+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Can you identify blessings when you see them? The answer probably seems both obvious and incontestable. We know what things we are striving for in life and the acquisition of these things is considered to be a blessing. Good heath, strong relationships, financial stability, a sense of satisfaction and achievement are common things people seek for a sense of well-being. Yet God would have us see a broader and deeper perspective.
In today’s gospel reading- containing the Beatitudes- Jesus speaks of being blessed in a way that is unfamiliar and even antithetical to our culture. It’s an appropriate focus for our celebration of All Saint’s Day. Falling on the 1st of November All Saints’ recognizes the faithful who have finished the race of faith and now wait in the presence of God for the consummation of all things. The Church is a living organism that stretches back through history to the beginning of time. Those in heaven await the gathering of all believers. We on earth await the return of Christ in glory as we prepare to meet Him at any hour. The crown of life awaits all who trust in Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is, of course, the final and ultimate blessing.
So what does it mean to be blessed? Does it mean being lucky or fortunate? Does it mean winning the lottery, surviving a near-miss catastrophe, or coming into some form of material prosperity? Does it mean being on the winning team or having good health in old age? The natural human tendency is to see only those things we enjoy as blessings. It is easy to label things that make our lives more happy or prosperous as godsends. Yet Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”1, etc., even, “blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”2
Something deeper is revealed here. There is a conflict between our natural cataloguing of who or what we consider either blessed or unfortunate and what God reckons. The credibility of God’s promises cannot be assessed only by the tangible judgments we make. If it could be there would be no place for faith. The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see how hardships are often the greatest blessings. Can you be blessed in the midst of illness? Can you be blessed in the midst of trial? Can those who lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their hopes and dreams and even their loved ones be blessed? Yes, often these experiences reveal blessings most clearly.
The truth is we are too often not on the same page with God? We make assumptions according to our opinions or feeling and not according to His Word. When it comes to the matters of sin and grace, life and death, our will verses God’s truth, there is no place for assumptions about what true blessings are. A man is walking down the beach and comes across an old bottle. He picks it up, pulls out the cork and out pops a genie. The genie says, "Thank you for freeing me from the bottle. In return I will grant you three wishes." The man says "Great! I always dreamed of this and I know exactly what I want. First, I want one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account." Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand. He continues, "Next, I want a brand new red Ferrari right here." Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red brand-new Ferrari appears right next to him. He continues, "Finally, I want to be irresistible to women." Poof! There is a flash of light and he turns into a box of chocolates. Never assume!
What we judge as good and valuable must always be measured against God’s revealed truth. To trust in our own appraisals is the very definition of sin. And designations aren’t reached by consensus or democratic process. There is strength in numbers. But this is a double-edged sword. As Christians we must be wise about how others embolden us in our sins. This happens at the cultural level and the individual level. How powerful is the claim,
“Everybody else is doing it?”
Even if every other person in the world insisted that it is acceptable to gossip, gossiping is still a sin because God says otherwise. If everyone else committed adultery as a matter of course, it nevertheless remains a harmful transgression of His will. He trumps all human opinion. He overrides all human standards of truth, ethics and morality. The Scripture says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world accountable to God.”3 Consider well which sins you’re quick to justify. Believe that God will accept no excuse.
A saint is a holy one. The saints of the past aren’t saintly because they were sinless. In repentance and faith they trusted in the atoning death of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. The same act of grace makes us saintly too. In baptism the Holy Spirit applies this act of unconditional love to you. Christ has willingly made Himself accountable for us all. He is the Blessed One because His patient suffering and steadfast obedience acquired our salvation. The horror of the cross did not deter Him. The terror of death and subtlety of Satan did not daunt Him. Our resurrected and living Lord has opened the gates of heaven for us and the powers of hell will not prevail against Him. We are blessed beyond human comprehension.
Dear friends, in a few minutes we will sing in the communion liturgy, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”4 We are celebrating the truth that Christ comes to us as the God-in-the-flesh Saviour who left heaven, condescended to us, disarmed Satan and frees us from our sins. He meets us with forgiveness in the life-giving power of His body and blood.
When at the conclusion of the Divine Service I raise my arm as a servant of the Chief Shepherd and say, “The Lord bless you and keep you,”5 I am not merely offering to you a pious, sentimental wish. The words of the Almighty are never hollow. I am announcing to you that the Redeemer intends never to leave you or forsake you. I am sending you into the world with the promise, presence and peace of God just as has occurred for nearly 3,500 years6. I am reminding you that as God’s baptized child you can look forward through the darkness of this life to the dawn of the eternal day.
The Psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”6 And St. John heard the voice directly from heaven say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”7On the occasion of this All Saints’ festival we rejoice that God provides greater blessings than we can comprehend. We look forward to the fulfillment of today’s Scripture that says, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, not any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”9 May the Father bring it to pass for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
All Saints’ Day (Observed)
3 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 See Matthew 5:3-6
2 Matthew 5:10
3 Romans 3:19
4 LH p.16
5 LH p.27
6 See Number 6:24
7 Psalm 116:15
8 Revelation 14:13
9 Revelation 7:16-17