Monday, November 4, 2013

Blessed Holiness

All Saints Day (Observed)
 November 3rd, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches
Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Blessed Holiness

     This morning we celebrate All Saints Day, all the saints on earth remembering, and rejoicing with all the saints in heaven.  We continue our lives in the church on earth, a mixture of joy and sorrow, as we continue in the fight that is the Christian life.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us are finished with the fight, and know only joy, gathered around the throne of God, worshiping the Lamb who has been slain.  And yet, while today we focus on all the saints above and their heavenly worship of Jesus, every day, each time we gather around God’s Word in worship, our prayers and praises are joined to theirs.  Because our connection to them is the living Lord Jesus Christ, the One whom all the saints worship, in heaven and on earth, all the saints finding their peace and joy in Him.

     Our Gospel for All Saints Day is very familiar, the Beatitudes, or blessings, which begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus describes to a congregation of disciples the life of the church on earth, a  description which may leave us wondering why or how we are to find peace and joy in our life as Christians.  Blessed, says Jesus, are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who mourn.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Blessed are you when others 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 so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  

     What do you think?  Are peace and joy to be found in these Beatitudes, in these blessings?.  And while these Beatitudes that I’ve read may be the hardest to accept, even the sweeter sounding ones might still trouble us.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 
     No doubt, receiving mercy, seeing God, being called sons of God, these are things we wish for.  But what about when we are not merciful, when we are unclean in heart?  What about when we make strife and conflict, not peace?  And how can we find joy in the midst of humility, in mourning, even in persecutions?  How can we be merciful and pure?  How can we be peacemakers?  Jesus seems to describe a spiritual stature we can never hope to attain. 

      Consider your life.  Consider just this past week, alongside these Beatitudes.  For Jesus does not speak of some future spiritual stature.  He speaks of now.  Today.  He doesn’t say that the poor in spirit will be blessed, but rather “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.”  “Blessed are the merciful.”  Right now, those who are merciful, poor in spirit, they are blessed.  This stature is not for tomorrow, it is for right now; no future growth in holiness is implied here.  This is my church, Jesus says, how they are, right now, today.  Jesus’ present tense speaking can make us question, as we consider our lives alongside the Beatitudes, “Are we really in the Church?”  In Isaiah, and in Revelation, and in many other places, the LORD says he will come out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins.  He comforts His people, and tells them to take refuge for a moment, until His wrath has passed by.  But when the LORD comes out from His dwelling, should you and I expect blessing, or punishment?  Considering our lives, and the way Jesus describes His Church in our Gospel lesson, what should you and I be expecting?   

     Considering our lives, we have cause to despair.  But do not despair.  Repent of your failures in holiness, yes, but do not despair about your salvation, do not give up your hope of heaven.  How?  How can we honestly think we are bound for blessing and glory?  Because, while Jesus is speaking about what His church is like, first and foremost His church is His body.  He goes before us in all things.  As Jesus describes blessedness in poverty of spirit, in mourning, in suffering and persecution, He is first and foremost speaking of Himself, the firstborn among many brothers.  In His life of humility and service, in His death for all sin, and in His resurrection which proclaims peace to all mankind,  Jesus fulfills the beatitudes, just as He fulfills all the Law of God.  When Scripture prophesies that the LORD is coming out of His dwelling, it is speaking of Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, down from His rightful dwelling, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man: and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, and was buried.  The third day He rose according to the Scriptures.  So we see, in Jesus, the Beatitudes are already reality.  The lofty spiritual stature we cannot attain by our efforts, Jesus has already obtained, for us.  It is just as Isaiah prophesied in his 26th chapter: O LORD, you will ordain peace for us; you have done for us all our works.
     But wait, there’s more!  We see the completion of Salvation in the Resurrection, but Jesus did not stop working for us after Easter morning.  He continued to work, by His Spirit, sending His Apostles into all the world, building His church by the forgiveness of sins.  Today He continues to grow and protect her: teaching, washing, forgiving, and feeding her so that she stands.  When you gather around His word, God speaks words of forgiveness and blessing, to you.  By your Baptism, you are in Christ.  By His Supper, He is in you.  In Him and with Him we can stand meekly, but confidently, in the midst of poverty, mourning, and even persecution.  In Jesus, we always have reason to rejoice, for we know that in Him we have the guarantee of eternal peace and joy. 

     In Him and with Him, we can show mercy, we can make peace.  We will never do these perfectly in this life.  If it were possible for any of us to live as perfect saints, then why was it necessary for Jesus to die, to make us holy?  He came to be holy, in life and death and resurrection, because we are not holy, and cannot by our own reason or strength become holy.  But His perfection is our perfection, credited to us by faith, and so we have perfect confidence, knowing that with the saints who have gone before, we will see God.  We have been adopted by the Father for Jesus’ sake, and so we are sons of God, sons and daughters of the Most High. 

     Because you have Jesus, you have joy in the midst of suffering.  This promise does not trivialize your sorrow, or make it go away, like it isn’t real.  No, rather it sanctifies your sorrow.  It makes your sorrow holy, because by your union with Jesus, God shares in your sorrow.  In this union, you are free to show mercy, to make peace, and to rejoice, even in suffering and persecution, because Jesus has gone before you, and continues to go, before you and with you.  You have not attained great spiritual stature, but Jesus has, and He is with you.  You have Jesus, the One who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, all the way to the cross on Calvary.  You have Jesus, the Peacemaker, the One who has made peace between Man and God, by the blood of His Cross.  There He won your righteousness, your forgiveness, and so also your peace and joy.   

     So rejoice on this All Saints Day, and every day, and sing with the whole church, in heaven and on earth: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"  "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" Amen."

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