11/2/2014 All Saints Day The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 5:1-12.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
All Saints Day is a day of remembrance. It is a lesser festival on the church calendar – so it’s not as important as Easter and Christmas – but it’s festive just the same as we remember those who have died in the faith.
Remembering is important. It heals the sorrowing soul. It gives us an historical perspective which can carry us through troubling times in our lives. It makes us feel that we are connected. And for those of us in the church, it brings comfort, for in remembering we recall the faithfulness of our God who has chosen to be our God and who had provided for our salvation in Jesus Christ. We have a heavenly home in which we, who walk as yet by faith, will someday share with those generations of faithful people who have gone before us.
All Saints Day is a day that is built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ. But, not all points of remembrance are built on such solid ground. There is a modern day parable about a patriot who decided to build for himself a “remembrance rock.” His remembrance rock was comprised of bits and pieces of earth which he brought back with him from his travels to historical sites. His first trip was to Valley Forge, PA, where he remembered that costly winter that George Washington spent with his troops during the Revolutionary War. He stopped next at Gettysburg, PA, where he remembered the battle which served as a turning point of the Civil War, and he remembered President Lincoln’s address, memorializing those who died there.
He collected bits of earth from France to remind him of the First World War, and bit a of sand from the beaches of Normandy to remind him of the thousands who lost their lives during that major invasion of the Second World War. Iwo Jima, Japan, and the Chosen Reservoir of Korea were also part of his itinerary, as was Saigon, Vietnam.
After each trip, the materials he brought back were deposited in careful layers in a little mound in his yard. The patriot would retreat to his mound to remember what has been, what might have been and what could be.
All Saints Day, for us, serves as a kind of remembrance rock – built not of earth, but on the foundation of Christ and in the history of God’s relationship to his people. What we reflect upon as we remember has nothing to do with conflicts in American history. What we remember is what has been, what might have been and what will be through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Today’s gospel, the Beatitudes, sets a perfect stage for our remembrance. It begins with a series of blessings as blessings are the starting point of God’s covenantal relationship with us. The blessings which God bestows are both concrete and spiritual. They are blessings which are meant to carry the faithful through the most dreadful times of their lives.
The sermon begins: Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers…blessed are those who are persecuted and reviled…blessed are you.
To say that being poor in spirit or mournful or persecuted is a blessing is to miss what the blessing is all about. The blessing is not the circumstance in which a person finds him or herself. The blessing is the relationship with the God who knows human pain and suffering, who knows compassion and love, who knows the hearts of those who seek peace and truth and justice in this world, a God who provides for our care during all circumstances of life. We are blessed, not by what we do. We are blessed because we are in a relationship with a God who has chosen to be our God. And, we are blessed when we are willing to be vulnerable in this world in order that others may come to know the compassion and love, the justice, truth and peace which we seek and have found in our Lord.
It is faith in the unchanging God and his commitment to us that is a blessing. Our journey is from faith to faith. It is from blessing to blessing. And, we remember this journey shared through the generations as we reflect upon how that faith has shaped the lives of ordinary people transformed by grace.
In the Lutheran magazine a couple of years ago, there was an article entitled, “Ordinary Saints.” In this article, Robert Benne pointed out that one of the problems that students from mainstream Christian homes have is that they can’t identify the saints in their lives. “They are looking for extraordinary examples of faith and life, such as the Mother Teresas or Billy Grahams,” and “when they don’t see heroics, they think there is nothing there.” They forget that which makes us into saints has nothing to do with the circumstances of life. What makes a person holy is “faith in the amazing grace of God. A person is righteous before God not because he or she has earned it, but because of Christ who exchanged with us his righteousness for our sin.”
It is faith, our confidence in the justifying grace of God in Christ, which gives deeper meaning to our ordinary lives. And that, in turn, enables us to endure and leads us toward our own mission in this world. So, the persecuted are blessed – for they have a faith that enables them to endure the persecution and reviling without deny the graciousness of God. The meek are blessed – for they don’t need to push and shove their way to the top of the heap. They know that God is there for them. Their faith gives them humility. Blessed are the peacemakers – for they can stand firm in the midst of conflict, armed only with the will of God. Their faith in God has blessed the lives of many people as they seek not self-glory but the glory of God in bringing about harmony where there is discord.
It is a practical faith in God which enables ordinary people to do extraordinary things. And, this faith is a blessing, a blessing bestowed not upon a few chosen people, but a blessing to each who has been claimed by God’s grace and made a member of his faith through Christ Jesus. For, through God’s grace each generation has been blessed and made holy so that we can be God’s blessing to others. Blessings move outwardly. They do not plop on a person’s head through some divine dove and become a personal possession. We are blessed by God so that we can be a blessing to others.
And so, on this day, we remember ordinary people who have blessed our lives. We remember not only the Mother Teresas and the Billy Grahams, but also the Barbara Lawsons and the Harold McKays, the Chet Browns and Frank Andersons who have kept the faith and who have touched our lives. We remember the strength and courage they had in life and death through their sustaining relationship with our Lord.
May we be so blessed as they and all the faithful who have gone before us, so that we, who are part of the throng of saints on this day through the grace of Jesus Christ, may become a blessing to others. For, ordinary people, in ordinary circumstances and in ordinary places can do extraordinary things through the God who blesses us. May we remember this as we remember those who have died and now share in the heavenly banquet through the cross of Christ – for in remembering them and the blessings they now have in an eternal home, we remember our Lord, the rock of our salvation, who has blessed us, called us and made us holy. Remember, my friends, and may the peace of the God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.