Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
November 3, 2013
On this All Saints’ Day, I hereby make known this proclamation, which shall be called The Declaration of Dependence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all saints are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable blessings, or beatitudes, that among these are being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. To this end, and with all due diligence, we renounce as saints our independence and joyfully declare our dependence on our Lord and Savior.”
On All Saints’ Day we recognize that the saints who have gone before us model the pattern for who we are as saints today. In the same way they were utterly dependent upon their Lord, so we are in utter dependence on the same Lord.
The Beatitudes don’t tell us who we should be or what we should be like, they tell us who we are and what that means for us. They tell us who we are as saints, namely, sinners who are completely dependent on Christ and His salvation. What that means for us is that we are blessed. We are in exactly the state we ought to be in. Far from being blessed because things go so well for us, we are blessed because they don’t.
As sinners we declare our independence. As saints we rejoice in our dependence. As sinners we seek glory, as saints recognize our completely humble situation.
Perhaps the first thing to recognize about being saints is that we are indeed saints. Too often we think of the saints only as the ones who have gone before us and are now enjoying the fullness of being in the presence of the Lord, as described in the first reading today from Revelation. They are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They are indeed saints. They are the holy ones, the ones God has called Home to the eternal Promised Land.
But they were once like us, weren’t they? They once were in the situation we are in: living in a fallen world, with evil and sin and sorrow all around. They too were bound up in sinful flesh as we are. However, they weren’t first declared saints when they passed from this life to the next. They were declared saints the moment they were declared justified; holy, forgiven. This happened by the Gospel, just as it does with us. This is the way the Bible talks about the saints of God. For example, when Paul and the other apostles write to their brother and sister Christians, they write to the saints in Corinth or the saints in Colossae. Saints are living, breathing human beings, whether standing before the Throne of God or struggling down here in this vale of tears.
That’s the first thing. You and I are saints. When you are Baptized, you are washed clean and declared holy. Saints are holy ones. Saints are those whose sins are forgiven. That’s who were are. We need look no further than Baptism to know this.
The second thing, then, is to realize that what it means to be a saint is to be dependent. In our sinful nature we want to be independent. We want to go our own way. We want freedom in our desires. In the Epistle reading John says that we are the children of God. Children are dependent on their parents. And thank God for that! They need their parents. Their parents are given the vocation by God to raise them, care for them, and love them. It’s good that children are dependent. This is who we saints are, we are the children of God.
That you and I are dependent on God is a very good thing. From the world’s perspective, it doesn’t look like much. The Beatitudes express this. It is a glory, but it is hidden glory. It is found in the humility and dependence of the saints of God. It is a glory that is bestowed on you. Nothing is achieved by the saints of God as Jesus describes His blessings in the Beatitudes. Everything is bestowed, given outright. Even here the world might want to have nothing to do with this, as humility and weakness coupled with nothing to achieve seems a pathetic existence.
It is, though, a very fulfilling existence and one with great purpose. When you seek to remain according to your sinful nature and your independence, you are left to yourself. In being utterly dependent on God, you are blessed with all the eternal blessings of God. That’s why Jesus doesn’t give you a list of things you need to do or to be in order to be blessed. Rather, in giving the Beatitudes, He gives a description of who the people of God are, who the saints are, and what their lives look like. And then He simply pronounces the blessings, what they receive.
What does a blessed life look like? What does it consist of? You have the things you want? Your life goes well as you would like it to? The circumstances of your life are favorable, as opposed to trying or even brutal? If these things were the evidence of being the recipient of the blessings of God, Jesus’ Beatitudes would look very different. Blessed are the strong in sprit, blessed are the powerful, blessed are those who don’t face death and trying circumstances, etc.
His Beatitudes are sobering. The poor in sprit, the ones who mourn, the ones who are meek, those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is the painting of a description of the saints of God, of His very own children, that is very unappealing to the world. Then again, how God Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world itself is not all that appealing to the world. God, who is all-powerful, was stuck inside the womb of Mary for nine months. And talk about dependence, once He was born, He was crying like every other baby, being in need of nourishment and diaper changes and cuddling from mom and dad. And while there is certainly power and spectacle attached to His miracles—think of casting out demons, healing scores of people at a time, feeding thousands at a time, even raising people from the dead—ultimately, there is one thing we must point to to see who it is that God is.
There is one thing He shows us about Himself that reveals who He is as God and what He thinks of us and does for us. If there is any scandal or offense taken for who God is, it is in this one thing, that the God of the universe not only humbled Himself to become a man but to be utterly humbled in suffering. Not only to suffer Himself to be at the mercy of those who mocked and beat Him, but to suffer at the hands of the holy God in His righteous wrath upon sinners. If people won’t want to have anything to do with the humility and the weakness of the life of being a child of God, it is because of the humility and weakness of God Himself in suffering in the place of sinners.
In the final analysis this means that you and I and every person is not a saint but a sinner. A person created by God but steeped and born in sin. Under His wrath and utterly dependent on something outside of ourselves for deliverance from our sin. In the final analysis, there is only one thing we can look to for this help, and that is the bruised and blood-stained Lord hanging on the cross. The Beatitudes can never be rightly understood or lived out apart from Jesus hanging there on that cross delivering the purest blessing of all: reconciliation with the holy God.
Because of it the holy wrathful God is the gracious God toward us who calls us His very own children. Because of the righteous wrath poured out on His Son, the God who is forever set apart from us is the God who declares us holy, His very own saints. Washed white in the blood of the Lamb.
This is how you see that the life of being a saint is very good in being a life of dependence. This is how you see that your life has purpose. Where you do not look to strength. Or power. Not in being in command of your own destiny. Rather, dependent, completely under the grace of your God who has given you His Son.
But what about all those circumstances we endure? What about the being poor in sprit, the mourning, the being meek, and the hungering and thirsting? Why is life difficult as a saint? The answer is in the Beatitudes themselves. The blessings of God are not in given through favorable circumstances, but rather the humble, the weak, even the brutal circumstances. Once you see that your independence is your downfall, because it’s really dependence on your sinful flesh and therefore your destruction, then you will see that it is good to be humbled. That in persecution you can rejoice and be glad. The same thing happened to the saints who have gone before you. The same glory they now realize is the very glory that will be given to you.
There is one more thing, lest you think that it’s something you don’t have now and must wait. It is given to you even now, though you do not realize it in the fullness of its glory. We say it in the Communion liturgy. As we gather for this Feast of our Lord at this altar, we gather with the angels and the archangels, and all the company of heaven, and therefore we laud and magnify our Lord’s glorious name, evermore praising Him. That’s why the Communion rail is designed the way it is. Instead of completing the circuit, it is stopped by the wall, as a visual way of showing you that while you gather around this half, beyond that are the saints in glory, communing with you. Blessed are you in your dependence on your Lord that you have everything you need, even all the blessings of God. Amen.