Sermon for All Saints’ Day Observed
November 2, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Sermon Theme: Blessed Are We, the Living Saints
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentary; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 24, Part 4, Series A; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
In one of my favorite Charlie Brown cartoons, Charlie, Lucy and Snoopy are walking along the road when Lucy says, “Sooner or later, Charlie Brown, there’s one thing you’re going to have to learn. You reap what you sow. You get out of life exactly what you put into it. No more and no less.”
Hearing these words, Snoopy stops following Charlie and Lucy, and he says to himself as he walks away from them, “I’d kind of like to see a little more margin for error.”
The good news of the Bible is that there is a little more margin for error. God is a God of mercy, a dominant theme in the Bible, expressed the most beautifully by Jesus in what we call the Beatitudes, our sermon text for today. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
Mercy is something we should not only receive gratefully, but also something to be passed on compassionately. Martin Luther said that we are both saint and sinner at the same time. That fact is the underlying thrust of these words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, when he was imprisoned and greatly mistreated by his persecutors: “One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times, he is close to being a devil, at times, close to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.”
“Close to sainthood.” That word “sainthood” is a very important word to contemplate on All Saints’ Sunday. It brings up a question I have been asked numerous times in the course of my26 years of ministry:
“Why do we put all of those Saints’ days on our Lutheran Calendar like the Catholics do when we profess that all true believers, living or dead, are saints?” I just answered this question in great detail in my “From the Pastor” column on our church website, so I don’t want to repeat such detail here.
Suffice it to say that as the Lutheran movement grew during the Reformation, Luther saw no reason to toss out the Roman Catholic saints’ calendar nor the observance of All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day just takes on a different focus for Lutherans, because, as I said, we believe that all true believers, living or dead, are saints. Thus we can celebrate All Saints’ Day either by remembering our beloved family members and friends, those saints who have gone to heaven, or we can celebrate the saints still living – that’s us. Or both.
The Beatitudes celebrate the living saints by reminding us what awesome blessings Jesus pronounces for us and to us.
So this brings up a Second Question: “What are “beatitudes”?
“Beatitudes” is a Latin word that denotes expressions or statements of what it means to be blessed, and each of Jesus’ statements in our text begins with, “Blessed are . . . .” Some of the modern translations of the Bible have watered down the meaning of “blessed” by translating the original Greek word as “happy.” The Greek word makarios (mak-ar’e- us) means extremely blessed and well off, — it is something greater than just “happy.”
We Christians use the word “blessing” for the prayer before a meal. We also use the word “blessing” as a synonym for “benediction.” It is in that very profoundly spiritual sense that Jesus says “Blessed are . . .” in our text.
Of course not everybody understands the great significance of the pastor’s “benediction” or “blessing” given at the end of the worship service. I once asked a Confirmation class or a Sunday School class what the Benediction was, and one student replied, “That means it’s over and we can go have coffee and donuts!” He was serious.
What all of us need to know is that the Benediction or the Blessing is the promise of God to be with us always, and to bless us in every situation, no matter how bad it looks. It means His name is on us. And that’s true of the Beatitudes, too.
Jesus speaks the Beatitudes as His promise to His followers at the very start of His ministry here on earth, in what is an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. So their importance must not be underestimated.
Perhaps our first reaction as we read the Beatitudes for the first time is that these statements are not addressed to us. We think that because they seem to be addressed to people we don’t want to be.
We don’t want to be poor in spirit. We don’t want to be people who mourn. We don’t want to be meek or hungry, and if being merciful means forgiving our enemies, we certainly want to think twice about that one. Being pure in heart means we have to give up all of our impurities, and most of us cling to them. It is the same for being a peacemaker; more often than not we want to carry the grudge.
And we certainly don’t want to be persecuted or reviled. So, our immediate reaction is that when Jesus addresses the people on the side of the mountain, He really is not addressing us! He may be talking to the church down the street right behind us, but not to us here in this classy church. As true believers, we are living saints, and All Saints’ Day is our day! He isn’t talking to us!
Or is He?
On the mountainside, Jesus cuts though the cloak of pretense and outright deceit which we wear like a suit of armor for the world to see. He knows us, — the poverty of our spirit, the depth of our grief, our pride, our hunger, our failure to forgive, our desire to fight, and the stains on our soul. He knows us through and through, sees right through our armor and into our hearts.
We would expect Him to be angry with us for all of our failings. But He surprises us. He blesses us for who we are. Blessed are YOU He says. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great, that’s my promise. He knows so well, as Luther reminds us, we are saint and sinner, both at the same time!
You see, it is not the darkness within us that Jesus blesses, but our desire to drive it our forever, and the confidence that in Jesus we may at last fall to our knees, confess the great depth of our need, and rise up victorious.
No doubt the Beatitudes were both confusing and comforting to those who were the first to hear them, just as they are to us. Whether in Greek, Aramaic, or English, these statements are paradoxes, aren’t they? “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake . . .” Shouldn’t it be “Cursed are the poor in spirit . . . Cursed are those who mourn . . . Cursed are the meek . . . Cursed are those persecuted for righteousness sake . . .”
The Sermon on the Mount is the beginning of a long journey to crucifixion and resurrection. Two of those listening to Jesus at this time, Matthew and Luke, will go on to quote His words many years later, and many other inspired followers will describe the Christian paradox, the deep joy and peace the unbeliever cannot know.
The Christian, the true believer, the “saint,” if you will, experiences this deep joy and peace in spite of sorrow, pain and adversity, because the joy of the believer is not based on having things go his or her way, but on the unshakable conviction that God is with us in all the changes, sorrows and agonies of life. And further, the true believer, the saint, understands that he is saint and sinner, both, at the same time, and yet blessed by the Lord Jesus, because He laid down His life for all people in spite of the stench of their sins.
To be sure, dear fellow saints, we all feebly struggle in this broken and fallen world of sin and death. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God gives us His Kingdom, His comfort, His mercy, and He claims us for His very own right now! All these gifts of God can be summarized in three words: Blessed are we! Yes, we are blessed! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.