Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Sermon (By The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor)
One of the most difficult things to accept is how much God loves us, how much value we have, and how we are truly a blessing to this world. Hold this in your mind, just for a minute…can you believe this? Can you believe that God loves you, God values you, and you are a blessing?
I know from my experience and talking with various people that it is easier to believe that others are valued, others are blessings, but not so easy to believe this about ourselves. We are our own harshest critics, our own worst enemies…we judge ourselves, we see our faults and we beat ourselves up when we do the tiniest thing that we think is wrong.
So when we come to All Saints Day, we can quickly and easily acknowledge that there are saints in this world, people who have either in the past or the present been a blessing, made an impact, been people of exceptional value…we can elevate them, sanctify them, see them as perfect, almost superhuman…and, as a result, we compare ourselves with them and, of course, we come out on the bottom, our faults stand out even more when held against the amazing qualities and blessedness of the saints.
However, today, Jesus is challenging all of us to see the many flaws in this way of viewing ourselves, Jesus is challenging us to see that we are blessed, that we, in a way, are saints too…this is one of the many ways we might interpret the beatitudes and the reason, I think, we hear them today.
In our Gospel, Jesus is standing on a mountaintop and around him is a crowd, just regular every day people… families, the rich, the poor, women, men, the sick, the outcast…diverse, imperfect people. And Jesus begins to teach about the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus does is meet people where they are, he doesn’t demand anything from them, doesn’t say that to enter the kingdom of heaven they must change anything about themselves, do this or that great and amazing act…instead he presents the beatitudes, phrases aimed at showing each person present how blessed they are in the current state in which they find themselves, thereby, demonstrating that they each have a place in the kingdom.
So Jesus begins, blessed are the poor in spirit…this is a reference not to the economically poor but to those who recognize their dependence on others, they are not rich in that they are able to make it through life alone, but they are poor, they dependent and need others for survival. Jesus blesses those who are aware that to truly live they must have other people.
Blessed are the meek….this is not people who are quiet and mousy, but in the Greek, the term means someone who has authority and power and who is willing to give all of that up to learn from those around them who have less…Jesus blesses those who get down off their high horses, recognizing their own privilege, giving this up and sharing what they have with others.
Blessed are those who mourn. Everyone mourns for those they love who have left their lives. But mourning is also how one feels when they recognize the injustice and atrocities in the world that just don’t seem to change…Jesus blesses those who weep over the fact that as human beings we have still not gotten our act together.
Blessed are the pure in heart. To be someone who is pure in heart does not mean one is perfect and never thinks one bad thing, instead Jesus uses this phrase to refer to those who see God in all the wonders of creation. As one scholar notes, the foolish see only matter, see only the things of this world, but the pure in heart see God in the things God has made.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Peacemaking is often seen as one who compromises on everything, doesn’t rock the boat..but Jesus blesses those who know that they need to listen to what others are saying, figure out the causes of injustice or conflict, then compromise. A peacemaker is not self interested but interested in the well being of others.
Finally, blessed are those who are persecuted, who have been insulted, who have had evil put against them, particularly because of their faith. Jesus blesses those who choose to live in a way that is different from dominant society. During his time period, this would have been choosing to follow him and live as he calls people to live…choosing others over oneself, not focusing solely on religious traditions, but giving those up for the sake of another.
Notice, in the Beatitudes, Jesus has not said be perfect, he has not said you have to be superhuman to be a recipient of blessing…but he has presented a range of qualities and ways of being that would allow each person present to find themselves, to find ourselves, in one or more of his statements. Jesus is saying that no matter who one is, no matter what one’s life circumstance, “Blessed are you.” Jesus is telling everyone that they are a child of God, that they are loved, and that they have a place in the kingdom of heaven, exactly as they are.
Although we look to the saints as the truly blessed people, those we need to uphold because of their awesomeness, they were regular human beings, flawed as all of us are. God met them in their fragile human state and in our own fragility, God meets us…those of us who mourn, who take time to listen to another, who see God’s hand in this world, who strive for justice, who are persecuted, who find ourselves in any life circumstance. We are all blessed, we all find a place in God’s kingdom. Can we go out and live with this awareness in our hearts? Can we share this good news with others, so that they might see themselves as people of value, as blessings too? If you take anything away from today, All Saints day, let it be this: remember that God truly loves you, God values you, and you are a blessing, you are a saint.