Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sermon: All Saints

1 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Blessed Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, he relates a series of “Blesseds” – known by their Latin name, the Beatitudes. It’s interesting that the Lord sets the fulfillment of almost all of the Beatitudes in the future.

In other words, those who mourn will be comforted. But not yet. The meek shall inherit the earth. But not yet. They who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. But not yet. The merciful will find mercy, the pure in heart shall see God, the peacemakers shall be called sons of God. The completion of all of these blessings are set at some future time.

But notice that the Lord never says: “Blessed will be those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness…” The Lord declares that the suffering, those who struggle to remain faithful, those who are beaten and battered by the world and by sin, “are” blessed.

Dear Christians, we are blessed now, even though the fruits of those blessings are “not yet.”

But the Lord does set one of the fruits of the beatitudes in the present: when He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” for “theirs is,” not “shall be,” but rather “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You, brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, you possess the kingdom, right now, even in your poverty of spirit and in your being persecuted for the faith. For these are true marks of the Church. No Christian escapes the sinking suspicion that his own spirit is poor, that he has nothing to offer God in himself but a beggar in rags. Likewise, no Christian escapes persecution for the faith from the hostile world, from the hateful devil, and from his own defiled flesh. And yet, the Lord in His mercy does not withhold the kingdom from you.

For as we Lutherans around the world sang either yesterday or last Sunday, even in spite of persecution:

And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.

The kingdom belongs to the Lord’s Church, the Lord’s redeemed, the Lord’s saints. Not at the end of the world, not after we have become perfect, but now, even in our woeful poverty of spirit and in our shameful persecution.

It may not look like it to our tear-stained eyes, but the kingdom is ours, and it is ours now. And yet we look forward to the day when “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” For when the beatitudes are completed and brought to fruition by our Blessed Lord, we will be comforted, we will inherit the earth, we will be satisfied, we will receive mercy, we will see God, and we will be called sons of God – even as we partake in our reward in heaven.

These are promises for the future spoken by the mouth of God Himself, and we can rely on Him.

And yet, even in the present, in spite of the fallen world and the mockery of Satan, we are “blessed” in the here and now. It is our kingdom in the here and now. Because Jesus is our King in the here and now.

St. John was given a vision of the Church, that is, of us. In his heavenly and beatific vision, the holy apostle saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” This is the direct result of the Lord’s command to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The preaching of the twelve has borne fruit and multiplied, and that fruit has likewise borne fruit and multiplied. And so in John’s vision, the Lord’s handpicked twelve has each been multiplied a thousand times over.

And in this vision, the multitudinous Church is no longer weak and poor in spirit and persecuted. In fact, she is victorious. She who formerly sang feebly in many tongues in discord, now eternally sings with one voice in one language and in perfect harmony: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

And yet, this vision of triumph was not always so.

One of the elders asks John the identity of this jubilant choir. He then explains to John that these are they whose robes were formerly dirty in their poverty of spirit. These are they who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Their poverty of spirit has been replaced by richness beyond imagining. And these are they “coming out of the great tribulation.” For they have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Their persecution has been replaced by vindication and comfort.

For on this side of the grave, they were tempted from within and pressured from without to be separated from the Lamb and from their brothers and sisters in the worship of the Lamb. But in eternity, “they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

On this side of the grave, they were subjected to hunger and thirst and torture of the elements. But in eternity, “[t]hey shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.”

And this is how we can say with St. John “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” John does not emphasize that we will be called sons of God (even as our Lord does in His sermon), but points out to us that the reality of being called sons of God in eternity coexists with the reality that we are “children of God” in the here and now.

And this, dear friends, is an act of love on the part of our Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us.”

The world who hates the Church and persecutes the Church does so because the world does not know Christ. And this is why the world does not know us either. The world persecutes Christ when it persecutes the Church, for “we shall be like Him.”

And the Church has been poor in spirit, and has suffered persecution for nearly two thousand years. We look upon the Church with the eyes of faith, as an article of faith, for there is no other explanation for the continued existence of this assembly of the poor in spirit and the persecuted. For she clings to the promises of her Bridegroom, looking upon Him not with her tear-filled eyes, but rather with the promise-holding blessed eyes of faith.

And when the kingdom is brought to fulfillment, when our persecution gives way to praise, and when our poverty is exchanged for riches, those same eyes will be wiped dry, for we “shall see God, whom [we] shall see for [ourselves],
and [our] eyes shall behold.” And as we wait for that blessed day:

Now let us worship our Lord and our King,
Joyfully raising our voices to sing;
Praise to the Father, and praise to the Son,
Praise to the Spirit, to God, Three in One.


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

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