Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Blessed in Christ

Sermon for All Saints, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, November 1, 2015.

    On All Saints’ Day we celebrate and remember all of God’s blessed saints.  We recall the size and unity of God’s church, the vast communion that crosses all barriers of race, language, and human condition, the communion that crosses the boundaries of space and time, even the boundary of death.  In the readings we see all of God’s saints, His saints in heaven and His saints here on earth.  The location of these two groups of saints are different, but one thing is the same; All of God's saints are blessed in Christ.
    St. John reports for us the scene of God’s blessed saints in heaven.  He describes them as a “great multitude that no one could number” (Rv 7:9).  This multitude was made up of all races, people from every nation, people who spoke every language.  All of them stood together as one, holding palm branches in their hands and wearing the same white robes.  They all stood before Christ the Lamb sitting on His throne, and in unison they praised Him shouting, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rv 7:10). 
When I try to imagine the great multitude that John saw, the only thing I can think of are NFL stadiums.  Every Sunday these massive structures are filled with tens of thousands of fans, all wearing their team’s colors.  In unison they all shout and cheer.  When you see pictures of these stadiums it’s unbelievable to see all those people, and yet, this pales in comparison to what John saw. 
    What John saw has no equal.  He witnessed God’s saints in heaven, “The ones coming out of the great tribulation,” the ones who “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7:14).  John saw God’s heavenly saints, those who were clothed in Christ’s pure righteousness, those who have been washed clean from all their sin.  Because of this washing, they’ve been brought safely through the great tribulation, the Last Day.  God, the merciful Judge, declared these saints innocent, free from all guilt because of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for them. 
    Therefore, these saints are blessed in Christ.  They’re blessed to stand before His throne serving Him day and night.  They’re blessed because He shelters them (Rv 7:15).  They’re blessed because they no longer hunger or thirst (Rv 7:16).  They’re blessed because God has wiped away all their tears (Rv 7:17)  They’re blessed because God has given them everlasting life. 
    In all of these blessings, the saints in heaven rejoice, and we rejoice with them, because this is where our faithful loved ones who’ve died are.  Those who’ve died in the faith are part of this great multitude.  They’re wearing their white robes that have been washed in the Lamb’s blood, and we take comfort in this, knowing that they are with our Lord, living the everlasting life that they’ve been given in Christ. 
    It’s easy to see the blessings of God’s saints who are in heaven.  It’s easy to understand their rejoicing as they stand before our Savior, seeing Him face to face, free from the tribulations and consequences of sin here on earth.  But, sometimes it’s harder for us to see how God’s saints here on earth are blessed, especially when they encounter one difficulty after another.  But even in the midst of difficulties, Jesus still calls them blessed. 
    We often mistake Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 as being Law, a  list of things we must do in order to be blessed.  We must become poor, we must mourn, we must be meek and humble, we must hunger and thirst for righteousness, we must be merciful and have a pure heart, we must make peace and endure persecution.  If and only if we do these things, then we’ll be blessed. 
    This type of understanding of Jesus’ words goes hand and hand with our sinful, self-centered thinking.  We’re always looking inward toward ourselves.  We’re always looking to earn rewards through our deeds.  But this isn’t what Jesus’ is saying at all.  He’s not giving us a to-do list to check off.  Rather, He’s telling us who we are.  We are blessed, we are His saints, not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done. 
    It’s difficult for us to understand how we’re blessed in the situations that Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes.  None of them sound very good.  In fact, most of them sound unpleasant and the opposite of blessed.  When we think of being blessed, we think about the good things, about having it all, lacking nothing.  However, we’re blessed in the lowly situations of the Beatitudes because Christ fulfills our need.
    Jesus begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:1).  We’re the one’s poor in spirit.  We aren’t spiritually rich.  We have nothing to offer God.  We have no righteousness to give Him.  All we have is our poor, miserable, sinfulness.  And yet, Christ still calls you blessed because you are given what you lack.  Jesus came and died not only for those saints who are with Him in heaven right now, but He also came for you.  He died on the cross to pay for your sins, to earn eternal life for you, to make you holy, to make you one of His saints.  In all of this, you’re blessed, because Christ has graciously given you what you lack. 
    In Christ you’re made spiritually rich.  You’re blessed with His righteousness.  And in Him you're blessed in the rest of the Beatitudes.  As God’s saints, you’re the ones who mourn.  You mourn over your sin and the sin of the world, and you’re blessed in the comfort that Christ gives in His forgiveness.  You’re the meek who humble yourselves before God, trusting in Christ’s work, not your own.  You’re the blessed ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, wanting to live right, wanting to live according to God’s good Law, because you receive Christ’s righteousness.  You’re the merciful ones who’ve been shown mercy and in turn you show mercy to others.  You’re blessed because God has replaced your corrupt heart and given you a pure one.  And you’re the blessed ones who rejoice in persecution and when others revile you because you’ve been given the kingdom of heaven.
    Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been given the kingdom of heaven.  Your salvation is complete in Christ Jesus.  You received this in your Baptism, where God adopted you as His child, and as such, you will inherit eternal life.  Although you don’t see this inheritance right now, it is yours.  No one and nothing can take it away from you.  And in this we rejoice, along with all the saints in heaven, knowing that one day when our Lord calls us home, we’ll be with them, standing before the Lamb on His throne, seeing our Savior face to face. 
    As part of God’s church, we’re never alone.  We’re surrounded by all His saints, His saints in heaven and His saints on earth.  Whenever and wherever we worship our Lord, we do so together, united in one body.  We join our voices together with theirs as we proclaim His praises and rejoice in His salvation, for we are His saints, and we are blessed in Christ.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.

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