A Sermon for All Saints Day 2016 “Happy or Blessed?”

First Lesson  Revelation 7:9-17

Epistle Lesson  1 John 3:1-3

Gospel Lesson  Matthew 5:1-12

On this blessed All Saints Day, I bring you grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Matt. 5:1-12]

Are the verses in this lesson a series of new laws?  Do they tell us what we must do to receive the blessings offered by God?  Several nineteenth and twentieth century theologians saw it that way.  They saw the nine Beatitudes as New Testament laws, taught by the new and greater Moses, Christ Jesus.

They read Jesus’ words and they heard: If you’re poor in spirit you’ll receive the kingdom of heaven.  If you’re mournful you’ll be comforted by God.  If you’re meek, God will give you the earth as an inheritance.  If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, God will satisfy you.  If you’re merciful, God will give you mercy.  If you’re pure in heart, God will show himself to you.  If you’re a peacemaker, God will call you his sons and daughters.  If you give in to persecution, maybe even step in the way of persecution, for righteousness sake, you’ll receive the kingdom of heaven.  Buck up when others lie about you and persecute you on account of Jesus.  Don’t worry, you may not see a reward right now, but your reward is there … in heaven.

Whew!  We have our work cut out for us.  If these words are law, then we’re in deep trouble; because, just like the Ten Commandments, these verses set a standard of perfection, a standard much higher than any of us can achieve.  If these ‘blessings’ are law, we’re doomed.

Who can live life genuinely poor in spirit, mournful, meek, always hungering and thirsting for righteousness?  Who can be constantly merciful, pure of heart, a peacemaker in the midst of persecution?  Who can willingly accept persecution?

If this is law then it doesn’t fit with what we know about God.  It doesn’t fit with the rest of what God’s word tells us about the Way of salvation; and it really doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.  But, then again, these are the words of Jesus.  This is Jesus talking, teaching, his disciples and the crowds.

This is the Son of God speaking; the almighty, all powerful, God; the Creator of the universe.  He is the one who sets the standards for salvation and these are his words.  So how do these words fit with words like, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” or “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.   No one comes to the Father except through me.”?

These words of Jesus in the Beatitudes only fit with his other teachings if we see them as something other than law.  We know that Jesus’ teaching was rarely moralistic.  His teaching was almost always a proclamation of the kingdom of God come down from heaven to earth.  His teaching was always centered on forgiveness; the forgiveness God gives to all those who believe in him and the forgiveness we believers share with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with our neighbors as well.

So let’s look at these verses through the lens of Jesus’ other teachings, asking ourselves how these Beatitudes fit.  There’s only one person who fits the description here.  Only one person who’s truly poor in spirit, mourning, meek, continually hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Only one person who’s truly merciful, who’s heart is pure, who always serves as a peacemaker, who’s persecuted without cause simply because he is who he says he is: Jesus himself.

There’s only one … unless … Think about it, Jesus wouldn’t just go on and on about how blessed he is.  That would be bragging and boasting; not mannerisms of our Lord.  But if he was speaking not only of himself, but also of those who’re in Christ, those who believe in him and having believed now share with him in his life, in his suffering, and in his death; as well as his risen and eternal life, then these verses aren’t law at all.

If these words describe Christ and those who are in Christ, then these words are exactly what they say they are, blessings.  Blessings for you; because you are in Christ, and you share in his blessings and his life.

These blessings are your reward.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.  These blessings are yours now!  These blessings bring a reward that lasts forever; even in heaven.  So, Pastor, “If we’re blessed, why isn’t life happier?”  Don’t confuse blessings with happiness.  Not all who are blessed are also happy.

Happiness has a different quality to it than blessing.  Happiness can be rather fleeting, as anyone knows who’s been happy one minute and then gotten a phone call about a loved one diagnosed with cancer or a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord.

Blessedness moves beyond emotion to a state of being, one that’s not swayed by what happens in the moment, but instead reflects a person’s identity.  The ‘poor in spirit’ are not necessarily all that happy about their present state of affairs; but they are blessed in knowing that they’re loved by God and their destiny is the ‘kingdom of heaven.’

Those who mourn could hardly be considered happy; but they are blessed in knowing that as children of the God who has triumphed over death, they can truly find comfort.  The meek usually are the ones who get trampled in the stampede of life; but they are blessed in knowing that the Lord of the universe humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, even to the point of death on a cross so that they could inherit the earth.

Those who ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sound rather needy – and they are; but acknowledging that, they know the righteous one will satisfy them with good things as he gives them his Spirit and all the gifts the Spirit has to bring such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

The ‘merciful’ usually get taken for a ride, or get taken advantage of – rarely leading to happiness; but the merciful know that the Psalms are filled with the mercies of the Lord because mercy is an attribute of God that they not only share in because they’re ‘in Christ,’ but benefit from every time they come to their heavenly Father in repentance and faith.

The ‘pure in heart’ are considered either naïve or too innocent to ever get very far in life; but they know the One who’s called them by name and has chosen to live with them and make himself known to them through his holy word, which points to the day when they’ll fully know him and see him with their own eyes.

‘Peacemakers’ may be applauded for a time, but strife and envy soon follow – and the world knows that’s the way it is; but the peacemakers know the One who’s brought peace to a broken and confused and utterly sinful world, who brought peace through the forgiveness of their sins and a peace filled conscience cleansed by water, the word, and his very own body and blood.

And it’s doubtful that ‘those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake,’ those reviled and having all kinds of evil spoken about them because of Christ are ever really happy; but they are blessed in the knowledge that they follow a great line of prophets and apostles who understood their identity in the One who was martyred for them.

Our world is upside-down, and in an upside-down world enamored with the idea of ‘happiness,’ a world that doesn’t know what it wants or needs, a world filled with great expectations but no capacity to deliver – we have our Lord’s words of wisdom and blessing that moves us from moments of happiness to the state of being blessed in the One who calls us ‘blessed’; the One who calls us his saints.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle