When we speak of saints we speak of those who live on earth now. Each of you is a saint. God set you apart to be his own in your Baptism. Yet, we also speak of saints, who have passed on from this life to enter the glories of heaven; saints such as the Virgin Mary, St. Peter and Paul, and Martin Luther. Yet, not only saints of great fame, but saints known only by a few people, saints in our own lives who have entered the ranks of heaven, such as Jo Ann Berto, Vern Bigham, Jack Finney, and Jeff Watts; saints that got us up on Sunday morning and brought us to church those many years ago; saints who passed on ten, twenty, thirty years ago yet their memory stays strong with us.
These are the saints we remember today. They have joined the great multitude of every nation, tribe, people, and language, they have come out of the great tribulation and stand before God having washed their white robes in the blood of Christ. All Saints Day is a celebration of victory. We celebrate the Church Triumphant and we remember those saints, who now live in the victory of Christ. We listen to our first lesson from Revelation 7 and we take comfort knowing that within that great crowd that no one can number is your mother and father, your grandmother or brother; in this blessed vision of heaven St. John sees the face of your dear loved ones, who died with Christ.
Yet in our Gospel text it doesn't sound triumphant. Rather it seems like we are focusing on the Church Militant, or even the suffering church. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, even those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. This isn't a vision of heaven, but one of the pain and sorrow here on earth. In this sermon our Lord Jesus proclaims a heavenly blessing on those, who have yet to experience its joys in this sinful earth.
This message of Jesus, which lists nine blessings is called The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes describe the saints on earth.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The poor in spirit aren't necessarily the poor in cash. Rather, they are the ones who do not trust in earthly gain, as the Psalmist writes, "Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them." (Psalm 62:10) The poor in spirit are rich in faith, meaning they treasure nothing on earth, whether possessions or their own good works, but rather trust fully in Christ their Savior. While poor to earthly riches, theirs is God's kingdom forever.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Those who mourn are in sorrow over the destruction of the world. Christians aren't always happy. On the contrary, they weep and sorrow over the destruction Satan causes to God's creation. They sorrow over the death of the innocent, the injustice to the poor and needy, and the many attacks on Christ's Church. They mourn their own sins, regretting that their sinful flesh still flairs with its evil desires. Yet Jesus says they shall be comforted. He gives comfort that the world cannot give, the comfort of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation with God, of heavenly bliss.
The Psalmist writes, "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." Christians should not despair because of the fiery trials God permits to come upon them. Christ promises comfort to the Christian who mourns. The Christian should not try to escape his mourning or envy the world, which is joyful even as it wallows in sin. Rather the Christian should find comfort that God will deliver him out of the anguish of this sinful world.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Here Christ promises even an earthly blessing. The meek resign themselves to God's will and endure affliction, trusting that the God who sends such sorrows also knows how best to end them. They trust that God rules from heaven whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump lives in the White House. Such meekness speaks true faith in God and also has its earthly benefits. God will champion the cause of the one who trusts in him, providing food and drink, house and home, and all good things.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled." These saints do not hunger for bread nor thirst for water. They hunger for God's righteousness. They desire not only that God's law be kept and that his word be taught, learned, and practiced by them and others, but they desire that God would declare them righteous. They hunger for what they don't have. They don't have a righteousness of their own that gives them a right relationship with God. Instead they have sins. And although they desire God's righteous will to be done, they are incapable of doing it themselves. And to these helpless beggars Jesus promises not simply filled bellies, but satisfied souls, as the Psalmist writes, "For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things." (Psalm 107:9) Truly these Christians will be the saints of whom St. John writes, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore." (Rev. 7:15) Τhey will be fully satisfied with Christ.
The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek ones, and those yearning for God's righteousness are the same. They are people of faith in Jesus Christ. They are empty, yet hold to the promise of being filled by Christ. Next we learn more about these faithful and the works God does through them.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The pure in heart are not those who are perfect by their own works, rather they are those purified by God! Jesus denounces the human heart, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." (Matthew 15:19) And King David well aware of this fact cries, "Create in me a clean heart, O God!" (Psalm 51:10a) And God answers his cry! St. Peter preaches in Acts 15(:8-9) that the Holy Spirit cleanses the heart by faith. Yet this cleansing is not simply the forgiveness of sins. God spoke through Ezekiel, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26) God actually gives you a new heart that does not desire evil, but rather to do his will. The pure in heart is the forgiven Christian, who desires to do God's will and hates all wickedness such as sexual immorality, hatred, and theft. And yet the pure in heart is not without sin. Rather they are honest with themselves and acknowledge their sins before God for forgiveness and desire to do better. It is these pure in heart who will see God. St. John says, "we shall see him as he is." And how he is, is how we will be in Christ Jesus.
"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." The peacemakers are those who have been justified by faith and have peace with God. (Romans 5:1) And they make peace by speaking the same forgiveness God spoke to them. They will be called sons of God, not because they forgive, but rather, because they have been forgiven by grace. St. John writes, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." (1 John 3:1) It is the characteristic of God's children to forgive as they have been forgiven and thus make peace.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are those who suffer, especially ridicule, abuse, and injustice, for the sake of Christ. This means suffering for confessing Christ. Yet Satan is sly. He might permit you to confess Christ by name, but he'll attack you for confessing the life God desires you to live. John the Baptist got his head cut off for calling King Herod to repentance for stealing his brother's wife. He preached against adultery, yet he died for Christ. So also they suffer for Christ, who are bullied, because they do not accept social agendas, like those who have lost their businesses for refusing to participate in a same sex wedding.
Christians suffer. God tells us so. And the comforting message is not that God will take away your suffering in this life. Rather, God teaches you to bear suffering with the hope that you are suffering with Christ. St. Peter writes, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." (1 Peter 4:12-16)
Jesus says to rejoice and be glad when you suffer for his sake, "for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." You see, you're in good company. Suffering for Christ joins you to Christ in his suffering. It joins you to the prophets and Apostles, who lost their heads, were stoned and crucified, arrested and beaten for Christ's sake. It joins you to your dear loved ones, who bore the ridicule of Jesus' name. And where are they now. Christ is crowned and enthroned in heaven. The Apostles are seated on twelve thrones. And all who have suffered for Christ's sake stand in that great multitude singing, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev. 7:10)
These Beatitudes describe the saints on earth. Yet, they describe the Saints in heaven. They are blessed. What does it mean to be blessed? It means to have happiness that transcends all sorrow, to be delivered by God. To be blessed is to be with Jesus forever. That is what is so great about heaven! Jesus is there!
We remember the saints, both those of great fame and the ones in our life, to give thanks to God and to learn by their example of faith and good works. You learn to trust in Jesus, when you hear of the Apostles who endured prison and death for his name; and when you remember your grandfather who went to church every Sunday to hear the sweet words of Jesus. You learn to do good works when you see how the Christians in the early church took care of widows and the poor; and when you remember how your mother brought meals over to your sick neighbor.
The Beatitudes describe the Saints, who are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God works good works through them, yet they don't trust in them. They endure suffering, yet are confident in God's love. And as you follow these saints of yesteryear in faith you live the Beatitudes. And you also will find that St. John not only saw the faces of Saints like Martin Luther and your Grandma and Grandpa in his futuristic vision, but he saw you, robed in a garment bleached white by the blood of Jesus, waving your palm branch as you sing praises to your Savior. May each of you follow the saints in this true faith until you join this heavenly throng. Amen.