All Saints sermon from 1st Nov 2020

Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV) 

1 Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“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.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Dear Heavenly Father, bless us with your Holy Spirit so that we see how we may be truly happy even when we feel that in our grief and troubles you have abandoned us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In some cultures, especially in third world countries, there are such people called ‘the blessed ones’.

They’re often regarded as holy people who seem calm, peaceful and content at all times, even when they’re faced with trouble. Many people flock to see these ‘blessed ones’ so they might gain some kind of spiritual advice or wisdom to help them in their troubles of daily life. They’re called ‘blessed ones’ because they seem closer to the gods or godliness.

Strangely, in our Western Society, the last person many want to go to when facing troubles is a spiritual person like a pastor, elder, or priest.

Instead, in our culture, the ‘blessed ones’ of today are our financial advisers who help us on the way to wealth; they’re our health advisers in the form of doctors, naturopaths, or gym instructors; they’re our teachers who lead us into all kinds of wisdom and knowledge; and they’re the fashion gurus who tell us what to wear. Many even see what’s paraded on mainstream or social media as a new type of ‘blessed one’ which offers so much advice and opinion – whether we want it or not, or whether any of it offers any good advice or not!

It seems then the ‘blessed ones’ we often go to for advice is anyone who shows success in what they do. Since we often consider prosperity and accomplishment to be signs of God’s blessing, we seek out ways to improve what we have so we can show others that God is blessing us by our advancement and growth.

Even in the church we want to show we’re blessed by God. This may be why so many are tempted to try out any new program, or marketing strategy, or worship style, in an effort to increase our numbers and build our resources. The fear often expressed is that if we’re not growing, then the church must be dead or dying, and therefore God isn’t blessing us.

On the other hand we might try to stay away from anyone who is poor, handicapped, suffering, or sick. We might think they don’t have it together or are even cursed by God. We might wonder what they did to deserve their misfortune. We might think we can’t learn anything from them. We may feel we have nothing to offer them.

But what does Jesus say today?

Does he say: “Blessed are the strong; blessed are the happy; blessed are the financial advisers; blessed are the fashion gurus; blessed are the health advisers; blessed are those who grow and show signs of prosperity; and blessed are the strong and growing churches?”

No!

Jesus says blessed are the poor, the grieving, and the meek!

Jesus says the blessed ones are those who are dependent on others for their spiritual life;

blessed are those who grieve over their situation or circumstances in life;

blessed are those not impressed by their own importance over others;

blessed are those hungering and desiring the goal of righteousness;

blessed are those who are merciful and compassionate to those in need around them;

blessed are those whose hearts have pure motives;

blessed are those who seek to reconcile those who disagree and hurt each other;

blessed are those who are picked on and persecuted because of their upright behaviour; and

blessed are those who are persecuted and insulted because of their faith in Jesus.

How radical is that! Jesus seems to get everything all mixed up, the wrong way around, and all topsy-turvy! I mean, think of it: whenever you’re depressed, grieving, weak, or insulted for your faith, you feel anything but blessed!

So, what Jesus tells us doesn’t seem to match our feelings or seem to make any sense! After all, don’t we normally think that if we do all the right things God will bless us, and if we do bad things God will punish us? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work? But then why does Jesus seem to get this all mixed up?

How can he say that the depressed, grieving and insulted are blessed?  If anything, at these times you might feel as if God has abandoned you, is angry with you, or even worse, that he’s cursed you! It just doesn’t seem to be fair or right!

So, what’s Jesus getting at? Why does Jesus tell us the opposite of our experience?

I mean, has Jesus got it wrong, or do we have it wrong? But, since we believe Jesus doesn’t lie, this means we don’t see ourselves and our experiences the way God sees them. So how can we learn to see things rightly?

Well, we learn that Jesus doesn’t identify with the rich, happy and beautiful people. Instead, Jesus is identifying himself with the poor, grieving and suffering people. Jesus didn’t come to sit with the millionaires, the successful, or the ones who seem to have everything going their way. Instead Jesus chose to dwell with those troubled by their spirit, troubled by their grief, troubled by their faithfulness to him, and troubled by their striving for peace and righteousness.

In other words, Jesus, the Son of God, identifies himself with you and your troubles. He knows what it’s like to grieve, he knows what it’s like to be persecuted for his righteousness, he’s the one who shows true mercy, and he’s the only one who brings true peace between you and God.

You see; Jesus is the true blessed One who’s near you and sits with you in your troubles. When he’s near, you’re blessed. He doesn’t abandon you just because you’re depressed or grieving.

When you feel like you’re lacking in spirit, that’s when you’re blessed because Jesus gives you his own Spirit to strengthen you in faith and hope.

When you’re grieving the loss of loved ones, Jesus himself comforts you with his own tears, his own pain, his own death, and also his own resurrection so that you’re reassured death isn’t the end. Through faith, death is like a comma, not a full stop.

When you show mercy and forgiveness to others, even if they haven’t been merciful and forgiving toward you, Jesus is merciful to you and assures you of his forgiveness and mercy.

When you hunger and desire the goal of righteousness, you’ll be filled with God’s righteousness given to you as a gift through Jesus Christ.

When you’re clean in heart, you’re assured you’ll see God face to face.

When you seek peace between warring people, you’re identified with the true peacemaker, the Son of God.

When you’re harassed because of righteousness, be assured that you belong in heaven.

When you’re insulted and people spread vicious lies about you on account of your faith in Jesus, then you should rejoice and be overjoyed, because your reward in heaven will be extensive. In this way, you’re counted with the all the troubled prophets of the Old Testament who were also persecuted. But even more importantly, you’re counted with Jesus Christ himself.

For when you suffer, you’re identified as one with Jesus, the true blessed One.

You see, Jesus doesn’t get everything mixed up and topsy turvy. Instead, we’re the ones who get everything all mixed up, the wrong way around, and upside down.

Take Jesus for example.

When people looked at him on the cross, he was considered cursed by God himself. He was anything but successful. He didn’t even try to fight for his innocence (despite the false accusations and false charges), or attempt to struggle free from the cross.

Yet that’s where God’s greatest victory is displayed. In the face of death, God gave life. In the face of defeat, Jesus triumphed. There on the cross, God’s justice and justification for your sin was enacted. Even though people only saw a weak, beaten, and pitiful man, the One on the cross was Jesus, the blessed One, the Son of God. Despite death’s apparent success and Jesus’ apparent weakness, God raised his Son to new life and glory.

This means, when you’re spiritually down, when you’re grieving, and when people tease you for your faith, Jesus doesn’t abandon you, but shares his glory, life and blessing with you. He counts you as one of his ‘blessed ones’; as ones who share in his blessing.

So, do you want to know who are the true ‘blessed ones’ are? Well, they aren’t the Oscar winners, the millionaires, the fashion or health gurus, or the rich and famous. Look to those whom Christ identifies with; the poor in spirit, the grieving, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the pure in heart. Don’t go to those who seem to have everything in control; go to the ones who suffer because Jesus is with them.

Now does this mean you’re to seek out suffering so you can be counted with Jesus? No, you don’t have to seek it out; it finds you soon enough and it only makes you more reliant on God’s blessings which come by grace.

But you can seek out the ‘blessed ones’. You can seek out those touched by the hand of God in their times of trial. You can pray for those who feel they can’t pray for their lack of spirit. You can sit beside and cry with the mourners in their grief. You can encourage and boldly stand beside those who desire God’s righteousness and are persecuted because of it.

When you’re troubled, don’t go to the socially blessed, but go to the spiritually blessed. Go to the ones experienced in suffering and get something others can’t give: an understanding ear, a shared tear, and a comforting presence. They probably won’t have all the answers and won’t even take your troubles away, but they might understand a little of what you feel and will faithfully share your burdens with you.

By faith in Jesus, you can see how despite your troubles, you’re truly the ‘blessed ones’. You see how your happiness or blessedness is that light of truth which shines over your present sorry situation. You can see your present state in the light of the future promise of God. Your blessing is that you belong in heaven. Your blessing is that God himself will wrap his arms about you, comfort you and even wipe away your tears. Your happiness grows out of the mercy that will be shown to you. Your happiness will be complete when you’ll see God himself with your own eyes.

Your blessedness is because you’re counted among those prophets and saints of the past who’ve already won the race. You’re counted with those who’ve already been shown mercy, who’ve already entered the kingdom of heaven, who’ve already been comforted by God, and who already see the majesty of being called children of God.

Blessed are you my brothers and sisters in Christ, because you’re called children of God. Blessed are you when you’re chosen to suffer with Christ, for his wounds and precious blood make you holy. Blessed are you because through faith in Jesus, salvation is yours.

Yes, congratulations to the down and out, for you’ve been blessed by God.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, the blessed One. Amen.