Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Psalm 34:8 tells us, “taste and see that the LORD is good,” a fitting request on this All Saints Day Sunday. This day each year encourages the faith community to honor and remember the special people in our lives who have passed, those who influenced and loved us into the kind of people we are today. There are so many lessons in life that have to be experienced to learn them. The saints we honor and remember today shared their lives and their experiences with all of us. In their stories and examples, we learned lessons that we may have never understood otherwise. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announced to his audience and to us what living in the kingdom of God looks like. He starts off with the Beatitudes, these blessings that show how God’s grace will unfold in the kingdom. On the surface, they make little sense, like “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” In the Common English Bible, this promise makes even less sense, “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad” (Matthew 5:4 CEB). The grieving will be made glad, how does that make sense? If you went to someone who just lost a loved one and told them to just start being happy, they would look at you like you were an absolute jerk! In some deeper sense, we know these are true, but it’s hard to logic our way there. Instead, like many of those important lessons in life, we must “Taste and see how good the Lord is” (Psalm 34:8 CEB). Our saints, our special people, are special because they often embodied the Beatitudes, and so through their lives, they teach us the deep truths of grace and the kingdom.
Who are the saints that surround you today? Recall someone in your life who changed you. Who made you better by challenging, influencing, and inspiring you? Where would you be without them? These saints are also called “the great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1, and in Revelation 7:9, we are told that they make up “a great multitude that no one could count.” They have witnessed God’s gospel to you, not simply through quoting scripture or telling you about Jesus. Rather, they often showed you God, reflecting Christ into your lives through how they acted and lived. Think of the ones who taught you to love and to love well. Think of the models of patience you call to mind when someone frustrates you. Think of the ones who inspired you with how much joy they seemed to squeeze out of a life that others would have said was filled with hardships and pain.
Do you have them in mind, these saints of yours? Now tell me, were they perfect people? Were their lives free from trouble and pain? Not at all, and yet, “they found a way to love perfectly and to make sense of an impossible world.” Somehow the hopeless found hope, the grieving were made glad, the humble and meek gained more than power and pride, and those longing will find their fill of relationship with God. Somehow the merciful found mercy in a merciless world, and those whose hearts were broken by hurt and wrong as well as those who sought peace in a war-torn world are God’s true children. Finally, the oppressed will be the true inheritors of the whole kingdom of God. None of these are how the world works, and yet… Despite the world's logic, these are the truths found in the Beatitudes.
Where logic fails, grace fills the gaps and makes these impossible realities possible. Many have looked at the beatitudes “as requirements for entrance into the kingdom,” instead, we should see these beatitudes “as effective announcements of God’s grace that comes with the kingdom.” You see the Beatitudes combine the hard things in life like grief and hopelessness with the good things of gladness and hope! The way these hard things are transformed is that they are put into the bigger picture and the greater values of God. These saints of ours are the ones who through the care and compassion of our God have seen the harsh realities of this world in the light of God’s eternity. These worst things are not the last word, but it is easy to say this and harder to prove it. Thank God for our saints then! Their stories and their witness prove the impossible. They have shown us the effects of grace in the human story, our story.
The folks who you have in mind found a way to live out the kingdom of God. They were able to see beyond today, beyond the present struggle to see with God’s eyes and God’s way. I cannot explain it effectively because my words will not have the same impact as those stories we carry. I can remember the people who taught me love and mercy though. I can remember the ones who inspired me to try and see the best in others despite my own inclinations. I remember the ones who showed me that it was possible to live and love after an impossible loss. They are my saints. No one else may ever know their names or carry their stories, but I do, and I thank God for their witness in my life, especially on this day. I light a candle for them, and I light a candle for your saints too.
It almost goes without saying, but I think it’s important to add, we all have stories too. We all have found, with the help of God’s continual care, ways through the impossible logic of this world to the grace of God’s kingdom, heaven’s way. Not only through the stories of our saints but the experiences of our lives. That’s the thing, after all, you too are witnesses. We are passing on our stories to the next generation. What kind of witness are we leaving behind?
Will the people of the next generation see how we live out the truth of the Beatitudes? Will they see the blessed presence of God in our lives? After all, that’s what beatitude means, supreme blessedness, and so when we move from the hard thing to the good thing, the movement from one to the other is the sign of God’s unmerited favor in our lives. God promises to be with us in the hard things and so help us move from bad to good, from brokenness to wholeness. How will we show them the movement of God in our lives? It’s not in simply saying, “God did this for me,” but it’s in those times and places when those watching our story see the impossible. Where and when they expect to see grief consume us, we instead live with hope and gladness, even while tinged with sadness. They expect us to throw up our hands in frustration at the impossibleness of ending conflict, and instead, they see us pursuing peace. They see us striving for hope when hopelessness is called for. They see us staying kind and gentle when the world demands our jadedness and cynicism. They see us remaining loving and compassionate when the world wants us to be pensive and wary. In other words, they see the impossible of the reality of the kingdom described in the Beatitudes breaking through in our lives! I pray let us leave that kind of witness, that kind of story, that kind of gospel behind for the next generation to see and hear and taste that the LORD is good. Amen.
 Dottie Escobedo-Frank, “November 1, 2023 - All Saints Day” in The Abingdon Preaching Annual: 2023, ed. Charley Reeb (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2022), 123-124.
 Roger L. Hahn, “Matthew” in Wesley One Volume Commentary, eds. Kenneth J. Collins and Robert W. Wall (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2020), 562-587.
Pastor Paul Grossman