The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
When things get out of focus in life, problems can (and often do) arise. Today is one of those days that if a pastor and a congregation aren’t careful, things can get out of focus and go off the theological rails pretty quick. I say this because it’s not uncommon for the true meaning and joy of All Saints Day to be swallowed up and lost in a flurry of good intentions and bad theology. For instance, with the very best intentions we can wind up fixating on our deceased loved ones who have since gone home to glory, inadvertently taking our focus off of Christ. “So-and-so is now with grandma and grandpa and great-uncle George. They’re all looking down on us and smiling.” No…so-and-so is with Jesus! That’s the important thing! Sadly, though, Jesus can wind up on the periphery on days like today. We can wind up focusing more on our own sentimentalities and emotions rather than on Christ and His gifts of justification and saving faith. It happens. It happens a lot.
Just consider the words of our Lord in the Gospel lesson: the Beatitudes. Who are these Beatitudes about? Who are they focused on? The knee-jerk response is to blurt out, “us”! But…should that be our first response? Notice: I didn’t say it was wrong to identify the Beatitudes as speaking to us and our reality in Christ. These are about us! However…are we the primary focus? Think about it like this: Who here fulfills each and every one of these Beatitudes perfectly? I don’t see any hands raised…just as I suspected.
And before I go any further, it is important to make clear that these Beatitudes are not prescriptions or bullet-pointed goals for you to strive for in your quest to be a saint. Talk about being out of focus! These are not prescriptions or goals or “ways you need to be and attitudes you need to have.” Such an approach puts all the focus on you and what you need to do, and yet we know that this isn’t how God’s plan of salvation works. In God’s plan, all the focus is on Christ and what He has done for us in His perfect and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection.
These Beatitudes are not things we need to do on our part in order to be blessed. Just think how foolish it would be to tell people that they need to mourn more or be persecuted more, or else they can’t be considered “blessed.” That’s about as far off the rails as you can get! “Try harder!” Such works-righteous preaching is guaranteed to make a train-wreck of the faith. And it happens. It happens all the time.
These Beatitudes, first and foremost, are about Christ. These blessed realities can only be understood with a Christological / Christocentric saving faith. After all, who is the One who was truly poor in spirit; that is, who truly brought nothing to the table except trust in God above all things? “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” No one else in on this side of eternity has ever been able to say this. Why? Because your loving and gracious God has never forsaken you or given up on you (or anyone else). As long as we have air in our lungs, we have opportunity to repent and be saved. Jesus is the only one who has ever been truly forsaken and poor in spirit, and He did it for us. Who is the One who truly mourns over sins; not just the sins that get you into trouble or make life rough for you, but all sin; even the sins you’re not sorry for and would do again if you had the chance; the sins of the entire world? Our sin—the world’s sin—grieved Christ so much that He was willing to lay down His life on a cross to pay for each and every one of them, including the sins of those people you don’t like.
Christ desires that no one should suffer for their sin. Can you honestly say that? Careful, because God knows your heart. Who is the One who makes peace—true peace, not some nicey-nice, politically-correct version of “peace” where everyone puts on their fake smiles and plays nice and agrees to disagree? Who is the One who has unconditional mercy on others, and who truly hungers and thirsts for righteousness? Be honest: Do you truly hunger and thirst for Christ and His righteousness, or do you show up here because this is what good, saintly people are supposed to do on Sunday mornings? There is a difference! One desires to be fed and nourished by God with His justification, while the other just desires to make an appearance…and sometimes the desire to make an appearance isn’t even a factor. Sometimes our desires to worship the mattress god or the sports god or any other god is greater than our desire to simply show up and be in the presence of Almighty God. Folks: Is it not Christ who did all these things for us perfectly; who even literally hungered and thirsted for you in order to satisfy you with His righteousness? Remember: Jesus’ fasted for forty days and forty nights in His wilderness temptations. One of Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross was, “I thirst.” This hunger and thirst was for you and your eternal salvation.
Indeed, all these Beatitudes— these promises of blessing—are about
Christ first, and then about the reality of our sainthood—our holiness—in Christ. These are primarily descriptions and conditions of our Savior, which only then become our realities through our being in-grafted into Him. This is why He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for My sake.” People are not attacked by the devil, world and flesh for simply “being good.” The devil is not concerned with making sure that no good deed goes unpunished. That’s man’s false doctrine. True saints—holy ones of God—are attacked by the devil precisely because they have a righteousness that is not their own. They are attacked because they cleave to Christ’s perfect righteousness. This alien righteousness is why God calls saints “blessed,” and this is why the devil fights and rages the way he does. And please understand, too, that there is a difference between being attacked by the devil and being reproved, rebuked, and corrected by God. Just because you’re feeling pain and suffering in your life doesn’t necessarily mean that the devil is working hard on you and attacking you and your “perfect faith and sainted life.” That pain and suffering you experience may be God’s way of trying to get your attention, patiently allowing crosses and pains into your life in order to wake you up and get your attention and you back from your selfish, sinful ways to repentance and saving faith in Him alone. It happens. It happens all the time.
This fallen, sinful world and it’s evil prince cannot stand those who truly trust in Christ alone and above all things. Believe it! If you are in Christ, then the world will hate you. The devil will target you, and your sinful flesh will give you no rest. “Have you done enough? Is there more you still need to do? Ooh…you’ve really done it now!” Folks: It’s not a matter of “if.” It’s not a probability or a “maybe.” It’s fact. It’s reality. Being faithful to God while dwelling in this veil of tears will mean crosses and tears and heartaches and sorrows. This is precisely why we flee here to the Divine Service; to hear God’s Word, to receive His divine absolution for our sins, to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for life and forgiveness, and to be strengthened to live fearlessly and faithfully in our Baptismal reality. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”
And that’s one final point that needs to be made. In Christ—and only in Christ, through faith—are we able to live out these Beatitudes in our daily lives and vocations, not in an attempt to somehow please God or earn His blessing, but rather out of the joy that He has already blessed us in Christ; blessed us with His grace, His mercy, and His peace that surpasses all understanding. Being in-grafted into Christ and His grace, mercy, and peace, we are able to faithfully bear our respective crosses and stand firm as the world crumbles and falls and goes to hell all around us. In Christ and because of Christ we can dare to be poor in spirit, trusting that God is in charge and working all things for our good. In Christ and because of Christ we can dare to call sin “sin” and publicly mourn over it, letting the world know the truth of its sick and deadly condition before its Maker and Redeemer. We can dare to be meek and lowly, not seeking vengeance or payback or selfish glory or accolades or our own desires and our own ways. We can dare to bite our tongues, turn our cheeks, and willfully/quietly suffer persecution, knowing full-well that God is in charge and we have already been blessed in Him. We have already been claimed by Him. Whether we live or die, we belong to Him. We are His own, and nothing and no one can ever snatch this reality away from Him or us.
I say all this because our world and our lives are about to get very interesting in two days time. There are some very scary and uncertain times ahead of us, no matter who gets elected. No matter who gets elected, there are going to be a lot of angry and disheartened people come Wednesday morning. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken us!?” My fellow saints: No matter what the outcome may be, God is in charge, and He is working all things for your good and for your salvation. Repent, turn, and cleave to Him. Trust in Him above all things, and remember that He has already declared, “It is finished.” Remember: He Himself told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Folks: In faith you have nothing to fear. And don’t come out in the handshake line and say, “Yeah, I get what you’re saying, but…” NO! In faith, you have nothing to fear! You belong to Him. You are His saint; His holy one. Flee to Him. Cleave to Him. Put not your trust in princes (or “queens”) in whom there is no salvation [Ps 146:3]. Trust in Christ. This is what all faithful saints at all times and in all places have always done. No matter what’s happening in the world, saints in Christ flee here to receive Christ; to receive a foretaste of the feast to come; a feast that all the faithful who have gone on before us are enjoying right now at that half of the Lord’s Table that’s in heaven in all its fullness and splendor and glory.
Think about that when you come up here to the Lord’s Table to be fed and
nourished by Him with His very body and blood. You come to this half of the
table; the earthly half that feeds the Church Militant. The rest of the communion of saints—the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven—is gathered around in faithful worship at the heavenly half of the Lord’s Table, communing with the same Almighty Lord and Savior at the same exact time, a true communion of saints that transcends all time and space and human understanding. Kind of puts this in a different light, doesn’t it? I hope so.
As saints in this life, we hold forth Christ as the One who calls us blessed; that is, as those who have been justified and blessed and declared holy by Him, because of Him. It’s all about Him. The focus is all on Him. We hold forth Christ as He ever abides with us as we walk through this fallen and sinful world by faith and not by sight, obediently—yea, joyfully—bearing our crosses and, like St. Paul, rejoicing in the privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake, trusting whole-heartedly that in the life to come we too will see Him face-to-face with our own eyes as He is, for we will be like Him and we will live forever with Him in His paradise without fear, darkness, shame, sin, death, pain, suffering or tears. This reality is—right now—the joy of the saints who have gone before us in death. This same reality, my friends, is the blessed hope and the sure and certain future of all who walk this earth by faith alone in Christ alone— right now. This is the sure and certain blessed reality of all who are called saints in Christ.
A Blessed and Joyous All Saints Day to you, my fellow saints in Christ!
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