Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sermon: All Saints Day (Observed)

5 November 2017

Text: Matt 5:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Today’s Gospel, known as the Beatitudes, is one of the most beloved of all passages in Scripture.  Even unbelievers love the sentiments expressed and the poetic sound of the Lord’s words.  “Blessed” is translated as “happy” in some modern translations, and the word “blessed” appears ten times.

In fact, some might think that the Christian life is a life that is always happy.  Jesus even winds down the beatitudes with an invitation to “rejoice and be glad.”  In the words of the popular TV preacher, you can have your best life now!

But there is also a word that appears three times – once in each of the last three verses: “persecute.”  Now that is something we really don’t want to hear.  Persecution is for Christians who live in Saudi Arabia or China or Sweden or some other place thousands of miles away from here.  It’s certainly nothing we Americans have to be concerned about.  Yes, we pray for persecuted Christians, like Asia Bibi in Pakistan, as we have been doing now for some seven years – but we don’t want to dwell on her case too much because it might make us feel bad.  The beatitudes are about being happy.  Or so we might want to convince ourselves.

Dear friends, persecution is one of the marks of the Church.  We are the enemy of the evil one.  If Satan sought to destroy our Lord, should we expect any less hatred from the prince of this world, seeking whom he may devour?

Indeed, our Lord says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Persecution was always lurking around the corner for the early Church.  John the Baptist was beheaded even before our Lord was crucified.  St. Stephen was stoned to death under the watchful eyes of St. Paul before his conversion.  St. Paul would himself die as a martyr, along with St. Peter, in Rome.  Eleven of the Lord’s apostles would be martyred.  We know all about the cruelties of the madman Nero in the 60s AD, and of the bloodthirsty Domitian in the 80s and 90s.  The persecutions were so bad that even normal Romans, who hated the Christians, felt sorry for them: especially the women and children who were tortured for sport.

But does this talk of persecution apply to us?

Our Lord’s last Beatitude is: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.”  Notice that He doesn’t say “if” others persecute you, but “when.” 

The Church is persecuted on account of Christ.  And though the level of persecution varies in time and place, never fall into the trap, dear brothers and sisters, that the world loves you.  The world is not your friend.  The world hates Christ, hates the Church, and hates you.  But what does our Lord say?  He does not say to hang our heads and wring our hands.  He does not say to react with hatred or to persecute others in response.  He does not say that we are to feed our enemies to lions or behead them or crucify them.  In fact, He tells us to love them, pray for them, and forgive them.

And when we are persecuted: be it fed to lions, ridiculed by coworkers, sued by activists pursuing (which is the actual meaning of the word “persecute”) Christians whom they know will act in accordance with their consciences, shunned by family members, arrested by the government, mocked by the pseudo-righteous in Hollywood, or marginalized by a society that claims to be tolerant and inclusive – our Lord tells us that we should “rejoice and be glad.”  For this is how it should be.  If we are persecuted – not for being evil but for confessing that which (and whom which) is righteous, we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.  Can we expect any less, dear friends?  Is a pupil above his Master – especially when his Master died on the cross for the sins of the world?  Didn’t our Lord tell us to follow Him by taking up our own crosses?

Indeed, the Christian life is not for the fainthearted, and yet we are blessed – especially when we are spiritually impoverished, mourning, meek, and longing for a righteousness that is alien to this world and to our own flesh. We are indeed blessed when we show mercy to others, when our hearts are pure (as they can only be by God’s grace and forgiveness), and when we seek peace instead of violence. 

We are blessed, dear friends, not because suffering in this life and world are happy, but rather because our Lord has overcome the world!  Our suffering in a very small way is a sharing in His suffering, and His suffering is how we have been reconciled to God: by the cross, by the blood of the Lamb, by the satisfaction of the wrath of God by the Son’s perfect life and atoning death.  What an honor to be counted worthy to suffer for the Holy Name of Jesus Christ!

This is what is means to be a saint, dear friends: to be a forgiven sinner brought into communion with our Lord by dying with Him in Holy Baptism, and rising with Him to everlasting life according to the Word and promise of God.

This is why we rejoice, as the saints, and with the saints.  We stand as part of the long chain of forgiven sinners, of those who have suffered for the kingdom and been counted worthy because of the blood of the Lamb, who is worthy.

We remember our heroes of the faith, known and unknown; great and small; men, women, and children; those of “all tribes and peoples and languages,” all who pray with us, on earth and in heaven: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

For indeed, “These are the ones coming from the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  We rejoice, dear friends, because they have won the victory, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Blessed are you, dear saints, blessed are you!  That is the Word of the Lord and the promise of the living God.  “Rejoice and be glad.”  Amen!

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

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