Sunday 2nd November 2014 at Stewkley
Gospel Matthew 5.1-12
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people,
called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
On a day like this, as we commemorate All Saints, after several years of writing sermons, the temptation to recycle one I wrote a few years ago is strong. The readings rotate in a 3 year cycle, which offers the preacher some variety, but All Saints and All Souls comes around every year.
In Cheddington, we used to observe All Saints the evening of the 1st of November. All Hallows. The day after Hallowe’en. In a very moving service, we read out the names of all the loved ones who had died.
All Saints was transferred to the nearest Sunday, which is today. The emphasis is similar. We did not only commemorate those special people who are called saints, but all Christians. Search through the NRSV and you will find 65 references to saints. Most of them are in the New Testament, and they refer not to special, wonderful people but ordinary Christian folk like you and me. For example, when talking about Paul, Ananias says: ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem”
I expect you have heard all this in previous years, so I’ll continue to resist the urge to recycle, partly because I think today’s gospel reading from the Beatitudes is an interesting choice in itself.
Who are all these “Blesseds” referring to? Are they commands for us to emulate? It might be good to be merciful, but should we mourn, or be constantly hungry and thirsty? It might be good to make peace, but should we go all out to be disliked, persecuted or spoken evil about? Or is Jesus just saying we should count ourselves blessed if it happens as a result of living the Christian life?
In order to answer this question, we have to remember this is teaching by Jesus. It’s the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Verses 1 and 2 say: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.” So that means we are meant to learn from what he teaches.
Secondly, Jesus is offering instruction in righteousness. The SM will have plenty to say about how we should behave as people of his Kingdom.
Now, you would have expected a sermon like this to begin with lots of Thou shall and Thou shalt nots just like the 10 Commandments but it doesn’t. Too often, people try and make the Beatitudes into laws. Clearly, they’re not.
The list is indicative not imperative. The words are descriptive, not prescriptive. Jesus is not saying we should all become people with all these characteristics. Some people might starve to see justice done, but for others that may not be their main focus.
What he is saying is that such people are blessed of God. God looks upon such people with favour. God’s eye is on them; they will be happy in the end. This, says Jesus, is the way things are.
But if the Beatitudes are descriptions of reality, what reality is this? What kind of world are we talking about? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound much like the world I know.
In my world, the meek don’t inherit. They’re often at the back of the queue. Those who mourn are tolerated for a while, but then they’re expected to pull themselves together and get over their grief. In the world I know, the pure in heart are often dismissed as hopelessly naïve.
No, this is closer to the world I know:
Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.
Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.
Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.
So the picture Jesus paints is not the current order. For now, we do not yet see all these things coming to fruition, but we do see Jesus. Jesus not only declares, but embodies the new world order. In that day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that a crucified man is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).
When that day comes, everyone will see at last that the one hung upon a tree in shame, the one who in poverty of spirit was forsaken by everyone—even by God in the end, it seemed—the last of the last, is first, is Lord of all.
The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed and embodied is precisely a new way of seeing, a new way of naming, and so a new way of being. Until that day, the Beatitudes stand as a daring act of protest against the current order.
Jesus cannot very well insist that we be poor in spirit, but he can show us how to look upon such people with new eyes, and so gain entrance to a new world.
On All Saints Day, the Beatitudes testify to how things will be in the fullness of time, when there is a new world order, and when we, who today are called saints, become fully children of God, inheritors of the saints in light. Amen