“Beloved, we are God’s children now” (I John 3:2). It is one of the truths of our baptism. As we come today to observe the Feast of All Saints, we are thinking not only of Apostles and martyrs, the pioneers of the spiritual life, or the great doctors of the Church. We are considering in the imagination of our hearts the great body of the faithful, the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes, people and languages” (Revelation 7:9). That includes you and me and perhaps especially today, those being confirmed and reaffirming. So listen closely: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (I John 3:1).
A sign as you enter Winchester Cathedral in England says, “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are dead.” We take our part in that ancient conversation by what we do here today and join the conversation of prayer that has been going on in this worshipping congregation since its inception. One part of that conversation is today’s Gospel from what we know as The Beatitudes. They are, if you will, Jesus’ platform within the Sermon on the Mount. As he climbs the mountain like a new Moses, he proclaims the meaning of God’s call as an invitation to the common people, those like you and me, who so blessedly and by grace enjoy God’s favor.
Listen in with me to Jesus’ radical, challenging and life-transforming conversation:
We find that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to “the poor in spirit,” humble people who have little enough to offer in God’s service and we who have no temptation to boast of what we have or what we are – yet, we give ourselves in trust to God.
God’s comfort is for “those who mourn.” It is not necessarily that we have suffered great loss although many of us have, but that sometimes, beyond our best efforts, there is so little we are able to do about the many things in our world that are amiss and deeply broken. So we grieve as our hearts break while watching the evening news, most recently in the horrific events of NYC, and we bring that pain to the great conversation before God.
“The meek,” we who make no claim for ourselves, “shall inherit the earth.” Virtually nothing of real value can be taken from us. We come into and leave this world with nothing of our own. It all belongs to God and is to be offered to God’s service—all of it.
To “hunger and thirst” to see the right done is also blessed. Those not bound by our own prosperity to a worldly status quo have a keen desire of God’s justice to win the day for all the world, every human being and indeed for the created order itself. Matthew is stressing a desire to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven and to see the vindication of all who suffer. The assurance is that such hunger will be satisfied as we offer ourselves for the sake of others and that God’s agenda can be established through us and must ultimately prevail in the consummation of all history.
Those who “show pity” for others day after day in our own lives – the merciful – are the very people who shall receive God’s compassionate forgiveness for our own failures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Give mercy as we have received mercy.
The “pure in heart” are we who concentrate upon God’s aims so clearly that we begin to see God’s desire for the world. Cleansed in heart we seek God in all and through all in the hope of finding and being found by God.
We trust that as we continue in the great conversation with God while on this earth that we will be prompted to be “peacemakers.” We bring reconciliation to quarreling neighbors and family members, even including disassociated Episcopalians. We bring it to the larger conversations of the world in our political action and the way we vote, in community meetings and in our jobs. Our acts toward peace are to resemble the life of the Prince of Peace, as we confront structures of violence and even our own language when it dehumanizes and degrades God’s people.
To “suffer persecution” for loyalty to God, to endure patiently the enmity of some in the world, is to find our reward in heaven. We may not experience this in the manner the ancient Christians did, but be sure that there are Christians in the world today suffering greatly, even being martyred solely because of faith in Christ. Certainly today, of all days, we celebrate the unnoticed service of all whose names are known to God alone and who comprise the vast majority of God’s people.
The blessed as they are called in The Beatitudes, are not noted for any outstanding talent or achievement. They are ordinary people whose virtue is simple faithfulness. All Saints celebrates the innumerable company of people who have responded to God’s call by quiet and honest service – not for recognition, but out of faith. Welcome to those receiving the laying on of hands today as you recommit yourself among the great company of saints, and continue the great conversation that began long before you were born and will continue long after you are gone. You are beloved and God’s children, now and always.