Matthew 5: 1-12 All Saints
I expect that we all can remember one sermon, the one that I best remember is from about forty years ago, when my tutor one Easter Day, went in to the pulpit and said “Alleluia, He is risen” and then stepped down from the pulpit.
This may have been a short sermon and because of that the one I best remember, but it was far from being the best sermon that has ever been preached.
The best sermon that was ever preached was so good it is still remembered today, two thousand years later and we know it as the Sermon on The Mount and was preached by Jesus Christ himself.
The sermon starts with what we call the beatitudes and is what was read as our second lesson today and is the Gospel reading for the feast of All Saints.
It is important that we should be clear that the beatitudes have to do primarily with character, a character of true saintliness
rather then with conduct, not that conduct is unimportant by any means as conduct is determined by character and in the end it is what we are that matters most of all.
Here we have Christ’s own picture of saintliness, the character of those who receive the blessing of Jesus Christ and this I believe is the way we should understand the word blessed at the beginning of each of these short sentences.
Some modern versions of the Bible use the word happy or even fortunate, but Jesus is not talking here about human happiness or good fortune, He is speaking about the kind of people who inherit God’s blessing.
First, the poor in spirit; that is those who are deeply aware of their spiritual poverty and who cast themselves wholly on the grace of God and so enter the heavenly kingdom.
Next, those who mourn; those who sorrow for sin, their own and that of the world and who grieve to see God’s cause languishing.
Then there are the meek; a word which indicates the quality of submissiveness, the readiness to yield in all things to the Lord and to other for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; and the people who long and labour to see the right prevail, evil overthrown, and the will of God triumphant.
The merciful; are in a special sense those who render service to the poor and needy and show a forgiving spirit.
The pure in heart; are people who are clean inside. Jesus is stressing that ritual purity is not enough; the heart must be clean in God’s sight.
So we come to the seventh, how blest are the peacemakers; the peacemakers are those who exercise a ministry of reconciliation in every sphere of life where there is division and strife.
Such is the quality of true saintliness, now clearly the kind of character depicted here stands in stark contrast to the character of the typical person of the world in Jesus’ time and also today, Christ’s pattern of discipleship and the world’s standards and ideas are often two very different things.
The world does not pronounce any blessing on those who know themselves to be spiritually poor; it blesses the proud and the self-sufficient.
The world does not mourn for sin; it mocks at sin.
The world has no use for the meek; it glorifies the mighty.
It hungers not for righteousness but for wealth, success, fame and pleasure.
It does not follow the line of mercy, it advocates toughness.
It is not concerned with purity of heart but simply with keeping up appearances.
It despises the peacemakers and exalts the war mongers.
The beatitudes suggest a contrast and a conflict, which is probably why Jesus added the eighth beatitude, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The final beatitude is even more personal and pointed “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”.
Jesus knew full well that the saintly character he described and which he Himself exemplified, would not win the world’s admiration but rather the world’s animosity.
For Jesus it meant the Cross and many of His saints down the centuries and especially those who have been most like Him have suffered the same sort of fate.
In parts of the world today Christians are persecuted and even martyred for there believe in Jesus Christ, sometimes just for having a Bible.
What about ourselves? Do not the beatitudes present a challenge to us who are also called to be saints?
First, we should examine our own hearts and to see quite honestly how far we come short of the pattern that Jesus presents to us in the beatitudes.
Secondly, to cultivate the qualities which make for Christian saintliness and to know the blessedness which accompanies it?
Thirdly, to be ready to face the worlds scorn and opposition and to follows God’s saints in the path of suffering.
It is not an easy path and we mercifully are not all called upon to walk it, but when the call does come the words of Jesus at the end of the today’s second reading are a tremendous encouragement, to those who are called as well as to us all; “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”