Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,for yours is the kingdom of God. (Read the whole passage)
We find ourselves coming near the end of church year. All Saints Sunday is a herald of the closing year and the coming of Advent. In only two weeks, comes Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of this church cycle. And so in this regard, All Saints takes us to places of beginnings and ends, birth and old age, life and death.
In the past two weeks, we have already marked the occasion of All Saints as we laid to rest members of our community. And today, we will broaden the occasion. We will remember both with joy and grief, those saints who have gone before us, those loved ones who have died. But it is not just the saints whom we have buried in the ground, but also those whom we have drowned in the waters of baptism this past year that we remember and pray for as well.
Saints, so to speak, can be a fairly broad category. The Church of Rome, has compiled their list of saints under strictly maintained standards. Other protestant churches often avoid saint talk all together. Lutherans have a favourite phrase to identify ourselves: ‘ Sinner and Saint’.
All these different definitions of who and what saints are, muddy our understanding of what a saint is. But probably we could agree that a saint is someone holy, or in other words a blessed person. And blessings is what Jesus is talking about today.
For All Saints Sunday, we hear Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Plain. It is a sermon that is well known and often quoted. Blessings and Woes. And these are not the heavenly minded blessings of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount which reads: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Luke is concrete and direct. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. These are concrete blessings that have to do with rich and poor, hungry and filled, laughing and weeping, hate and respect. And more specifically, they have to do with you… and me, and us… they are not about some abstract group of people.
The thing is, that lately, the version of the blessings and woes that we have been hearing in our world are quiet different than Jesus’. As the US elections looms over the entire world, we all know the version of blessings and woes that one particular candidate seems to be preaching. But just for fun, maybe we could imagine them going something like this:
“The poor are a bunch of losers,
for they deserve to be poor. Get a job! Which I alone can give.
“The hungry, what a bunch of lazy bums,
just get some food, I mean c’mon.
“Sad people, the worst, the worst,
sad poeple haven’t done anything for the world, let me tell you.”
“But rich people, I love rich people,tremendous.
I love just ‘em. I am really rich, by the way.
“And people with lots to eat,We gotta protect people with lots to eat.
We gotta do something for them.
“And happy people, happy people are the best
I will be the greatest president for happy people. No one else will be a better president for happy people”
“Now listen, we are going to make things great again, trust me.”
The beatitudes according to today.
But before we feel too smug because we would never preach this version, this perspective on what it means to be blessed and cursed is one that we all have the capacity to believe. The old sinner within each of, the part of us that carries our fears and anxieties and desire for security and control, that part of us want to hold on to what we have, even if that means those around us go without. The part of us is controlled by fear and anxiety worries that sharing with others who don’t have as much might make us miss out.
And yet, the world’s version of the beatitudes are held up to us like a mirror, and we start to see how destructive they truly are. We begin to see that a world that operates according to this version is not a world we want to live in.
And so when Jesus offers his version of blessings and curses, it challenges this accepted version of things that exists in our world. It challenges the idea that the rich and happy are blessed, while the poor and persecuted are cursed. So what are we to do Jesus’ version?
Unlike the world’s version of the beatitudes which tell us what should try for – try to be rich and avoid being poor.
Jesus’ beatitudes are not a prescription on how to be blessed. Rather they are descriptive. They are poetic words about life. They are a painting of joy and suffering. They are music that speaks to our hearts and minds. They are reminders of where God is through the blessings and woes of life.
When Jesus talked about blessing, he is naming God’s presence. Jesus is telling where God shows up in life.
We can hear what it means to be blessed in the words that are proclaimed at the end of every service:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord’s face shine upon you with grace and mercy.
The Lord look upon you with favour and give you peace.
We bless each other to say that God is with us. We pronounce blessings at baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, on normal green Sundays, on Christmas Eve and Easter Morning, at the beginning and end of the day. We bless each other in times of joy and sadness, in times of celebration and grief. Because God goes with us at all these times.
Yet, God does not stop there. God does not simply promise to be with us. God shows us the way through the blessings and woes of life. God, through Jesus, comes down from heaven and into flesh to be blessed by us. To bring us close to the divine. As Jesus preaches blessings and woes, he points to the cross. He points to the cross, as he foreshadows the weeping and mourning and persecution to come. The cross is where Jesus earns our sainthood. Our sainthood is earned in Christ’s death and resurrection.
On the cross, Christ declares us saints. Because to be saints, is not really about being holy as far as God is concerned. It is not about being rich or full or happy. It is not about security and power and control. Because one of the truths about the world’s beatitudes is that the longer and louder they are preached, the more obvious it becomes that no amount of wealth, power and security will actually make us feel blessed enough. And in fact, it becomes clear that we all belong to the cursed group. We all need to be blessed, we all need something, someone bigger than ourselves to bring us real hope and real grace and mercy.
The truth of the Beatitudes is that they are are not about blessings as we usually think of them. To be blessed by God, is to be loved. And it is divine love that we discover on the cross. It is the Crucified God who blesses us and claims us as his own. The poor, the hungry, the weeping, the persecuted… they are blessed because God is with them. God is with us.
The beatitudes of Jesus that we read today are the true hope of All Saints Sunday. As we remember, and as we continue to grieve all those who have died, God blesses us and keeps us. As we struggle with being poor or being rich, with being blessed or being cursed, God shines his face upon us with grace and mercy. As we search for peace in a troubled world, God looks upon us with favour. And God promises peace that will carry us and all the saints until the end.
Header Image: https://onehundredbillionsuns.com/2016/08/05/the-beatitudes-by-donald-trump/