The Priory Church, Bolton Abbey

Revd Jonathan Cain: A Saintly Perspective

05 November 2017
All Saints Sunday
Revd Jonathan Cain
1 John 3: 1-3, Matthew 5: 1-12

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and he taught them …”

This is the context for a piece of Jesus’ teaching, which one author has described as: probably the most important, subversive and revolutionary text in the Bible, the Beatitudes.

Imagine for a moment the scene. Jesus travelled throughout Galilee, and as he moved around teaching and preaching and healing the sick he gathered quite a following.  Imagine Jesus, seeking some time alone with the disciples, and so they climb the mountain. From an elevated position, Jesus looks out on the crowd, and notices certain individuals or groups …

First there is a group who are prostrated in prayer. Jesus points them out to his disciples. “Look,” he says, “Here are people who know they can’t do anything in their own strength.  They know that their life is a gift.  They know they have need of God, and their attitude is one of praise and thanksgiving.  Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

Next there is a group wailing a lament. Jesus points them out to his disciples.  “Look,” he says, “Here are people crying out to God for the injustices and sorrows of the world.  They are tuned into the pain of their sisters and brothers.  Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says, “for they will be comforted.”

Jesus then turns to his disciples. “Do not seek glory for yourselves,” he says.  “Rather seek glory for your Father in heaven, treat others with gentleness and humility.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Jesus looks back out to the crowd where is a group singing a protest song. They sing with passion about unjust divorce laws; women abandoned by their husbands, shamed and destitute in a patriarchal society.  “Look how they fight for those who have no voice” he says.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Jesus again turns to his disciples. “Look carefully’, he says.  “Can you see those people feeding the hungry, and those giving water to the thirsty?  Can you see those people clothing the destitute, and the people over there giving shelter to the homeless?  Look closely,” Jesus goes on, “Can you see those people visiting the hospital, and those people visiting the prison?  Can you see people outside the city walls tending the graveyard, and burying the dead?”  Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, “For they will receive mercy.”

“Beware your motives,” Jesus says to his disciples, “Because there are some motives that are destructive. Beware pride, greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, anger, envy; practice self-control.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Jesus’ teaching continues. “Remember,” he says to his disciples, “It is written in the Scriptures…

“Come, O children, listen to me;
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“It is also written that …

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I love this image of Jesus on a mountain top looking down, seeing people, and speaking words of blessing. It is an image of God, seeing beyond the messiness, and the brokenness, and the pain of the world, and bringing light and love.  It reveals the character of God whose desire is to clean up, and bind up, and sooth, and so bless the creation that God adores.  If we put ourselves on that mountain top with the disciples, looking out with love at the pray-ers, and the mourners, and the humble, and the passionate, and the merciful, and the pure, and the peacemakers and the persecuted, then we start to see the world as God sees the world.  Jesus doesn’t teach the Beatitudes like laws or commandments; as a list of instructions.  Rather Jesus teaches the Beatitudes to widen our perspective.  They are an antidote to a narrow vision which might see blessing only in terms of prosperity.  When we take this important, subversive and revolutionary text seriously, we begin to be transformed.

The language used in the short extract we heard in the first reading this morning is wonderfully suggestive: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

We are beloved now. Each of us is loved now as a child of God. And, as Christian disciples, we are invited to go on a journey, to be transformed, to become more like Jesus.

Today we are marking the Feast of All Saints. It is a day when we give thanks for all those who have gone before us; it is also a day when we give thanks for God’s invitation to us all to join in fellowship with saints living and departed; an invitation for us to be saintly. This is an invitation for us to widen our perspective, for us to see the world through God’s eyes, to acknowledge God’s blessing of us, and in turn be a blessing to others.

Amen.