Readings: Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 19:6-10
STORY: “For all the saints”
In our last congregation I used to preach occasionally (my main work was as a College Chaplain). Towards the end of the vacancy just before the new priest’s induction I spoke to the congregation and in my sermon suggested that a bad hymn to sing at the new person’s induction was “For all the saints who from their labours rest” – as it might send the wrong signal to the church members who had been involved in ministry through that time that once the new priest was installed they could all stop what they were doing and put their feet up. At his induction they did indeed sing that hymn which he chose (as the congregation was called “All Saints”.) Of course there were some giggles during the hymn. At least some of them had remembered my warning.
The traditional view of saints is great people of God who have now died and are with Him. – thus in some traditions they are seen as mediators – people pray through saints – and various ones are allocated to certain tasks.
Can you think of the most famous? Probably St Christopher – (his name means “bearer of Christ” – he carried the boy Christ as you can see on a St Christopher emblem). I don’t know of too many apart from him. St Andrew maybe – the patron Saint of Scotland. Think of all the Presbyterian churches called “St Andrews” – for those who don’t know most of our Presbyterian churches were started here in New Zealand by and for Scottish emigrants.
I think the fact that there are 10 000 catholic saints means people can be forgiven for not remembering them all. Luckily if you need to know each day there is an app for your Iphone – and the saint of the day will pop up for you.
I do know this – that for some reason there are three saints for Brewers! St. Luke, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Hippo.
And only one for Clergy – ministers like me, a saint ominously called St Gabriel of our Lady of sorrows (d. 27 Feb 1862). The poor guy died at age 24. Clearly there is a link to pastors and clergy being worn out entirely! Actually he died of TB and was known to be a nice guy – which is perhaps why they adopted him as the patron saint of clergy. We are told this of him: Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule (1741) as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW:
We are saints – holy ones – justified (made righteous) by faith and holy (set apart) for God and his service, and sanctified in Christ.
We use the word “saints” as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (NRSV)
ALL ARE SAINTS THEN.
And curiously Paul says this in his greeting to the Corinthians – and then he outlines their terrible faults! Like getting drunk at communion and sexual sins, and abuse of spiritual gifts.
We are SAINTS in God’s sight – holy – because Jesus has died for us! And his gift of righteousness is given to us. (Romans 3:21-22).
We become children of God through faith in Jesus! And there is clearly an expectation that we should behave like God’s children!
We are therefore to be transformed into his likeness – and the Holy Spirit does this through the application of the Word of God. (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18)
So when reading the Essential Jesus readings, we should not be fussing about whether we like the commentary that goes with it.
We should be asking God to apply the Word to our lives through His Spirit – so that we become more like Jesus.
That is the call of God on all the saints – on all of us who are Christ-followers.
MY PRIORITIES as a minister are worth a reminder.
How easily we get sidetracked. Meetings and minutes. Parking and preferences. Traditions and timetables – how long the service went over time and all the other issues we have.
All this church stuff!
My job is very simple – is to keep the church on track so that we become like Jesus and do the things Jesus wants us to do!
My job is not YOUR HAPPINESS! Or mine for that matter.
It’s getting us all to really do God’s will.
THE BEATITUDES which we have read often – the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount – describe lives that are different from the rest. They describe God’s will for us. Let’s have a look at what they are about.
There’s this old hymn about the saints in heaven and on earth that goes: O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. (The church’s one foundation.)
Happiness and holiness? Do they go together?
The beatitudes are often translated using the word “happy”. So for example we have the Good News Bible:
Mat 5:3 “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:4 “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Mat 5:5 “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Mat 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Mat 5:7 “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Mat 5:8 “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
Mat 5:9 “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Mat 5:10 “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Mat 5:11 “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.
When you read that you can’t help but think – surely that is NOT a happy situation!!
Perhaps blessed, fortunate, privileged would be better.
The word in Matthew 5 is MAKARIOS (blessed) and was used to describe the saints who were often martyed. As one commentator puts it, ‘It is hard to picture a smile on the face of Polycarp or Justin as they were being burned or beheaded. Yet, “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus declares.’
SO WHAT KIND OF SAINTS DO WE WANT TO BE?
Simply obedient ones. Like that nice young man who is the patron saint of clergy – St Gabriel.
What does this all mean for the saints gathered in this church this All Saints Sunday?
Not only do we remember those who faithfully served the Lord and influenced our lives – helping us on the right track – those who are gone before us.
In the words of a writer on this passage: “It also means that we should align ourselves today with the historic chorus of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who in happiness or difficulty, found their hope in Jesus and made their way as part of the kingdom of God.”
Hebrews puts it this way:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (12:1-2a)
And let’s focus on two of Jesus’ Beatitudes and take them for ourselves today:
Many of them are about our lives – mourning, the earth, being peacemakers, being merciful and persecution. They are all good – and challenging.
Two of them stand out:
Mat 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Mat 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
They are matters of priority and our deepest desires, matters of the heart – and they relate to God.
We hunger and thirst for many things. But this is not about physical needs. It’s about our deepest needs and our fundamental orientation. And our hearts – the deepest emotional driver in us.
While we recognise that we are saints because our righteousness (in the legal sense of being made right with God – justified by faith – so that our sins are dealt with) – our orientation – our direction in life – has to be towards what is right and pure.
We spoke about forgiveness last week – and how we need to forgive.
The fact that we have to forgive so often is because our lives are so fettered by sin and disobedience – things that are the opposite of what God wants for us.
We need to be honest that we are often far from God and that our lives don’t really show God’s Kingdom values.
It’s no wonder that the first line of the Sermon on the Mount is this:
Mat 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When you know your need of God – then it all happens.
Conversely – when you are self-satisfied – you miss the bus entirely!
THE SAINTS ARE IN OUR MIDST IF WE LOOK HARD ENOUGH
God is at work in this place in ordinary people. If you look hard enough you will see.
And it’s not about all the things we DO for God or the church. We tend to say “what a saint – they DO so much” while we sit back like the saints “who from their labours rest” – a bit too early! The tasks at hand can be shared and should be.
If you look hard enough you see acts of grace and kindness – people of courage who have mourned and are being comforted as they find new ways to live as single people again – people who have been persecuted for righteousness sake – people who don’t try to defend themselves, but simply keep going doing what God shows them to do.
You see these saints in our midst when their hearts are broken when they see people suffer – and especially when they see people so far from God who need to receive his touch. They’d do anything to help them discover the Gospel. They use their time and resources to make things happen here because they know that the local church is where God can really work in a community to reach the lost.
These are signs of the Kingdom of God really – where people are manifestly different in the way they live and behave – not drawing attention to themselves and not harping on about their agendas and rights – but simply serving the Lord and others as they reach out with the love of Christ and good news and share it with others.
They show mercy. They exhibit meekness. But most of all it’s their hungering and thirsting after righteousness that makes them blessed and a blessing – and their purity of heart.
Not only do they see God in the sense of a real relationship they have with Him – you see the Lord in them too.
For these people who impact our lives we are immensely grateful.
May we be like them.
We can be like them.
We can get on the right track.
This orientation of our lives is more important than how long church is, whether the music is too loud, or we have to change the times of our meetings or can’t park in our favourite space. This orientation of our lives is more important than if the preacher lost his way in the sermon, the service was too long, or we didn’t know the songs on a particular Sunday.
It’s about becoming like Jesus. Once again:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done – in our lives, Lord Jesus.