The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.
The Apostle John received a vision of the saints who gathered at the throne of God our Father, ‘ one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is why they are standing in front of the throne of God, serving him day and night in his Temple. ‘
Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving Father, as we worship you, our thoughts are drawn today to the saints in our lives, and the saints in the world who are being persecuted for their faith in your Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us understand your plan for our lives, and rejoice over the presence of your Holy Spirit who makes real the faith you put into our hearts. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
We are blessed to be living in Australia. A nation that treasures freedom. A nation that honours diversity. A nation that supports the downtrodden. A nation that welcomes the refugee. If is my fervent prayer that Australia will always be this way. But we know the world changes over time. It isn’t the same today as it was in the days of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Christ Jesus.
In the days of Adam, trust in God was broken when Adam and Eve determine to become like God. Yet God cared for them and clothed them.
In the days of Noah, the world was filled with violence, evil, and unfaith, when God saved Noah and his family from annihilation.
In the days of Abraham, the world was filled with idolatry, when God saw the trust of Abraham and counted it as righteousness to him.
In the days of Moses, the Israelites were held in slavery and persecution, when God heard their cries and sent Moses to free them from Egypt.
In the days of Christ Jesus, the world was held captive to tyrants like that of the Caesars. It was the right time and the right place for God to intervene once and for all for the salvation of all who would believe in the one whom God sent. Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
In his great Sermon on the Mount, our precious Saviour began with words of encouragement and warning. He spoke of a world that was so different from the one in which he sat and preached. A world of blessings. A world where those held captive are given citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Where those who mourn are comforted. Where those who express humility before God are given courage before the world. Where those who yearn for justice and mercy are satisfied. Where those who seek a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ will see God. And those who live in peace even in the face of persecution are called the children of God, and will share in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What a gift it must have been for those who heard Jesus speak such wonderful words. Especially as they lived under the domination of Rome.
But what of today. When we live under the domination of fear mongers who threaten the world with destruction. When we live under the threat of world pandemic of Ebola and CoronaVirus. When we live on the thin edge of world economy that seems to be heading for a meltdown. What do the beatitudes mean to us today. Are they just precious words that give us encouragement, or do we receive these words of Jesus Christ as something more. Perhaps as attitudes that could identify us as Christians and bring us into solidarity with every Christian throughout the world.
But if the be-attitudes show the world who we are, what would the world filled with unbelievers really describe about us?
“Blessed are the meek”, says Jesus, but in our world the meek seem to get left behind in the drive to subdue and inherit the world.
“Blessed are the merciful”, says Jesus, but in our world mercy is seen as weakness by those who strive to achieve by injustice.
“Blessed are the pure in heart”, says Jesus, but in our world such people are dismissed as hopelessly naïve.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” says Jesus, but in our world those who pursue peace risk having their patriotism called into question.
It seems that most in our beloved Australia live by another set of be-attitudes. Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs. Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed. Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for the rule of this world is for people to help themselves.
The Beatitudes stand as a daring act of protest against the current order. If we are honest, we must admit that the world Jesus speaks about is counter-cultural. But it is a world that God truly blesses. It is the world of our Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit turns the world’s be-attitudes to God’s be-attitudes. Where the Holy Spirit nurtures his fruit of ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Ga 5:22–23)
On All Saints Day, the beatitudes testify that it matters deeply whom we call “saint.” We cannot expect the world to understand or to accept us. But we keep our attention on our Lord Jesus Christ. Because Jesus fulfilled every be-attitude he described in Matthew. And we can hold onto his words to us, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.”
Today, we remember the saints in our lives who have already received their great reward at the foot of the throne, awaiting the final resurrection. And we stand in solidarity with all the saints living under the persecution that Jesus describes at the end of the reading from Matthew today. Especially the Christians in Africa, Syria, Sudan and Iraq.
Even as we remember and celebrate all the saints today, we also accept the witness to us that we are saints as well as sinners in the world today. The Gospel and Sacraments in which Christ comes to us speak plainly to us that we are loved, and we are accepted and received by our God in trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All this by faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Trust that God lives in each of us.
And we remember the words of Paul to the Church at Corinth, and to us:
16 Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
And we cherish the words of John’s first letter, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. David Thompson