Lectionary 31 (All Saints) – November 1, 2020
Faith Lutheran Church
Psalm 31:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
The beatitudes that we just heard read today are part of the introduction to the larger sermon on the Mount that comprises Matthew Chapters 5, 6 and 7. This “sermon” is the place in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus gives so many of his ethical instructions to his followers:
“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” And, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” And, especially fitting on this All Saints and Stewardship Sunday, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
These are just three of the many instructions Jesus gives in this model of a sermon.
Martin Luther loved this sermon so much that he described it as the illustration that every preacher should follow when preaching. They should copy three things from Jesus.
- They should take their place.
- They should open their mouth and begin to speak.
- They should know when to stop.
While in our reading for today, we only witness the first two steps, Jesus’ words are still an inspiration for us all.
1–“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down the disciples came to him.”
Jesus was a Rabbi, a Jewish teacher, and by this time in his ministry, he had become famous because of his teaching and healing, which led to great crowds following him all around. And these crowds were not people that had great wealth or fame, but rather were the poor and outcast. The people following Jesus were the sick, those afflicted with demons, those people no one else would welcome.
2–“Then he began to speak and taught them”
Jesus knew that the crowd desired to hear the good news he proclaimed, and sitting high on a hill, he was able to proclaim that good word to them. And not only did they listen to his words, but they learned about the dominion of heavena dominion that offered them a place at the table. A place they had never been offered before.
3–“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the dominion of heaven.”
The poor in spiritFor the crowds following Jesus, many of them would have been poor in spirit–many would have been lacking in joy because of their economic poverty. Those in the crowd would have been downtrodden because they faced unfair taxation at the hands of the occupying Roman empire.
4–“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The mourners Jesus was speaking to are not necessarily those mourning the death of loved ones as we often think, but might have been those mourning, grieving over their disenfranchised status. They were the suffering Jewish believers who grieved because of their circumstance, living in captivity to foreign rulers.
5–‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”
The meek Jesus refers to here, are not “wimpy” people. They are not who the powerful might call “losers.” No, they are the people who do not take advantage of their position. They would have been perceived as powerless, and yet despite that powerlessness, they trust in God. They trustthat God will deliver them from the wicked and inherit control over the land they inhabit.
6–“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Those in the crowd, the disciples, all who receive this message of Good News from Jesus can take heart. They can take heart because their labors are not in vain. In the coming dominion of Heaven, their hunger for God’s justice and equity in the world will be fulfilled.
7–“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
In the first four of the beatitudes, Jesus focused on God reversing–upending even– the present circumstances of those in the crowd. At this point, Jesus begins to speak of human actions that allow for God’s purposes. For a person to show mercy is to emulate one of the two primary aspects of God, the other being justice.
8–“Blessed are the pure in heart, for the will see God.”
To be pure in heart meant aligning one’s life of actions outside of worship with their life ofworship. The heart wasn’t just a place of emotional assent, but was the seat of a person’s convictions and firmly held beliefs.
9–“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be children of God.”
Living in an occupied territory, to seek peace meant naming the struggles faced by the Israelites and working toward ending them. Peacemakers were those who held the “Pax Romana”, the roman peace through violence and exploitation to task by showing an alternative peace that was possible.
5:10-12–“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The righteousness Jesus is speaking of here is not simply “being” or “acting” righteous,–it is participation in, and participation with God’s good reign. Righteousness is loving God and neighbor. That is what living in right relationship looks like. The followers of Jesus lived in a world where they faced open hostility from those of other faiths. Like the prophets who came before them, they were to speak truth to power, and hold the powers and principalities to task, even though it would inevitably lead to their persecution.
In the beatitudes, it is common to place ourselves in the first half of each phrase, and God in the second half. For example, in verse four where one reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” it seems natural to assume that you and I will be the ones being comforted, and God will be the one doing the comforting. On this All Saint’s Sunday, we remember and mourn those who have died before us, and many of us surely need comforting. But what if we were also able to fill the role of comforter?
Jesus, in our gospel was speaking to those who were the outcasts of society. The people were tax collectors and sinners–engaged in occupations that were NOT approved of in civil life, or by “decent folk.”
Speaking from my position as a Lutheran Pastor in Isanti MN in 2020, that doesn’t describe me. What I do and who I am is very much approved of in civil life.
And what about you? As you think about the way you have been employed, or have dedicated your life, would that be approved of in civil life? I would guess that for many of us, if not most of us, that answer would be yes.
And if the answer is yes, and you or I wouldn’t have been part of that crowd Jesus was speaking to–the poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry–then the place in which we can place ourselves in the beatitudes are as those who comfort, those who feed, the merciful. And if we are to fill that role how is that manifest in our lives?
Thinking of how Jesus spoke to people facing economic hardship, as people who are called to steward–to care for what we have first received from God– we can give our time, talents, and financial gifts.
As a community at Faith Lutheran, our mission is to “invite and welcome people of all ages to grow spiritually as well as in ministry.” For our 2021 Stewardship appeal, we are investing in improving our livestreaming technology to broaden our reach, adding adult education opportunities to learn how to live out our faith, and are continuing to care for our church home.
Through our generosity in supporting the mission of Faith, we enable the community to continue being a place where those who mourn can be comforted, where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness can be filled, and where the pure of heart can encounter God.
Our country and world are in the throes of a pandemic like none of us have ever experienced. On this All Saints Sunday, the families and friends of over 230 thousand individuals in the US alone will be mourning their loss. And for 7.7 million workers and their families, COVID has caused them to lose their job and economic stability.
Simultaneously, for some this pandemic has not led to the death of anyone why were close to or economic instability. As we engage with the beatitudes, I wonder if some among us count themselves among the crowd in a way they never did before and if others now count themselves outside of it.
As we all complete the statements of intent that were mailed out, I encourage each of us to consider how we can generously respond to strengthen the ministry of our congregation in this challenging time. How, especially for those of us who recognize that we have an abundance to share–those of us who are not the crowd Jesus was speaking to, but rather are those who can help love and serve that crowd–how we can support broadening our ministry’s reach, learn how to live out our faith, and care for our church home.
Dear people, our call as followers of Christ is not a straightforward journey. Yet we can have confidence that the holy spirit is present and accompanying us as we discern how to follow Christ through the joys and sorrow of our lives. And for this reason we can rejoice and be glad, for just as those saints who have gone before us, our reward too is great in heaven, where we shall hunger no more, thirst no more, and the Lamb will be our shepherd and guide us to the springs of the water of life. Amen.