“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “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 5:1–12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There are a few things that make preaching today a bit difficult. Don’t get me wrong I love All Saints day. I think it’s great that we remember the gift of life and salvation that God gives to those who die in the faith. It’s just that you’ll want me to say something like, “Grandpa is fishing with Jesus.” Or “Aunt Nelly is knitting up a storm, thinkin’ about all her grandchildren joining her in heaven.” Or “Joe, just loves the auto races they have there.” Well, I can’t say anything like that. Actually, what scripture tells us about those who have died in the faith is very lacking in our eyes. Much less than we’d like to know. Here’s what we do know. They are dead. That’s kind of strange to say, but it is true. They are dead Christians. Dead means, their souls have been separated from their bodies. Physical death is the part of the wages of sin we are not able to avoid. So, they have suffered that. Their bodies are in the cemetery, an urn on the mantel, missing in action, or what ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that their souls are with Christ. What that means is just this, they are safe, sin isn’t a concern for them any more, they don’t have any pain, they don’t have any sorrow, they don’t care a lick about what’s going on here, and most importantly, they are waiting for the resurrection. Because that’s when God will make them a whole person again, body and soul, flesh blood and spirit. A perfect spiritual physical body, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. What they have right now, in the in-between time is better than what we have, but it’s not the best it’s going to be. What they have right now that we don’t have is that they are “with Christ.” They see his face first hand. They will never again doubt his Word, his promises of life and salvation are sure for them. But sure and certain isn’t complete. God’s promise for us isn’t only that when we die we will be in heaven. God’s promise for us is that through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from death to live as perfect people with him forever. Completely perfect human beings, physical body and soul together forever. This is what we really have in common with our friends and relatives who have died, and in fact all Christians over all time who have died and will ever die. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… we are all looking forward to the resurrection, Jesus coming to restore the earth to its full glory and give it to us again as a perfect place for perfect people to live. And so in the meantime, we wait.
Actually, waiting is what the Beatitudes are about. Jesus is not talking about things we should do (this is how most likely you’ve heard this text preached before). Since you are God’s people you need to be meek, righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers… the problem with that is we could never live up to those expectations. And if we could what in the world would we need a Savior for? What Jesus is talking about is how it is with us now and how it will be for us in the resurrection. In fact, do you realize that the very first word Jesus speaks in this sermon is this salvation word? “Blessèd” One modern translation uses the word “happy.” Well, that falls way short. These are not the “Be happy attitudes.” Instead they are about our emptiness and how God fills our emptiness. Another way to say “blessed” is “saved”.
All the beatitudes really fall under the very first one.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
Look at your bulletin where it’s printed. All of them, all nine, follow the same pattern. There is the part before the “for” and the part after. Another way to say that “for” is “because.” Someone who has a need is blessed because God gives them what they need. Now look again at the first. “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the rest says “they shall… all the way to the next to last that says “is” again. Do you see what the “is”, is about there. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t have to think about this very hard at all. The word “is” means right now, and forever. The ones who are poor in spirit (we’ll talk about that in just a second) have the kingdom of heaven now and forever. The way that Jesus has opened and closed this list is to say that all these things are describing what it means to have what we have, what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven right now… and forever.
Ok, pastor, what are you saying that we are “the poor in spirit”? We’re not poor. Look at all that we have. Our little corner of the Iowa is a great place to live. We’re relatively unscathed by the recession. There’s housing and food. We’ve got a Walmart and a McDonalds. You can find anything you need right here. We’ve got a great church that seems right on the cusp of exploding into something really great. And who could complain about the outcome of the election? Things seem to be going our way. What else do we need? Are you saying we are the ones who are poor in spirit? That’s precisely what Jesus is saying. In fact, unless you see yourself as “poor in spirit” you’ll miss everything that God has to give here.
If you have any doubts get out your bible and look up the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. In it Jesus sets some pretty high standards. He says if you are angry you are guilty if killing your neighbor. If you look at a man or woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. Divorce is always evil. Leave payback to God alone. Love your enemies and do only good things for them. And oh, just so you don’t miss it he finishes all these commands off with
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
You see all these things that you do or don’t do really reveal a spiritual problem. You are sinful. You cannot be perfect. You deserve only the punishment that Jesus describes in this sermon.
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. ” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
That’s what it is to be “spiritually poor” bound for hell with no way to change.
My dear Christian brothers and sisters, most of us, you and me have been in God’s grace for our whole lives. God poured water on our heads in Holy Baptism and since then we have had God’s gifts and blessing so long that we have no idea what it was like to be without out. In fact, we may have even come to think that we deserve these things and we could never be hell bound. But the thing is, if God were to for one moment withdraw his grace, there would be nothing here (in your heart, or mind, or spirit) that would save you. You are blessed, saved by God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ and nothing in you or about you. Because he does for you what you are unable to do for yourself. You are spiritually poor, without any resource to save yourself. Standing on the forgiveness of sins you have in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and nothing else. No work or merit, no goodness in you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is salvation in Jesus Christ without any conditions, or limits, without any thing you must do to earn it. It is a gift given for you, oh you who are poor in spirit.
And just what is it that is given? The kingdom of heaven, or as one of my seminary professors says, the “reign of God.” Jesus describes it like this.
““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ” (Matthew 5:4–9, ESV)
Actually it’s exactly Jesus; sins forgiven; blind people see; deaf people hear; lame people walk; and here’s the thing that ties it all together with All Saints; dead people live!
Yep, that’s what we really want to see isn’t it. That’s the comfort we have as mourning Christians. Our dead in Christ will live again. Oh, they have it great right now, no sin, no sorrow, no crying, safety in Christ. That’s better than what we’ve got, sorrow, sin, pain and death. But what they have will be even better “they shall receive” Our Lord says. What we have in Jesus will be even better “we shall receive” our Lord says “the kingdom of heaven.
And it all begins for you in Holy Baptism, when you receive on your for head the sign of the Holy Cross to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified. All the promises of God are true in Jesus, true for you now; the reign of God is at hand.
Did you ever wonder though why the sign of the cross? Of course it points to Jesus there and his death as your death, his resurrection as your resurrection. But there is more. All described also in the Beatitudes. The sign of the cross on you means that the life of a Christian is one of suffering.
““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 5:11–12, ESV)
You are blessed, you have the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing just what he promised for you. You can’t always see it because sometimes it looks like mourning, meekness, hunger, and so forth, but it is true for you. But there is always the “because”; because mourners will be comforted; unrighteousness will come to an end. Mercy will be given and shared. There will be peace and we will see God! Face to face in resurrected bodies; standing with our loved ones hand in hand rejoicing in Jesus.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.