Lives Which Show That God Is In Charge!

We celebrate today, of course, All Saints’ Sunday, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day. And we have heard powerful readings from the Bible already! “Let us now sing the praises of (the) famous…” says the author of Ecclesiasticus. (Chapter 44) And then we heard about the vision of St. John the Divine (Revelation 7) in which he sees, “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” Truly, a vision of All the Saints!

But then we come to the Gospel of St. Matthew and his reporting of the famous “Beatitudes” from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Up until this point in his Gospel, Matthew has only given us a summary of Jesus’ teaching (In the 4th Chapter, the 17th verse, he simply says: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”). There have also been no miracles stories reported so far because, for Matthew, “words” take precedence over “works.” As the NT scholar Douglas Hare writes in his Commentary on Matthew, “Miracles do not certify teaching; it is the other way round” for St. Matthew. The teaching certifies the miracles!

So, the Sermon on the Mount is the longest, uninterrupted – and carefully structured — speech in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s not a random collection of individual sayings, but a unified discourse with a deliberate structure. Clearly, then, we are supposed to take this sermon seriously! And, I suppose, there have been few texts preached upon more often than the Beatitudes!

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is – as you know – the spiritual leader of our Anglican Communion. Long before he was appointed to this office, he was a scholar and a teacher. And he still takes refuge from his current “day job” of trying to hold together this fractious Anglican Communion of ours by lecturing all over the world and by writing some absolutely amazing books! His most recent one is entitled “Tokens of Trust” and it’s a very readable introduction to the Christian faith …a commentary, really, on the Nicene Creed.

And in Chapter Three of that book – “A Man for All Seasons” – Rowan says this about the Beatitudes: This “…isn’t so much a list of rules to follow; it just tells us what sort of lives show that God is in charge – lives that are characterized by dependence on God’s goodness, that show forgiveness, single-mindedness, longing for peace and for justice, and patience under attack.”

“People who live like this already belong in the new world: the kingdom is theirs. And, as this ought to make clear, this message is both a very sharply social and political one, and one that will never be captured by political and social reform alone…In terms of the historical world in which Jesus was speaking, all this was something of real and immediate relevance.  The Jews of Jesus’ day were acutely concerned about who was going to be a true member of God’s people…when God’s rule was fully established.”

“The different…groups all had rival solutions.  You could be assured of your belonging if you were obedient to the sacrificial laws and the demands of the priestly class; or if you obeyed the oral law in all its detail; or if you went off to the desert and lived a life of strict ritual purity in community.  What Jesus says cuts across all this…The revolutionary claim that emerges is that Jesus is proposing to redefine what it means to belong to God’s people.” (Tokens, page 59)

Well, dear friends, there are a lot of folks in the Church today who want to tell us what it means to be a “true member of God’s people.” Some think it depends upon obedience to certain laws and demands of ecclesiastical structures.  Some stress conformity to certain constitutions and canons. Others emphasize standards for moral and ethical behavior. All of those things have their place and their own importance – as Jesus would have been the first to acknowledge.

But he had a different definition of what it means to belong to God’s people, to be numbered among “all the saints.” For Jesus, you are blessed if you “know that God is in charge.”

You are among the blessed if you are “poor in spirit” – if you know that you are absolutely dependent on God’s goodness (because you have no goodness of your own).

You are among the blessed if you are “merciful” – and show forgiveness to others (because you know you need forgiveness).

You are among the blessed if you are “pure in heart” – single-minded in your desire to know God and God’s will for your life.

You are among the blessed if you are a “peacemaker” and if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness” – because peace and justice are God’s deepest desire for his people. And,

You are among the blessed if “people revile you and persecute you” because of your faith – because then you are showing the kind of “patience under attack” that Jesus himself showed all the way through his life and ministry to the very end!

So, no matter where you find yourself in the various social and political debates in the Church and in the world today, don’t let anybody except Jesus define you in or out of what it means to be a true member of God’s people. You are a baptized member of the Communion of Saints. You are among those called to show the world “that God is in charge!”  Let us pray:

“Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:  Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.” Amen.  







One Response to “Lives Which Show That God Is In Charge!”

  1. Jamie Says:

    Thanks for the mention of Tokens of Trust bishop! I picked it up at the cathedral bookstore in Cleveland a few weeks ago, and am working my way through it. I have found it hugely helpful because it summarizes quite well pretty much where I am theologically, and the Archbishop manages to say it all far more eloquently than I ever could.

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