Scripture Readings: Revelation 7:9–17 | Psalm 34:1–10, 22 | 1 John 3:1–3 | Matthew 5:1–12
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
What keeps us going when things get tough? I mean, really tough? I think this has been a pretty tough year… a truly crazy year. Even though here in southern New Brunswick, we have been largely sheltered from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, we still feel the weight of what our world is continuing to grapple with: rising numbers of cases and deaths, widespread economic uncertainty, disrupted patterns of life, and increasing isolation. Although we still have much to be thankful for, it makes sense if we’re feeling overwhelmed these days, in need of some sources of comfort and strength to help us carry on.
One common direction to look when we’re feeling discouraged is to the past: to the days when we felt safe and secure, and when the world made sense to us. As Christians we are blessed to belong to a community with a rich sense of history, and long memory. For thousands of years the Living God has caught up regular folks like you and I into the great story of His rescuing love. Through all sorts of troubles, the LORD has been faithfully caring for His people, leading them through challenges that make even this crazy year seem pretty tame. But as comforting as it can be to revisit days gone by, God’s story is not stuck in the past… it’s ongoing even today. And as we step into it we find ourselves being led towards blessed days that are to come… and a future filled with hope.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints, honoring God’s gracious gift given to humanity: drawing us into the blessed life of the Holy Trinity… into the holy communion of love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Today we remember that we are a part of God’s glorious fellowship… comprised of believers from all nations, and cultures, and backgrounds, and times… stretching across every age, and into eternity. We’re reminded that we share our stories with those well-known Saints of old: people like St. Peter, St. Mary, and our Patron Saint, Luke the Evangelist. We remember that we are still bound to those Saints of our own acquaintance… with those we have known, who have lived and died keeping the faith. But even more than that, we remember that we are all called to be Saints… to take our place in this sanctified community; to be shaped by God’s own holiness, and transformed by His love.
It may seem like a stretch, thinking of ourselves as Saints, but this is what God has been up to with His people all along: setting some apart in order to offer His holy love to the world. Bringing some close in order to bring His blessed life to all.
We saw all this play out this Fall as we’ve been exploring the Exodus story. We heard how God rescued Israel, a helpless family of slaves, to make them into a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. Moved with compassion, the LORD overthrew their Egyptian oppressors, led them through the wilderness, and brought them into a sacred covenant relationship… so that they would be His people, and He would be their God; bound to each other in every facet of Israel’s life. The Law was given to train them in the way of faithful love: to reflect God’s own holy character out into the world, so that all the nations and peoples would come to know the Living God through the way that Israel actually lived… through God’s holy love embodied and practiced in their community, surrounded by a world that had basically forgotten Him.
We can see God’s plan for Israel way back in His promise to Abraham. In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were called to be a holy people in order to bring God’s blessing to all the families of the earth. From the very beginning, this calling to holiness is God’s gift to Israel, and to all. The few are set apart, in order that all might be blessed through them.
We can see this in the context for our Gospel reading this morning. Here Jesus is speaking to His disciples in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, which in Matthew’s Gospel covers all of chapters 5-7. Just like God called Moses up Mt. Sinai to give him the Law for Israel, Jesus called His disciples up from the crowds, to teach them in the way of faithful love: to lay out what it looks like to trust and follow Jesus and walk in the ways of His Father in Heaven… offering a very distinct vision of the world. For how most people see life, you might know you’re on the right track if things were going well. When you have everything you need, feel successful and satisfied. But here, Jesus flips that picture completely on it’s head… and offers a different assessment of what it means to be blessed.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Not exactly what many today would call a picture of ‘the good life’. Gentle? Noble? Maybe. But blessed? Really? To live with this perspective in a world which prizes security status and power, and shuns all suffering, is to be on a completely different track… following a different path. But Jesus is not basing these claims of blessedness on the present, on one’s current circumstance, but on where this path is leading them, by the grace of God. He’s not offering abstract ideas about how good it might be to face challenges… as if to glorify suffering in and of itself. No, Christ is calling His disciples to follow the road He Himself is taking… to share with Him the blessed life of faithfulness to His Father. To live in line with the character of the Living God, even if that seems out of sync with the world around us, which is bound to bring real challenges and troubles our way.
For Jesus though, these blessing are deeply rooted in the future: with the good fruit that will come from living God’s way today. In the face of tough times Jesus points us to the future in hope; to see that our current circumstances are not how our stories will end. Christ does not promise that His followers will have an easy life, but He does offer us a share in the blessed life of God. Set aside to be holy, through the Spirit’s work within us, Jesus is drawing us into the community, into the communion of Saints… where all the troubles of today are met with God’s rescuing love.
In our reading from the book of Revelation, this morning, we are given insight into our world’s story from a heavenly perspective. St. John the visionary is shown, not a small huddle of super-spiritual elites… but an innumerable congregation drawn from every corner of the world, praising God after having come out of great trials and trouble, yet holding onto their faith, they find God faithful to the end. Listen again to this vision of the fate of God’s holy ones: Revelation 7:16-17,
“They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb [Jesus] at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
What started as small gathering of ragtag disciples on the hillsides of Galilee, becomes this multitude, cleansed and made holy by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, now sharing together in the perfect peace of the Living God.
This is where God’s saving story has been headed since the very beginning: from an old childness couple, Abraham and Sarah, that God graciously gave the promise of a family, to the enslaved Israelites, graciously set free, and set apart to belong to Him completely, in order to reflect His character to all the nations, and now to the Christian Church, where the Holy Spirit is still at work taking ordinary, struggling, discouraged people, and drawing them His fellowship… into His holy family, as we heard in our New Testament reading. Let’s hear it again: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Not what we will be one day, but what, in Jesus, we are today! Beloved and blessed daughters and sons of our Father in Heaven, rescued by Christ’s sacrifice, and made holy through the gift of His Spirit.
Today it can be easy to give up on hope. But as God’s beloved children, called to be a holy community today, we can find our hope by remembering where our Lord Jesus Christ is leading us: towards a time when every tear is dried and every wound mended… where racial injustice and divisions are finally overcome… where poverty and loneliness and fear are washed away… and where we are united by the holy love of God once and for all.
This is our future, which we hold onto in hope… and through the Spirit’s work in us we can begin to see this holy hope take real shape in the present, today. By trusting in Jesus, and walking faithfully in His holy ways, the Spirit can bring the gift of God’s blessed life to our world drawing us His children into His great rescue mission, caught up into God’s gift of saving love meant for all.
As we mark the Feast of All Saints, may we look back, forward, and all around. May we look back and remember that the Living God has sent Jesus to rescue our world, dying and rising again from the dead once, and for all. May we look forward and face the future with confident hope, trusting in God’s holy love, which will wipe away every tear. And may we look around and faithfully follow Jesus Christ today; guided by His word, transformed by His Spirit, and drawn close to Him to share God’s blessed life with everyone. Amen.
 “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.” Exodus 6:7.