Sermon for All Saints’ Day, Sunday, November 7th, 2021
The Lessons: Ecclesiasticus 44:1-14; Psalm 149; Revelation 7:9-17; Luke 6:20-26
The Text: Luke 6:20-23
There was once a man named Samuel Scull who settled on a farm in the Arizona desert with his wife and children.
One night a fierce desert storm struck with rain, hail, and high wind. At daybreak, feeling sick and fearing what he might find, Samuel went to survey their loss.
The hail had beaten the garden and truck patch into the ground; the house was partially unroofed; the henhouse had blown away, and dead chickens were scattered about. Destruction and devastation were everywhere. While standing dazed, evaluating the mess and wondering about the future, he heard a stirring in the lumber pile that was the remains of the henhouse. A rooster was climbing up through the debris, and he didn’t stop climbing until he had mounted the highest board in the pile. That old rooster was dripping wet, and most of his feathers were blown away. But as the sun came over the eastern horizon, he flapped his bony wings and proudly crowed.
That wet, bare rooster could still crow when he saw the morning sun. Like that rooster, we must still sing God’s praises, even when our world may be falling apart, or life may be treating us badly. If we trust in God’s goodness, we shall pick ourselves out of the rubble and sing the Lord’s praise.
The beatitudes of our Lord as recorded by St. Luke focus on the blessings of the Lord’s disciples even when they are facing various trials, blessings which are divine reversals lifting the saints out of the rubble of their troubles.
Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
(Luke 6:20, KJV)
It is not to all the poor people in the world that the Lord addresses these words, but to his disciples, his followers. There is no “in spirit” phrase attached to “poor” here, as there is in Matthew 5:3. However, the same Greek word “ptochoi” is used as in Matthew 5:3. The word means not only “poor,” but “like a beggar,” dependent on others for support, but, in the Hebrew tradition, dependent on God for support. Did the Lord deliberately mean to exclude the rich from His kingdom? No, but elsewhere in the Gospel, he teaches that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24-27) and to the rich young ruler who has kept the Commandments the Lord gives the instruction to sell all he has and distribute to the poor, to have treasure in heaven, and then he can be a disciple (Luke 18:22). Of course, this idea ran counter to the Pharisees’ belief that material prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, and so they despised the idea that poverty could be a blessing. Yet our Lord’s words here are not embracing poverty for its own sake, and they do not amount to the idea that poverty is some sort of idol to be worshipped. The disciples at whom he was looking had given up their professions or trades to follow Jesus. They were dependent on God for their support, and because they were, the kingdom of God was theirs, as it belongs to all who have become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus they had become poor for the sake of the kingdom of God. The poverty that characterizes the life of a saint is itself characterized by dependence on God, trust in Him, wholehearted love for him, generosity to the needy, and freedom from anxiety about anything (Luke 11:22-33).
In the next beatitude, Jesus proclaims that his disciples, who are now hungry, will be satisfied (Luke 20:21a). This was literally true at the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand, before which Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Matthew 15:32b, KJV). The multitude were so spiritually hungry for every word of the Lord’s teaching, that they went three days without food while they listened to his teaching. Then, from seven loaves and a few fishes, Jesus feeds a multitude of more than four thousand people. In this beatitude, it is not hunger itself which is exalted as something to be embraced in itself, but it is depicted as one of those states of life that many saints encounter in life, since it is connected with poverty. In describing the heroes of the faith, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes:
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
(Hebrews 11:37b-38, KJV)
Those wandering about in deserts and on mountains and living in caves and dens of the earth are not likely to be rich and well-fed. The saints do not make food a priority, but rather the kingdom of God. Even one of our local saints, Tony Brown, once asked someone, “You are not one of those people who are always thinking about food, are you?” Indeed we are not meant to be thinking about food all the time, but for those who often face hunger on account of their circumstances, it is hard not to think about food often. Since God looks after the faithful, who trust in him, the Lord Jesus commands his disciples:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
(Luke 12;22b-23, KJV)
The third beatitude in our Gospel Lesson pronounces a blessing on the disciples, who weep now, for they shall laugh (Luke 6;21b). Following the order of events as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, we see that the Lord Jesus, having selected his Apostles after a night of prayer, has come down the mountain and is standing on a plain, healing all who are sick, and then pronouncing these beatitudes. Probably, those who had been chosen to be Apostles knew that from this point on, they had to follow Jesus full-time, and take leave of their families and all that was precious to them. This might have caused them considerable sadness. The Greek word for “weep” may express sorrow, anxiety, or heaviness of feeling. An example of this sadness is the division in a family that may occur when one or two members of the family become Christians, and the others refuse to do so, causing sadness for the new disciples who long to see all their family come into God’s kingdom. Jesus warns of this division:
For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
(Luke 12:52-53, KJV)
Then there is also the temporary sadness that comes from having to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ daily (Luke 14:27; 9:23). But this temporary sadness gives way to joy in the Holy Spirit and to the laughter that God gives when we find out how wonderful it is to trust him with everything in our lives. There is also the sadness that comes when one turns away from sin and believes in the Lord. This godly sorrow gives way to joy in the Spirit as one proceeds to walk by faith in the righteousness of Christ, following the way of life that pleases God.
The fourth beatitude here proclaims the blessedness of the faithful when people hate them, exclude them from their company, reproach them and cast out their name as evil for the sake of the Son of man (Luke 6:22). Though it is hard to imagine jumping for joy in these circumstances, Christians must do it, because they have a great reward in heaven for suffering such rejection and persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake. For the prophets of the Old Testament were treated in just the same way by those who rejected the word of God.
POOR, HUNGRY, SAD, REJECTED AND PERSECUTED
If one were to write an advertisement for becoming a Christian, and to say, “As a Christian, you may find yourself poor, hungry, sad, rejected and persecuted,” who would want to sign up? Yet we value as exceptional saints many who were at some stage or other, poor, hungry, sad, rejected, or persecuted. But the lives of these saints showed us great virtues and the love and presence of God that far outweigh all these circumstances and feelings!
How does your life reflect the blessedness of the saints as proclaimed by the Lord in these beatitudes?
pp. 411-412, Craig Brian Larson & Leadership Journal: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, teachers and Writers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002, Second Printing, 2008.