Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3 – For That Is What You Are
Caitlin Trussell on All Saints Sunday – November 2, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver
[sermon starts after these three Bible readings/paragraphs]
Matthew 5:1-13 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then 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. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Revelation 7:9-17 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
1 John 3:1-3 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Ahhhh, the Book of Revelation from which our first reading comes. Such comfort, consolation, and encouragement to be found. Seriously, though, it’s a shame we shy away from the Book of Revelation. Granted, a lot of it is uninterpretable – although rapture theologians won’t let that stop themselves from trying to leave us behind. But the book itself is written to comfort people who have been through a “great ordeal.” An ordeal that leaves them in need of a comfort only God can give.
And, oh, what a people. The writer tells us that, “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” This text gives us no way to imagine a limitation because it is all inclusive – “be it geographic, ethnic, numeric, linguistic, economic, and on and on the list goes.” 
The last verses of the Revelation text reads, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is easy and tempting to try to minimize this promise of comfort. I was leading a Bible Study at the women’s prison a few years ago. There I stood, waxing on about different takes on heaven, when a woman from the back row raised her hand. She told me it was all well and good that I had time to play with those ideas but she believed in a place and time when there would be no more hunger, no more thirst, and no more tears. She counted on it. She ended up being the preacher God put in our midst that day. And she is definitely a saint.
The woman from the prison doesn’t fit the description of “saint” as it’s more commonly used to mean a “best-ever-super-great person.” But she does fit into the saints who are part of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…” She is a saint who defiantly bears hope in the face of all things to the contrary.
Speaking of contrary things, Lutheran Confessions was a class I had to take in seminary to become a pastor. The class isn’t quite as racy as the title makes it out to be. For that you would have to turn to The Confessions of St. Augustine. But there were some gems. One of them was the professor. He liked a good argument and found plenty of them. His passion for arguing was matched by his passion for walking into any situation regardless of the discomfort involved – his or anyone else’s. At one point he whipped off his pastor’s collar, waved it around in the air, and told us that with this collar we were able to walk into any situation, bearing hope, where many would fear to go. Well, I’d argue with him on that – which of course he’d love.
I’d argue that it is by our baptism into Christ that we are able to walk into any situation, EVEN IF we are afraid to go. It’s not the collar. It’s the cross that bears all things, even death. The author of the reading from First John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
As children of God we are saints by baptism, not by our own action. At the same time we are sinners, bearing the hope that has been put in us through the Jesus’ death on a cross. This sainthood is Christ’s to give and it is given freely. Through his gift, we defiantly bear hope and bring peace in the face of all things to the contrary.
What are these contrary things, these things that would defy hope? Let’s try those verses in Matthew to answer that question. Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom is revealed into through a poor spirit, grief, hunger, thirst, persecution, and false accusations. How do we bear hope? We bear hope by being with people. I hear these stories from you time and again.
You’ve sat in the hallway at a nursing home waiting to visit someone and take the time to hear another resident’s story because they need to tell it to somebody.
You’re the one who’s child died and you let someone sit with you while you felt everything and nothing all at once.
You’ve been with a friend who spouse has left them.
You’re the one whose “no” meant “yes” to someone who hurt you and then you needed to trust somebody else to help you heal.
You’ve been with the undocumented family who has no home.
You’re the victim of war who was caught in the crossfire and taken to safety in a new place with new people.
You’ve been with each other in places that seem the most forsaken by God because, if the cross means anything, it means God shows up in the worst possible places and situations.
Grief, poor spirits, all the contrary things, are not mentioned by Jesus as things to achieve and wear as a badge of honor. These are the hard things that just happen in life. Hard things that we get to bear with each other and for each other. I get to show up for you, you get to show up for me, we get to show up bearing hope for each other in situations that seem utterly hopeless. This is true when we don’t have words that fix it. Perhaps it’s true especially when we don’t have words that fix it. What’s most important is showing up for people regardless. Showing up, bearing hope, does not imply that we’re not afraid. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to pay some kind of emotional or physical price for showing up. Showing up, bearing the suffering and bearing a defiant hope, is a gift we give each other in the face of really hard times; because it is a gift first given to us.
See what love the Father has given you, children of God, for that is what you are…
Jesus shows up for the multitude, in the multitude, for you, and in you.
Children of God, for that is what you are, be at peace – the kingdom of heaven is yours.
 Rapture theology is a fairly recent historical development dating to the early 1800s.
 Eric Mathis, Professor of Music and Worship, Samford University. Commentary on Revelation 7:9-17 for November 2, 2014 at WorkingPreacher.org. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2182
 Saint Augustine. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. (Project Gutenberg, eBook, June 2002) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3296/3296-h/3296-h.htm