Monday, December 6, 2010

Sermon for All Saints' Sunday 2010

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Matthew 5:1-12
All Saints' Sunday, 07 November 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
          On other occasions, when Jesus saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them by feeding thousands, healing their sick, and teaching them. In this, the first extended sermon of Jesus recorded by St. Matthew, Jesus does what is most important when He sees the crowds—perhaps not tops on their list, but the most important thing in the kingdom of God—He teaches them. The Word Himself gives them the Word of God.
Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them…Our Lord is such a Lord, such a Messiah, that at times, He need not even open His mouth to teach.
The Holy Infant, tender and mild, sleeps in heavenly peace in a feeding trough in the Bethlehem grotto with His mother, her husband, and startled shepherds. The angel host has spoken and taught. There, Jesus teaches with His flesh, His presence of blessing for you.
To the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 Jesus taught with His silence as well. His teaching in silence or teaching of words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” propelled her to a confession of the emptiness of her hands, her utter need, and her complete dependence upon Him. And by His silence, His words, and His flesh, He brought her to a confession of faith and blessed her and cast the demon from her daughter.
Jesus teaches of Himself even when upon the cross. And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. In words He taught, “It is finished.” You need not strive to earn or deserve or work for something He has declared finished. And the Son of God, dead upon a cross teaches in silence. This is where the forgiveness of your sins was won. Remember. Never forget that you are blessed.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, (saying): And we are blessed by Jesus words of blessing today. Nine times does he call you—yes, even you, especially you—blessed. The Lord, as do faithful preachers today, preach the Holy Gospel, truly Good News, to those aware of their sin, beat up by the world, hurt in friendship, fretting over family, those ridiculed and tortured for Jesus’ sake. Can you identify? Then listen again. The Lord delivers blessing for such ones in His very words.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit are those who realize that they are poor, miserable sinners, guilty of offending the Lord and justly deserving punishment now and forever. Such a one may be monetarily poor, or one of those wealthy people who can fit a camel through the eye of a needle. One poor in spirit looks to God for everything. Utterly everything. Work. Health. Family. Food and drink, house and home, spouse and children. For favorable weather, for an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times, such a one prays to and trusts in the Lord. God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. Blessed are you, the poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. When the unnaturalness of death befalls someone close to us, we mourn. We mourn not like others who have no hope, but for those who have died in Christ, we know they are at rest, at peace, and in Christ. We who believe in Christ will see one another again. Yet, we miss those who have passed away. It hurts. Blessed are you who yearn for the coming of the King who can reunite all Christians with one another. Blessed are you who desire the advent of the King who will make you whole again, and glad, and set you free.  Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. When Jesus has His use of the word “meek” He does not mean “milquetoast,” “Mama’s boy,” “wimp,” or anything else derogatory or pitiful. The meek are they who trust in the Lord and wait patiently for Him, as in Psalm 37: But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace…The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. Such trust takes the strength of God-given faith, not weakness. This is the Lord’s man or woman. Righteousness is the Gift, given by One who was meek as well, all the way to the cross for you. Blessed are you, the meek, for you shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. He does not say, “Blessed are those who labor and work for righteousness.” The hunger and thirst of faith is enough. No work, no labor is necessary. Only belief, trust—faith. And God gives that as well. In baseball, one catches with a mitt. God gives the mitt—your faith—and with that mitt given from Him, you catch, you faithfully receive, all the other Gifts He throws your way. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you shall be satisfied.
          These four beatitudes belong together. The promises are, on the whole, similar, as are those who receive them from the Lord’s hand. Repentant disciples are the beneficiaries of our Lord. He gives the Kingdom, comfort, the whole earth, and righteousness itself. Our Lord is not setting forth virtues, He is setting forth His gifts.

          The last set of beatitudes are of a kind as well. We look forward to the Last Day and all that has been promised us afterward—the new heaven and earth and New Jerusalem, the holy city.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Mercy is not doling out the punishment that is deserved. That is what you have received in Christ. Can you imagine the eternal punishment that we deserve? I can’t. It’s too great, too gruesome, too horrible to contemplate—being eternally cut off from God. It’s one of those things that surpasses all understanding. Christians are merciful, burying the whole hatchet, not leaving the handle sticking out, being longsuffering, sharing the mercy of Christ, and also His grace—the undeserved, unearned Gift of salvation, forgiveness, and Eternal Life. Blessed are you, the merciful, for you shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Now we see God only by faith. Then, we shall see face to face. The pure in heart gladly hear the Word of God and keep and learn it. That is how we see God by faith now. See Him daily. See Him with your spouse, your family. And see Him with your brothers and sisters in Christ as the Lord gathers you around His Word and Sacrament. You will see completely what Moses only caught a glimpse, a reflection of. Blessed are you, the pure in heart, for you shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Worldly peace treaties are a good thing, but not the thing spoken of here by our Lord. Peace in Chechnya, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the whole earth would be nice, but never, ever, are we going to have that kind of total peace on earth for which people wish. The peace Jesus speaks of and delivers is His peace, the peace of the Prince of Peace. Peace with God is that peace which the world cannot give. The world cannot understand it, either. Peace with God in Christ leads to peace with one another in Christ. You carry the message of that Peace to all you encounter. Blessed are you, the peacemakers, for you shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We are completely unfamiliar with the kind of persecution Christians in the Sudan are undergoing at the hand of unbelievers and Muslims. People are dying for the faith. More Christians lost their lives for the sake of Christ in the 20th Century than all those who died for righteousness’ sake in all of the nineteen before. We can hardly comprehend such thoughts! In America we are blessed. Jesus wants to prepare you for another kind of blessing—when persecution intensifies.
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.
This is speaking only about suffering for the name and confession and righteousness of Christ. At first, your persecution may simply come as unpopularity, as some of you experience now. Ridicule at work or school, being denied opportunities or promotions, exclusion from the popular groups. Blessed are you. There may be more to come. Persecution may intensify. Churches and pastors could one day lose tax benefits. Already in the media the will of the Lord expressed in His Ten Commandments is publicly ridiculed. No other Gods? People think we’re kidding or stubborn because we won’t recognize Allah, or pray to the God of Joseph Smith, or affirm the paths of Eastern Spirituality. And the Third Commandment? Who wants to show up every Sunday? “God can’t mean that,” I’m sometimes told. We’re considered closed-minded for calling all sexual relations outside of marriage sin.
It is not wise to predict the future beyond what the Word has given us. No matter what may come your way in the future, you will be blessed, especially when persecution for the faith comes your way. We know that the saints of old endured it and did not fall away, even under pain of death. The Lord offers the same blessing of faithfulness to you.
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.
And so we see why this Gospel lesson was chosen for the day we remember all saints and give thanks to God for them, as we will today in the proper preface, the seasonal prayer at the beginning of the liturgy of Holy Communion: It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, who in the multitude of Your saints did surround us with so great a crowd of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising you…

          The Beatitudes offer nine times of blessing. And with our Lord, there is more to come. Our Lord continually gives His people blessings. As Dr. Franzmann writes (36) He stands before His disciples as the Giver. He is the Messianic Giver. Nine times He calls His disciples “blessed” (5:3-11); that word occurs four more times in Matthew outside the Beatitudes, and in all cases it describes man in his relationship to the Messiah—blessed is the man who is not offended at the lowliness of the ministering Messiah (11:6); blessed are the eyes which see in Jesus of Nazareth, in the Sower who goes out to sow, the coming of the reign of God (13:16,17); blessed is Simon because the Father has revealed the Messiah to him (16:17); blessed is the servant whom the returning Messiah finds faithful at his post(24:46)…
          Blessed are you when you are gathered by the Lord around His Word and Sacrament. Blessed are you! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.