... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

All Saints: Year A, Message November 06th, 2011

For All The Saints: Blessings and Exhortations

Text: Revelation 7: 9-17; Matthew 5:1-12

This past Tuesday, November 1st, was All Saints Day. However, as it is a Principal Feast day, it is transferrable to the nearest Sunday before or after the actual date. We have chosen to celebrate it today for a couple of reasons among them 1)it is our Patronal Festival and should be honoured on a Sunday and 2) that the readings lend themselves nicely to cap off the theme of relationships we have been following the past 8 – 10 weeks. Having seen the practical aspects of how the two great commandments are to be applied to everyday situations and how so many of our so-called issues stem from a break down in right relationships, we now look at and remember those who have in every age given their lives to assit us in the pathways of right relationships both to God and to neighbour.

I am reminded every All Saints Day about the young child who, during the children’s sermon time, was asked by the priest to name a saint. Instead of giving a name she pointed to one of the church’s stained glass windows and stated that was a saint. The priest looked at the window and acknowledged that it was indeed a commemorative of one of the Saints, St. Francis in this instance, but asked why she would have said that. Without a blink or pause she stated, “Because the light shines through him.” Out of the mouths of babes! Ask most adults the same question and you would probably get a litany of attributes as to what makes for a saint. Yet the truth is that a saint is one through whom the light of God shines forth to illuminate the lives of others and have thus become examples to other people of how we are to respond to God and to live life in this world.

Back in the 4th century the church began to celebrate the lives of the martyrs. Originally celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost, many of the churches in the west adopted the remembrance as a movable feast day celebrating it between Easter and Pentecost, usually in April or May. Sometime during the 12th century the date adopted by Rome was November 1st and we have followed this custom ever since. As we celebrate the saints of the church we are called to remember what those right relationships are and to incorporate them into our own lives. The readings for today and the themes in them guide us in such a way as to reshape our identities, to teach us who we are and what we are about in relationship to God and to each other especially as we try to live in community.

The passage from John’s Book of Revelation shows that this community - the community of all faithful people – is part of the household of God ad is such a community unlike any in mortal existence. Yet the Psalm places this community within the grasp of the present speaking of a shared life here and now experienced through and by the mercy and grace of God. The characteristics of this new community are elaborated on by both 1 John 3 and the beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel. In John’s letter we are reminded that we are one because God’s love has been poured out into us and we have been made one in Him.

Matthew 5:1-12 is undoubtedly among the best known and best loved of scriptural passages. Often referred to as the Beatitudes it forms part of the Sermon on the Mount and is meant to provide a clearer lens for seeing and appreciating the teachings which follow. To help us see and understand the Beatitudes more profoundly we need to know that the Beatitudes are not simply a list of blessings or promises.

Quite the contrary! The Beatitudes, first and foremost, tell us about the character of God and about our relationship to God and by extension to one another. Beyond this they are instructive as to the proper responses to God’s covenant, informative as to some of the divine promises and, descriptive of the character of the recipients of those promises.

To aid us in the re-interpreting the Beatitudes we need to know a little of the Hebrew words for ‘Blessing’ and how we have altered the meanings. There are two Hebrew words which can mean blessing: ‘ashar and barak , the former meaning ‘to find the right road’ and the later ‘to stoop or bend down’ In the blessing, “may the Lord bless you’ the word employed here is barak. However in Matthew the word used is ‘ashar and in Greek this word has become ‘makarioi’ meaning happy and has coloured the traditional interpretation of all the Beatitudes. If we look at the original Hebrew interpretation using the first Beatitude as an example the rendering would now become “You are on the right road when you are poor in spirit” implying that the right relationship to God and to life is when one is not haughty, or arrogant. Employing this understanding to all nine of the Beatitudes, we come to see that they are a series of matter-of-factly right-responses to God’ gift of love. Thus, you are on the right road: when you are poor in spirit; when you mourn, when you are meek, when you hunger for righteousness, when you are merciful, when you are pure in heart, when you are a peacemaker, when you are being persecuted for righteousness sake or when you are being reviled for your relationship to Jesus.

As a commentary on the character of God, the Beatitudes tell us of God’s passion and desire for harmony and peace in creation. They provide a window on the manner in which God behaves and by reflecting on this our faith will be strengthened and we will come to understand better the teachings of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of heaven and the various parables of which we have been hearing so much in recent Sundays.

Unlike the commandments or laws as found in the Torah which are imperative, the Beatitudes are given as statements of fact and encouragement and pertain to attitudes of mind and being as opposed to actions and deeds. Looking at the Beatitudes in order we note that the first concerns the attribute of one’s manner of being. We have all heard the term high-spirited as it pertains to certain animals and the ability to train them. The same can be said of humans. A high-spirited child is one who can be very temperamental and difficult to teach or discipline. That is the sense being used in the Beatitude. One of low spirit or poor spirit is the one who is open to be taught, open to listening, open to God’s directives. Such a person is indeed on the right road to a right relationship with God and with neighbour.

The one who is able to mourn is the one who can empathize with others, who can sorrow with those who sorrow or rejoice with those experiencing joy. Such individuals are capable of seeing and doing something about the abuses which come with living in society. Several months ago Readers Digest ran a story concerning psychopaths. It seems that this characteristic might have been necessary back at the rise of homo sapiens as a survival trait. However, in modern times it has become a detriment to the individual and to society. A psychopath cannot empathize with another and thus is unable to mourn. The ability to mourn means there is the capability to appreciate the plight of others and endeavour to do something to correct the situation.

The third instructive Beatitude concerns the attitude of self awareness in relation to others. To be meek is to be humble knowing one’s position in respect to the Creator and to each and every creature. It is not an attitude of self deprecation or self effacement. On the contrary being meek is an attitude of openness to what is and what might be. Such a person is one who is open to be taught, to learn, and to build a better world.

We could go through all nine of the Beatitudes seeing how each is a directive to a personality trait important to the Kingdom of heaven and the world in the present. However, I need to touch on the promises offered in the Beatitudes seeing how they affect both the present and the future.

The promises as indicated by the formula, “for yours is...” implies a change in the here and now as well as a permanency in the future. The characteristics of each Beatitude are such as there is an attached blessing or promise whether it be it an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven, a child of God or the recipient of mercy. The import is that these characteristic will make for the ideal of human and heavenly communities. Gone will be the strife, turmoil, squabbles, and atrocities which seem to pervade human societies, communities and institutions. Gone will be the need for legal systems, arbitrators, and adversarial posturing. In its place will be a society and community where each person is totally understanding of the other and where everyone lives in harmony and peace with everyone else.

While it might seem to be an idealistic dream, the reality is that this would be the return to Eden and can only happen when we come to see and strive for the ideal. Those who, in the past and present, have done so are the saints, the ones through whom the light of God shines to illumine the road for others. We are all sinners, we have all made mistakes and broken the Commandments at some point. Yet we are all called to apply the Beatitudes to our lives and to become saints and perhaps by God’s mercy to come to be partakers of the blessed promises Jesus has offered forth.