Sermon November 3rd/4th – All Saints’ Day

What the World Doesn’t Know

1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints’ Day

November 3rd/4th, 2013

St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

 The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  To be “blessed” in this sense refers to a person who has received acceptance or approval from God.  “Poor in spirit” refers to the one who makes no claims on God for themselves.  People who stand before God as nothing more than spiritual beggars.  They make no demands.  They expect no rewards.  Jesus said God looks favorably on those who stand before him in humility, expecting nothing.  Jesus said God looks favorably on spiritual beggars, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus said that among those who make no claim of righteousness for themselves, God’s plan of salvation in Jesus is already at work.

The world says you are not a spiritual beggar.  The world says that by living in harmony with the laws of nature you can realize your fullest spiritual potential.  The world gives you 12 steps to unlock your hidden spiritual capabilities.  The world wants to help you find spiritual fulfillment by attempting to give you ten steps to a better you or to help you realize your best life now.  But do not listen to the world; the world does not understand you.  The reason it does not know you is that it did not know him first.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  Jesus said blessed are those whose knowledge of their own spiritual bankruptcy leads them to mourn their sinful condition.  God looks favorably on those who, recognizing their depraved state, do not drum up a series or excuses or self-justifications, but who rather mourn their sin.  Those who mourn their sin in this way will be comforted with the comfort of the Gospel, with the joy of forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting.

The world says not to mourn your sin.  Do not even consider it sin, says the world.  Nothing is truly right or wrong, they say, what matters is whether it is right for you.  The only thing we cannot tolerate is intolerance, they say.  Do not convict anyone in their sin, neither let anyone convict you in your sin.  You were born that way.  You can’t help the way you feel.  Nobody’s perfect.  You’ll get it right next time.  You gave it your best effort.  Do not mourn, says the world, for the good you do far outweighs the bad.  Don’t beat yourself up over sin, God wants you to be happy.  And any God who doesn’t want you to be happy isn’t a God worth having.  But do not listen to the world; the world does not understand you.  The reason it does not know you is because it did not know him first.

Jesus said blessed are the meek who humble themselves before God in confession, for they shall inherit the new heavens and the new earth of eternal bliss.  The world says you have nothing to be humble for, but that you must rely on your inner strength, that you must let your conscience be your guide.

Jesus said blessed are those whose desire is for the righteousness that God has given through his Son Jesus, for God will satisfy that desire.  The world says that your desire ought never be satisfied, that you should always be pursuing your desire for a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car.  The world tells you to desire whatever you feel like desiring, whatever kind of emotional or physical experience you find fulfilling.

Jesus said blessed are those who show mercy to others, for they will experience the joy of mercy.  The world says mercy is for the weak, that you must exact your revenge on those who have wronged you lest you be taken advantage of again and again.

Do not be surprised that the world does not understand you, for it did not understand him first.

It does not understand how the pure in heart, those who are totally committed to God without any ulterior motive, or the peacemakers, who find peace through forgiving and bearing the burdens of those who have wronged them, can be held in such high regard by Jesus.  The world does not understand relationships that are totally giving with no ulterior motive.  The relationships of the world are quid pro quo, you scratch my back – I’ll scratch yours relationships.  The world would not bear another’s burden without thoughts of how that burden might be leveraged into some personal benefit.

Do not be surprised that the world does not understand you, for it did not understand him first.

The world has some knowledge, and it is certainly proud of it.  It puffs out its chest when it tells you that it has discovered the different chemicals in your brain that trigger the emotions we call sadness or happiness or love or loneliness.  It tells you how the laws of physics make it possible to build bridges or fly airplanes.  It will tell you how different societies throughout recorded history have functioned, how they worshiped, what they considered moral or immoral.  It will tell you how the human mind develops and how the human body functions.  Yes, the world is proud of the knowledge it possesses.

The problem is it has no clue about the one thing truly worth knowing: the gift of forgiveness, the joy of the new creation, the life we now live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us – the world understands none of this.  Worse yet, it considers us confused, duped, or even brainwashed for believing in such nonsense.  The world has no idea of what we are as the baptized children of God, because it has no idea about who God really is.  To the world, Christianity is just another set or moral or ethical guidelines, guidelines that are essentially no different than he guidelines offered by any other religion, or guidelines that conscientious atheists can discover for themselves: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.

But moral and ethical guidelines are not the heart and soul of Christianity, for moral and ethical guidelines are not the heart and soul of our Lord.  A day like today, All Saints’ Day, makes that abundantly clear.  For today we celebrate that “we are God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” [1 John 3:2].  For all the world’s so-called knowledge, it cannot and does not understand death and resurrection.  It cannot understand death because it knows nothing different.  This world is filled with death.  Each fall the creation dies to winter only to be reborn in spring.  The food chain would not work without the death of the prey upon which the predators feed.  From the world’s perspective, death, while it may be sad, is nonetheless natural.  It is part of the great circle of life.  The world may be able to tell you medical details about the death of a body or a plant, but as long as it considers death natural, it cannot truly understand.

For death is not natural.  Our Lord did not create a world to die, to be filled with death.  He did not create a world where the families of those eleven names we read, along with the families of all the names read in all the Christians churches across the world today, along with all those mourning the loss of loved ones, our Lord did not create a world where this sadness and mourning are natural.  And so we wait in faith for the world to come.  We wait in hope of life in paradise, a new creation free from the shackles of death.

But the world does not understand this, for it does not understand Jesus.  When the world sees Jesus, it see a teacher who pontificated moral living and ethical behavior.  But we know different.  We know that the purpose of the incarnation was not to teach us morality, for God could have done that from heaven.  In fact, he already had at Mt. Sinai.  No, the purpose of the incarnation, the purpose of Jesus, is death and resurrection.  Jesus took on human flesh so that that flesh could be beaten and bruised and nailed to a cross in our place, only to be raised back to life three days later.

This is who Jesus is, and we know that when Jesus appears again, we will be made like him: living, risen from the dead unto life everlasting.  We rejoice that this gift has been revealed to those people whose names we read a few moments ago.  We rejoice that they are being ushered into the life for which we continue to wait.  The world does not understand, so it laughs at the idea of a life to come.  It tells us to live for this life only, to reject any notion of spiritual bankruptcy or mourning or humility, and instead to embrace this creation.  But this creation is going down like the Titanic.  It is not our final destination.

God has not yet revealed what we shall be, and until he does, our true identity remains hidden behind a veil of tears.  Life in this world is difficult.  Don’t ignore the fact that God himself calls this the great tribulation.  He has not yet revealed the perfect, incorruptible, unstained, unfading glorious robes that wait for us in heaven.  But they do wait for us.  Our robes are waiting for us along with the great multitude that no one could number, from every people, from every language, from every tribe and nation, those who have gone before us, who are standing before the throne of the Lamb with palm branches in their hands singing his praises, those who have come out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  Because of what Jesus has done for us, this is our destiny as his children, and everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as Jesus is pure.

So don’t lose heart when the world doesn’t understand you.  Don’t lose heart when others insult you as ignorant or persecute you as if you are foolishly and childishly naïve.  Do not lose heart when they utter all manner of false things about you simply because you belong to Jesus.  The world does not know you because it did not know him first. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven, where you will be made like he is.  Besides, that’s exactly how they persecuted the prophets who came before you.  And where are they now?  “They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and the Lamb of God who sits on the throne shelters them with his presence.  They do not hunger any more, neither do they thirst anymore; the sun does not scorch them, for the Lamb of God is their shepherd.  He guides them along streams of living water; he wipes away every tear from their eyes” [Revelation 7:15-17]. And so he will for you.

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