All Saints Day 2014

“God bless you.” We say that fairly often, don’t we? If someone sneezes in church or if they tell us about some struggle that they’re facing, those are words we use right away. “God bless you.” It’s nice to believe in a world where saying those words makes a difference, that God might, in fact, bless us—and He does. In fact, God’s first Word to us is always one of blessing – of promise. Martin Luther, reflecting on the Ten Commandments, writes that even when God gives us a command, it is always attached to a promise. The promise always comes first. Often we think it’s the other way around: if we’re good, or if we repent, THEN we’ll get the promise. As if we have to do something to earn God’s blessing, like maybe God is like us—reluctant to just “give away” free stuff. The catch is we’re never good enough to earn anything from God, it’s all grace. That’s where Jesus starts today. As Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, the crowd gathers below Him. He sees them all – the sick, the lame, the wounded, men, women, children – ordinary people, like you and me. Not the powerful, not the religious leadership – most of those kind of people wouldn’t be caught dead with the kind of people who are gathered around Jesus now. These are just ordinary people, struggling to get by the best they can. Jesus sits down, and sets out to instruct them. He opens His mouth, and the first thing that He says is, “God bless you!”
This reminds me of the pastor who was preaching on all the sins of world that were, in his opinion, destroying the younger generation. He railed against gambling, and one older woman in the church yelled out, “Amen! You tell them, pastor!” And then he preached against alcohol, and she yelled out, “Hallelujah! You tell them pastor!” Then he preached against gossiping, and he paused, waiting for her. Everything was quiet for a minute, then her voice was heard, “Now you’ve gone off preaching and gone into meddling!”
Did you ever notice that Jesus never preached fire and brimstone to those who had been labeled “sinners” by the religious establishment? The only ones he hit with fire and brimstone were the religious and political leadership, those who had contempt for ordinary people. But to these ordinary people, Jesus says simply, “God bless you!”
The Gospel that was read just last week at my installation was the same one from John that was read at my ordination 7 years ago. Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” It was a gift of discipleship for them and for me and for all of us. We are His people. We meet the requirements for a relationship with Him, simply by being broken people who need healing. He meets the requirements of that relationship by forgiving us, breaking down the barriers between himself and us, making us all saints by carrying most of the cost of the relationship himself. Of course, the people gathered around Jesus couldn’t know that – but Jesus did. They supposed that the Pharisees and all those other good religious people were blessed, but not them. They supposed that those good Pharisees had all the answers, but not them. They supposed that the Pharisees had everything together, and that if they wanted a relationship with God, that these good, religious people were the ones who had the inside track, the ones that they should emulate, the ones who could help them. They supposed that they were like the little child, standing outside the candy store without any money, looking in the window at all that wonderful stuff that they couldn’t have. So what a wonderful surprise it is to them, to have Jesus sit down in their midst, and begin with these words: “God bless you!”
Notice the words of the blessing. Jesus begins: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” are those who, realizing that they have nothing to offer God, depend on His grace alone. They know that they have nothing to offer – that if they are to live in His presence, that they must live only in the shadow of His love and grace. There is a God-shaped void in the middle of their life that nothing else can fill. They are empty, waiting for God to fill them. The promise is that those who seek will find. Are you “poor in spirit?” Then, “God bless you!”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” In terms of our relationship to ourselves, God demands truth and humility. The ones who mourn are those who see the brokenness of one kind of relationship or another and they are in pain. Jesus says that they shall be comforted. The ones without power or influence will also be lifted up by the Spirit’s presence and gifts. The Spirit is the down-payment that they receive on the Kingdom. Are you the meek? Are you the one who mourns? “God bless you!”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” In terms of others, God’s demand is for justice and mercy. Justice means “right relationship”, – bringing about wholeness, peace, shalom, unity – fulfilling the purpose for which God created us, that we might, as Adam and Eve originally did – walk in the Garden with God. Those who “hunger and thirst for justice,” are starved for better relationships – they want them so bad that they don’t have time to carry a grudge, they refuse to think evil about another, refuse to backbite or slander or gossip. They are those who go beyond the call to be reasonable, to give eye for an eye, to do what can be expected, what is deserved or what is even allowed – to be merciful to others. They are always willing to forgive; they love without counting the cost, and so come to dwell in the heart of God. They shall receive mercy, Jesus says. Are you one of these – those who are starved for better, restored relationships? Are you the merciful? “God bless you!”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” There is also a social demand in our relationship with God. That is what is expressed in the last three Beatitudes. “The pure in heart,” are those whose lives are aimed in one direction. The pure in heart don’t care what others say – about cultural values or social expectations. Their aim in life is to reflect God’s life in theirs, to mirror His concerns in theirs, to make God’s heart the sole object of their own heart. They are the peacemakers, the “shalom” makers, whose presence brings healing and wholeness and restoration to this world. They are the ones who are more willing to bear injustice than to create it, who are more willing to be victimized by the world than to allow that any of god’s children should suffer injustice. He compares them to the prophets who, in speaking for God, suffered persecution. Are you one of these – the pure of heart, the peacemakers, one who is willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake? “God bless you!”
Are you happy today? What makes you happy? What brings you joy? Do you get up in the morning, excited about life? Do you have the kind of joy that has staying power? Is your life bearing the kind of returns you want it to? Jesus says that it can. That is the promise: “Happy are you.” God has already called you to new life in Him. He has given you the possibility of a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with Him. It isn’t something you have to strive for – it is a gift for you today. You are one of the saints of God, so “God bless you!”

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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