All Saints Day – Vicar Stoppenhagen
Feast of All Saints November 1, 2020 Vicar Ethan Stoppenhagen
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh Text: Matthew 5:1-12
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. Amen.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.”
In the Book of Revelation, John speaks only this one time. He looks and he listens, he weeps and writes, he even eats. But the only words that come out of his mouth during the Revelation itself are these three words: “Sir, you know.” And what an entertaining little exchange this is! John has got to be disoriented after suddenly entering this heavenly vision. He’s taking in the angels and the elders and the Lamb opening the seals, and suddenly this giant crowd, stretching as far as the eye can see, appears before the throne with their deafening cry.
And then one of elders comes and reads John’s mind and asks, “Who is this host arrayed in white, and where are they from?” I don’t think John actually knows who these people are! So he has a choice. Does he guess and chance being wrong, or does he admit that he doesn’t know? Of course, John is smarter than that, so he doesn’t guess and he doesn’t admit his ignorance, he craftily but trustingly says, “Sir, you know.” But we know that hidden under these words is the confession, “Sir, I don’t know.”
During our earthly journeys, we’re a lot like John in Revelation. We might think we know where we’re at and who we’re with, but nonetheless, we’re still strangers in a strange land, who don’t really know what’s going on. We’re overshadowed by uncertainty and a cloud of unknowing blocks the finish line from view. Our present time has only heightened our sense that we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If only someone would tell us what the governor will declare next or who will be elected president, then we could prepare for whatever changes that might bring. If only we could know whether our jobs are secure for the next year, then we could plan ahead and not suffer this doubt.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable, so we do our best to create our own sense of certainty. We build up our savings accounts, overstock our pantries, and set up every form of home security, so that come hell or high water, virus or violence, we can be certain we will be safe from harm. We thoroughly educate ourselves so we know exactly how to protect our families, our church, and our own bodies from every evil. We strive to climb the corporate ladder, to earn the largest scholarship, and build the biggest retirement account, so that the money will never run dry.
In doing all of this, we don’t really enjoy God’s gifts because we’re too busy hiding them away, we trust our neighbors less and less, and we turn in on ourselves. This mission to conquer uncertainty leaves us building up walls that even God struggles to climb over. We seek heavenly rest in worldly goods, and that should certainly leave us feeling more uncomfortable than any uncertainty we face.
It’s easier to establish our certainty in what we can see and feel. Yet even the best orchestrated plans have their flaws. No amount of security will completely protect from the ever-more-cunning intruder. The finest portfolios can still collapse with the next recession. Our attempts to explain away our pains and sufferings don’t fully address why they happen to us in the first place. In placing our confidence in our own fragile constructions, we fail to see the Light the pierces the fog and leads us through these gray and latter days. We fail to trust in God’s promise of life beyond this corrupted existence, and we’re left wandering through the wilderness, without a clue for why we suffer.
Things were not much different in the days when Jesus ascended the mountain and sat down to teach that great multitude of disciples. Uncertainty ruled the day. Relations between the Roman rulers and Jewish leaders were tenuous. On top of that, no one knew exactly who this Jesus was or what his intentions were. The hope, of course, was that he would lead the revolt against Rome, restore the kingdom to Israel, and re-establish the power and prestige of long ago. But when he opened his mouth on the mountain that day, what came out was not strength and success. “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.” Poverty? Death? Hunger and thirst? These are not the markers of a successful revolution. These are signs of failure and weakness. Showing mercy? Making peace? Unnecessary tasks when you’re conquering the world on your own terms.
But we are not of the world. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. We are not of the world. We are children of God, who in Christ has overcome the world. Our dwelling place is with the Father, in his eternal kingdom which is a sure and certain promise. We rest assured in this promise, for Christ our King has lived out his own teaching. He knew the poverty of the manger. He mourned the sins of the world. He hungered and thirsted in the wilderness for your righteousness. He showed mercy on the outcast and downtrodden. And with a pure heart, he endured the persecution, the reviling, and the evil utterings of his crucifixion to make peace between you and God by the blood of the cross. For all this, the kingdom of heaven belongs to him, and he has gifted it to you who have washed your robes and made them white in the baptismal blood of the Lamb.
Because of Christ, the beatitudes aren’t a road map for your best Christian life. Instead, they are markers of who the blessed ones of God are. They are embodiments of the love of Christ in you. We as the children of God will not be known for our power and prestige, but for our humility, mercy, and patience. Jesus doesn’t hide the fact that our lives will involve suffering. In fact, the suffering is one thing we can be certain of! But that suffering is what marks us as children of God.
And even more, attached to each beatitude is a promise. And that is part of their beauty. There’s no uncertainty about what’s on the other side of our suffering, because Jesus promises comfort, mercy, even the kingdom of heaven. These gifts of blessedness usually aren’t immediately visible. We still must endure the uncertainties of this world, knowing that they are but insignificant interruptions in God’s plan of hope and restoration. Rather than rules for human flourishing, the beatitudes are guideposts through our great tribulation, leading us saints on our pilgrimage until we reach our journey’s end.
Each year, then, we celebrate the lives of those of have finished the race and received their crown of glory. They have come out of the great tribulation and enjoy forever the blessings of the beatitudes. In the face of uncertainty, they turned to God in the way of John and said, “Sir, you know. You know all things, and you have pioneered the way for us through this tribulation and promised eternal life.” Following Jesus’ example, they mourned and hungered and thirsted here on earth, and now see God face to face.
We follow their example, confidently await that day when we will join them at the marriage feast of the Lamb. Our certainty is not in princes or power or pocketbooks or possessions. After all, the elder did not say to John, “Who are these arrayed in designer clothing, with Prada handbags in their hands?” These things will pass away. Our certainty is in Christ, who has gone before us to prepare a place for us. We weather the unknowings and uncertainties of this life, holding on loosely to what we have here on earth, but clinging ever tighter to the promise of eternal life in Jesus.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.