Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 5:1–5:12
The Festival of All Saints
November 3-4, 2018
Among the saints of St. John’s Lutheran Church, there is a certain individual within our midst who, if you see him and ask how he is doing, he will respond not by saying the usual thing that we often hear: “Okay,” or “Doing good,” or “I’m well, thank you,” or something along those lines. No, this particular individual will look you in the eye and say, “I am blessed!” Now that is something we do not hear every day. We may not be accustomed to this kind of greeting, and in our world of perfunctory greetings, this response may sometimes catch us off-guard. What do you say in response to this? Don’t overthink it. Respond with something like: “Me, too. I am blessed to be a blessing.” And so we are; each and every one of us. We are all blessed to be a blessing. Blessed – that is the word before us on this Festival of All Saints as we give thanks for all the saints, those on earth and those in heaven. In Jesus, we are all the saints and in Jesus, we are indeed blessed. That one word “Blessed” becomes the theme for preaching on this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In the Gospel lesson for today, the Lord Jesus speaks that word “blessed” (μακάριος, “blessed, fortunate, happy” – Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Rienecker/Rogers; p. 12) again and again in describing his saints. The Gospel lesson begins that segment in Matthew’s Gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and it begins with what we call the Beatitudes, the “Blesseds.” Like Moses of old who went up on the mountain to receive the Commandments from the Lord God (Exodus 19:1ff.), Jesus also went up on the mountain. Jesus came to fulfill all the Law of Moses through his life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will, doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus also came to offer his life as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, dying the death we rightly deserved because of our sin and disobedience to the Father’s will. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” ((John 1:17). In these opening words of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes what life in the kingdom of God looks like. It is an upside-down kingdom where things are not what we would expect. Jesus calls blessed those who are least in the world and considered weak and of little value: 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 Jesus’ sake. In the eyes of the world, these people are not the movers and the shakers. They are not the power brokers who make the headlines. They are not the celebrities, or the rich and famous. But in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, in his communion of saints, these are the ones who are blessed. And they are blessed because they are beloved by the Lord. Their hope and trust is not in themselves, but in Jesus who loves us and laid down his life for us all.
We stand in a long line of saints who have gone before us, whose hope and trust was in Jesus. A saint is not someone who is perfect and has it all together in life. A saint is not a super Christian who never makes mistakes, never gets upset or frustrated. Those kind of people can be pretty hard to live with. By outward appearance, the saints in our lives probably look like ordinary, everyday people such as parents or grandparents, family members or friends, neighbors or co-workers, Sunday School teachers, pastors, church workers, or fellow members in the congregation. But these saints, beloved and blessed in the Lord, helped us to know Jesus and his redeeming grace, not just by their words but by their actions. They modeled for us what Jesus’ forgiveness looks like in real time. They loved us as Jesus loves us – freely, without limit, when we may have been pretty unlovable. Take a moment now, and reflect on who these saints were and are in your life. Take a moment now and offer a silent prayer to God for their life and witness, for how you have been blessed through them. Today, as we celebrate the Festival of All Saints, I am thinking of those saints from this fellowship of believers who have died in the Lord over this past year: Jim, Elaine, Walter, Elmer, Don, Dee, Kit, and Ruth. Our life together as the Body of Christ has been enriched and blessed through each one of them.
It is here, at the Lord’s altar, that we become one with the whole Church on earth and in heaven. In Christ, the Word made flesh, we who come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in this holy Supper are joined together with all the saints. In the wonder and mystery of this Blessed Sacrament, we are blessed. As the preface for Holy Communion reminds us: “Therefore with angel, archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious Name, evermore praising you and singing…” In the midst of life’s trials and tribulations, we draw strength, encouragement, and hope from that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who have gone before us. This is that “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” (Revelation 7:9). As we remember and give thanks for fellow saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus, whether over this past year or many years ago, we are united with them in Jesus here in this Holy Communion.
Most of us would not self-identify as saints. We just don’t see ourselves as anything special or extraordinary in the realm of faith. That would be reserved for people like Paul the apostle, Martin Luther, or such giants in faith. But the truth is that despite what we may think about ourselves, however inadequate we may feel about ourselves when it comes to faith, however lacking we may believe ourselves to be, the Lord God has declared us to be his beloved and blessed children beginning in Holy Baptism, where we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit for life eternal. Our faith is a gift from God through God’s own Son. In Jesus, we are clothed with the garments of salvation and all of our inadequacies, shortcomings, and sins have been covered in the robe of Christ’s own righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). This is how we are blessed for time and for eternity.
We have been blessed by the Lord richly and abundantly, and the purpose here is not to keep all of this to ourselves, but to be a blessing to others, richly and abundantly. We are not to be like the Dead Sea, receiving all the water from rivers, streams, and tributaries, but giving nothing away. When this happens in our own lives, we become more dead than alive. We are blessed to be a blessing! Since we are called by Christ to be his saints, those who are set apart for his gracious purposes in the world, how will we go forth to be a blessing? As saints before us made the love of Jesus known to us in our lives, how will we make the love of Jesus known to the people in our lives? What is the legacy of faith that we will pass on to the next generation? This Festival of All Saints begins this month of November with its focus on the end of all things and the return of Christ our King on that great and final day. Until that great and final day, our calling as God’s saints is to reflect the light and love of Jesus in our words and our deeds. How important this is in life, now more than ever! The world around us is hungry, famished, starving, for Jesus’ light and love! How will the world around us, the people around us, know and experience Jesus’ light and love except through you and me, his saints? As we have received, so we are to give. We are blessed to be a blessing. God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.