Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sermon -- All Saints' Day (November 1, 2015)

MATTHEW 5:1-12

In the name + of Jesus. 

     Chances are, when you think of All Saints' Day, you think of early Christian figures such as St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, or St. Athanasius.  While it is true that they are saints of God, sainthood is not limited to apostles or martyrs.  The word “saint” means holy one.  It refers to all who are righteous in the sight of God and live under his favor.  In other words, you are saints.
     Every Sunday we confess: “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  There is only one kingdom of God, not many kingdoms.  We confess it in the Apostles' Creed: “I believe in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”  We confess that the Holy Christian Church is united, whether they are saints in heaven or on earth.  In our communion liturgy, we join with all the saints on earth and hosts of heaven, lauding and magnifying the name of Jesus.  The Church in heaven and on earth join in praise and in the heavenly feast.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     If you just don't feel like a saint, that's because we are sinners.  None of us looks or acts like a saint.  Our words and actions mount up plenty of evidence against us.  But that is why we confess, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”  It is God who tells us that we are saints.  Our eyes and ears and our consciences say it cannot be true.  But God says it is.  And so, we take God at his word and believe God over all the evidence that says otherwise.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     If you recognize that you do not look or act or feel like a saint, that is a good thing.  It is good and right to confess that we are sinners.  Jesus said that this is what his disciples are like.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  One who is poor in spirit does not boast of anything or claim any kind of credit before God, as if we should receive some kind of reward from him.  We all come to God as beggars.  We have nothing with which we can appease God.  If we are to have anything good, it must come from God.
     God has been good and merciful to you.  Blessed are the saints of God.  Jesus pours out this blessing upon you.  He comes to you and says, “Yes, you are poor in spirit.  But in place of your poverty, I will pour out great riches.  I take from you all that condemns you.  I take your guilt, your punishment.  I die your death and take your curse.  I submit to hellish torment so that you will not have to.”  In exchange, Jesus gives you a place in the kingdom of heaven.  Listen carefully to Jesus' words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  The blessing is not something you will receive some day; yours IS the kingdom of heaven.  You are children of God now.  You are possessors of God's good gifts now—peace, rest, forgiveness, and joy.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     Still, you can't help but notice that you are not experiencing the glory you'd think a saint would have.  Yes, there is peace.  You know that God's wrath has been removed from you.  There is rest.  You do not have a list of tasks to perform endlessly so that God will stay happy with you.  There is forgiveness.  Your sin no longer condemns you.  There is joy.  Your place in God's kingdom is secure.  But where is the glory?  We are still weak and frail.  Our bodies fail us.  Our minds fade.  And we still fall into temptation because our sinful flesh never gets better.  We don't see the glory that should come with the title, “Saint.”
     Twice in the Beatitudes, Jesus says of the saints, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3,10)  But in the majority of the Beatitudes, Jesus uses a future tense.  Blessed are the saints of God.  “For they shall be comforted.  They shall inherit the earth.  They shall be satisfied.  They shall receive mercy.  They shall see God.  They shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:4-9)  The glory that we are hoping to see will be ours in the future.
     But this need not surprise or disappoint you.  It was no different for Jesus himself.  When Jesus preached and served on earth, he acted in humility.  He did not radiate with glory.  Rather, he subjected himself to false accusations, ridicule, arrest, injustice, and cruel death.  He did this all for you.  Jesus mourned over the sins of mankind, was meek, sought our peace, hungered and thirsted for our righteousness, was merciful, and was crucified with a pure heart and innocent life.  Jesus lived and died in humble and obedient weakness.  But then he rose from the grave.  It was after Jesus' resurrection that he entered into a glory that will never fade.  So it will be for you.  You will be shown mercy.  You will inherit the earth.  You will see God.  You will be raised gloriously and for eternal glory.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     St. John caught a glimpse of the Church in heaven.  There were innumerable people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.... (Revelation 7:9)  These white robes are the wedding garments given to everyone by the Lord at baptism.  For, this is what the Lord says, “All who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  You have this righteousness now, for you have been baptized.  When God sees you, he sees the righteousness of Jesus.  But at the resurrection, you will actually appear as the saints God says you are.  That is where you will receive the glory you hope for—with hearts unable to sin, minds unwilling to think evil, hands unwilling to do evil, and bodies unable to die.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     The final words of the Beatitudes, however, are a bit disconcerting.  With them, Jesus reminds you that your glory will not come yet in this world.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)  
     Though you fail to see yourself as a saint, others may see it.  They see it when you do not give yourself into sins and do not apologize for a chaste and pure life.  They notice that you confess the name of Jesus, worship him, and pray to him.  They know that, since you are a Christian, you believe that God's Commandments are uncompromising truth and that you insist that there is no other way, truth, or life than Jesus Christ.  In this day and age, those are fighting words.  But you are not those who fight.  You are merciful—not vengeful, meek—not belligerent, pure in heart—not wishing evil on anyone.  And for this, you may be persecuted and reviled.  They may utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Jesus' account.  Dear Christians, if you should suffer such things, Rejoice and be glad.  Yes, those are Jesus' words: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12)  All this means is that, while you fail to see yourself as a saint, the world does!  It means that the world recognizes that you bear the name of Christ not only as a status, but even as you live.  And if they hate Christ, they will hate you, too.  Yet, Jesus reminds you—their slander is false.  Their hatred is misdirected.  And you are still saints.  You still have God's blessing upon you.  The kingdom of heaven is still yours.  Blessed are the saints of God.
     It is true.  We do not look like saints.  We do not even act like saints.  We do not see the glory that saints possess.  But that is why we confess, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”  We do not see it; we believe it.  And we believe it because God says so.  We have been baptized into Christ.  We are clothed in his righteousness.  We are children of the resurrection and heirs of heaven.  And even if the world should revile us, we cannot do better than what we have.  Blessed are the saints of God, for you shall be comforted.  And the kingdom of heaven is yours.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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