Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sermon: All Saints

2 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Deut 33:1-3, Rev 7:9-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The following list of qualities hardly sounds like something an army would be interested in. Can you just imagine a recruitment ad for the U.S. Marines that begins: “We’re looking for a few good men who are: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.”

Are these the qualities you want in a president? Is this what you expect in an NFL quarterback? Are these the characteristics people desire in a CEO of a corporation, or in a Hollywood lead-man or starlet?

Of course, if you’re like me, you are far more inspired by the likes of the boisterous George S. Patton or the brassiness of Margaret Thatcher. You’re much more likely to be drawn to a smirking Angelina Jolie raiding a tomb or a squinting Clint Eastwood firing a big gun at a bad guy while making wisecracks than to be inspired by someone who is unarmed, humble, always being beaten down, someone who doesn’t raise his or her voice and fist in rage against “the man.”

And yet, how does Holy Scripture describe our Lord Jesus Christ? What words accurately capture His Person and serve as the hallmark of His ministry: “poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, and persecuted.”

Not that our Lord never had a snappy comeback (there were plenty of those against the Pharisees). And there was that incident of chasing moneychangers out of the Temple that would rival anything Indiana Jones could do with a bullwhip. But overwhelmingly, our Lord’s words and work are characterized by patience, gentleness, kindness, and forbearance. Even when being attacked, he turns the other cheek, goes to the slaughter like a gentle sacrificial Lamb, and does not return evil for evil. Instead of revenge, our Lord exudes mercy. Instead of demanding respect, He humbles Himself as a slave and empties Himself to death on the cross. Nor does come down from the cross to save Himself.

This is a very different kind of Hero that we Christians have. This is a very different kind of King we serve. This is a very different kind of God we worship.

And our King commands His subjects to “go and do likewise,” to “take up [our] cross and follow [Him].” We are indeed to walk in His path of poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking, and yes, even persecution.

And yet, this army Jesus raises, this corps He recruits to join His war against sin, death, and the devil, is made up of this kind of paradoxical warrior. Just as He is a different kind of King, His Kingdom is armed by a different kind of soldier. God’s Kingdom is the opposite of the Kingdoms of this world, for in God’s Kingdom, right makes might. The power of the Kingdom of God is not in our arms, our well-laid strategies, or our love of a cause. It is only in the Lord’s blood-stained arms, His plan from the beginning of time to defeat the foe, and His divine love for those whom He created. It is indeed the Gospel that is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”

And notice what our Lord promises to His rag-tag army of the meek and persecuted, His war-wearied veterans of the cross. The very reward He earned in His struggle against the devil is also our reward. Ours is the kingdom of heaven, we are comforted, we are the inheritors of the entire earth, we are the ones who are filled with abundance, we are the ones who are shown mercy, we shall see God face to face, for we are indeed the very sons of God. And our Lord concludes with the same words be began with: the kingdom of heaven is ours. And when (not if, but when) we are reviled, persecuted, and slandered for His sake, we share in the very same reward as the prophets of the Lord.

For in our meekness and persecution, we are strong, and have dominion.

We, the Christian Church, the vast army of saints, are the single most formidable force on earth. We are not an army of one, but an army of “the One.” We share in His victory over all evil. And this is why the Lord declares His army of all saints to be “blessed.” We are blessed because we have been blessed. We have been given all that we have by the grace our Lord, by the patience of our Champion, by the courage of our General, by the sacrifice of our Priest, and by the dominion of our King.

And it is by revelation of our Prophet-King that we see into the future, as “soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest.” We witness this vast triumphant army, comprised “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” We behold the “host arrayed in white.” We look upon those “despised and scorned [who] sojourned here, but now how glorious they appear!” And “Oh, what their joy and their glory must be, those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see.”

The Feast of All Saints is not only a quaint remembrance of history that we celebrate every first Sunday in November. The Feast of All Saints is an eternal feast of thanksgiving and communion, and it is more than mere history. The “Church of God, elect and glorious,” is, like her Lord, eternal. For all the saints of every time and place, each one of us sinner-saints still here in time, join the triumph, the eternal celebration of victory over the grave. In this glimpse of heaven, the time for mourning fallen comrades is over – for our brothers and sisters in arms enjoy eternal life. In this unveiling of eternity, we learn that this is no place for tears – for “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” – as indeed, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

And like all true warriors, these who have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” seek nothing but peace. The Lord in His mercy lets us peek into eternity. And it is here we see all the saints enjoying the spoils of victory. The war is over. The foe has been slain. In the words of the Psalmist: “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.”

And this is how it is that we, who are still in the Church Militant, can miraculously and joyfully join the Church Triumphant and “lift up one voice, let heaven rejoice in our Redeemer’s song”, for:

In New Jerusalem joy shall be found,
Blessings of peace shall forever abound;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor the things prayed for come short of the prayer.

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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