For the next two weeks or so, world leaders are gathering in Glasgow for an International Conference on Climate Change. The situation humanity faces is a desperate one, and unless every nation tries to take better care of the world in which we live, the life for succeeding generations will be very bleak indeed. Thankfully it is not to late to do something, and avert a crisis. There are things which we can and should do to take care of the world around us. The world is God’s creation, and not ours, we have stewardship of it, and stewards are called to take care of what is entrusted to them, and not to squander or misuse their precious charge.
The Gospel reading this morning comes from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching at the start of His public ministry known as the Beatitudes. In a manner reminiscent of Moses giving the Law to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, Jesus goes up a mountain and teaches the assembled crowds. Just as Moses had taught God’s people how to live, so now Jesus announces the reality of the Kingdom of God, a radical vision, which turns the values of the world upside down. He begins:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3)
This seems a strange way to begin. ‘Poor in spirit’ is not a term we are used to using, but it means the exact opposite of pride. It places humility as key to living a Christian life: knowing who we are, and our need for God. Only if we rely upon God, and not ourselves, and ask Him to work through us can we truly live out the Christian life. Christianity is a religion for the humble, not the proud. Humility recognises that we are in a mess, and that we cannot sort things out ourselves: we need help, from other people, and most of all from God.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)
The world around us sells us dreams of happiness; but sadness and loss are an inescapable part of human life. We mourn those we love, those whom we see no longer in this life. Their passing does not stop us missing them and wanting to hold them, and talk to them. Our parting, while temporary, is still very painful. Thankfully the Kingdom of God, which Christ comes to bring, is a place of healing and comfort with the promise of eternal life. God heals our wounds and longs for us to enjoy eternity in His presence. The Kingdom is a place where this healing is a reality, where through love and forgiveness enemies are reconciled, and become friends.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)
This verse is particularly striking. The world around us tends to see things in terms of power, economic, and political. The rich and powerful are in charge. But God has other ideas: the meek will inherit the earth. To be meek is to be gentle, quiet, and unassuming. In the media it often feels as though those who talk the loudest are most often heard. God’s plan is different. Gentle people are not weak: they know how to use their strength, and how not to use it. As Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Mt 11:29). This is how God wants us to live as human beings. Jesus Christ is the example of gentleness we must follow. Once again, God’s vision of the future turns our human expectations upside down. If we live like this, then things can, and will, change for the better.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6)
Should we be devoted to God? Absolutely! Should we pray that God’s will is done on earth as it is in Heaven? Of course! Jesus taught us to pray this way. Our faith should influence how we live our lives, so that we work together for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Clearly God wants to see our world transformed and has invited us to help in the process; and doing so gives us fulfilment, the satisfaction of seeing the reality of the Kingdom.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt 5:7)
We see what God’s mercy looks like in Christ’s death for us on the Cross. In following Christ’s example, we ask for forgiveness for our own sins, and forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness can transform us and the world around us, and it is how the healing and reconciliation of God’s Kingdom functions in practice.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8)
To be pure in heart is to want what God wants: to align our will with the will of God. It is to be saintly, and thus have the promise of Heaven, which is less of a place or a time, and much more a relationship. To see God is know Him, and to know His love for us. This is what Christ comes to restore to humanity, and it is our hope.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)
First and foremost, we know that Christ is the Son of God because He made ‘peace by the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:20). We too are called to follow Christ’s example and take up our Cross, and work for peace. Peace in our own hearts and lives, in our families and communities and in our world.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Mt 5:10-11)
Following Jesus will not make us popular, often quite the opposite. If, however, we want to see God’s Kingdom as a reality in this life and the next, then we must be prepared to be shunned, or even ridiculed by others. To follow Christ is to take up the Cross, and to expect persecution, and false accusation. But we are not alone in this, Christ has gone before us, showing us that the story does not end with death on a Cross, but the glory of the Resurrection and Eternal life.
If we want to become saints, then we have to be like Christ, and share in His suffering and death. We have to be prepared to be rejected by the world, and dismissed as irrelevant. We may not face imprisonment, torture and death in this country, but many Christians around the world do. However, we may be scorned, ignored, or patronised. What do we do in such circumstances? We are called to be loving, generous, and forgiving, because that is what Jesus has shown us. We can be different to the world around us because we belong to a new community, the community of faith, built on our relationship with Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from itself. He came that we might have life and have it to the full, and that is what the Beatitudes mean. By living the life of God’s Kingdom here and now, we can live the life of Heaven here on earth. This is what God wants us to do, and it is what Jesus showed us how to do it.
So may we, on this feast of All Saints, be filled with courage, and be ready to tune our lives to God’s will and live as good stewards of God’s world. Let us live the life of the Kingdom together, and encourage others so that all may join the choirs of Heaven to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.