November 1st: All Saints’ Day

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 1st, was based on the below manuscript. The sermon was preached on Matthew 5.1-12.

We’re gathered here,
sitting like the disciples
listening at Jesus’ feet.
We who claim the faith of Jesus
like the disciples who have given up their lives
and followed him.
The small group
that comes to listen
for how they are to live
gets an impossible task
as Jesus gives his first teaching moment
here in this sermon on the mount.
We know this text
from Sunday school posters
and from bookmarks:

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.

They, like we, wonder
Can we do this?
How can we do this?
Are we supposed to do this?
Is he serious about any of this?
Does he expect us to believe that those groups
are blessed?

Listening to Jesus
teaching about God’s reign at hand
probably didn’t feel too different
for the disciples
than for us.
They lived occupied by Rome,
and we are in the midst of a fierce election season
in a global pandemic
that has killed 230 thousand of our fellow Americans.
This week
almost a thousand Americans died
every single day.
Philadelphia police
killed another Black man this week.
North Carolina sheriff’s deputies
Tear gassed a group of people
marching to the polls yesterday.
People are “taking the election into their own hands”
not by voting,
but by attempting to run campaign busses
off the road.
It didn’t have to be this way
and it doesn’t have to be this way.
And now we hear Jesus saying,
that…it’s not this way?

As Jesus sits with his friends,
those who have given up their lives
to follow him and learn from him
Jesus tells them exactly
how the Kingdom of God
is at hand.
Jesus sits with his friends,
those who have committed to following
Jesus’ teaching and way
and tells them
that this isn’t the only way.
In proclaiming these groups
mostly groups on the outside,
groups always reliant on God,
Jesus speaks that into existence.
The poor in spirit, the meek,
those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness sake
are blessed.
Here. Now.

Not only are those who mourn
the deaths of their loved ones
or their personal ills blessed.
Blessed are those who mourn
systems of violence and oppression.
They will be comforted.
Douglas Hare says,
“The devastations wrought by human avarice
and thirst for power
will be remedied.”[1]

In the words of the New English Bible
Jesus says,
“How blest are those
who hunger and thirst to see right prevail;
they shall be satisfied”
Hare continues,
“Among those who long for God to set things right
are both those who themselves suffer hunger pangs
and those who mourn
over an inequitable distribution of goods and services
that allows millions to starve on a planet
capable of providing food sufficient for all.”[2]

Sitting like a king on his throne
offering his own inaugural address
about what his New Reign looks like,
Jesus tells his royal subject
how they are to live
and how God is in control.

Today on All Saints’ Day
we remember those saints that the church has highlighted
as people who worked
who hungered and thirsted for righteousness sake,
who meekly lived lives of nonviolence
and showed mercy
and kept their hearts pure
in their love of God.
On All Saints’ Day
we commemorate the saints
who lived in Jesus’ blessedness.
They were not
blessed with a life worth bragging about,
but had an abiding, contented happiness
brought about by right relationship
with God and other humans.

The saints we remember today
were not perfect.
They were human,
and in their humanity
they bore witness to Jesus’ reign
God’s reign close at hand.

And today on All Saints’,
two days before an election
we’re invited to try again
to be saints redeemed by Jesus’ resurrection.
As Amy is baptized today,
she is claiming —
and we’ll all reaffirm —
what Jesus tells his disciples
in this sermon on the mount:
It didn’t have to be this way
and it doesn’t have to be this way.
Jesus is telling us,
and we’re saying that we believe!
because Jesus has destroyed death
it is not this way.
On All Saints’ day,
two days before an election
Douglas Hare elaborates on Jesus’ teaching,
“The efforts of peacemakers
often seem utterly futile,
but their work is never unsuccessful.
Their living testimony to God’s intended shalom
keeps the vision alive.”[3]

Choosing to be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection —
and to reaffirm that deed and those promises —
is to choose to live the life of a peacemaker,
one who knows God’s reign is close at hand.
It’s to choose to hunger and thirst
for what is right
and to mourn our collective brokenness
and to be comforted and filled
because it doesn’t have to be this way.
It is not this way.

Being baptized is a sign of hope
that God is in control
and that no savior will be elected on Tuesday.
Celebrating the lives of the saints,
who put their whole trust in God
is to try to love as God loves.
Anna Case-Winters writes,
“To love as God loves
is to be discontented with the present reality.
‘[Until God makes all things right],
it is not possible to be content with the status quo.’”[4][5]

Jesus has defeated death.
The hungry are filled,
the mourners are comforted,
and the meek are inheriting the earth.
As we join ourselves to him again
we celebrate that in all we do
as we look to live as saints,
we do it with God’s help.
May we put on Christ as a garment of faith,
as the waters of love reign down. Amen.

[1] Hare, Douglas R. A.. Matthew: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p. 38. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[2] Hare, p. 40. Kindle Edition.
[3] Hare, p. 42. Kindle Edition.
[4] Case-Winters, Anna. Matthew (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible), p. 113. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[5] Davies, W.D. and D. C. Allison, “Matthew 1– 7,” in The Gospel according to St. Matthew. 3 vols., International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988– 97), 448, quoted in Case-Winters.

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