The Life of the Saint
A Homily for All Saints Day
November 1, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Every year when All Saints Day roles around we tackle this question – what does it mean to be a saint? Who are they, and how do we become one?
And to revisit these questions are important because as we read the Epistles, we start to realize that Saint Paul consistently refers to the believers at each church as the saints of that community.
When we read this – we start to see that what St. Paul is referring to are people who are set apart for the kingdom of Heaven, set apart from the world, and held in Christ and when we hear this – it can sound very intimidating – “my goodness,” we may think “I don’t feel set apart, I don’t feel as though I’m all that unique.”
But – to be a saint – to be set apart – to be called out has less to do with us and more to do with what God is doing in us, how he is working, and who we are becoming by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are reminded of the fact that the saints of God – the ones set aside for His use are not some special class of people – who walk around in robes chanting holy songs but are normal people who love Jesus, who are letting Christ work in their lives.
We sang the song “I sing a song of the Saints of God” a couple of weeks ago on St. Luke Day, and it reminds us of the normalcy of the saints. You may have noticed how we start by remembering all the things a saint could have been, simply but beautiful careers, but then in the last verse we shift to the following:
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still;
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.
The saints of God are just folks like me.
That is folk that knows God and love him – that is folks that live for the kingdom of heaven in this present age – live by the grace of God to the glory of God.
The saints of God are not some super-spiritual class of people – but people just like you and just like me.
My friends – we are the saints.
This morning we read from the beginning of the sermon on the mount and we see Jesus go up onto the mountain, sit down and begin to teach.
The phrasing of how Christ begins this portion of his ministry is peculiar – literally, it reads that “Jesus went into the mountain.” It may catch us off guard – but a little research shows that this same phrase is used elsewhere in scripture – it is also used when Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to receive the law from God.
Some have made the mistake of trying to argue that Jesus goes up Mt. Sinai to perform this teaching – but the text does not support this hypothesis.
However, as we read the Gospel According to St. Matthew – we realize that time and again Matthew is pointing us to Christ as the fulfillment of Israel – Christ as the one who will usher in a more perfect kingdom.
So when he echoes the phrase found in Exodus – it is not a mistake – but rather Christ is giving a law or perhaps more exactly – Christ is telling those who would listen to what the ethic of the kingdom of heaven would look like.
But another more interesting and exciting thing happens – Christ does not wait for the Father to come and communion with Him – to tell him what to spell out – rather he sits down and teaches. Christ teaches on His own authority and no one else’s.
For Christ and the Father share the same substance – Christ is very God of very God – Christ and the Father are one – though different in personhood – the same in substance.
That is to say – Christ is the second person of the Trinity – and as such he has all the authority to spell out God’s ethic for his people.
But another interesting thing happens. In Exodus only Moses communions with God – yet on the hillside of Galilee – the crowd sits, the crowd listens – the crowd communions with God in as they sit and listen to Jesus. We no longer need a priest in the temple to make intercessions for us – but now we can communion with Christ – and in so doing – we are communing with God Himself – we know God.
For on the mountain where Christ teaches – there is no crash of lightning, there is no mysterious cloud – just unadulterated teaching from the king of kings, and the Lord of lords. That is upon that mountain – they experience God, and when we read his word and come to His table, we experience God.
And Christ opens his mouth and taught them.
When I was in college, I spent a summer waiting tables. It was a really fascinating experience. You get to experience people in a way that you really don’t in any other job.
I noticed that every family wanted their children to be polite to waiters, every family wanted their children to say please and thank you.
But I noticed something else – down to the person – the families where the parents said please and thank you – the children would say please and thank you without prompting – but in the families where the parents would not – they would almost always correct their children – but the children would rarely say please or thank you without prompting.
We learn by what we see – often far better than by what we hear.
Hearing is good – being taught sound behavior and doctrine is good – but modeling and formation through action often sink in far more effectively.
It would be easy to preach the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes as a list of moral does and don’ts. But this would be a mistake and we can also overcorrect to the other way – that they become a mirror-like the law to show us our desperate need for Christ.
This later approach to the Law was Martin Luther’s. That – the law is there to show us that we are dead in our transgressions – death with our Christ and so the law reveals our desperate need for the gospel.
And to an extent, this is a fair assessment.
We need to see how desperately we need Christ – and throw ourselves daily upon his mercy and his grace and his goodness.
The sermon on the mount can do the same for us – can show us how much we need Jesus. For it ratchets the law up – it intensifies it.
No longer is it enough not to murder your brother – for this is a relatively easy commandment – but we also do not hate our brother – we do not think malice to him.
No longer is it enough not to have an affair with our neighbor’s wife – but we do not think lustfully for her – we do not let our thoughts linger on her as an object of lust-filled affection.
In the sermon, Christ asks us – what is the state of our heart?
Are you living as citizens of the kingdom of heaven? Or are your hearts wandering after other affections?
And we find our need for Christ is deep.
This morning – I want to propose a different way of reading the beatitudes.
They can be of deep comfort for us – when our spirit feels broken – when we weep because the world has become too hard – when we feel too weak to carry on.
They can encourage us to goodness and nobleness to long for righteousness, to be merciful, to desire a pure heart, to make peace.
And they can encourage us when it seems that the world is unjust in the way we and our brothers and sisters in Christ are treated badly.
This is good and right reading – but there’s another way we can read it.
This past week, I found myself muddling through a struggle of mine – wondering why I was finding a situation hard.
As I prayed through the problem I was facing – I noticed that there was a pattern of me not trusting God in that part of my life.
The reality is, I knew that I didn’t trust God with this – I had seen Him subtly – and not so subtly point this out to me throughout the last few years, and this lack of trust had led, at times, to pain and frustration.
As I thought through this personal struggle – the words of the beatitudes were also fresh in my mind:
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
I kept coming back to this last blessed – blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
What does it mean to be meek?
Must we physically weak? Must we become wildly incompetent? Must we no longer be able to do anything by our own strength?
I think this is not the case.
No – Christ takes us through three things.
Poverty of spirit.
Here – he takes us towards the sometimes-painful process of drawing nearer to God.
First – the Holy Spirit reveals to us that outside of God we have nothing – it is God who gives us breath – it is God who sustains all life – it is God who pours out rain upon the just and the unjust.
God is the source of all life.
God is the redeemer of all life.
When we are slaves to our sin – then truly we have nothing.
When we realize this – then we see how poor we truly are – how poor our spirit is.
When we see our sin for what it is – it drives us to mourn, mourning our sin.
Now – in this promise – blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted – we have a double promise.
In mourning our sin – we find comfort for it in the balm of Christ – we find comfort in His salvation.
But when we mourn the hurts and pains of the world – we find comfort by the power of the Holy Spirit – he is the paraclete – the one who indwells us and brings us through even the darkest nights of our soul. Truly, we are comforted in our earthly sorrows.
But we, also, rightly bewail our manifolds sins and wickedness when we gather together week in and week out for it is our sin that has separated us from God – that has lead us to death – it is Christ who comforts us, who says – come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden – and I will refresh you.
Christ comforts us when we mourn our sin.
But finally – meekness – meekness is not a call to physical or intellectual weakness – though perhaps these may help some.
Meekness is a call to total dependence upon God.
The theologian Arthur Pink writes how the call to be meek is the call to allow the Holy Spirit to empty us.
It is the call to total dependence upon God.
It is the call cease trusting in our strength – intellectual or physical.
He writes how so many people desire the indwelling of the spirit – but rarely do we talk about how the Spirit leads us to total dependence upon God, leads us to empty of ourselves – leads us to a drawing out of our sins.
In my own struggle this past week – I saw yet again – how desperately I needed – not my own understanding – not my own ability to grabble with my problems – but I needed the spirit to continue to draw me closer to God – I needed to spirit to convert my will to the will of God. I needed dependence on God.
We are called to be meek in order that we live for God – in order that it is the Spirit that empowers us to act out our calling.
The meek are blessed because it is in our weakness – it is in our dependency upon God that God is glorified and not we ourselves.
The next four beatitudes reveal to us the calling of those who are poor, sorrowful, and meek, those who are living for Christ – those who are totally dependent upon God.
We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness – called to long for the righteousness that comes from God above all else as though it is the very sustenance of our being.
And when we emptied for Him – when we are totally dependent upon Him – what more could we want?
We are called to be merciful – called to show mercy to those in our lives – and when we see the mercy we have received for our sin – when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit – when we live in Christ.
We are called to the purity of heart for it is the Holy Spirit again that purifies our heart – that reforms our thought life – that directs us to what is good – what is true – and what is beautiful.
And we are called to make peace. For we have been given peace in knowing Christ. When our eyes are focused upon Christ – when we live in the love of God – we know that there is nothing that can separate us from that love – we know that our surety comes not from our works, not from our goodness – not from who we are but from who God is – and therefore we become people of peace and we long for that peace to be known in the world.
But there is some debate – how should we translate the word blessed. Of course, blessed is the classic understanding.
Perhaps you have seen it written in other forms – happy or joyous being common ones.
And I once heard this as being the definition of Christian happiness – it is the feeling you get when you see a long-lost friend from afar coming to see you.
If we understand happiness as the anxious and joyous longing for the one who is far off but will soon be reunited with a loved one – then I think we get to the crux of the beatitudes.
For even now we can see the kingdom of heaven – it is not yet here – not yet fulfilled – but we know it is coming – we know one day soon we will dwell perfectly in it. But for now, we see it as a friend who is coming from afar and we have joy – we have happiness.
If by the power of the spirit – we take on these things – if we become poor, sorrowful, meek, if we long for righteousness, be merciful, have a pure heart, and seek peace – we know the reward in the here and now will not be satisfied, will not be inheriting the earth, will not be fulfilled – at least not to completion.
But we can taste them – we can sense that the Lord is drawing us nearer – we can sense that the Lord is empowering us – that the Lord is making us complete.
But in the here and now – we are promised persecution.
And in all of this Christ modeled these things for us:
He was poor in spirit for the sake of the poor in spirit.
He mourned over the sin of the world.
He was meek and lead like a sheep to slaughter.
He longed for God’s righteousness to be known by His people.
He showed mercy.
He was pure of heart.
He sought peace.
And for this, he died.
Christ was not as the parent who scolds her child for not saying please and thank you to the waiter, whilst making demands.
Christ modeled for us the good life – the blessed life, the happy life.
But he also showed us that the world will reject it – the world will say no, I’d rather the life of my own strength, a life of cheap pleasures – the life that takes all that I can get, regardless of the cost.
But still – blessed are the meek.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
My friends – I hope and pray that each and every one of you desires to be a saint – that when we sing that sweet song – that you sincerely pray that you “mean to be one too.”
For blessed are those who are taken by the Holy Spirit – who are emptied by the Holy Spirit – who are then meek and totally depended upon God.
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed is the whole company of saints – for we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.