Blessed are the saints

Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints 2017

What is a saint?

In his book entitled, “Lives of the Saints”, late Catholic priest and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Richard McBrein, describes that, “Saints are holy people. Because God alone is holy, to be a saint is to participate in, and to be an image of, the holiness of God.”

From a different perspective, pastor/theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “Many people think of saints as plaster saints, men and women of such paralyzing virtue that they never thought a nasty thought or did an evil deed their whole lives long. As far as I know, real saints never even come close to characterizing themselves that way. On the contrary, no less a saint than Saint Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘I am foremost among sinners’, and Jesus himself prayed to God to forgive him his trespasses.

19th century author and playwright, Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

In a similar vein, through his formula Simul Justus et Peccator, our dear Dr. Luther describes all members of the Christian family as “simultaneously saint and sinner.” That saints are simply those sinners who have been forgiven… That saints are so, not because they somehow live or reflect a deeper level of holiness than others, but rather, because through God’s grace and forgiveness poured over the faithful in baptism, their relationship with God is forever changed. That it is through God’s blessing that saints are named… not through the manner in which a person lives…

Throughout the world and across Christian traditions, this weekend is deemed as the festival of “All Saints”, or “All Souls”.  The day we celebrate the saints, the baptized people of God… the living, who walk as yet by faith in our pilgrimage on earth… and the dead, those on the other side of eternity… most often placing the focus, as we do here at St. James, on the dead.

So far, for 2017, we add 45 names to this list… 45 people… 45 friends… 45 loved ones… 45 members of the body of Christ…

We list their names in our bulletin and we offer their names in our time of prayer.  As we gather, we do so in order to mourn their deaths and the emptiness in our hearts they have left behind, and too, we give thanks to God for giving them to us to know and to love, and for the promise of new life made true in Christ.

But of course, for those of us closest to these saints, today is about much more. It is a public recognition of the missing piece, we could say.  The hole in our hearts, the empty space in the pew next to us and as we come to the table, the lost voice as we sing our hymns… the handshake, hug, and smile no longer there in the sharing of the peace…  It is learning how to give thanks and praise to God, when that which we are most thankful for is no longer by our side.

Our Gospel reading from the first 12 verses of Matthew chapter 5 is known by most as The Beatitudes.

Matthew writes, that as Jesus sees the crowds of people gathering around him, he makes his way up a mountain. And then, with his disciples following behind, he sits down and begins to teach.

By sitting, Jesus takes on the posture that a rabbinic teacher would take for authoritative teaching. With this, his disciples would have understood, as we are to understand today, that the words Jesus is about to say are worthy of our utmost attention… “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted…”’  “For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

For the most part, not places we typically think of as being blessed… yet here, through some of Jesus’ most well-known words, we’re taught that these are the places that God blesses us the most…

In looking to the original Greek of our biblical text, we see that Matthew records the word makarios translated into “blessed” throughout our gospel for today. This word, makarios, is understood by biblical scholars as meaning far more than being blessed or happy… certainly when reflecting on how our world most often understands the two…wealth, status, and other superficial things.

Through Jesus’ use of the word, it isn’t that we feel blessed… but rather, that in these moments, when we are poor in spirit… when we are meek… when we mourn… that God actually blesses us… that God comforts, shows mercy, and extends promise…

As we lift up the saints who have gone before us, certainly we mourn their death, but too, we acknowledge God’s blessing given to us. That which is given to us in baptism, and comes to completion as we breathe our last. Where we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and named as children of God… Where we receive the promise that nothing in life, nor death itself, can separated us from such…

Where we, the saints still living, are bound to those who have died as the communion of saints in this life, and on into the next…

Blessed are the saints in heaven, the holy ones of God… those who have participated in, and offered us, an image of God… those sinners of the past, washed in water and the Word, and deemed as children of God.

And blessed are you, saints of living… who by loving neighbor, honor those of the dead.

It’s with this that our hearts are mended, that we sing with the saints eternal, and that we come to the table standing side by side with the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us… angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… that we are all, the living and the dead, counted as God’s holy people… It’s with this that we are all in that number with the saints in glory… It’s with all of this that we name our saints… remembering their lives and trusting that death is not the end, but rather we move forward strengthened by God’s unending blessings…

~Pastor Andrew R. Geib

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