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All Saint's Day
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, November 1, 2015

The Clash, The Blessing, The Hope

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

In the Nicene Creed, we say we believe in the Communion of Saints. That is what we celebrate today, on this “All Saints Day.” And always on this Sunday we read Matthew 5:1-12, which we call the Beatitudes. What I want to do today is to show the connection between the Beatitudes and the Communion of Saints. And then I want to ask, “How as members of the Communion of Saints do we live as faithful Christians in the culture of which we are a part?”

Some have looked at the Beatitudes as rules for Christian living. Others have seen them as an ideal standard that nobody can meet. But if you stand back a little bit, you can look at the Beatitudes as the ways people live, or try to live, when they are committed disciples of Jesus Christ. It is a life filled with goodness and with struggle. The word “beatitude” means blessing. And in these verses, Jesus pronounces blessing upon His disciples by saying what God thinks of us, and what He gives us:

• We possess the Kingdom of Heaven.

• We inherit the earth.

• We are comforted when we mourn.

• Our longing for righteousness is satisfied.

• We receive mercy.

• We see God.

• We are called God’s children.

• Our reward is great.

John Stott, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, described the Beatitudes this way:

...[they] show us what human life and human community look like when they are under the gracious rule of God. [J. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, series: Bible Speaks Today, IVP Downers Grove, IL (1978)]

That human community under the gracious rule of God is the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints is all those disciples of Jesus Christ who live on earth today, and all those who have gone before us and now enjoy His presence in heaven. Together, over time and space, we have a closeness— a communion— that can only be fashioned and sustained by Christ Himself. And it is a great treasure to us.

It is easy to take this treasure for granted In our day-to-day life. We may think of ourselves as members of a church with a certain name in a certain town. We may have jobs or ministries within that church. We may worship there and attend functions there. But do you ever think of the vast and glorious union of which we are a part? It spans the globe. It spans the ages. It even spans the divide between the living and the dead.

There are moments when we see and experience the blessing of this vast and glorious Communion of Saints. The recent visit of Rocky and Isaac, the two priests from Uganda, was such a time for me. Rocky and Isaac were sent as emissaries by our friend and mission partner, Stephen Kaziimba, Bishop of Mityana. They came for the dedication of our new building. Although we postponed the dedication, it was too late to reschedule their trip to the US. If you were here last Sunday, you heard Rocky preach.

On Saturday evening, a group of 14 gathered at our house for dinner with Rocky and Isaac. We began the evening sitting in a large square in the living room. I asked each person to introduce themselves, and to tell us how God is using them in His work of redeeming the world. I hadn’t given advance warning. There was some minor panic, and some complaining about the lack of time to think about it. But what took place was absolutely wonderful. We had deep, authentic conversation that drew us together as Christians, and revealed things about ourselves that touch on the eternal.

On Sunday night, a larger group of 21 met for another dinner, at which most of the guests were our members who have traveled to Uganda on mission trips. Again, we gathered in one room and introduced ourselves. And the only question I asked was for people to say what their connection was with Uganda. We started with Rocky and Isaac, who gave their testimonies. And then each of our members told moving stories about how their lives have been changed by their experience with the Christians in Uganda.

On Monday, Jim Conley and I took Isaac and Rocky to tour Washington, DC. We spent the night with some Christians in Northern Virginia so we could put the guys on flights at Reagan Airport the next day. Our hosts were from Emmanuel Anglican Church in Woodbridge. They were one of the congregations who went through the great tribulation with us over the doctrinal split with the Episcopal Church. And for more than an hour, we talked of how God has led the way for our congregations and provided for us. We talked about how far ahead of us God is in His plans. We talked about what is happening in our culture in America, and how Christians are struggling to deal with it faithfully. For the third straight night, we were swept away by the joy of Christian fellowship in deep, authentic and meaningful conversation.

What was it we were experiencing in those precious encounters? It was the “Communion of Saints.” It was the oneness we shared because of our belief in Jesus as our Savior and our devotion to Him as Lord. It was the love we have for each other because the Holy Spirit empowers us to keep Jesus’ command to love one another as He loves us. These moments show us “what human life and human community look like when they are under the gracious rule of God.”

To the non-believer, that may all sound like idealistic nonsense. But you cannot miss the realism of the Beatitudes. They acknowledge the difficulty of life.

• Blessed are those who mourn. We wouldn’t mourn if there were no death, no pain, no loss.

• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We wouldn’t hunger and thirst for righteousness if we weren’t surrounded by sin.

• Blessed are the peacemakers. There would be no need for peacemakers if there were no conflict, or hatred or war.

The Beatitudes also account for the inevitable clash between the Communion of Saints and the world.

• Jesus prophesied that we will be persecuted because of righteousness.

• He told us people would insult us and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of Jesus.

We know how true that is.

• We hear stories every day about ISIS chasing Christians from their homes, burning down their churches and destroying their businesses and kidnapping their wives and children.

• Christians are imprisoned in Iran for converting Muslims to faith in Christ.

• Christians are being martyred for standing tall and saying ““I am a Christian,” not only in places like Iraq, but even in Roseburg, Oregon.

• In the western world, people who express Biblical values are called hate mongers.

• Small business owners are paying outrageous fines for not caving in to the ungodly new values of our culture.

Jesus knew all this was coming. He knew that those who love Him would suffer on His behalf. After all, He suffered on our behalf, didn’t He? He gave His life as a ransom for many, so that all who believe in Him would have eternal life. He knew many would say, “No, thanks.” And He knew they would not refuse His gift gracefully, but would try to take the believers down with them. In our country, groups like the “Freedom from Religion Foundation” are suing public institutions, trying to obliterate all visible signs of Jesus and His communion of believers.

• They are trying to get “In God We Trust” taken off coinage and police bumpers.

• They are opposing prayers at public meetings.

• They are trying to get nativity scenes out of parks and other public places.

• They are threatening to sue colleges whose coaches pray with their athletic teams.

• This past August, a high school band in Brandon, MS, was barred from playing at half-time in the school football game for including “How Great Thou Art” in its program. The Rankin County School Board feared this violated a court ordered issued against the county in July by a Federal District Court Judge, which read, “Defendants are permanently enjoined from including prayer, religious sermons or activities in any school sponsored event including but not limited to assemblies, graduations, award ceremonies, athletic events and any other school event.”

This isn’t all about separation of church and state. It is about not wanting any sign of God around to offend them. The reality is, those who reject God know the truth. His Word says so. In Romans 1, it tells us that what may be known about God has been made plain. God’s qualities have been clearly seen since the creation. But there are those who exchange the truth of God for a lie, and whose thinking becomes futile, and whose foolish hearts are darkened. (Romans 1:19-25)

So when Christians tell them that God is real, the clash is great. When Christians tell them that without God, they are destined for eternal misery, the clash is great. When Christians tell them Christ is the only way to be saved, the clash is great. The clash is both inevitable and real. And what Jesus is giving us in the Beatitudes is the message of blessing in the midst of the fray. And that is what we experience in those kinds of moments I described earlier—when believers who share the suffering of the clash also share the love and the encouragement and the support of the Communion of Saints.

That gift is the sign of our hope. And Jesus gives us hope in HIs promises of future blessing:

• We shall inherit the heavens and the earth.

• We shall see God.

• And great will be our reward in heaven.

How, then, do we, as members of this Communion of Saints, live as faithful Christians in the culture of which we are a part? This is not a new question. Christians in the past have gone two different directions. Some give in to avoid the pain of clashing with the culture. Others isolate themselves to avoid being contaminated by the culture.

Those who have given in have not been faithful to God’s call on their lives. We see it in the Bible, as the Hebrew people intermarried with the Canaanites. They started worshiping the gods their wives, and God’s wrath was great. He punished them by sending them away from their homeland to chafe under pagan rule. We see Christians giving in today. Churches and clergy are taking their theology from public opinion polls. They are declaring that we need to be kind and gentle by agreeing to things the Bible says are an offense to God. I’m afraid His response to our culture will be, as the Bible says, to “give us over to our sinful desires... and shameful practices.” (Romans 1:24-26)

God demands that we be different from the world. In the earliest days when God was bringing the Hebrew people into the Promised Land, He said to Moses:

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. [Leviticus 18:1-5]

The other way Christians have dealt with the clash with the culture is to separating themselves from the world in an attempt to and avoid being contaminated by the culture. The Amish, for example, have tried not to change the way of life that they enjoyed in the 18th Century. By refusing to adopt modern ways, they hope to avoid being corrupted by the world. Other Christian communities hunker down and are unwelcoming to strangers who might contaminate their community.

But we have a job to do in the world around us. We must be Christ’s witnesses. We must proclaim the Good News of His salvation to the end of the earth. We must show the world what human life and human community look like under the gracious rule of God.

We are different if we simply hang on to the truth of God’s Word and the commands He has given us. Our difference becomes a message. So the message has to be one that attracts people. It has to show them something they will want. That is why the peace and harmony and love of Light of Christ matter so much. That is why the way we work together and serve each other and look after each other matters so much. People’s greatest craving in this cyber world is for community, belonging and fellowship. God’s plan is for our community to draw them and welcome them in.

But the other half of what we are called to do is to proclaim. Every one of us has encounters with people whose beliefs clash with ours. We don’t want to turn away in silence and fail to give an account of the hope that is within us. We must not be afraid to tell people what we really believe.

At the same time, we must not become combative with people. That would only convince them they are right to call us hate mongers.

The key is to be confident that what God has given us is the truth, and that it is good, supremely good. If we love the truth, we can share it with love. And then, we trust the Holy Spirit to carry out God’s will in the heart of the person we have met.

And what gives us that confidence? It is the hope in the promises of God, including the blessings Jesus pronounced in the Beatitudes. It is in the warm embrace of the Communion of Saints, a present reality that spans time and space, and spans the divide between the living and the dead. It is the human life and human community that we enjoy under the gracious rule of God.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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