He must be A Saint
When we see a person persevering in a difficult situation, we say, "He must be a saint." When we see a person being patient with an obnoxious person we say, "She has the patience of a saint." When we see a person being touted for his good behavior, we will modify that view by saying, "He's no saint." We all know what a saint is. We don't feel we have to define the term when we use it, and our definition of saint is in line with the Gospel reading. This Matthew 5 passage, the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, has been the one historically read for the festival of All Saints because it is thought to describe the ideal qualities of a saint.
Wouldn't you agree that if a person met the criteria of Matthew 5 he or she must be a saint? If a person is poor in spirit as opposed to being proud, he must be saint. If a person mourns in this vale of tears rather than laughs it off, she must be a saint. If a person is meek, he must be a saint. If a person hungers and thirst after God's righteousness rather than the world's fame she must be a saint. If a person is pure in heart, he must be a saint. If a person is a peacemaker, she must be a saint. If a person is persecuted because of Christ, he must be a saint.
So does this describe you? Be honest now. Do you think you are a saint based on these criteria? Isn't that funny? We all use the term "saint" freely to refer to this or that person, yet we would hesitate to use if of ourselves, wouldn't we? We would sooner admit to being poor in pocket than in spirit. We would hardly describe ourselves as mourning now. And as for meek and pure' in heart, get real. We hunger and thirst not for righteousness but for food and drink. Merciful and peacemaking are not my strong suits; how about you? Well then to us doesn't belong the kingdom of heaven, does it?
Now this next part will hurt, but let me ask you? Does the Matthew 5 standard fit any of your loved ones who have died? Nostalgia and the requirement of good manners not to speak ill of the dead go a long way to casting a halo about our dead, but if we're honest, not many, if any of our dead meet the Matthew 5 standard for the kingdom of heaven, for being comforted, for inheriting the earth, for being filled, shown mercy, seeing God, or being called sons or daughters of God. Doesn't that traditional Irish toast describe how we feel about our dead, "May you be in heaven half an hour, before the devil knows you're dead"? Our loved ones in heaven got there by sneaking in not by meeting the Matthew 5 criteria of sainthood.
Okay, so if we don't pass and even our loved one's don't, who does? How about the real saints? You know All Saints is a celebration not so much of our dead in Christ, but those belonging to the Church. All Saints is for the people it feels natural to put the title saint' before: St. James, St. John, St. Paul, St. Peter. Did even these people meet the standard of blessedness Jesus sets forth in Matthew? When Saints James and John asked for the preferred spots in Jesus' kingdom, they were more proud in spirit than poor. When these same two saints wished to call fire down from heaven to smoke some Samaritan villages, they sure weren't peacemakers, meek, or merciful. St. Peter refused to be persecuted for Jesus' sake. St. Paul persecuted others for Jesus' sake. So just who is saintly enough to be in the kingdom of heaven?
Who does just about everyone today think is saintly enough? Mother Teresa. She devoted her life to working with the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta. Now there's a saint! Let me tell you a story. A long time abbot of a monastery lay dying. Being very troubled by his sins, the monks tried to comfort him by pointing him to his many works which were very much like Mother Theresa's: selfless, merciful, thankless. The monks said what man could gainsay his works, deny their righteousness, challenge their purity? The old abbot answered, "Yes, but the judgments of God are very different than that of men!" How right he was. Except your righteousness your holiness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you won't enter the kingdom of God. That's what Jesus promises right after these Beatitudes.
Whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? Only that of Jesus. There is a joke with Mother Theresa in it that can help you see this point. This guy says to his priest, "I'm afraid at the last judgment; I will be standing behind Mother Theresa, and I will hear God say to her, "You know, you could've done more." Isn't that the truth? Couldn't God say that to everyone: our loved ones, us, even the saints of old? The only person God couldn't say that to is Jesus. He did all things not just well but perfect. He was pure not just in deed, not just in words, but in thoughts? Did you catch that stir in the Catholic community when Mother Theresa's personal letters were published? They were bothered because in her private thoughts she had many doubts. Her words and deeds might have been pure by men's standard but not her thoughts.
Only Jesus meets the criteria of Matthew 5. He who disowned heaven to live our lives on earth was poor in spirit. The Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief did mourn. The One who didn't lift up His voice in the streets was meek. The One who gave up food and drink in the wilderness to gain us righteousness hungered and thirsted after it. The One who ate and drink with ghastly sinners that others shunned was merciful. The One who was in the lap of the Father was pure in heart. The One who made peace by the blood of His cross was a peacemaker. The One who was persecuted by God because we weren't righteous owns, wins, has the kingdom of heaven!
Only Jesus meets the absolute perfect standard Jesus Himself sets down for sainthood in Matthew 5. You don't; I don't; none of our loved ones do or have; not even the saints of old did. Only with Jesus can you see a halo round His head like the Renaissance masters painted Him. Only with Jesus can you hear angels singing in the background as the 1950s movie portrayed Him. Only Jesus is worthy of sainthood. Then who can be saved? Only Jesus. You see this work out in on Good Friday, don't you? He dies innocently on the cross as even His enemies declare. Because He is innocent, God the Father raises Him from the dead, and 40 days latter we see the innocent, holy, righteous Man Jesus go bodily into heaven. Hear all of heaven thunder: hallelujah, hallelujah, as the Man Jesus is welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.
Only Jesus can be saved; only Jesus is a saint and those in Jesus. Historically Matthew 5 was paired with an Epistle reading from Revelation 7: 2-12. Thankfully, our Introit preserves the most important part. Who is the multitude in heaven? The angel answers, "These are theywho have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." No ones robe could be white enough to get into heaven based on their poverty of spirit, their mourning, meekness, mercifulness, or peacemaking. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse a robe, a life, a heart, a soul sufficiently to get it into heaven.
The Epistle we read also states who are in heaven. It excludes the impure, the shameful, and the deceitful, and it includes "only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." So it's not a matter of hungering and thirsting after righteousness enough; it's not matter of bearing up under persecution for Jesus sake; it's a matter of the Lamb's Book of Life. Let another passage in the Book of Revelation make this startlingly clear to you. In Revelation 20: 12 and 15 we find two books. One book records what people have done: their poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, etc or lack thereof. But that book doesn't determine if you get into heaven. Verse 15 tells you, "If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
So it's a matter of being in the Lamb's Book of Life, and just who is? All who are in Christ are. All who have been baptized by Him have put Him on says Paul in Galatians. Clothed in the holy flesh and blood of Jesus heaven's gates must open wide to them. Are you in the Book of Life? You are if your sins have been forgiven, sent away, absolved by Christ. And yours have been in the Absolution, although it was the lips of a man that moved, it was none other than Christ who was speaking for He promised that the one who hears me really hears Him. Is your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life? It is if you've been bodied and blooded to Him by Holy Communion. Again heaven's gates must fly open to welcome the Holy Lord Jesus. Having eaten and drank Him you are not only in Him, He is in you, and all heaven sees it.
We must always regard All Saint's Day as a day to celebrate Jesus. Yes, the "virtuous and godly" lives of the saints can be examples. The faith and life of our loved one's in Christ are fine things to remember and aspire to imitate, but at the end of the day the works done by the Red Crescent Society, the Muslim relief organization, are not less than those done by the Red Cross. By outward works a Muslim, a Mormon, a pagan might look more like a saint than many a Christian. But works don't make a saint, and works don't save one. Only Jesus does.
Did you notice that in the Introit? We ask the Lord to "deliver me in your righteousness," not in our own. All saints are saved by the righteous life and death of Jesus. Jesus saves them from sin, from Satan, and perhaps most of all He saves them from themselves. He did it for the saints of old; He did it for our loved ones in Christ, and He's doing it for us right now. Indeed we must be saints. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
All Saints' Sunday (20071104); Matthew 5: 1-12