All Saints Sunday—11/2/14
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
(Take a minute to count your blessings. Be specific in naming anything in your life that you would call a blessing.)
So–What was it like to name your blessings? What did you list? Health? Wealth? Family? Freedom? If you haven’t already, take your list and compare it to Jesus’ list in Matthew 5.
Did any of your blessings show up on Jesus’ list of blessings? Probably not, because: Who wants to be blessed if it means being “poor in spirit” (at the end of their rope)? Who wants to mourn? That implies grief and loss. Who wants to be blessed if it means being meek (i.e., “powerless,” a “doormat”) in a competitive world of “dog eat dog”? Who among us hungers and thirsts for righteousness (right relationship)…more than we hunger for wealth, and health, and power, and freedom and security? And who really wants to be merciful when what we often really want is what we call “justice”—evening the score, getting revenge, getting what’s ours? And who among us is “pure in heart”—that is, with a single-minded commitment to building God’s kingdom on earth? Who really wants to be a peacemaker when being armed to the teeth is who we are as a nation, and as households (300 million guns in America)? Who wants to be a peacemaker in a world where being “right” at any cost is the most important thing? And finally, who among us would call persecution a blessing? Who among us even knows what it’s like to fear for our life because of our faith?
So what does it mean to be blessed? As we use the word it usually has something to do with “God’s favor” or “God’s reward.” It’s good to be grateful, but one problem with the list that you or I come up with is these so-called “blessings” are not experienced by everyone. You may be thankful for shelter, and food, and family, and security, but if we say that God has blessed us with these things that means that millions of people who lack these things are not blessed—that they have not received God’s favor. Does that make sense to you–that God has chosen to bless you and not someone else?
In today’s second reading John the Evangelist writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should have health, and wealth, and life, and fame, and power, and family, and security, and freedom.” Through John’s teaching we are forced to come to terms with the possibility that those things we typically call blessings are not so much blessings as circumstances that have come our way, often through competition or social advantage. When it comes to material blessings, if we are among those who have great abundance might it sometimes be because we have taken more and given less? In fact, are not the things we call “blessings” sometimes the very things that create distance in our relationships with God and one another?
Jesus’ list of “Beatitudes” is intended as comfort and encouragement for those who are at the bottom of the ladder. Even though you mourn, even though you despair, even though you are persecuted, even though you choose righteousness, mercy, and peace over revenge or self-interest—even you are blessed. If society told you that you were nothing, here was a man who said you were of infinite importance. If being poor or disabled or imprisoned or gay was viewed as a sign of God’s judgment, here was a man who said you are of infinite value.
What does it mean to be blessed? John sums it up: “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now.” John took the words right out of Jesus’ mouth: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Everyone, in fact, is a child of God!
To be blessed is not to have some things that others don’t have. To be blessed is to be a beloved child of God. That is what we share with all people in all times and all places.
This brings us to the reason for this day we call All Saints Sunday. The emphasis is not so much on “Saint” as it is “all”—God’s love for all people and our Christian vocation of practicing that love toward all people. At our best, we are not preoccupied with what we think of as blessings. We are preoccupied with being a blessing to the world.
When we came into this world we believed that we were the center of the world. Soon we discovered parents, and then family, and friends. Over the course of a lifetime the study and practice of Christian faith expands our hearts and minds to be ever more inclusive. Early in our Christian journey, for example, we think of “saints” as the best, the most religious, the closest to God. Lutheran teaching expanded that notion. We use the word “saint” to describe all who are baptized. And yet, even this is just a beginning. Last week you heard the example of God as the Great Fisherman who will never stop fishing—never!—until every fish in the river is caught. This image of God’s all-inclusive welcome is reflected in that magnificent vision from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”
Dear Friends in Christ, you are among that number. You are among those who are blessed, not because of what you have or what you enjoy, but because you are “children of God.” You are blessed, not because of the circumstances of your life, but because of who God is—regardless of the circumstances of your life!
This means less when times are good but when times are very difficult, this is very good news indeed. Some among you this morning…are mourning. Some may be close to despair. You, especially, may hear and experience the message of God’s love for all people as good news.
The world needs this good news. The families and schools and tribes of Marysville need this good news. The friends and family of those who were abused and shot by a father and grandfather need this good news. Families and communities living with life-threatening disease need this good news. Those who are living alone and unsure that anyone cares need this good news. And the only way that they will remember that they, too, are beloved children of God is if we live in relationship to them as people who hunger for righteousness, who practice mercy and compassion, who practice peacemaking in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities—not only with our personal care and our pocketbooks, but also–this week–with our ballots.
Blessed are you, children of God, to be a blessing to the world! AMEN