Homily All Age Worship. All Saints Day, November 5th 2017.
Main passage – Matthew 5:1-12.
Also Rev 7:v9-end.
On this day. we celebrate All Saints Day in the global church calendar.
We are All Saints a name we chose because it reflects the people we are and want to be. The NT in different places calls Christians – saints – it is one of our identities. We are not sinners, we are saints who sin is the vision of the NT. Many denominations remember great heroes and heroines of the faith, examples for us to be inspired by or to follow. Yet the NT declares we are all saints.
How are we all saints – as Revelation 7 reminds us – we become saints not by what we do, but by who we know. We know Salvation belongs to our God, that salvation is through the blood of the Lamb, that Jesus has become our great shepherd and Lord of our lives. We are all saints through Christ.
And what that means, is that we are ALL SAINTS, regardless of age, gender, background, education, personality, hobbies, or even nationality – where every people, tribe, nation, language will worship God and the Lamb. We are all saints.
Yet when we hear of Christians called saints, we find the teaching – this is your identity, do you live as a saint, as a holy one? Be who you are. And our Beatitudes – at the start of the Sermon on the Mount recorded in our gospel – invites us, in fact Jesus commands us, how to live as saints, as people in his kingdom.
Christian writer, Philip Yancey, in this book, ‘the Jesus I never knew’, recalls an evening project he was working on. It was based upon using clips from various films about Jesus life: some clips would be shown, and the relevant bible text read out. And the discussion would include the different interpretations of that bible text, by the film makers, or why or what had the omitted or chose to include.
One evening he was preparing for, the Gulf War (Aug 1990-Feb 1991), had just come to a close. As he was preparing his video clips, as he swopped videos his television flicked back to the preset channel. At that moment there was an end of war news conference with General Norman Schwarzkopf. He was discussing the strength of the coalition forces – aircraft, weapons etc. And the video clips, Yancey was working on, were from the Sermon on the Mount and particularly the Beatitudes, our Gospel today.
He shares how he was struck by the contrast – the general, describing how the victory was won: blessed are you who have tomahawk missiles, certain types of tanks and aircraft. And then he heard Jesus saying, on film, Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek etc. These weapons had been valuable in liberating Kuwait, however Yancey noticed the contrast – the world placing value upon things that seemed to be the opposite of what Jesus words were placing value upon.
The values of the kingdom, the attitudes of the kingdom do seem to be contrary to what this world values. Or at least what the media and social messages tell us, the values of our world are. It does seem to suggest an upside down kingdom – not the way we would expect it to be. But through these attitudes and living them out, this is a way how Jesus wants his people to shape their work places, their streets, their cities, how they can be light and salt, a divine conspiracy as one writer (Dallas Willard) has put it, to change our world. Now each of these are worth meditating upon – where do our attitudes need to change, where do we need to put these attitudes into action.
But time is short. So I will focus just on one: ‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall we shown mercy.’ And in fact, we will focus upon the first half of that saying.
In the Old Testament (OT), the Hebrew word translated for mercy, can be translated in a number of other ways, thus suggesting it has a depth of meaning than cannot be summarised in one word. It can also be translated as ‘kindness’ ‘loving kindness’ ‘unfailing love’ ‘tenderness’ ‘faithfulness’. The word appears about 250 times in the OT and is most frequently used to describe actions by God. Love is fundamental to the meaning of mercy. So as we heard last week, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, he says:
Love the Lord your God, this is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:v34-40).
Therefore mercy is one way we act towards others.
How can we distinguish mercy and grace? Greek word Eleos is mercy. The Greek word for Grace is charis is grace. We can say, as theologian DA Carson suggests helpfully –
‘grace is a loving response when love is undeserved. Mercy, is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one, to whom the love is to be shown.’ (Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p.27)
Jesus does not share the people he has in mind. Does he have in mind those who experience the sufferings and troubles, as shown in the Good Samaritan? Jesus uses it as an example of loving neighbour and his end question – ‘which was a neighbour?’ The expert in law replies: ‘the one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told the expert – ‘go and do likewise.’ Mercy is about being a Good Samaritan, loving your neighbour.
Yet mercy is also a loving response to misery and need. And this was Jesus ministry – didn’t he show mercy to many? The story of Blind Bartimaeus sums it up – ‘Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me’ he cries out. And healing comes and he can see. Mercy is about meeting need through practical action, and through the power of the Spirit.
Yet mercy is also on those who hurt us or do wrong against us, where our sense of justice calls out for punishment, yet to show mercy points to forgiveness.
Three stories to finish which illustrate mercy. Thank you for Bishop David Pytches for these stories in his book ‘Upside Down: Living the Beatitudes in the 21st Century’, (pp173-223).
There was a young man, who had committed a crime in Napoleons army which deserved death. He was to be killed by firing squad. The young man’s mother went to Napoleon and pleaded for mercy. Napoleon replied: ‘Woman, your son does not deserve mercy.’ I know, ‘replied the woman’ if he deserved it, it would not be mercy.
Mercy shown to the undeserving.
A family in Spain became broken. The son left home. The father went on a journey through the regions to find him, searching for months. He had no success. He was desperate. He put an advert in the local paper. ‘Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.’ On the day the paper went on sale, some 800 young men called Paco, showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
Many people are desperate for mercy… more than perhaps we know or can imagine.
In 1988, an airliner was blown up as it flew over Lockerbie in Scotland. Revd John Mosey and his wife Lisa lost their daughter. They said they forgave the people who killed their daughter and the other passengers, even though they did not know who the bombers were. Journalists kept asking why he could do that. John replied: ‘I am a Christian, and that means every wrong I have ever done has been forgiven by God. If he can forgive all the wrongs that I have ever done, then I must forgive others.’ As someone said: “Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of his kingdom must show mercy too.” (Stott, Sermon on the Mount, p 47).
Mercy is an attitude and one we put into practice.
The prophet Micah declares to the followers of God in Judah – And what does the Lord require of you?
‘To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’
Jesus said to his disciples on that hill, when describing the kingdom lifestyle, the way of the saint:
Blessed are the merciful for they shall we shown mercy.
Revd Grant Crowe