November 3, 2013 November 4, 2012

ALL SAINTS RITE: November 6, 2011November 1, 2010November 1, 2009 (or Pentecost 21A, below)

Revelation 7:9-17 – John’s apocalyptic vision of white-robed martyrs standing before the throne and the Lamb, along with the angels, the elders and the four creatures. They hunger no more, nor thirst (Isaiah 49:10). The sun does not strike them nor heat (Psalm 121:6). God wipes away every tear (Isaiah 25:8). ELW 422, 423,

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 – I will bless the Lord at all times… I sought the Lord and he answered me… Taste and see that the Lord is good. ELW 493

1 John 3:1-3 – See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God…

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. ELW 728

We also had the Beatitudes Epiphany 4A: January 30, 2011. The Beatitudes “placemat” can be found here: 01-24-11 Beatitudes Study Placemat

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. They are before the | throne of God,
and the one who is seated on the throne will | shelter them. Alleluia. (Rev. 7:15)

Color: White


Pentecost 21A – November 2, 2014 (or All Saints Day, above)

Joshua 3:7-17Joshua is told to instruct the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, when they approach the Jordan, to wade in the water. When they touch the Jordan, the water stops flowing and they stand on dry ground. ELW 459


Micah 3:5-12 – Prophets who mislead my people are as good as dead. Israel’s leaders seem to be bought and sold. You hate justice. You build up Zion through bloody crime and violence. Therefore Zion will be plowed up like a field.

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 – Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Contemporary: Sing “Forever.”) They wandered in the wilderness and God delivered them. He turned streams into a desert (reference to Joshua 3:7-17). They planted vineyards. They increased. Their enemies decreased.


Psalm 43 – Five verses: You are the God who shelters me; why do you reject me? Why do my enemies oppress me? Why so downcast, O my soul? I will wait for the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13You remember how we worked night and day blamelessly preaching the gospel to you. You received it as God’s message.

Matthew 23:1-12 – The Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Do as they say, not as they do. They burden others, but don’t lift a finger themselves. They like honor, titles and status. Don’t follow their lead. Call no one rabbi, teacher or father.

Prayer of the Day
O God, generous and supreme, your loving Son lived among us, instructing us in the ways of humility and justice. Continue to ease our burdens, and lead us to serve alongside of him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. You have one instructor, | the Messiah;
the greatest among you will | be your servant. Alleluia. (Matt. 23:10, 11)

All Saints is November 1 or the first Sunday in November in our lectionary (November 2 in 2014). You may also use the texts for Pentecost 21A, which continue our march through Matthew, into chapter 23.

All Saints Sample Rite.

If you have rites that have worked well in your setting that you would be willing to share, send them to me and I’ll make them available for future reference.

You may have noticed that the texts for All Saints vary from year to year. The gospel remains the same: The Matthean Beatitudes. The first three readings rotate.

All Saints A

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

 All Saints B

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

All Saints C

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

This year is a bit out of the ordinary because Revelation 7 is appointed in place of the usual Hebrew Bible text. This text is John’s apocalyptic vision of white-robed martyrs standing before the throne and the Lamb, along with the angels, the elders and the four creatures. They hunger no more, nor thirst (Isaiah 49:10). The sun does not strike them nor heat (Psalm 121:6). God wipes away every tear (Isaiah 25:8). As I’m studying this text, I’m reminded of how well the author of Revelation knows the Hebrew Scriptures.

Last year this text was appointed for Easter 4C. Barbara Rossing offered some thoughtful commentary on it.

Rossing reminds us of John’s words: “A multitude that no one can count.” This undermines any literalistic reading of the earlier 144,000. Justo Gonzales says that John is a Palestinian Jew writing in Greek, in Asia Minor. “The mestizo is at home in two places, and is not quite at home in either,” say Gonzales, quoted by Rossing.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 sings, “I will bless the Lord at all times… I sought the Lord and he answered me… Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This psalm is rendered beautifully in ELW 493 “Taste and See” by James Moore. The choir and congregation can sing the refrain in parts, while a soloist sings the stanzas. The text picks up the final verse of Psalm 34 for closure: “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

1 John 3:1-3 is just three short verses. “Behold what manner of love the father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God.” This is how I memorized it as a child. The NRSV renders it:

See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are Gods children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 

In Johanine fashion, what God has done is articulated in the language of love. In John’s gospel, “God so loved the world…” “By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love…” In John’s first letter, chapter 4 we are told to love one another, because everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.

In this passage we are told that the fulfillment of salvation will be complete in the life to come. Not yet. And we don’t know what this will look like. What we do know is that we will be like Christ. All who have this hope purify themselves. Full communion with our Methodist brothers and sisters has made me more aware of this aspect of Sanctification. Methodist have a doctrine of purification that sometimes makes Lutherans squirm, because of our wariness of anything that sounds remotely like works-righteousness. And yet, here it is. Two thoughts about this.

First, we can’t hear this passage apart from the author’s comments earlier in this letter, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10) We may be in process of being purified, but if we think we are completely there, we are kidding ourselves. Actually lying to ourselves.

Second, Brian Peterson in Working Preacher points out that all the verbs in this passage are indicative, not imperative. Our hope is rooted in what God has done and is doing, not in our marvelous capacity to moral superiority.

Finally, the gospel reading is Matthean Beatitudes from chapter 5, the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. I have commented on this text extensively. Check out my blog. A summary of some of this past work follows.

Here is the Beatitudes placemat with the text in Greek, English and Spanish.

Boldfaced, italicized, and squared-off text corresponds to the comments here:

The Beatitudes: Jesus’ First Sermon 

Many of the ideas here come from Mark Allen Powell in God with Us, Kingsbury in Matthew as Story, and Marty Stortz and Ralph Klein in lectures given to the Lutheran bishops from Canada and the U.S. a few years ago.

This placemat compares the Beatitudes in three languages: English, Spanish and the original Greek. Even though most people can’t read the Greek alphabet, I think it expands the mind for them to realize that this stuff was originally written in another language. And here in Texas, a majority of people speak Spanish. If not during worship, this tool might be a handy piece for Bible study group, or just for your own study.

One final word before we launch in. A Roman Catholic musician who is at this time in his mid-50s, David Haas has written some incredibly soulful hymns for the church. “Blessed Are They” ELW 728 is written on the Beatitudes.

The text is Matthew 5, The Beatitudes or what Robert Schuller called “The Be-Happy Attitudes.” Now before you make fun of that, I would point out that while this smacks of self-help gospel, as if Jesus and the Beatitudes were really all about making ME happy, rather than calling me to die to myself and live sacrificially, I have to admit his title has stuck with me for 20 years. There is something to be said for crafting sermons in memorable ways – ways that stick with people, using alliteration, simile, and mind-capturing images.

For me, however, “happy” does not capture the sense of makarios. Cutting to the chase, after years of mulling this over and reading dozens of interpretations, for me it comes down to this. Jesus is saying to those who are hurting and those who side with them, God loves you too. Although it seems like God sides with the rich and powerful, Jesus has good news: God cares for those who feel like they have lost in the game of life.

Furthermore, this is the first of five sermons in Matthew. So I chose a different title. I’m calling it “Jesus’ First Sermon”. Now, I know the Sermon on the Mount is likely an amalgamation of Jesus’ various sayings, but I like “Jesus’ First Sermon.” I don’t know if you remember your first sermon or not. I have mine, and trust me, it isn’t this good. This is a pretty darn good first sermon.

The Matthean Beatitudes are the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and some believe the moral foundation for all of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew.

Consider having the congregation read this a couple of different times, from the center of the placemat, in a couple of different ways. Invite those on the left side to read the boldface print and those on the right side to read the regular print.

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 taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousnesssake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Question: Are the beatitudes…

  • Eschatological rewards for the virtuous? Peacemakers, merciful, pure? In other words, do this and you will be rewarded in heaven. Be a peacemaker, work for righteousness, and you’ll be rewarded.
  • Eschatological reversal for those who are suffering? Poor, mourning, meek, hungry? In other words, if you’re poor now, you’ll be rich in heaven. If you’re mourning now, you’ll be dancing in heaven. If you’re hungry now, you’ll be full in heaven.

What do you think?

It’s a bit of a trick question. Mark Alan Powell (God with Us) points out that if we look carefully, neither interpretation really fits all of these. Being poor, hungry or mourning is unfortunate, but these don’t sound like virtues to which we are to aspire. Being a peacemaker is a virtue, but it is not an unfortunate circumstance of suffering that needs to be reversed in the eschaton.

Let’s dig. A closer look reveals the first eight beatitudes (vv. 3-10) are written in the third person (“Blest are they…”), while vv. 11-12, the ninth beatitude is written in the second person (“Blest are you…”).

Notice also, both the first and the eighth beatitude end with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” underlined for you, creating a rhetorical inclusion. 11-12 are also different in meter, style and imperative mood.

Look at the placemat. Verses 3-10 can be divided into two sections that have exactly 36 words each in the Greek:

The four beatitudes in verses 3-6 (in the yellow) have exactly 36 words, and the second four beatitudes in verses 7-10 have exactly 36 words, and the last beatitude, verses 11-12 have 35 words.

So, let’s call:

  1. 3-6 in yellow: Stanza 1
  2. 7-10 in turquoise: Stanza 2
  3. 11-12 in pink the: Conclusion

Matthew has carefully crafted this, quite differently from how Luke’s version is crafted. Immediately you’ll notice both stanza one and stanza two end with the word δικαιοσύνην (dikaiosyne). I have put this in a white box for you on the placemat. This word means justice, or righteousness. Notice the NRSV translates it righteousness here, but the Spanish translates it “justicia.”

The symmetry, poetry and parallelism are artistic and clearly intentional. Obviously Robert Schuller is not the only one who can craft memorable sermons. Could this have been an early hymn? Don’t miss the chance to sing this sermon.

Also note the alliteration of 3-6, each verse starting with a “p” word, which I have circled for you.

πτωχοὶ Ptochoi (poor)
πενθοuντες Penthountes (mourners)
πραεiς Praes (meek)
πεινωντες Peinontes (hungry)

Blessed are the pathetic, poor, parched people.

Read stanza one, in yellow. If you use this in worship, invite the men to read the bold and the women to read the regular print:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

Stanza one are those who are suffering.

  1. Blessed are the poor. Ptochoi are the dispossessed, abandoned people of Israel and the world (Isaiah 11:4; 29:19; 32:7; 61:1; Amos 2:7; 8:4; Zephaniah 2:3). Poor in spirit signifies that they are despondent. They are not just poor; they have lost hope. Powell: One might translate this, “Blessed are the hopeless poor.”
  1. The “mourners” in verse four are the miserable and unhappy people because of the losses they have experienced. They have no cause for joy.
  1. The “meek” could be humble, non-violent, gentle or kind. Some versions translate this “homeless.” Praeis is the word the Greek Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew word anawim, who are the homeless poor (Psalm 36:11). They are the humiliated and powerless of this world. They have been denied basic human needs.
  1. Those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosyne (righteousness or justice), are those who seek vindication. They have been denied justice.

So, if we put together this dizzying array of adjectives, in the first four verses Jesus says, “Blessed are the dispossessed, abandoned, poor, homeless – those who have lost so much, mourning, who have no reason for joy – the meek, gentle, humble, kind, non-violent, humiliated, powerless, who have been denied basic human needs, and human rights, who long for God’s righteousness, justice and vindication. Heaven and earth belong to them. They will be satisfied and comforted in the eschaton. God loves them.

It would be a shame to not sing this passage on Sunday, one of the most poetic, yearning and soulful in Scripture.

There is no virtue, Powell says, in being hungry or denied justice. These are not “entrance requirements” for getting into heaven. Jesus is not idealizing poverty. Indeed, he later encourages his disciples to fight it. Also, Jesus is not necessarily describing those who are listening to his sermon on the mount. This portion is in the third person.

In Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven (not the Kingdom of God) comes to us, not vice-versa. This is the Good News both Jesus and John preach: the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you. When God reigns, the poor get a better deal.

In verses 7-10 this shifts. If the first four beatitudes are those who are suffering, the second four are those who help them.

Let’s read this section together. This time the congregation could read the bold face, and you could read the regular print. Starting with verse 7.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

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

  1. Beatitude #5: Blessed are the merciful. Jesus says mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). It is more important than sacrifice (9:13, 12:7). Jesus carries this forward in 7:1, “Do not judge…”

Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders is that they are too quick to judge and too slow to show mercy (18:23-34). God does not like religion that keeps people from eating with outcasts.

Note that all these meanings of mercy represent actions that are not carried out in the religious community, but rather out in the world. The reward? They will receive mercy. All boats rise with the tide.

  1. Blessed are the pure in heart. The heart is the source of outward speech (12:34, 15:18) and behavior (15:18) and introspection (9:4, 24:48). People lust and love in their hearts. Remember Jesus says if you look at someone with lust you commit adultery in your heart. Your heart is your inner most being. In Matthew, to forgive from the heart is to forgive truly. To understand from the heart is to understand fully.

Katharos doesn’t just mean pure. It can also mean clean. A clean dish is one that is not contaminated. People can worship with their lips, while their hearts are far from God (15). Perhaps a pure or clean heart is one that is turned to God, and God’s wishes. Perhaps it means words and thoughts are congruent. That’s the definition of integrity. The pure in heart will “see God.” Since even Moses didn’t get to see God, this reward is probably eschatological.

  1. Peacemakers: Are the blessed peacemakers to make peace within the Christian community, or out in the world? Some have ventured the former. In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar and make peace with your brother or sister. Is this just within the community of faith? The injunction to love your enemies seems to suggest a larger context. Love those out there.

Eirenopoioi (peacemakers) is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but in other literature it refers to rulers who establish security and socioeconomic well-being for the people. Eirene is the word the Septuagint uses for shalom (the Hebrew word for peace). Blessed are the shalom-makers. The Semitic community of Matthew would certainly lean towards shalom’s broader sense: wholeness and well-being. Peacemakers are those who work for the well-being and wholeness of all people (Kingsbury, Matthew as Story). They shall be called Children of God. You are a child of God when you act like God (5:48).

  1. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosyne (righteousness or justice) were blessed earlier. Dikaiosyne is also used in 6:33, when Jesus teaches people to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s dikaiosyne, rather than worrying about food, clothing and the like. The sense is to seek what is right in God’s eyes. This, of course, runs the risk of being interpreted individualistically in Puritan America. What does God want? For us to not drink, dance or play cards? Or does God want justice for the orphan, widow and alien, the hungry, the homeless? The call seems to be: seek the well-being of others, and God will take care of you. Test this: serve others and give generously, and see if God lets you starve. Blessed are those who hunger for the well-being of others, for justice for all.

Can you feel the Beatitudes coming to a climax? In this passage, blessing comes to those who are persecuted for dikaiosyne. Participation in peace-making and justice-making brings with it persecution. Those who suffer persecution are commended as oppose to those who fall away (13:20-21). This beatitude ends the second verse of four, completing the thought. The first and last beatitudes end with the same words (apodosis): “The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Them.

So, the first four blessings go to those who suffer. The second four blessings go to those who help the suffering, and are even willing to take a few blows to do so. They are blessed for voluntary identification with the suffering of this world. Perhaps this is the most Christian action one can undertake: Voluntary identification with the suffering. The underdog. Even at personal risk.

And then the ninth beatitude socks us in the eyes. It shifts from the third person to the second person. “Blessed are YOU.” Oh, I thought we were talking about someone else. A good sermon brings it home to roost. It gets personal now. Now we’re meddlin’.

Read verses 11-12 together, in unison. Reading interactively with the congregation engages them in the text and keeps them focused.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This is pure theology of the cross. Heidelburg Disputation. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is. This world is suffering. Open your eyes. Look around. A lot of people are suffering. God cares about suffering. And if we’re the people of God, the body of Christ, guess what?

It should come as no surprise that the first lesson is Micah 6:8. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Justice and mercy factor considerably in the Sermon on the Mount.

And it should come as no surprise that we have a theology of the cross in the second reading again this Sunday. Jews seek signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified… foolishness to the world, but to those of us who are called, the power and wisdom of God… For God chose what is foolish… weak… low and despised in the world to shame the wise and reduce to nothing the powers that be…

Well, Jesus, it’s a pretty good sermon so far. Could use a few more illustrations. Needs more grace, less law, but not bad for a first sermon, fresh out of the waters of his baptism. We’ll give it a B+.

After the beatitudes I would have just sat down, but Jesus goes on. You are salt. You are light. This is what baptism delivers. Jesus names the new creation. He describes it using vivid images. Finally, illustrations.

And then Jesus goes into the law. You have heard it said… But I say to you… Sometimes he intensifies the law. Other times he negates it. You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus invites us to do impossible things!

Then Jesus gives us food for the journey. He goes on to talk about what we will need to do these impossible things:

He talks about the practice of prayer. When you pray… ask for what you need…

Then he talks about the practice of generosity. When you give alms… don’t store up treasures.

The practice of self-denial. When you fast…

The practice of forgiveness.

These are the very kinds of practices that those who seek a deeper spiritual life are searching for.

Then Jesus spends considerable time talking about anxiety. Isn’t that interesting? Don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about having enough stuff… In fact, share with lavish, prodigal generosity. (This is what Christianity IS.) Consider the lilies of the field… the birds of the air.

How do we preach this stuff? I think we cast an enticing vision of the new world, and offer an imaginative glimpse of how people might live into it here, and now.

Ralph Klein pointed out it takes 18 minutes to read the entire Sermon on the Mount aloud. That would be a short sermon for a bishop. I got to thinking, why not have the congregation read the Sermon on the Mount together for the sermon one week in February? Take the day that you would have spent preparing a sermon, go to a quiet, soulful place and spend the day reading and praying.

For your reading, consider Luther’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, based on a sermon series he preached. The translator’s introduction reads as follows: “During Bugenhagen’s absence Luther preached a long while for him, regularly, on the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew, beginning Nov. 9, 1530. These sermons were then published, first in 1532, at Wittenberg, under Joseph Klug, in quarto; in 1533 at Marburg, in octavo; and in 1539, again in Wittenberg, in quarto, under Johann Weiss. In 1533 they were also translated into Latin by Vincent Ohsopoeus.” So, sermon series are no new idea. Luther himself did them regularly. Consider announcing this Sunday a five-week series on the Sermon on the Mount, the Be-happy Attitudes if you like, or Jesus’ First Sermon, or whatever will capture the hearts and minds of the people in your community.

Questions for discussion

  1. Share 

What is the best sermon you ever heard? What made it stick? What was the message?

Tell a story about a time in your life when you stood up for someone who was persecuted, or when you were persecuted for doing the right thing.

Can you, off the top of your head, name any parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?

Would it surprise you to know that the Lord’s Prayer is in the Sermon on the Mount? Passage about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air? Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness? Love your enemies? Do not judge?

  1. Study

Print out the Beatitudes placemat from the link above. Let the group study it for a few minutes. What do you notice about this passage?

Read Matthew 5:1-12 responsively. What jumps out at you?

How many Beatitudes are there?

In what ways of the first four Beatitudes different than the second four Beatitudes?

Consider each of these first four Beatitudes separately. What does it mean to be poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry for justice?

Consider each of the second four beatitudes separately. What does it mean to be merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, persecuted for doing what is right?

Why do you think the voice changes in the ninth beatitude from “Blessed are they” to “Blessed are you”?

  1. Apply

How could you show mercy to someone this week?

What would you need to do this week to cultivate within yourself purity of heart?

In what situations is God calling you to be a peacemaker?

Are there situations in which you need to speak up or act up, even if it means someone doesn’t like you, or you could get persecuted?

Take a moment as a group and pray for people who are poor, low in spirit, morning, persecuted, hungry or in need of any kind.

 The comments above are drawn from the Bible Study delivered to the Tri-Synodical Theological Conference, held January 24-26, 2011 in Galveston, Texas for the pastors and church leaders of Texas and Louisiana congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.