Sermon for All Saints Sunday – November 6, 2022
Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we think of what it means to be blessed, we usually think of abundance. We think of having the resources we need. We think of tables laden with food, as will be the case in just a few weeks as people gather for Thanksgiving dinners. We think of good times with family and friends, times filled with abundant laughter and joy and love. This is what it means to be blessed, right?
This is certainly what the disciples would have thought. And they wouldn’t be wrong, exactly. They could look to their ancestor Abraham, widely regarded in both the Old and the New Testament as a man of great faith. In Genesis 24 Abraham is described as having abundant herds and flocks, silver and gold, male and female servants, camels and donkeys, a wife and a son, and it specifically says he was blessed with all of these things. Like us, the disciples would have associated blessings with abundance.
So imagine their surprise when they heard Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven, for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” I can imagine the disciples responding with befuddled looks on their faces, saying, “Umm, what now?”
But Jesus was pointing them to a deeper kind of blessing. Jesus was pointing them to a promise. This promise has both a present reality and a future hope. “Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus said, “for yours IS the kingdom of God.” This is present tense. Something is true right here and now. God is among them! This is followed by a future promise: the hungry will be filled, those who weep will laugh, those who are hated for Jesus’ sake will rejoice.
Here is a blessing for those who don’t think they are blessed. Here is a blessing for those who are lacking in the kind of abundance that makes us feel happy and secure. Here is a blessing for the broken. This blessing is the promise that God is among them now: “Yours is the kingdom of God!” This blessing is also the promise of a future hope, an “inheritance” as it is called in our epistle reading for today, the coming inheritance of the final redemption, where every hunger will be sated, every tear will be wiped away, and every hurt will be healed.
Jesus follows up these blessings with some woes, or warnings. Those who are rich now, or full now, or laughing now, or well-liked now, are warned. These blessings of abundance, which are real blessings, to be sure, can get in the way of taking hold of this greater blessing. They can become idols to us. They can become our gods, the things we cling to for peace and security and joy and hope. The point is not to TRY to be poor or hungry. It isn’t like this blessing depends on your tax bracket. The point is not to seek out pain and suffering so you can conjure up some tears and then get the blessing. The point not to be purposefully hated by others in order to be loved by God. None of this is a prescription. It is not a to-do list.
Jesus is instead making the counterintuitive point that it is when we are broken, or lacking, or grieving, or hurting, that God comes to us with this greater blessing for us to take hold of. Jesus is making the point that there is a deeper blessing that is not tied to abundance. It is the blessing of his promise: Yours is the kingdom of God! God is with you now, and his kingdom is coming to fill your every need, your every ache. Jesus is promising to enter into our lives through the cracks, through the holes, through the absences, to bring us this blessing.
“Blessed are you who weep,” Jesus says, “for you will laugh.” Next Sunday it will have been one year since my mother died. Her death was sudden, and the circumstances were, and are, very painful. I’ve done a lot of weeping this past year, but there have been times when those tears led to blessings. There have been times when the cracks in my heart became the opening for God’s blessings to enter in. I have enjoyed a renewed relationship with my godmother, who was my mother’s best friend. I have a monthly therapy lunch with my sister, and we are now closer than we’ve been since we were young. My wife’s tenderness towards me during this time has only made me love her and appreciate her even more. There have been countless gestures of kindness from members of this church.
Even strangers have been a blessing. I recall going to my bank shortly after my mother died. I was handling her affairs and had a check made out to her for a couple hundred dollars which I needed to deal with. I walked up to the counter with the check and my mother’s death certificate in my hand. It had been a long, stressful day already and as I tried to explain to the teller what I was trying to do, I kind of lost it. She realized quickly what I was there for and, being the branch manager, she whisked me into her office and closed the door to give me some privacy. She took care of the check, but she also took care of me. She shared some kind, encouraging words with me in between the forms I had to fill out, and when I was done, we stood up and she said, “Bless you Jeffrey.” She didn’t preach to me or pray with me, but she was wearing a cross around her neck, and that was all I needed in that moment to know that God was near. I’m not saying I’m glad I burst into tears at the bank, but that crack was opening for me to receive a blessing.
There’s a lyric from a song I love which speaks to this. It goes like this: “Maybe that’s where life is born/When our facades are torn/Pain gives birth to the promise ahead.”
What blessing is there for the poor, or the poor in spirit? What blessing is there for the hungry, whether literally, or for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for things to be right in their life and in the world. What blessing is there for those who may have tables laden with food, but there’s an empty spot at the table? What blessing is there for those who mourn and weep? For those who feel rejected or alone?
The blessing is to be found in the promise of Christ Jesus, who comes in through the cracks to make his kingdom, his presence, known to us, and who points us to our coming inheritance, our coming future. It is a blessing that comes to us when our facades are torn, when we can’t hide behind our masks anymore, our illusions of having it all together. It is in our vulnerability that we become strong through the blessing of this promise, as we begin to know that God is with us, and that our future is safe in his strong, eternal, loving hands. It is in the darkness that this promise shines most brightly.
Today is All Saints Sunday. It is a hard day for congregations as we remember all our departed saints. It is especially hard for those who have loved ones on our list of those church members we’ve lost in the last year. For those of you who are missing loved ones, whether they are spouses or parents or dear church friends, today Christ Jesus is entering into the cracks in your heart to bless you. He is blessing you by putting the promise in your ears. “Blessed are you,” he says.
This is not the blessing of abundance. It is the blessing of his promise. “Yours IS the kingdom of God,” Jesus says. He is with you here and now. He is present in his Living Word. He is present in the bread and wine. He is present through the mutual consolation of the saints he puts in your life.
Our Lord Jesus also assures you of the future. His promise also points ahead to a day when all the empty places are filled. He points ahead to what Paul calls “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” He points ahead to that day when mourning and crying and pain will be no more, when those who have suffered for Christ’s sake will rejoice. He points ahead to the kingdom of heaven, where all the saints will dwell together in eternal joy and peace. As he points us to this future, it begins to take hold of our hearts even now.
The blessings of abundance are true blessings. Give thanks for them. Cherish them. Share them with those who don’t have enough. Let your gratitude for these blessings overflow into lives of forgiveness, mercy, and generosity.
But when they are taken from you, when you are poor, or hungry, or weeping, or alone, know that there is a deeper blessing for you to take hold of and trust in.
“Blessed are you,” Jesus says. “Blessed are you.”
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church