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All Saints, November 2, 2014

When I was a little girl, I had lots of “boo-boos”. I scraped myself playing outside, I broke my wrist falling on some stairs, I twisted my ankle. When I would come to mom, upset and sometimes crying, she would take care of me. She would hug me and bandage me and do whatever she could to help me cope with my injuries. I felt really close to her during those times. When I was a teenager, I was riding my bike around the circle in front of our house. As I came to our house, I braked at the top of the stairs, only I didn’t do it soon enough. The bike and I went tumbling down the stairs and ended up in the yard. I was very fortunate I was not hurt seriously, but I had a lot of bruises and scrapes and I was feeling very shaky. I went into the house, and mom and dad immediately went into action. They comforted me and helped me feel better, physically and emotionally.

They were not just there for me when I was physically injured. They were there when my lack of athletic ability meant I was picked a humiliating last on the team or when I was laughed at or rejected for any reason. As I have grown older I have had friends there for me in times of vulnerability. When I have tried to smooth over a conflict and people refuse to be soothed, they have been there to stand by me. When I have been hurt and have forgiven, yet have been hurt again by the same person, they have been there to console me. My family and my friends have always been there when I am feeling the most vulnerable and most empty. They are real blessings in my life, and they remind me that God is close to me even when I am feeling trampled on.

In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses people at their most vulnerable too. This is absolutely the opposite of what the culture taught – that those who were rich, powerful and well-respected were the most blessed by God. But Jesus is not about the people who are doing well for themselves, at least not today. He is about declaring blessings on humanity at its most vulnerable. He is about assuring people of God’s closeness now and God’s promises in the future about people who are hanging on by a thread or insisting on goodness in a broken world or preaching the countercultural gospel in a way that puts them in danger.

Sometimes when we read the Beatitudes, we think that none of these things are meant for us – that we don’t have any of these qualities and that we should do our best to get more of them so we can earn a blessing too. But if we do that we miss the point. Jesus is not giving us a recipe for what we should do; he is giving us a blessing for who we are now, in all our frail humanity. He is blessing us not for our fullness and success but for our emptiness, our longing, our vulnerability (Matthew Myer Boulton).

To see where Jesus is blessing us, we have to access that which we hide most – the fragile state of our lives as human beings. We have to connect with the love God has for us, for our neighbor and for our world because of, not in spite of, its brokenness.

The first three beatitudes are about God’s love for us when we feel broken and empty. We are blessed when we are poor in spirit. That includes material poverty, but it also includes spiritual and emotional poverty. The mentally ill are blessed in their affliction. Those with low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are blessed in their feeling of smallness and insignificance. Those who are coping with situations that seem beyond hope are blessed in their desperation. God comes near them now to comfort and succor and promises them the kingdom of heaven, a place where God’s rule will bring wholeness.

Mourning is where I first plugged into the fact that the beatitudes were meant for me. We all mourn. We mourn pain and death. We mourn the loss of a job or a friendship. We feel the dullness of depression. God promises comfort – not to prevent mourning but to be especially near when it happens and help us through whatever we have to endure, without prompting us to hurry up and get it over with.

The idea of the meek inheriting the earth was laughable to Jesus’ culture. The strong and powerful would inherit. Those who were forced by circumstances or chose to rely on God for everything in their lives, who did not run in the race for success, were considered weaklings and people to be taken advantage of. They were not even worth considering in the greater scheme of things. But God promises not only consideration, but an ultimate promise that it is their attitude that will win out in the end.

God loves us when we are empty and hurting. God also blesses those whose emptiness is in the form of longing, when we desire love of neighbor with our whole hearts. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, those who are merciful and those who are peacemakers yearn for the day when human beings will treat one another as God’s children, equally loved and cared for. They are promised fulfillment, mercy in return for their mercifulness and status as children of God.

God blesses those who are vulnerable to persecution for the stand they take on God’s behalf. The risky life of being a disciple is frightening, and fear fogs our view of how much God loves us and wants us to feel close to God in our doing of God’s work. When we access God’s love for the world and agree with God about that, we come up against powers and principalities that see the world as here and now and how much I can get for me, not about the place where God’s kingdom is growing inexorably and will one day take over. Because those who stand up for God’s coming kingdom are threatening, disciples face persecution, from gossip and slander all the way up to death on a cross.

God’s promises for God’s people are great, but the greatest promise of all is that God’s children will see God. The Hebrews thought that seeing God in this world would cause death, since God is so vastly beyond our comprehension. We saw God in human form in Jesus. Yet those with pure hearts will see the ultimate vision of God. Revelation talks about the martyrs, who have sacrificed their lives for God, being before the throne of God, but John talks about the children of God all being saints, eligible to see God and be like God. What a wonderful promise that is!

Bobby Manning is pastor at First Baptist Church of District Heights in Prince George’s County. He believes in taking ministry to the people. Manning has taken his church’s ministry to senior citizen rec centers, homeless shelters and local festivals to share the gospel. Recently he and other church members did a “Laundromat takeover” in which they walked to a Laundromat and passed out detergent and cash so customers could wash their clothes and hear the gospel. Sunday morning attendance has grown from 50 to 350 over the last four years. Bobby Manning doesn’t seem to be checking off boxes to get into the kingdom of heaven. He is just doing God’s work, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and speaking God’s countercultural message into the world.

We are not Bobby Mannings (not yet anyway): nevertheless, we are God’s saints and it is absolutely crucial to our spiritual lives that we remember that. We may have some of the trappings of worldly success, but we are empty and longing and vulnerable at our cores. Our spirits are easily broken, and we long for God’s reign to come and bring wholeness. We risk ourselves for God when we practice forgiveness and mercy and work for justice and peace. We may feel like God is far from us, but God is so near – in us and around us, blessing us at every turn. All Saints Day is not just for the ones with the haloes, it is for us – all of God’s fragile, vulnerable most beloved children. We are and will be comforted and filled. Ours is the kingdom of heaven, and we shall see God. You are all saints, and your life is in God’s hands, a precious jewel waiting for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. You are loved beyond your wildest imagination just as you are so you can become all you can be. Take heart and be filled with hope.


     - Rev. Ann Barker


Works cited:
Matthew Myer Boulton, Feasting on the Gospels, Matthew vol. 1, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), p. 78.