“You are blessed. They are blessed. Together we are blessed.”
Sermon for All Saints Sunday. Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 15:17-29
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
You are blessed. That’s the heart of the message I can share with you today.
That’s the message of the entire biblical record, going back through the stories of Abraham who is called so that all nations can be blessed through him. It is the message of the Psalms as we “taste and see that the Lord is good” as we look at creation and see all that the Lord provides for us.
That’s also the message in the gospel where Jesus offers us a picture of God’s values and God’s priorities, and he offers them as an alternative to the vision of life the world often presents.
A number of years ago, a popular television preacher coined for the beatitudes the expression “the happy attitudes,” suggesting that it was all in one’s head, a matter of attitude, and also suggesting that happiness was the goal that all should seek, the same goal that the world reaches for.
The world tells us that it is only the rich, the self-satisfied, the happy and the popular who are blessed. But in today’s reading Jesus shouts from the mountaintop, inviting us to come to sit with him, to listen to him, because he has made us his children. You have been washed in baptismal waters. You are blessed no matter what external conditions prevail in your life, because it is God, and not the world, that has the final word about who you really are.
A half a century ago, the scholarly world was excited because among the scrolls discovered in Qumran Cave 4 was a document of beatitudes (4 Q525). The implication was that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was not unique: “Blessed is the one who speaks the truth. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are those who do not slander with the tongue.” Yes, these are beatitudes, but in a sense these are simply reformulations of the ten commandments, and we know full well how we continually fall short with such standards, as we do with peacemaking, with meekness, with showing mercy.
Yet the uniqueness of Jesus message comes in the second half of these sayings, the change that takes place when he declares that ours is the kingdom, when he says we will be called the children of God, when he declares that we will receive mercy.
You are indeed blessed, not because of what you are able to accomplish, but because of what God has done to and for you.
You are blessed. But there is another side of the beatitudes that I would like to highlight.
You are blessed by the company you keep. This is a gospel about accompaniment.
There are a couple of reasons I say this.
First, is liturgical, as Matthew 5 is connected to All Saints day as we remember those who have accompanied us on our walk of faith, of those who have been a blessing to us.
Second, is the way we come together as community to hear this gospel—as we sing together, pray together, share the Lord’s meal together. The beatitudes are not an individualized self-help guide—all the You’s are plural. We accompany one another as we hear this declaration that we are blessed.
Third, is exegetical, reading the text carefully. It is interesting how Matthew makes a distinction between the crowds who are surrounding Jesus out the hillside and the disciples who sit closely at his feet. Notice also the change in the pronouns. Sometimes, Jesus says “Blessed are you.” Other times Jesus says “Blessed are they.”
In fact, in Luke’s version, they are always second person pronouns. Jesus is directly addressing the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, those who are merciful. While here in Matthew Jesus calls us—especially those of us who are not so poor, not so hungry, not weighed heavy by loss and grief–to look at the meek, the merciful, the poor in spirit and to accompany them.
So at the end of the letter to the Romans, Paul announces his decision to go to Jerusalem, seeing that his work in Greece and Turkey has come to an end, and looking ahead perhaps to semi-retirement in the sunny climate of Spain. But he has chosen to facilitate the sharing of blessings between the people of Achaia and Macedonia and those of Jerusalem—the ones he labels as saints. They accompany one another as they share material blessings and spiritual blessings. They accompany one another personally as Trophimus and Timothy, Titus and Luke, journey with Paul to Jerusalem to experience first-hand the faith of that tiny Christian community struggling to survive in the mid-first century, a faith evident in lives of meekness and mercy, in poverty and hunger, in their tears and in their pureness of heart.
Blessed are you, blessed are all of us, as we come to Jerusalem in a ministry of accompaniment, no different from Paul and his companions.
Blessed are you, as you experience the faith of today’s Jerusalem Christians.
Blessed are you, as you experience the dedication of peacemakers—those who refuse to give up, those who refuse to be discouraged–in this conflict-filled world.
Blessed are you, as you provide support for those who build bridges rather than walls—those who build bridges across political, national, ethnic, and religious lines.
Blessed are you, as you hear the stories of those who mourn, especially those who have suffered loss because of violence, how you hear those stories and how you serve as God’s agents in giving comfort in your presence.
Blessed are you as you offer encouragement to the poor in spirit.
Blessed are you as you greet on the street and smiling in affirmation those hungering and thirsting for righteousness by their lives of service to the church–especially the clergy of the old city, the Armenians and Orthodox, the Syrians and the Coptic, who experience the humiliation and degradation of being spit upon—a daily experience in the old city.
Blessed are you as you encounter the meek, the merciful, who teach how to forgive rather than retaliate.
Blessed are you, who provide accompaniment as you work for justice, as you stand with the oppressed, as you challenge the values of the world based on power and wealth.
Blessed are you who bring your gifts to our worship, of prayer and of singing, as you build our community of faith.
Blessed are you as your faith is strengthened, as you find others accompanying you, as the spiritual gifts of the local Christian go with you to your own homes, to your own lives, to your own community.
Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Romans 15:17-29 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ.
23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26 for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28 So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; 29 and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.