Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day (November 4, 2012)

Reading
Ramblings

Date: November 4, 2012,
Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost – All Saints Day

Texts:
Revelation 72-8)9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Contextual
Notes:
All Saints Day celebrates the faithful who
have preceded us into glory.  More accurately, it celebrates the Lord who created, redeemed, sanctified, and gathered them safely to himself.  As such, our natural inclination to be sorrowful for our loved ones that we miss may be well-intentioned but is ultimately misplaced.  We do not suffer and grieve as those without hope, for truly, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  However
this is also a day of great joy, because we know that they are not
truly dead – their spirits dwell in heaven, awaiting the timing of
God the Father for God the Son to return in power and glory, when the
dead and living alike will receive eternal bodies. The readings for
today call us not just to idle memory of the no-longer-living, but celebration in the fact that the dead are truly alive, that together with us the Church is constituted, and that our communion with them is not the shadowy stuff of ghosts and hauntings, but the sure, strong promise of our God who has triumphed over death!


Revelation 72-8)9-17 –
As we read again from the Revelation of St. John, we meet the
144,000 that were mentioned in last Sunday’s lesson in Chapter 14.
These are they who have been sealed with the mark of of God on their
foreheads, from every tribe of God’s people. The symbolism is rich
and potent here – twelve times 1000 from each of the tribes of Israel
– numbers of completeness and fulfillment. The idea behind the
number is not a precise numbering, but an indication of fullness and
completeness. John is trying to convey the idea that every person
with faith in God is present and accounted for in this number.
Nobody has been overlooked or forgotten.  None of those who placed their faith in Christ have been lost to Satan, despite his rather impressive efforts (to be recounted in Revelation 12-13).  The God who saves is more than strong enough to hold and preserve those He has saved.

What are they doing? Are they busily engaged in catching up on the latest gossip?  Are they obsessing over whatever is going on in the earth below?  Are they starry-eyed to be reuinited with their loved ones?  Christian culture has a lot of curious ideas about what heaven consists of, but whenever the Bible talks about the people of God in the presence of God, they are always given to one activity – worship.  Giving glory and honor to the God who has preserved them through
death and into eternity.   This is the natural and proper response of a creature to its creator.  This is the natural and appropriate response of saved to Savior.  And we participate with them as wee gather on Sunday mornings to worship!  For that span of time the Kingdom of Heaven is more clearly present on this earth, no matter how weak-voiced or trembling it may sound or how frayed and threadbare it may look!  We worship not in isolation but in solidarity and unity with the entire of God’s people through all of time.  How is it that we can still wonder as to whether worship is really necessary or not!?

Whatever sufferings these saints endured in life – hunger, thirst, scorching heat – are no longer problems
for them. They have all that they need. They are fully and
perfectly provided for, so that they can dedicate themselves to the
glorification of the God who has done all of this for them. They did
not escape tribulation and trouble, they persevered through it
keeping faith in their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the
glorious band we each look forward to joining with after our death or
when our Savior returns!

Psalm 149: What is the
proper relationship of God and his people? God cares for his people
who in turn respond with praise and adoration. Evil and corruption
are not tolerated. Righteousness is upheld vigorously and without
confusion. Any who would array themselves against God are reduced to
slavery – the illusion of grandeur is forcibly removed from them so
they see themselves as they really are before their God –
powerless. Because they did not understand this, their powerlessness
is terrible and humiliating, unlike the powerlessness of God’s
beloved people, who freely acknowledged the power of their God and
therefore receive his favor and care.

1 John 3:1-3 –
A beautiful passage of truth and hope! How amazing indeed it is
that God should love us – love us despite our selfishness and
rebellion against him. That He would love us without expecting us to
deserve that love because we never can. Calling us his children by
virtue of his Son who is our brother and Lord. We truly are the
children of God, but this isn’t obvious to the world of those who do
not share our faith in Jesus Christ. As with every generation –
even the generation that crucified the Son of God – they cannot see
the truth before them, that is hidden in each of us. Each of us
trusts this is true though, and seeks to live that truth.

Matthew 5:1-12:
We
break from our normal reading cycle this year of Mark and go to
Matthew to hear Jesus’ preaching the Beatitudes. As Matthew relates
the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it begins by flipping all of
our standards and ways of understanding things on their heads. We
glorify those who are confident and proud, while in the Kingdom of
Heaven those are most blessed who are humble in spirit. Here we
idolize those who live lives of non-stop partying and celebrating,
particularly celebrities of all stripes, while in the Kingdom of
Heaven it is those who have known sorrow and sadness who will be
blessed. Do we idolize confidence and power? The Kingdom of heaven
prizes meekness. Do we idolize self-sufficiency? The Kingdom of
Heaven glorifies those who know they are beggars for a daily bread of
righteousness. Do we idolize justice here? The Kingdom of Heaven
prizes mercy. Do we idolize those who break the rules, who are able
and willing to indulge themselves fully? The kingdom of heaven
prizes those who are pure in heart. Do we idolize scheming and
manipulation and power plays? The Kingdom of Heaven prizes those who
make peace rather than profit from division. Do we idolize those who
live lives of ease? The Kingdom of heaven honors those who suffered
for the faith in this world.

Matthew’s recounting of this teaching is important. It is the first
public teaching of Jesus that Matthew records. He has called his
disciples and as people begin to speculate as to whether or not He
might be the Messiah, Jesus makes it clear the type of kingdom that
He is bringing to this world – and it is not the type of kingdom
that people expect, or necessarily even want!

This reading is comforting to us as well as we contemplate those who
have preceded us into glory. Because of their deaths, we know sorrow
and suffering, we have been humbled and prayed for the mercy of God’s
peace. This teaching comforts us that what we have suffered has
value, and will one day be a source of glory and honor, rather than
shame and ridicule.

Jesus speaks to people dealing with real problems and struggles and
issues. He does not go the easy route of promising to fix all of
their problems here and now. He is not making campaign promises.
Rather, He is assuring his hearers that while the world may discount
them and treat them as nothing, in God’s eyes they are precious
creations that He will do anything to bring into his eternal joy.
Nor is Jesus laying out a regimen of self-denial for self-betterment.
We do not seek out these sufferings, but rather we cannot avoid
them. As we suffer through them and persevere, we learn more what it
is to depend upon and lean upon our God for all things, in the
process, truly becoming blessed.

As you remember loved ones in your lives who are now gone, it is
natural to feel sadness. But remember to conclude your remembrances
with joy and thanksgiving. We will one day meet these people again
in heaven! They await the fulfillment of God’s timing just as you
and I do, and together we form the people of God, the Church of Jesus
that spans geography and time and defies neat descriptions and
persecutions. They are victorious in Christ, and we pray that we
will also be victorious by the power of the Holy Spirit to keep our
hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus until life
everlasting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s