All Saints Sunday
November 5, 2023 – Matthew 5:1-12
Rev. Alex Steward (Supply Pastor)
This morning we remember not only the saints that have gone before us, but we also remember the saints among us. Saints who have caused Good Trouble and saints who have left many questions. As baptized believers in Jesus Christ, we are all saints following the Way, called to serve and live out the Good News. When we hear the opening words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes as they are known, it is easy to become weary. We become weary because we have a long way to go to receive those blessings. We become weary because our circumstances do not fall in line with the blessings Jesus promises. We become weary because we do not know where to turn next. Amid our current uncertainty including wars around the world, increased violence in our country, and persecution of various groups, it is easy to become weary. It is easy to fall into self-isolation amid all the unsettling news and therefore the weariness feels multiplied.
We are not the first to encounter this weariness in life. All Saints Day is a reminder amid the weariness of watching the news and a weariness we heap upon ourselves, our ancestors have trod this road before and with all the saints gathered, we are not alone. Richard Rohr writes,
“The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3 – 12) offer us a more spacious world, a world where I do not have to explain everything, fix everything, or control anything beyond myself, a world where we can allow a Larger Mystery to work itself out through us and in us. These things are done to us more than anything we can do. The Beatitudes are about changing me, not changing other people. Wonderfully, it is not about being right anymore. Who can fully do the Beatitudes “right”? It is about being in right relationship, which is a very different agenda.”
An important thing to remember here is that Jesus does not bless people conditionally. It is not quid pro quo. It is not a blessing for the future. The beatitudes are a blessing which take place here and now.
One of my projects during the first COVID shutdown became exploring my family tree. I began to dig deeper specifically into the history of the saints who had gone before me. I was shocked when part of my findings took me to cemeteries in Allenton and Romeo, not far from my pastoral call at the time. Finding the headstones of your family can be an exhilarating experience. It is like solving a puzzle. The stories behind those names on the headstones are just as meaningful. As I traced one branch of the tree back to fifteenth century Bavaria Germany (which I did not realize I had that much German in me), I discovered my 14th Great-Grandfather was Jacob Luther. The Jacob Luther whose father was Hans and whose brother was Martin. Yes, that Martin! This incredible discovery left me in awe.
It can be powerful knowing your ancestors and the saints who have gone before. Some of you may have similar stories of finding ancestors. Sometimes, there are things our ancestors have done which we do not like to bring to light. I will admit that having that link to Martin Luther is amazing and empowering at the same time, but some things he said would encourage you to separate yourself from him. For not growing up in the church and now being a Lutheran pastor, I think the Spirit was at work. In my own weariness and not knowing where to turn next, I can think of my ancestor Martin Luther and his steadfast faith and willingness to say, “Here I Stand.” In those words, Martin Luther stood firm in his faith and spoke boldly the Word of Christ. Like Jesus, he was far from favored by the leaders of the church. Martin Luther liked to, in the words of the late Senator John Lewis, cause Good Trouble. John Lewis made this phrase memorable as he said, “‘Make good trouble.’ Good is not always what the world wants to receive, yet what the world needs.” We can think of many saints who have gone before us making Good Trouble.
As Revelation reminds us this morning, we will gather as a multitude of nations encompassing all people when we fully experience the kingdom of God. We are shaped by our history, and while you may or may not have notable people in your ancestry, you still have a story to share. Honestly, I don’t believe it matters who your 14th Great-Grandfather is, because we are all children of God. Yes, it is cool to stake the claim of certain people in your family tree, yet there is someone that has a larger claim on us. God has staked a claim on us in our baptisms, and it is in the waters we are marked. We are all siblings in the kingdom, and it is there where our brokenness is made whole.
In the saints, we get glimpses of the blessing Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes. We can name various leaders throughout the centuries, from Martin Luther to John Lewis, who spoke and stood up for their beliefs, empowered by their faith. We need these leaders who caused “Good Trouble.” It is a Good Trouble that is upside down from the practices of a society so devoted to itself. Martin Luther raised Good Trouble when he addressed the corruption in the church and raised concerns over the dissemination of the Word of God. Thus, translating the Bible into German so the everyday person had the opportunity to read it and live God’s Word.
It is Good Trouble we find ourselves in when we begin following and believing in the Beatitudes of Jesus. It is Good Trouble that speaks up for those who are oppressed and are not being heard themselves. It is Good Trouble that pulls us up and out of our own brokenness to be made whole in the love found in Jesus Christ.
So, what would it mean if we started to bless people as Jesus blesses us this morning as we hear his word? These blessings are not conditions Jesus is setting up for the future. They are blessings in the very moment. The very moment the words roll off Jesus’ tongue for the disciples circled around him and the crowd gathered on the hillside to hear his words of hope in midst of the desperation of an empire that has held them in check for far too long. They are blessings for us today. Causing Good Trouble means walking with our neighbors amid their hunger and thirst. Causing Good Trouble means speaking up for those oppressed and persecuted. Causing Good Trouble means attempting to make the broken whole.
Who likes to admit that they are broken and in need of help? Perhaps it is even the system that is broken and needs to be repaired or even replaced. Martin Luther sought to repair what he witnessed as broken and here we are today worshiping in churches stemming from the Reformation. John Lewis with the other Civil Rights Leaders knew that the system needed to be fixed if they expected the voices of Black Americans to be heard.
And both Martin Luther and John Lewis were surrounded by the Saints to ensure them that they were not in their struggles alone. With the help of the Saints, they would cause Good Trouble. A Good Trouble which allowed them to stand firm in their faith for what they believed in. Jesus for sure caused a lot of Good Trouble walking through the Palestinian countryside. We are called to follow Jesus in the way of the cross, going as far as enduring our own suffering. We do so as we are gathered with all the saints. As we do so, where are we willing to cause Good Trouble?