All Saints Sunday – A, ‘17
Rev. 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt. 5:1-12
Friends, how are you doing? I don’t mean the kind of ‘how are doing’ that calls for a smile and an “OK’ when you’re not. I mean, how are you doing?
Our Central Conference of the Minneapolis Area Synod met at Trinity this past Thursday, and we talked about what we are seeing around us. What we all agreed on was that people, people in our congregations and our cities and our state, our country and the world are anxious. And weary.
As I read the reading from Revelation the phrase ‘great ordeal’ had new meaning for me. This is not to suggest that any of our angst these days compares in any way to the oppression that the early Christians to whom these words were written were dealing with when these words were written. But it did occur to me that this year, this Fall, has felt something like a great ordeal.
The declarations that come out of Washington continue to wear on those of us who see a better way. The possibility of a rash action leading to another war seems more real these days. The natural calamities continued without ceasing. Floods, fires, hurricanes. Even though they have not been in our own back yard, they are real and we feel with and for those who have been affected. The same is true of the violence – shootings, cars and trucks being used as weapons makes us all feel more vulnerable that we care to admit. The truth about sexual harassment and assault reveal a reality that has been just under the surface, perhaps forever.
Our anxiety level is up and it’s beginning to show. Every day I wake up wondering what horrible thing has happened in the last few hours. Bob is in New York City for 10 days and I told him the same thing I have told our boys – if anything happens in the city or region you are in, text me or I will assume you are dead. That might sound a bit extreme, but, it is also true.
And I am sure I’m not alone in this. This constant state of anxiety, worry, sense of vulnerability and uncertainty. Again, is doesn’t compare to the oppression of the early Christians or those living under horrible oppression around the world today.
But it is real. And we are feeling the affects. We’re weary, tired, cranky, angry and scared. And it is starting to show more and more.
So, what gospel, what good news, is there in the readings we have today, on this All Saints Sunday?
I don’t know about you, but we’ve been hearing Matthew’s gospel for most of the last 11 months and even that is beginning to wear on me. And it won’t get much better until we’re into Advent.
And so, we hear the Beatitudes again in Matthew’s gospel. Blessed are 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, blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.
Another way of translating this is ‘happy.’ Happy are those who….
But the way we tend to understand both ‘blessed’ and ‘happy’ don’t fit. When I am in any of the blessed or happy situations that are mentioned, I can’t say that I feel happy or blessed. Who wants to feel poor in spirit or reviled? I don’t want to hunger or thirst for righteousness or for food or water, for that matter. Who wants to be in a place of mourning?
We have to look beyond the words that we sometimes find meaningful and comforting.
The Greek word Jesus uses for blessed and happy is “makarios.” In the early church, the “makarios”, the happy ones were sometimes the martyrs, those who died for their faith. But it is hard to imagine anyone who is being burned or beheaded with a smile on their face. Blessed are they, Jesus says. The same is true for those who mourn. Or for any of the other states of blessedness or happiness.
Jesus says they, all of them, are blessed. The thing is, the thing to keep in mind, is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with their circumstances. It doesn’t have to do with the persecution or sadness or meekness they find themselves in the middle of.
The blessedness Jesus is talking about comes from being a part of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God that exists both now and in the future. Jesus uses the words ‘are’ and ‘will.’ Those words are meant to tell us that God is at work in the present world already, working working to bring in the Kingdom. To bring the Kingdom to completion.
It would be easy to think that this means that those who are mourning or meek or any of the others now will find comfort or filled in the future, at the end of time, when the Kingdom of God is completely arrived. But, the point is that the comfort and all of the results of the Kingdom are already theirs because they are living the values of the Kingdom already. Those who are meek, those who are mourning, those who thirst for righteousness are already living the Kingdom values. It’s not necessarily about feeling good or having good luck or being happy-go-lucky. It is about living the way Jesus lived and taught and preached. They are the ones who will be and are already blessed and happy.
What does this have to do with All Saints Sunday?
Well, first of all, we are already living within the reign of God. Jesus has already come once and lived among us. We have already been made holy by Christ. We are already part of the workings of the Kingdom of God, which, admittedly, is beyond our understanding or grasp, but nevertheless is true. We are already completely in God’s hands. As part of the Kingdom of God we are moving toward a new creation and are blessed to live and act in ways that help to bring the Kingdom in ever more.
And second, we are blessed as members of God’s kingdom because we will receive the benefits that come with being faithful to the Kingdom’s work.
As the saints of today we look to all of the saints who have gone before us, those we have loved. Those who have been made holy by Christ. Those who in happiness or sadness, found their own hope in Jesus and made their own way through life as part of God’s Kingdom. We join their work here and now as people who live, as best we can, according to the values that Jesus showed us, those values that are in the gospel for today.
These words are not just a record of what Jesus said 2000 years ago on a mountain. They are words spoken to us now. Jesus blesses all kinds of people, especially those we don’t think of as being blessed. Those in the world the world barely even sees, much like our own losses and worries that we hide inside. Jesus is speaking in the present. All of the saints, those who have gone before us and those still in our midst and those yet to come are blessed. Not will be blessed, but are already blessed.
Being blessed is not like a flu shot immunizing us from the sadness and pain of the world. It’s not a guarantee of a life untouched by hardship or tragedy. Instead, blessedness is a sense of fullness and contentment that is something beyond ordinary happiness. That remains true even in the midst of sadness and difficulty.
And when remembering that is impossible, which it often feels like it is, we have some promises. God sees you. God knows the grief and anxiety that at times fill your life. God honors you and blesses you and accompanies you and all of that.
And in case you worry about this, there is another promise – when we struggle, when we are not at our best, it does not mean that we are faithless, that our faith is weak. Struggling does not mean we are letting God down in some way. Martin Luther even knew that where there is faith there is struggle.
And there is one more promise put so clearly in the reading from Revelation, “and God will wipe away every tear.” And another in first John. “See what the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are.” When all of our efforts fail, when things or we seem hopeless we have those two promises. And those are promises to live by.
Maybe the answer to my opening question, “So how are you doing,” for each of us is – “I am a child of God, and that is what we are.”