Joshua 3:7-17   Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37   1 Thessalonians 2:9-13   Matthew 23:1-12

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-96) by James Tissot from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum

The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-96) by James Tissot, from the series “The Life of Christ,” Brooklyn Museum

Coming at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry in Matthew (5:1-12), the Beatitudes set his agenda of saintly blessings. The Beatitudes shocked his first-century audience, who perceived blessings to come in the form of health and wealth.

Based on this understanding, the faithful people reasoned that if God blesses with wealth and health, then the poor and sick are sinners whom God is punishing. This is why people asked Jesus such burning questions as, “Did this person or his parents’ sin, which he was born blind?”

As we really listen to the Beatitudes we might also be shocked. For our thinking is alarmingly similar to that of those first-century Jews. They would readily say “Amen” if they heard us say that we are blessed by comfort, long life, health, or prosperity.

We’d like to think that we’re more sophisticated than those folks, and maybe we are, but let me tell you about Mary. Mary was in her thirties when I met her, and Mary was blind. Her parents faithfully attended Trinity Episcopal Church, but Mary never came. Instead, she played the piano in a lounge on Saturday nights. You see, Mary angrily gave up on God and the church after several Christians asked her how she had sinned, that God would cause her to be blind.

Saints are those who seek the blessings Jesus pronounces this morning. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” or as Luke records, “Blessed are the poor.” “Blessed are those who mourn, who hunger, who are meek, who are pure of heart, who are peacemakers, who are humble, and who are persecuted.” Are we sure we want to be blessed? And most shocking of all, “Blessed are YOU when others revile, persecute, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Happy All Saints Sunday!

The blessing of God is not to revel in the lap of luxury while others suffer. Rather, God blesses us with the privilege of sharing in Jesus’s self-giving. God blesses us to participate in Christ’s self-emptying by giving away our time, our talent, our treasure, and even our life in the manner of the One Who Blesses.

The Beatitudes shockingly shatter our misunderstanding—or perhaps our neglect—of Jesus’s words. For to be blessed means to love as Jesus loves.

The image of saintly blessing that you can take home today is that of actively emptying the container that represents who you are. Yes, think of yourself as a container. As we know, if we fill our lives with comfort, ease, or entertainment, we become a container to which nothing else can be added. However, when we empty ourselves as Jesus did, we are blessed. During our moments of self-giving, the glorious light of Christ shines through us.

For God’s unalterable promise is that our Good Friday moments of self-giving lead without fail to the breathtaking and unutterable exhilaration of stepping out of the empty tomb. For we saints know the joy of giving, truly giving sacrificially, and we equally know the unspeakable lightness of being swept up into the boundless life of Easter.

Blessing is the act by which we join this divine dance of love. The blessing of saints is not a status bestowed upon us, but represents the choices we make. Our saintly blessing is to offer the gifts and circumstances of our lives to God, even our security and our poverty. Jesus receives the gift of ourselves as he received the cup at the Last Supper. He takes, blesses, and gives back what has become the blessing of himself. As his cup of blessing is drained empty, we are filled. He fills us so that he can pour us out as his blessing to others in that divine giving-and-receiving called love.

We donate ourselves as we pledge to All Saints’, because our donations help us walk the saintly way of blessings. The way of the cross is the way of life that wonderfully warms our hearts and animates our lives with God’s blessings. Let us rejoice and be glad, for we are the saints of God.

The Rev. Rick Matters, Rector preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel