You can watch the whole All Saints Day service on November 5, 2017 at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon here:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
In today’s text from Matthew, we begin making the transition from hearing about the kingdom of heaven to seeing just what it is Jesus has in mind.
Right before our scripture reading for this morning, at the end of Matthew chapter 4, Jesus randomly plucks up a couple of guys from their fishing boats and takes them on a whirlwind tour to show them what this discipleship business is about. They travel with Jesus all around and throughout Galilee. It’s like one of those 7 European countries in 7 days sort of tours.
Jesus is on the move, preaching, teaching, and healing every disease. People are beginning to notice. A lot of people are beginning to notice Jesus. Jesus soon finds himself booked as the headline act in every synagogue. He’s becoming rock star famous and the crowds who follow him get bigger and bigger.
Because this is Jesus we’re talking about, the crowds are not shiny church people with deep pockets to support his new ministry. The people attracted to Jesus are poor. People in pain. People with mental illness. Disabled people and people with seizure disorders. Anxious people. Grieving people. Unclean people. You know…the kind of people everyone else finds rather difficult to deal with, but always seem to be hanging around Jesus.
And I imagine life for the disciples is getting confusing. Complicated. The noise and the smells and the mobs and the constant traveling is making them disoriented and exhausted. This kingdom building stuff is a lot messier than they bargained for.
So Jesus says it’s time to take a break. He climbs up a hill, and the disciples follow him.
Jesus tells them the truth about what it will mean to be his disciple. That the people most in need of Jesus’ blessing will be the people most broken. Jesus promises life will continue to be messy for as long as the disciples follow him.
And Jesus tells the disciples they will be of no use at all unless they follow his way of becoming deeply involved in the pain of the world. And then he shows them how to do it. By blessing the messiness of the people surrounding them on that mountain.
As we sit here today, the crowd at the bottom of the mountain is still waiting. They haven’t gone away. You and I know the brokenness of the world has not been healed. The kingdom still hasn’t come. And followers of Jesus are still called to be involved, deeply involved, in human brokenness.
This reality about what is means to be a Jesus follower is hard for me to swallow some days. I am not very good at putting a positive spin on pain.
I confess to feeling distinctly unblessed as we enter into this month of thankfulness.
And maybe naming those unblessings is something we all need to do before we get to genuine gratitude.
I do not see people who are suffering as blessed.
I am hard-pressed to see anything good or valuable coming out of a friend’s struggle with mental illness.
I don’t see anything that remotely resembles a blessing in another friend’s failing marriage or my son’s struggle with anxiety and loneliness.
My unblessedness extends beyond my own friends and family.
I do not see blessings in the escalating gun violence in our country.
There is no sunny side to racism, or sexual assault, or the threat of nuclear war.
Nothing about any of these losses feels like blessing. They feel like crap, to put it bluntly. These situations feel only like grief and sadness and I-feel-like-punching-something kind of anger.
I know, I know. We are supposed to rejoice always in the Lord and be grateful for all of life, even the awful side of life. As if a sunny Christian attitude has the power to sterilize the messiness of it all. As if an unquestioning faith is an analgesic for pain.
This is my struggle with the Beatitudes. They can make us feel even worse, because Jesus seems to suggest that the world’s designated losers are winners in God’s eyes.
And let’s be honest. None of us want to be losers. Nobody welcomes pain or persecution, and when pain or persecution or especially grief happens to us, we’d like it to stop as soon as possible, thank you very much.
There’s nothing particularly blessed about being merciful to someone who has hurt you deeply. History has taught us again and again that most peacemakers are ignored, ridiculed, thrown in prison or shot. Being meek and mild out here in the real world probably won’t get you a promotion or admitted to a top-tier college.
And because the Beatitudes are the gospel reading for All Saints Sunday, are we being set up to feel even worse because we just know we are not as perfect as people we consider to be saints? Do we feel we are less than saintly because, like the song says, “we feebly struggle?” all the time and someone like Mother Teresa in glory shines? Should we all try to be as meek and mild as her? Is that what it takes to make us worthy of being blessed by Jesus? If Mother Teresa is the standard for blessing, aren’t we all pretty much sunk?
So what is a good Christian to do? Are the Beatitudes a trap and Jesus is setting up unreasonable conditions in order for us to be blessed? Do I need to be sadder that I already am? Is Jesus telling us all to become meeker, poorer and mournier so we can be blessed in God’s eyes, but totally stomped upon by everyone else?
Maybe, just maybe, we should take a closer look at what Jesus says. Maybe the Beatitudes aren’t a list of conditions to meet in order to be blessed.
What if Jesus is just plain blessing people? Maybe the Beatitudes are Jesus showing us God’s inexplicable habit of loving unconditionally and indiscriminately.
Maybe Jesus is, in fact, teaching the disciples to see that that God’s blessing isn’t conditional or contingent. Maybe we are blessed whether or not we think we’re saintly enough. Because Jesus doesn’t say you will be blessed…if. Jesus says you are blessed because you are.
If God shows up here — Jesus seems to be saying —
If God is showing up and blessing the people who are totally messed up and at the end of their rope, then maybe God really is everywhere and eager to bless everyone.Even you and me.
Because before you know it, Jesus is up on his feet, throwing around blessings as if they grow on trees to people who did nothing to deserve it but simply show up. People who probably never felt blessed a day in their life and had pretty much given up hope that they ever would. Like the farmer scattering seed willy nilly, Jesus throws out blessings without worrying where or on who the blessings might land, but watching to see what beautiful things might grow.
On this All Saint’s Sunday, my guess is that the saints you remember today are probably the kind of people who amazed you with their open hearts, works of mercy, and all sorts of qualities that made them stand out like a beautiful sore thumb in your life. Yet I am also entirely confident your saints weren’t perfect people. My saints weren’t perfect either.
And yet every year, this is the one Sunday in which I can’t wait to get to the Lord’s Table. Because you and I will be sharing this meal with the imperfect saints of every place and time. The thousands of saints whose love created us, some of whom we remember this day, and some of whom whose names have been lost forever.
At this table, God sees you and me as the blessed saints we are. You and me with all the grief that weighs down our hearts. All of our uphill battles and challenges. All our anxiety and fears. God sees us and honors us and blesses us.
So on this All Saints Sunday, I thought I’d offer up some beatitudes of our own for this day, for this place, and for all of you who need God’s blessing. Consider these as Beatitudes for the rest of us and take the one or two or three you need:
Blessed are those who are willing to admit they don’t know anything.
Blessed are those who are positive they’ve messed up everything.
Blessed are those who are just grateful they made out of bed this morning.
Blessed are those who have tried everything else and are giving church a shot.
Blessed are those who trust in God’s grace to help them
Blessed are those who trust in God’s Son to save them,
Blessed are those who are not so sure they can trust anything.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the bleeding hearts.
Blessed are those who cry too easily.
Blessed are those who wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Blessed are those who risk being vulnerable.
Blessed are those who said something they didn’t mean.
Blessed are those who wish they could take it back.
Blessed are those who know they can’t.
Blessed are those who still weep at the graveside.
Blessed are those who haven’t gotten over it.
Blessed are those in recovery.
Blessed are the broken people, who eat the broken bread.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who eat alone at the lunch table.
Blessed are those who are too scared to try.
Blessed are those who feel like imposters much of the time.
Blessed are those who let others cut in front of them.
Blessed are those who know when they have enough.
Blessed are those who are painfully shy.
Blessed are those who are good listeners
Blessed are those who set the table for the Lord’s Supper
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who write letters to the editor.
Blessed are those who rage against injustice.
Blessed are those who stand up for the little guy.
Blessed are those who fight racism.
Blessed are those who remember their reusable bags.
Blessed are those who forget.
Blessed are those who vote in off-year elections.
Blessed are those who want the world turned upside down.
Blessed is the Lord’s table where there is always enough for everyone
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who see us at our worst and love us anyway.
Blessed are those who give us another chance.
Blessed are those see both sides.
Blessed are those who don’t always say what they think.
Blessed are those who value people more than process.
Blessed is the boss who doesn’t dock the pay of the single mom with the sick kid.
Blessed is the checkout clerk who helps the old woman with poor eyesight write out a check.
Blessed are we sinners who are invited to Christ’s table
Blessed are the merciful, they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who know they can’t have it all
Blessed are those who are terrible at lying.
Blessed are those who want others to do well
Blessed are those who spoil their pets
Blessed are those who love themselves
Blessed are those who have gotten over themselves
Blessed are those who mean it
Blessed is the teenager who sits with the kid who usually eats lunch alone.
Blessed are the those who can see all the ways in which Christ comes to us
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are those who don’t hit back
Blessed are those who don’t love their neighbor’s flag less than their own
Blessed are those who try to stop tanks with their bare hands
Blessed are those who don’t add fuel to the fire
Blessed are those who teach the peace of Christ to children
Blessed are those who are willing to lose face
Blessed are those who stand between the Nazi’s and the Antifa
Blessed are the Republicans and Democrats, who share the peace in church and sit together at the Lord’s Table.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
Blessed are those who dare to get involved
Blessed are those who speak truth to power
Blessed are those who don’t give up
Blessed are those who take a knee
Blessed are those who stand up for the innocent
Blessed is the crucified one we break bread to remember
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who are misunderstood
Blessed are those who get trolled online
Blessed are those who get sneered at and laughed at
Blessed are those who get hurt and rejected
Blessed are those who feel they are not enough
Blessed are those still in the closet
Blessed are those who are bullied.
Blessed are you who know what there is room at this table, even for you
Rejoice and be glad – for your reward is great in heaven.
Blessed are those who are invited to this supper,
Blessed is every faith community whose open door the Christ walks through and sits down to eat
Blessed are you who come to the Lord’s Supper to share bread and wine with Jesus
Christ is here for you, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to meet you and to bless you.
Thanks be to God, the source of all blessing, now and forever, AMEN.
 The idea of new beatitudes for a particular congregation comes courtesy of Nadia Bolz Weber who describes it in her book, Accidental Saints (184-188). She picked up the idea from a sermon she heard given by Doug Gay at a conference http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2014/11/some-modern-beatitudes-a-sermon-for-all-saints-sunday/ Doug Gay’s original sermon is published here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/doug-gay/blessed-are-a-sermon-on-the-beatitudesin-beatitudes/1244200052283782/ and I have adapted it here. Which is all to say this is not my original idea. And Simon and Garfunkel did it too, beautifully: https://youtu.be/L-D3diwmS34