All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today on our celebration of All Saints’ Day is today’s well-known Gospel lesson that is the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount known specifically as “The Beatitudes.”
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
What do you get if you combine quality cuts of ham, some sugar, salt, a pinch of potato starch, water, and some sodium nitrite? These are the primary ingredients of perhaps the most misunderstood meat product in the world. These are the ingredients of SPAM, a product that has been available to the general public since 1937. However, poor SPAM has gotten a bad rap over the last 83 years. SPAM is a high-quality meat product that people have loved for generations upon generations. But does it ever get served at fancy dinner parties? NO. Can you find it on the menu of fine restaurants…or any restaurants? NO. You know how bad it has gotten? What do people call undesirable, junk e-mail that no one really wants to receive? It’s called — (sigh) — SPAM. It’s just not fair! SPAM…so good, but so misunderstood!
But I guess SPAM is not the only thing or event that has been misunderstood in history. Case in point…today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 5 has been and continues to be misunderstood today in so many places and in so many contexts. Just as people misunderstand SPAM, so too they also misunderstand the “high quality” passage known as The Beatitudes.
Let’s set the scene. Jesus and His disciples are in the region of Galilee. The traditional location for the Sermon on the Mount is located on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee not far from Capernaum – a hill about 1800’ above sea level. Those who followed Jesus and learned from Him were with Him, and upon seeing the large crowds that followed (5:1) He sat down which is the classic position for a teacher to take before a lesson begins. What then follows is one of the most impressive narratives that we have in all of the Holy Bible — the Sermon on the Mount. The followers of Jesus are gathered around Him, He is sitting on a mountainside so that His voice can be heard, and He begins to teach the crowds with words like they had never truly heard before (7:28-29).
The reason that this section of teaching is called The Beatitudes comes from Latin. The name “beatitude” is derived from the Latin noun beatitudo because the first word of each statement in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible is “beati,” which is the Latin translation of the Greek verb “makarioi,” hence the name “Beatitudes.” If you misunderstand, it’s okay? That’s not the primary thing that confuses people anyway. What really causes misunderstanding is not Latin vs. Greek, but what Jesus means here when He says that these people are “blessed.” So what does that mean?
In our contemporary culture the connection is made that if you are “blessed” then you have to feel “good” about yourself, having a good self-image, being in control of everything in your life, having a plethora of material things, and being free from illness or injury. There are some in Christendom who believe that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and wise and all you have to do is believe more and give more and do more and all this will be given to you; you will be “blessed.” The theological term for this is “bologna” because that’s not how grace works. This is why The Beatitudes can be so greatly misunderstood by people today.
We don’t think of panhandlers as blessed. We don’t think of the elderly isolated in nursing homes as blessed. We don’t think that those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, or the meek as being “blessed.” Those kinds of people aren’t “blessed,” we rationalize, “they’re miserable! What they need are a few blessings…that’s what they need.” Being “blessed” is more than being happy. To be “blessed” – truly blessed – is to know the distinctive joy of those who share in the salvation of the Kingdom of God.
If you really, REALLY want to understand what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount in general and The Beatitudes specifically, you have to realize where all this is taking place. Verse 1 states that Jesus “went up on a mountain.” Now, when things happen on mountains in the Bible you know something really important is going on. The Ten Commandments were given to God’s people on a mountain. The Transfiguration of Jesus takes place on a mountain. God revealed Himself to Elijah on Mount Horeb. Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. In the Scriptures, Jerusalem is associated with “Mount Zion.” But perhaps the most monumental mountain experience will come later in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew 27:33 remind us that Jesus was led to the place called Golgotha, or what you and I know as Mount Calvary to be crucified. The truth is that the glory of the Sermon on the Mount will soon be replaced by the gore of Mount Calvary. At the cross of Calvary Jesus will suffer death and hell in our place for our eternal salvation. That being the case, today’s Gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount is better understood — finally — through the perspective of the crucifixion that also occurs on a mountain. All of the blessings of The Beatitudes and the contents of the Sermon on the Mount are only available to us sinners as facilitated by Jesus’ death on the cross of Mount Calvary. It is the cross of Christ that truly blesses us. It is the resurrection of Christ that truly blesses us. It is the forgiveness of sins that comes though these history-shattering events that truly blesses us.
The blessings of The Beatitudes are not challenges or guidelines for righteous living that we are supposed to try and attain. The Beatitudes are both present and future gifts of God. Yes, we are poor in spirit. Yes, we mourn. Yes, we are meek and hunger and thirst for righteousness. And through faith and discipleship, we become what Jesus promises we become: merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and so on. All these things — and then some — are given to us by virtue of our faith in Christ Jesus.
Perhaps you are tempted to look at your own life and think, “blessed — who me? I don’t feel blessed. I feel sick and tired and run down and poor and stressed and addicted and sad.” My dear friends…don’t misunderstand. You may not “feel” blessed or your financial statements may have figures that you don’t think are a “blessing,” but you have something even better. You can, just as Jesus Himself said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” and this is the same reward that those who have gone before us in faith – the saints – now enjoy all of God’s blessings in their fullest. Blessed…who, me? Yes…you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a sandwich with my name ALL over it!