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All Saints A Sermon 2017
Revelation 7:9-17;
Matthew 13: 1-12
November 6, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Back in the early 1980s I was a fan of the police drama, “Hill Street Blues.” It was cutting edge at the time, and gained a lot of critical and viewer acclaim. During the first couple of seasons, each day on, “The Hill,” would begin with roll call and a briefing for the day. At the end of the briefing, Sgt. Phil Esterhaus would be just about to dismiss the officers, then he would say, “Hey, hey, hey … let’s be careful out there.” It became a popular catch-phrase in American culture as people used it all the time.
Unfortunately, after season 3, Michael Conrad, the actor who played Esterhaus, died unexpectedly. The writers had to quickly write him out of the show as well, and replace him with another character. That character ended up being Sgt. Stan Jablonski – a tough-nosed veteran cop played by Robert Prosky. Wanting to give the dismissal his own character’s touch, Jablonski had his own phrase, very different from Esterhaus’. He said, “Let’s do it to them, before they do it to us!” A much harsher, more proactive approach to policing the streets, this dismissal certainly caught the attention of the officers who knew that when they left the precinct building, they faced life-threatening dangers on every street. Still, it caused concern on the parts of many people who watched the show.

Whenever we read the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5, especially the passage we call, The Beatitudes, I wonder if we really can take them seriously. We live in a society where the meek don’t get anything, let alone inherit the earth; where the merciful are often taken advantage of and walked over; where the peacemakers are laughed at for not being realistic about our enemies in the world. Let’s be honest, most of us buy into the encouragement that we should do it to someone else before they do it to us, rather than to be careful out there.
We understand that sentiment, don’t we? We know how dangerous it can be for citizens who are not in the military or police force. After the attacks this week in New York City and Thornton, Colorado, I heard someone ask the question, “Have you ever not gone to an event because you thought it would be too dangerous?” With the New York City Marathon happening today, and with the OSU Marching Band being chosen to march in the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, would you choose NOT to go to those events based on a fear that something might happen on a large scale to put your life in danger?

The encouragement I hear Jesus giving us in the Beatitudes is to live in the “not yet” of God’s Kingdom. What do I mean by that? I have often talked about how God’s Kingdom is already among us, but not yet in its fullest measure; and how we are all saints, but not yet without being sinners at the same time. Being blessed in the midst of the threats of sinfulness and evil in the world means that we trust in God to give us joy and peace in life, even though we live in the reality of grief and warfare in the society around us. We do this because we trust that God’s presence defeats the sinfulness of the world – if not now, then one day – and we live out of that trust in all that we do. Being blessed also carries with it the connotation of being happy or content, as if we are confident of our God’s promised victory even when it looks like certain defeat.

The churches who received the writings of John’s vision that we heard in our first reading from Revelation 7 are full of people who are being actively persecuted for their faith – physically hurt, watching family members and friends killed because they professed allegiance to Jesus Christ as Messiah above all else, including the Roman Emperor. Naturally they have many questions: Where are my family members who have been killed? Where are the friends that I have seen crucified? What will happen to me? Are those who die before Jesus returns lost? What is keeping me from simply throwing in the towel, so to speak, and recanting my faith in Jesus to avoid this persecution? John’s heavenly vision is of a huge multitude in white robes gathered around a thrown, worshiping and singing praises as they wash their robes clean in the blood of the lamb who was slain for their eternal salvation. This vision is a confession of faith in the one who sacrificed his very life so that all may gather around his throne. Even though it looks like power belongs to those who wield military might, real power belongs to the lamb who was slain. It is a confession of faith that we can trust the one who looks much different than the powerful of the world.

That is the same message of the beatitudes. Those who live by faith in God can be content and happy with their meekness and peace-making even though our world is filled with greed and violence; even though it might mean sacrificing material gain in this life. Surely those things threaten us every day, but Jesus assures us that the Kingdom to come will run with very different rules. That is promised to all of us; and in the meantime, we can try to live out of the rules that will run that kingdom while we await its fulfillment. As we celebrate the lives of the four members of our church family who died this year, we can remember how they not only gather around the throne of the lamb now and how our tears are wiped away by the lamb; we can also remember how they lived this life with confidence, blessedness and contentment, not letting the threats of the world get in the way of them loving and serving their God in everything they did. They demonstrated God’s welcoming hospitality to so many people as they lived out their vocations as spouses, parents and grandparents; they worshiped and served God alongside of me and so many of you; they taught and attended Sunday school and Bible study, cooked and served meals; they were involved in the schools and community organizations that seek to improve life. One might say that they weren’t just careful in life … they went out and got things going … doing it to sin, death and the devil before those things could do it to them! Thanks be to God for them and for all who we have loved and lost. And thanks be to God for all of you, who still seek to love with the love of Jesus even though that’s not the safest, most popular or affluent thing to do.
When John dismisses you today, he will do so with these words: “Led on by the saints before us, go in peace to serve the Lord.” That is not a safe directive – he is not just telling you to be careful out there! This is a directive of the saints: that, like those who have already come through the great ordeal and are gathering around the throne of the lamb, we are to live with the love of Christ as expressed in the beatitudes before the world can do anything to suppress us. Yes, saints of God – we are here to hear God’s word, experience Jesus’ presence in the sacrament, pray and sing God’s praises. After this hour is done, we are going to be dismissed out those doors. When we are, let’s do it to them before they do it to us! In the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.