Message for November 1, 2020
“The Blessed Who Were Before You”
(From Matthew 5: 1-12)
One of the greatest gifts pastoral ministry has given me is that of walking beside folks on their faith journeys and sharing in their stories and experiences. Today, I would like to share with you a portion of the faith story of a woman we will call Alice. Alice’s husband died very suddenly of a stroke in his mid-fifties. Alice was devastated by the grief of this loss. Everything in her world was bound to her love for her husband and their life together. For over a year, Alice grieved the loss of her husband so intensely that she had no interest in moving forward with her own life. She could find no joy in any aspect of her daily living.
One morning, when Alice was on her way to the grocery store for some routine shopping, a wave of grief struck her so deeply that she pulled off to the side of the road to try to gain composure. As she was sitting in her car, deep the tears of her grief and sorrow, something amazing happened. A voice, an audible voice, spoke to Alice. “Alice,” the voice said, “you are going to be OK.” Immediately, Alice felt a comforting warmth around her, and she felt, for the first time in a long time, that she really was going to be fine. The comforting voice, one that Alice did not recognize for certain, gave Alice the strength to pull back onto the road-both the physical road and the road of life before her. For the blessing of this comfort and encouragement, Alice declared her thanks to the “blessed saints.”
This All Saint’s Day, Alice’s story came to mind because her words of gratitude to the “blessed saints” fit so well with the portion of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” that was shared in our Gospel lesson this morning. We recognize this specific text as the Beatitudes, or blessings, which Jesus proclaimed to his Disciples and followers that had gathered on the mountainside to hear him speak. What Jesus revealed was a radically new interpretation of what it means to be blessed in light of being a follower of his teaching.
The word blessed, in the context of the Beatitudes, means happy or fortunate. Yet, as we will soon see, this happiness Jesus is teaching is not akin to world’s understanding of or basis for feeling happy or fortunate. And, the traits or qualities of the blessed, those who are divinely favored, are not those that our worldly culture would commonly expect them to be. Christian writer, Mary Fairchild, sees the Beatitudes as proverb-like blessings that give us a view into the true character of a disciple of God. Let us now explore the Beatitudes of Matthew Chapter 5 to discover what Jesus revealed about the character traits, or qualities, of his true and faithful followers. Understanding and interpreting these countercultural blessings through the lens of our Christian faith will keep them relevant to life in our world today.
Jesus begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor in spirit are those who are in a state of spiritual poverty. They realize that they stand in need of the grace and goodness of God in their lives. This acknowledgement brings the kind of personal humility that opens hearts to Jesus, and, thus, to life in his eternal kingdom.
Jesus then shares a second blessing with his followers. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Within this context, those who mourn are those who mourn their sinful human condition. Through repenting of their sin, they will receive the comfort of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus.
The third blessing Jesus shares with his followers is as follows, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The meek mentioned here are not the timid of heart, but rather are those who submit themselves to obedience to the will and authority of God. They emulate the servanthood of the Lord Jesus, and will inherit all things through him.
The next blessing Jesus pronounces to his listeners is, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Here, Jesus is speaking of those who have a passionate desire for the righteousness that comes only from and through Christ Jesus, for he will fill us through his love.
Jesus then looks to the quality of mercy, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” Mercy is a quality of our Lord Jesus, and if we are to be like him, we need to be merciful to others, just as, in love, he is merciful to us. The compassion, kindness and forgiveness we give to others, Jesus promises, will be given to us.
The next blessing Jesus reveals is as follows: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This is a blessing for those who have been purified, or transformed from within. This is an inward holiness, which our forefather John Wesley believed accompanied the salvation experience of repentance and self- surrender to Christ for believers. These purified souls, Jesus reveals, will see God.
Jesus then pronounces a blessing on the peacemakers – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Peacemakers are not only those who advocate for peace within the context of our current worldly circumstances. They are those who, having been reconciled themselves to God in Christ, offer the same eternal spiritual peace of this reconciliation to a needy world. These, Jesus tells us, are those who will be called the sons and daughters of God.
The next two blessings of Jesus for his followers are definitely not for the faint of heart, or faith. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus proclaims, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” These blessings are pronounced by Jesus for those who are injured, treated unjustly, and spoken evil of because they hold fast to the truth that Christ has revealed to us. Christ himself was persecuted for the truth he boldly proclaimed; this persecution can be expected from a world living in darkness that does not want to be brought into the light of truth. Yet, for those who endure and persevere under these circumstances, Jesus reveals that an eternal life in the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Finally, Jesus pronounces a last blessing upon the faithful-“Rejoice and be glad,” he states, “for great is your reward in heaven, for the same way they persecuted the prophets [the saints], before you.” If we experience difficult circumstances as a result of our steadfast faith, we are in good company. Jesus reminds his followers that is how the blessed saints who have gone before us have been treated by the world. The example of their strength is with us, even as we worship in this sacred space today. We remember the saints we have known and loved today, and the example they have been for us and for our lives. And so, today, we recognize the great communion of saints, the cloud of witnesses that have gone on before us, as well as the saints that have been inducted into the 2020 heavenly role call that we will now celebrate.
For all the saints, who from their labor rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia. (“For All the Saints”- words: William W. How, music: Ralph Vaughn Williams).