Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saints' Day Sermon: "The Grateful Dead"

+ Festival of All Saints’ - November 3, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Revelation 7:12-19; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

“The Grateful Dead”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

“Blessed.” That’s the word of the day. Nine times Jesus uses this word, “blessed” in the beatitudes.
And St. John’s Revelation adds a 10th.  And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:13)

Blessed. A fitting word of the day for this All Saints’ Day, a day when we remember the martyrs of the faith together with our own blessed dead who have gone through the great tribulation of this life and death and have joined ranks of that great multitude no one can number from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

But what does that word “blessed” even mean? It’s not Jesus’ version of Hakuna Matata. And it’s not like our definition of happiness: a word that’s so fleeting and shallow, like that 90’s Furby fad, here today, in the dumpster tomorrow. 

No. when Jesus speaks the word “blessed,” he has better things in mind for you. Makarios is the Greek word for “Blessed”. And every time Matthew uses that word it deals with salvation – present and eternal. So, blessed is saved. Blessed is receiving all that Jesus has to give you. His obedience. His death. His resurrection. His life. His gifts. Blessed.

Jesus opened his mouth and spoke words of blessing. We call them the beatitudes. But hey’re not virtues or moral demands. And they’re not the 9 spiritual rules to make you a better saint. Grammatically speaking the beatitudes are descriptive. Jesus is telling you who you really are in him. Blessed – now and forever.
And what is truly shocking is who Jesus says are the blessed ones. 

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

Yea, you heard that right. It’s not the spiritual heroes or the super Christians that are saved, blessed. It’s the spiritually poor. Those who make no claim upon God’s blessings by merit. Those who have nothing to offer God and know it; those who are completely dependent upon him for every blessing of body and soul.
Sound familiar? It should. Jesus is describing you and me and all believers.  Before the Lord we’re beggars. Spiritually bankrupt. Destitute. Dead in trespasses and sin. Our hands and hearts and works are filthy with sin.

But don’t you see…that’s the point. That’s why Jesus says you are blessed. For you are utterly, completely, entirely dependent upon him, his mercy and grace, his blood shed on the cross, his resurrection for you. Christ gives into empty hands. Jesus came not for the righteous but for the sinners, for the spiritually poor, for you. 

This first beatitude from Jesus’ mouth is pure promise and grace. The reign of heaven belongs to the losers, the sinners, the spiritually poor, to you. 

Jesus gives everything to us who have nothing. Jesus gives us what we don’t deserve – the kingdom of heaven - by taking on to himself what he didn’t deserve – our sin and death. Like the paralytic man, we’re lowered into the healing waters of Baptism. And like Lazarus, Jesus speaks a word: “Arise.” He raises you from the dead. Get up and walk. Go your way, your sins are forgiven. Jesus speaks the fullness of His life into your emptiness and poverty. That is what it means to be blessed by Jesus.

Poor, mourning, meek and lowly, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure hearted, peacemaking, persecuted. Hardly sounds like the world’s definition of blessed, does it? The world takes one look at Jesus’ words and laughs. “That’s all you’ve got? ! You’ve gotta be kidding me. Where’s the Bentley, the beach house, the 100 foot yacht, the party life, the glamour, the celebrity? Now there’s a blessed life.”

But God’s ways of blessing are upside down, inside out, opposite, hidden. God blesses us in Christ Crucified.

So, get this first beatitude right and the other eight make sense. In fact, get this one right and you’ll get the whole Sermon on the Mount, and all of Matthew’s Gospel right. 

And if we get His beatitudes right we’ll also understand and celebrate All Saints’ Day rightly.
For the name “saint” is a lot like Christ’s promise of “blessed” – it’s received, not achieved. Blessed are those who are given to. 

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.

Why are the dead blessed? What makes them so special? Well, nothing in and of themselves. Death is anything but blessed. Remember it was our prideful, cursing, false-worshiping, dishonoring, murdering, lying, lusting, stealing, greedy, gossiping, coveting sin that brought death in the first place. The wages of sin is death.
But Jesus has done something truly astounding with Death. Jesus died the death we deserved in order to give us life and blessing we didn’t deserve. Christ’s death conquers death. Christ’s death was death’s undoing. Like Aslan dying for Edmund on the Stone Table and rising again – in Christ, death works backwards; it’s unraveled. Like a fish swallowing a baited hook, Death swallowed up Jesus on the cross, but Jesus swallowed up Death in victory. Like the great fish that swallowed up Jonah and held him for three days, the Death could not hold Jesus but had to spit Him out alive. 

The dead are blessed because Jesus took our greatest enemy, the thing we fear the most, and turned it into a blessing. Christ leads the charge through death into life for his saints, for you. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

Apart from Christ we are spiritually poor and empty. In Christ we are blessed and full of his life and salvation. Blessed in life. Blessed in death. So, the faithful departed are blessed because they have nothing to give; and everything to receive from God. 

The grateful dead in Christ. Every Church is a mega church! An innumerable host from every tribe, language, people, and nation standing before the throne clothed in white by the blood of the Lamb, palm branches waving in hand, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb who sits on the throne.”

Still, on a day like All Saints’ Day, we find ourselves asking the same question John did: who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? You know the names of some of them – they are your aunts and uncles, your sons and daughters, your grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, best friends; some of them you know by name: Bob Foutz, Pauline Kalthoff, Marion Byers, Eleanor Meurer, Bob Yohr, Art Silcox, Ruth Hoff, Ida Perea, Beverly Krueger, Robert Sepke…but there are many more you don’t know by name, at least not yet – these are the faithful departed. And though you may only know a few, Christ knows each one of them by name, just as he knows each one of you by name and has inscribed your names with blood in his book of life. 

Where are the saints on All Saints’ Day? 

Hidden from our eyes, but not gone forever – hidden and asleep in Christ. And together we wait the resurrection of the dead. 

The saints are hidden in that little word, “blessed.” And so are you. One faith. One Lord. One Baptism. One Church in heaven and on earth. All of us blessed in Christ. Remember that when we sing the liturgy, we sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Remember that when you come to the Lord’s Supper today. The whole church – in heaven and on earth – is gathered together today around the Lamb and the marriage supper of his body and blood. So, whenever the Lord's Supper is celebrated, it's All Saints' Day.

Listen to how the angel answers ours and John’s question: 

These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

That’s what All Saints’ Day is about. Remembering Christ’s work on behalf of his saints, his holy ones in heaven and on earth.

And so there may be a tinge of sadness in your remembering, especially if the ones you remember have died recently. And even if it has been a long time, you never really “get over” grief. (And don’t let anyone tell you that you do.) You get on, you get by, you adapt to the loss of their presence. But you never quite get over their death, nor should you. They are precious to you; and they are precious to the Lord. You can only do as He does: Embrace them in their death knowing they are safe in His hands.

But let not your hearts be troubled. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. In your mourning, Jesus blesses you, comforts you. Those who mourn join those who are poor in spirit, the meek, the spiritually hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure hearted, the peacemakers, the persecuted. They are blessed because they have nothing to give; and everything to receive from God.

That’s the way it is for you and all saints in Christ. Your holiness, your life, your death, and your resurrection are in Jesus. 

For today and all days you are blessed in Jesus. And that makes you a saint too.
A blessed All Saints’ Day to you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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