Sermon for All Saints
Text: Matthew 5:1–12
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and evangelists; and this year a sword has pierced our own souls as heaven has gained what we have lost. Yet the Church sings on:
Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia! (LSB 677:4)
Blessed be God the Father, Who sent His Son to make saints of us all through the call of the Holy Spirit. And blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.
The Gospel lesson appointed for All Saints Day is the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus speaks a series of Beatitudes onto His Church. These are God’s gift to you.
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Only the poor in spirit possess the Kingdom of God. Remember that not only in times of plenty but also in times of want. It is very easy for us to sit in a dark, cold house and say, “I don’t deserve this.” Or you might be tempted to think that if the election doesn’t go a particular way that society will fall apart and we are all doomed and that therefore God must ensure that you do not live to see such times of trouble. But why do you deserve better than the Christians who watched the Vandals sack Rome? Or who watched St. Peter’s Cathedral burn during the Blitz, or who were arrested on their way to Church under the Soviet Union?
No, Luther was right in his final words, “We are all beggars.” We deserve nothing in heaven or on earth. Every good thing, both eternal and temporal, comes by God’s grace and is more than we deserve or can lay claim to outside of Christ. Yet to those who acknowledge this—to those who claim to nothing—God gives the Kingdom of Heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
We are waiting to celebrate the commemoration of the faithful departed this year. We will do this on the First Sunday in Advent. Forgive my selfishness in this matter, but I want to be present with you when we remember the saints who have joined the multitude in white garments.
Yet even now we rest in the Divine Promise that weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning [Ps 30:5]. We might be mourning now, but comfort is promised. I will not tell those of you that have lost loved ones that time heals all wounds, but I can assure you that eternity does. Wait a little longer and Christ will make all things new.
The world robs itself of this comfort because it tries to avoid mourning. We call the slaughter of millions, “choice,” so we do not need to cry at these deaths. We let people choose the hour of their own death and call it dignity and control, so that we can look at the end of their life with pride and admiration. In doing so we rob ourselves of the salutary nature of looking death in the face as the final enemy to be conquered not through surrender, but in the resurrection of Christ. When we call death a friend, what do we make of Him who conquered death? To make death its own comfort is to lose sight of the comfort that comes through Christ.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The meek are not the weak, but those whose strength is hidden—those who will set aside a claim to what is rightly theirs. Christ is the utmost example. For at His incarnation, for a time, He hid the majesty of His divine nature. He did not strike back at those who hit Him, He did not insist on His way, but willingly walked the road God laid out for Him in Scripture. Like a sheep before His shearers, He was silent, even though a word from Him could have destroyed those who killed Him.
The martyrs who walked into the coliseum to be eaten by lions, burned in fire, or die at the hands of gladiators and soldiers, were not weak, they were meek. They faced death, not because they had to, but because they had a greater strength that enabled them to look past death to the promise of the new heavens and the new earth. The promise to inherit the earth echoes the promise of the Old Testament that faithful Israel would dwell in the Land God had promised to Abraham. The meek saints of God wait for a greater land. They will cross a more pure stream than the Jordan, and having washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb that flows from under the altar of the heavenly temple they will take possession of the inheritance of the Father.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
The Gospel cannot be reduced to Social Justice, certainly not in the way that term is often used. But neither should the Gospel be separated from justice. Those who are filled with a hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. There is no reason that we should have a narrow understanding of this righteousness or justice.
Truly God’s people yearn to be justified. We deeply desire that God would declare us righteous and by His Holy Spirit shape our lives here, and in the world to come, according to His righteousness. Yet, having been justified, we long to see righteousness in the world around us. Our hearts cry out when people are persecuted for the color of their skin, when the guilty go unpunished, when the poor are oppressed by the rich. The Psalms teach us to pray even for this righteousness. The unrighteousness we see in the world is even part of the groaning with which nature expresses its longing for Christ’s return.
But those who turn from righteousness—those who would not see justice given to their neighbor, those who would oppress the weak, those who would justify, or really excuse, themselves, are those who will cry out to the mountains, “Cover us from the wrath of the Lamb” when Christ comes in glory. But those who yearn for Christ’s righteousness will be filled by that same righteousness.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
If you will not forgive your brother, how can you expect God will forgive you?
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
If your heart is set on sin, the sight of God will only terrorize you and destroy you with endless anguish. But when the heart is purified by the blood of Christ then the sight of God calls forth our ceaseless worship as we sing: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The only begotten Son is the true peacemaker, but we, His adopted brothers, are grafted into His body and character. We seek to live in the peace of God and share the peace of God. We ask not what can I win for myself, but how can I share what God has given me?
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Yes, the cross which is laid upon us is heavy. But the reward is great.
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.
All Saints Day sets the troubles of our world against the bliss of Heaven. Neither is denied, but the hope of future glory puts into perspective what we suffer on earth. We yearn for the Kingdom of heaven, the comfort, the inheritance of the New Creation, to be filled with righteousness and mercy, and to look upon the face of God and not be terrified.
Now I said before that the Beatitudes are God’s gift to you. But that includes the condition as well as the reward. You see it is only in Christ that we are poor in spirit. It is only in Christ that we learn to mourn the consequence of our sin, to live in meekness, to desire righteousness for ourselves or other, to show mercy, and to share peace with our neighbor.
The beatitudes do not show us how to win eternal life. Rather they point us to the characteristics of Christ by which He has earned eternal life for us and all the saints. It is the life of Christ in us that makes us poor in spirit and gives us every other quality that leads to blessing.
Blessed are you because Jesus has lived and died for you, that you might die and live in Him. Blessed are you because Jesus has conquered death, because Jesus rules heaven and earth, because Jesus knows how to bless His Church both in heaven and on earth. Blessed are you for Jesus conforms you to His own cruciform life.
Whatever happens with the kingdoms of men, the Kingdom of God is yours in Christ Jesus. Remember that if things don’t go the way you hope in the election this week. But perhaps more importantly, remember this if things do go the way you hope. Either way, in Christ, your election is secure.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria