Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rev. Gregg's sermon for November 5, 2017

ALL SAINT’S SUNDAY - A - 17        MATTHEW 5. 1-12

Today’s first lesson and the gospel reading present two different scenes: In the first lesson, St. John has a vision of what worship in heaven looks like. There is much singing and chanting. There are some who stand before the throne of God and there are others who fall on their faces and worship Him day and night.

This great company is made up of angels, elders, and martyrs who wear white robes with palm branches in their hands. St. John asks one of the elders who these are robed in white and where have they come from. They are the saints of God who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb. They have endured the trials of this earth and are now at rest. They have been deemed worthy to stand before the throne of God and worship Him night and day, and Jesus is their shepherd.

If you ever thought heaven was a quiet place with a cherub occasionally strumming on a harp while sitting on the edge of a cloud, then, St. John’s vision tells us otherwise. Heaven is filled with music, singing, praising, and worshipping God. Consequently, I used to comment to the eight o’clockers at Grace, Monroe who made a point of telling me that the reason they came to the early service was that they did not like music, that they should be acclimated now. Who knows, God just might place them in the heavenly chorus.

Obviously, those whom St. John saw in his vision before the throne of God were “blessed” to be there. They are members of the church triumphant. And they in turn “blessed” the Blessed One crying out in their worship of Him, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

On the other hand, the scene from the gospel appears to be in contrast to the one St. John was privy to, but is it. Jesus is speaking to a mixed audience who have followed him up on a mountain over-looking the Sea of Galilee. Not all are there for the same reason.

Some indeed have followed him because they seek God’s kingdom. Jesus has feed them with his teaching and his deeds, yet they remain hungry. Others are there because they have heard of the things he has done, the miracles he has performed, and they want to see one for themselves. Yet others are there simply because they are curious.

Our gospel for today contains the opening words of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount.” What he says here in his use of the word “blessed” must have surprised all those who heard him. They didn’t feel “blessed.” They didn’t think of themselves as “blessed.”

On the contrary, the majority, if not all present, felt the opposite. They saw themselves one way, as oppressed and down trodden and separated from their God who seemed to be far away. Jesus was attempting to open their eyes to a “greater vision” of life now and in the age to come. He was bringing God to them and inviting them to come to God through Him.

The “poor in spirit,” Jesus tells them, have already inherited the kingdom. I wonder did they realize it. Those who are being persecuted and have been persecuted for righteousness sake, likewise, Jesus says, have already inherited the kingdom. I doubt they felt they had.

Jesus doesn’t call them saints, but that is what they are - the church militant. They are blessed by just being in His presence whether they realize it or not and God has blessed them because of who they are and because of what they have endured. Among the blessings Jesus pronounces are also promises of God that will one day be fulfilled.

How many do you suppose descended the mountain believing all that Christ had said? How many saw themselves as “blessed?” Do we? Of the two scenes presented in today’s readings, which one is easier for us to relate to? One speaks to the present the other to the future.

Most of us listen to these words of Jesus and seek to find our place in that scene. Which “blessing” is ours? Are we peacemakers? Are we meek? Are we pure in heart? Do we see ourselves as blessed by God and members of His household of blessed ones? I admit there are days I do feel blessed and give thanks. And there are those other days where I do not.

If we are honest, we must admit that we all feel pretty much the same way. Our faith and our hope in God are at best intermittent. Yet God’s love for us never fails. We don’t see ourselves as “saints.” We can’t imagine ourselves in that great company. For now we are members of the church militant engaged in spiritual warfare and struggling to obtain the beatific vision.

Of what value is this feast day? St. Bernard (12c.) writing on the occasion of All Saints said this “…the memory of the saints inspire in us and urge us to achieve their company, striving to deserve to be fellow citizens with and members of the household of the blessed ones…”

The way to the throne of God is in and through Jesus, the shepherd and guardian of our souls. He “will guide us to the springs of the water of life,” where we will stand before His face forever and where we shall see Him as he really is.

St. John’s vision of heaven is where we all hope to be one day. However, it won’t be due to any merits of our own, but our having been deemed worthy through the merits of Him who died and rose again. Through the eyes of faith, we are able to obtain the greater vision of our one day attaining fellowship with the saints in light; to share in their joy by being manifested with Christ in His glory.

As St. Bernard said “…to take our place in the gathering of the patriarchs and the ranks of the prophets; to be at home in the assembly of the Apostles and in the numerous hosts of the martyrs; welcomed in the college of confessors and the choirs of virgins, “in a word, to be united in the communion of all the saints. The church triumphant awaits us.

On that day we will realize the greatest blessing of all; to be invited to join the heavenly chorus in the worship of our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. AMEN+

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