Friday, 31 October 2014

All Saints Sunday

Matthew 5:1-12      1 John 3:1-3

There are some Bible readings which we’ve heard so many times that maybe they’ve lost their power to make us sit up and take notice.
Perhaps today’s Gospel reading is like that – a reading so popular we often put it on the walls of our churches opposite the ten commandments. It’s such a well-worn piece of scripture we even have a special posh Latin name for it, the “beatitudes”.
But what Jesus is actually saying is quite shocking. Blessed are... the last people you might expect.

Who would you expect to be the ones considered most blessed by God? What does the world say about the “Top people of 2014”? I used Google to answer that question and I found lists of
The most influential people
Most creative
Most famous
Most powerful
Most popular
And people shaping the fashion industry

But who does Jesus say are the most blessed people?
The poor in spirit
Those who mourn
The meek
Those who long for right to be done
Those who are merciful
The pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

Jesus’ list is almost the exact opposite of what we expect.

And the challenge is to hear that as if for the first time, to let it sink deep down into our hearts and souls and minds.
God blesses the most down-trodden.
We need to hear that because, surely, there are times when we all feel down.
Maybe it’s the darker evenings, but in the last few weeks I have been feeling rather weary, a bit hedged round with worries, a bit tetchy, if I’m honest.
And worried about my parents’ health, or friends who are unhappy, or the terrible state of the world.
And, no, I’m still not rich or powerful or creative or famous.

And what does Jesus say to me?
You are blessed. You are not forgotten, or a failure: you are a treasured child of God.

Blessed – to be a citizen of the kingdom, and comforted. To inherit the earth and see right prevail.
To receive mercy. To see God. Blessed to be a child of God, scooped up into God’s everlasting arms.

God blesses all his children. We might see those who are rich and famous and all those other things and think how lucky, even how blessed they are. But Jesus wants us to know that even when we feel that life is going all wrong, that is not a sign that we are no longer loved by God. Instead God promises to bless us. When we are down, rejected, even crushed – we are still the beloved children of God and God waits to turn mourning to comfort and persecution to reward.

More than that, Jesus promises not just that the downtrodden will be blessed – but that we are blessed: that God’s blessing is already upon us, God’s love already surrounds us and that we are not alone as we face difficulty.

Years ago when I was at Leicester University I was part of the student Methsoc. I remember our chaplain, Michael Skinner, who had been a principal of Wesley College in Cambridge, telling the story of slipping downstairs and breaking his leg. One of his church members saw him with his leg in plaster and said “fancy it happening to you, Mr Skinner” – as if a better minister would have found that God had suspended the laws of physics for him and saved him from harm.
But Michael knew, and we know, that even the most saintly and godly people are not preserved from harm, but that what marks them out is that even when disaster strikes they know they are still blessed – still loved by God.

In the midst of the Reformation, Martin Luther was trying to define the church  in a way which took people beyond a historical or institutional understanding of what it means to be church.
He asked the question ‘how do we know when a church is a church?’ and came up with seven ‘marks of the church’.
The first six marks state that the church is present where the Word of God is opened and where there is  baptism, communion, confession and forgiveness, called and ordained ministers, and prayer and praise. The seventh and final mark is that “the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross” – in other words, where people are faithfully following Jesus there will be suffering, struggle, and difficulty.

We are following Jesus – who went to the cross -  and so we will never be immune from suffering. But like Jesus, we will be carried through our suffering by the love of God the Father and will find that our suffering is transformed and that we are blessed indeed by the love and presence of God.

So today we remember all those blessed by God – the Saints of the church’s history, and those whom we have known whom we would call saints, and we celebrate that like all God’s saints, we too are blessed with grace and love.

So come now to this table of blessing, with all God’s saints, and celebrate the gifts of the kingdom: bread broken, wine outpoured, symbols of suffering and symbols of blessing.

In the name of Jesus, the one who blesses, the one who was blessed and the one who is a blessing to us.

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