “have nots” who must trust and depend wholly upon God and His promises.  However, Jesus has in mind something more for us than our passively staying out of trouble … yes we’re called to wholly depend on God, but we’re also called to grieve deeply for the suffering of the world, to practice self-control, and to long for perfect righteousness.  Understanding the Beatitudes in this way, we see that the works of faith are not passive at all.  Rather, it’s an active faith that compels us to reach out to a lost, hurting and dying world.

Disciples who are solidly established in faith and who have a firm hold on God’s promises, are then free to live in love, to be of pure heart, to show mercy, realize that we are also called to actively pursue the hard work of peacemaking, even while we accept the real possibility of persecution.  Being of a single mind about the things of the kingdom, the disciples are called to be merciful, just as we have received and experienced God’s mercy.  More than a gracious attitude of good will, “being merciful” includes having empathy for another’s suffering and participating with each other in setting things right.  Peacemaking is more than bringing calm to chaos, peacemaking is also an act of healing.

Making peace involves proclamation, diplomacy, self-control, a willingness to forgive and to promote the work of forgiveness among others.  Peace making is about obeying Jesus’ command to love one another as we love ourselves.  And without question, making peace is what our country desperately needs today. 

Even if you only give just a casual glance at the nightly news, one has to acknowledge that not only are people very polarized over the current election season, but at the perceived racial imbalance in this country today.  Now let me be clear, I have no intension in wading into any of this this morning.  Even if I were, I doubt I would change anyone’s mind.  That’s how polarized we are today.  Instead my goal this morning is to call our attention to the fact that this country is in desperate need of change.

What we desperately need in this country is peace.  The division we see in our nation today is not only tearing society apart, it’s now ripping apart communities and even our families.  I personally know two brothers who are so divided over the political climate of this country, that they can’t even be in the same room with each other.  Folks, that’s sad.  Fellow children of our heavenly Father, make no mistake, satan is hard at work doing anything and everything he can to promote division and hatred, and he’s succeeding.  Worse yet, we’re helping him succeed anytime we allow things like our political views and perceived social injustices to divide us.

Jesus commanded us to love one another and St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, that “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (vs. 4-7).  With God’s promises and Paul’s words in mind, how can we say we love our neighbors while allowing the issues of society to divide us?  The fact is, we all want peace and the peace we desire can only come from God.

We need to share the peace of Christ, a peace that promotes open communication.  We need to share the peace of Christ that forgives and promotes the work of forgiveness among others.  We need to share the peace of Christ, a peace that promotes the healing of this nation.  We need to share God’s peace, the Shalom of God.  Shalom is a peace that’s more than an absence of conflict.  When we desire Shalom for another person, it’s a prayer for the well-being of our neighbor.

Shalom is a prayer that our neighbor will be spared from evil and hurtful things.  More than that, Shalom is a prayer that our neighbor may be blessed by the presence of all good things.  Shalom is sometimes translated: “May all things be for you as God wills.”  All Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes appears to “flow” into the work of peacemaking.  Those who do works of mercy and charity, all the while mourning the suffering of the world’s brokenness and hungering for righteousness, are by their very nature makers of peace.  Saint Augustine wrote: “Peace is the work of justice indirectly, insofar as justice removes the obstacles to peace; but it is the work of charity (love) directly, since charity, according to its very notion, causes peace.”

On this All Saints’ Sunday, it’s good that we take a few moments to remember the Saints who have gone before us.  But we also need to take the time to see the broader message of hope and promise that we find in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We also need to hear the call to discipleship, and today especially, the need to be peacemakers in a very troubled time.  Each of us are called to share God’s peace, a Shalom that opens lines of communication, a peace that forgives and promotes forgiveness and enables the healing not only of a nation, but of communities and of families.

God’s promises are sure, for in His promises we have forgiveness, strength and hope for tomorrow.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  Today I encourage you to join with me in sharing God’s Shalom, God’s peace; it’s what we and our world desperately needs today, and in the days ahead.


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