Christ the King Sunday: The Love & Judgement of God

St Peter’s Lutheran Church Cochrane 
Christ the King  Sunday

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25:31-46
Psalm 95:1-7

Prayer – God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Today is Christ the King Sunday – I am not sure what Martin Luther would have made of this. This is a recent addition to the church calendar – and a Roman Catholic one at that!

Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 – which is like 5 minutes ago in church time. He did this in response to two issues he was facing. Firstly, the growing secularism after World War 1. The Church was facing a huge crisis of faith and many people left the Church (both Catholic & Protestant) in Europe in the wake of WW1. The men had left for war and the didn’t come back; so the women had left the church and God. Secondly, Pope Pius was also dealing with issues in the Catholic church about what authority the Pope had in the civil matters (matters outside the Church) in Rome in the 1920’s.

This context led him to establish Christ the King Sunday as a reminder of Jesus’ power and authority above all else. Pope Pius wrote:

‘If to Christ Jesus our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; if this power embraces all men, [paraphrasing now] He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our wills, He must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our bodies and in our members as instruments of justice unto God.’

This Sunday was instituted as a reminder about who is really in charge. There are two dimensions to Christ the King Sunday – the first is pointing to the end of time when the kingdom of Jesus will be established in all its fullness to the ends of the earth. The second is pointing to the more immediate season of Advent.

The Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden really embraced the final judgement dimension of today as they use to referred to it as the Sunday of Doom. Those cheerful Swedes have since amended their focus to the Return of Christ. Good choice I think – even if only from a PR perspective. Of course, the Norwegian Lutherans would never do this!

The second dimension of Christ the King Sunday leads us into the season of Advent – the season of expectation and preparation as we look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent also marks the start of the new Christian year.

We live in the in-between time – the first Advent and the second, the now and the not yet. The new born King has come and we wait for His return as the grown-up King.

I tend to see Christ the King Sunday as New Year’s Eve on the church calendar. New Year starts next week with the first Sunday of Advent. Forget January 1st – December 3rd is where it is at!

Looking back on the year that has just past – I know many people for whom 2017 has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. I know others who have had a great 2017 filled with many blessings and excitement. And others for whom 2017 has been a fair mix of peaks and valleys.

Wherever you find yourself this morning – God bless you! Know that you are loved.

It is good to remind ourselves that Jesus is King above all kings whatever season we are in. He is also the King of the Sheep as Ezekiel describes for us.

The sheep here are a metaphor to represent the people of Israel. They are God’s flock and they are a mix of strong and weak sheep. It is interesting that God uses sheep as a metaphor for people. Sheep are not the brightest animals in creation, they are not able to take care of themselves the way other animals can, you can’t teach them tricks, they need a lot of care and attention, they need to be guided – hence the need for shepherds.

God acts as the shepherd for his people – he will search and seek out the lost, the lonely and the oppressed. He brings back the strays, strengthens the weak, binds up the injured. He feed them, he will make them lie down – 23rd Psalm anyone?

This is a picture of a King who gets deeply involved with his mixed flock of strong and weak out of deep love and concern. This is not a King who is disinterested in his people!

Jesus never says to the sheep – ‘sort yourselves out and then drag your sorry tails back to me’ or ‘behave yourselves and then you will be good enough’ or ‘I only help those sheep who help themselves’. No – Jesus goes to them – where they are at and brings them home. We have a King who loves. This is Jesus the Shepherd King.

In this reading we also see a King who judges as there is inequality in the flock. There are both strong and weak sheep living together in his flock. We are told that the strong sheep are not looking after the weak sheep the way that they should.

Now that I have dropped the J word – we need to hold on to some important truths:

God does not judge the same way we do – I am very glad of that. God judges out of love – not hate or pride or envy. For this King love and judgement go together. Let’s remember that we will be judged by the same standards that we judge others.

There are people around – maybe you know some of them – who seem to think that God has outsourced the business of judgement to them. They seem to know what God hates which is almost always the same stuff or people that they hate. We all make judgments every day! I also know that the standards that I hold myself to are far less than the standards I hold other people to.

A trivial example of this – speeding tickets. Every speeding ticket I have ever received is justifiable because I had to get somewhere quickly because it was really very important. Every speeding ticket you have ever received is completely your fault, you bad driver and danger to society!

We do need a God of judgement though – otherwise He quickly becomes ineffectual and useless.

In the Ezekiel reading God is judging between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. The fat sheep are the ones who butted the weaker animals, took their food, tread down the pastures for their own gain. The fat took advantage of the lean by mistreating them and will be punished for this.

If God did not judge between the two – what is He saying? To the fat sheep – you can do whatever you like to serve yourself – there are no consequences. I don’t love you so I will ignore what you do. To the lean sheep – God is saying you are not worthy of help. I don’t love you enough to want to help you. You are on your own.

This is similar to the picture of judgment in Matthew’s Gospel – the separation of sheep and goats seems to emphasize that ultimately every person on earth will be called to account for the use of the opportunities to serve others.

It also suggests that there will be some surprises – people who did kind things for God only to find that what they did for the ‘insignificant people’ were kind things done to the Lord who was in them. Other people will be punished for failing to make use of opportunities to serve the lowly and thereby failing to serve God.

Our own justice system – although imperfect – is meant to work the same way. Penalize people for the wrong they do and protect those who cannot protect themselves. One person fails to serve another and is punished for it. How one person treats another is always the central issue.

The world does not operate as it should – it doesn’t take much imagination to work this out. We don’t treat people as we should – whether that is the people next door to us or the people on the other side of the world. The injustice in the world is rampant – socially, politically, economically. We have had the global examples of Zimbabwe and Egypt this past week.

It is not all bad news though.

It might be helpful to hold that this is not the full picture of judgement. This passage only deals with works – not grace or faith or the atoning work of Christ. Works are the evidence on which people will be judged here, not the cause of salvation or damnation. It is common to all of scripture that we are saved by grace and judged by works. The works we do are the evidence of either the grace of God at work in us or of our rejection of that grace.

Out of love God wants the fat sheep to care for the lean sheep – share food, protect them as he does. Love you neighbour as yourself! We will be judged on this.

We have a King of love and of judgment. Whatever season of life we are in – we have a King who loves us and will defend us. This will come to pass at the end of time.

We also look ahead to the more immediate future of the Advent season. In Advent we celebrate the first coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who was born into the world as both God and man, died so that our sins may be forgiven and rose again so that we may live with him forever. We also look forward to his glorious return at the end of time. Advent helps us to remember that God is present in the world today.

The Advent season falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. We may live in dark times but the light of Christ will show us the way.

But we do have to wait. Wait with expectation and anticipation. We wait in the light of new hope.  There is always work in the wait – Pastor Paul in his sermon last week reminded us that God gives us challenges in this life and what we do matters. We have jobs to do in this life and the next and we will be rewarded for what we do. These jobs require some risk and there is always the possibility of failure but we are not to let fear and anxiety hold us back.

As a New Year is about to dawn – as Psalm 95 sings to us ‘let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ We live in uncertain times – globally and personally. What a relief it is to have the rock that is higher than I to cling to.

Verse 4: The whole world is in His hands. The mountains, the sea and the dry land are his for he made them. We are the sheep of His hand. We cannot escape him! We are safe in the safest hands possible as we wait.

The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. I think we need to know this – God is great and good and loving towards us. He is so worth listening for. He is so worth waiting for!

St Peter’s Ladies Advent Dinner Talk

I had the great privilege last night of speaking to the wonderful women of St Peter’s Lutheran Church at the annual Advent Dinner. I talked about what has been saving my life in light of my recent visa issues and extended ‘sabbatical’ in Canada.

Ladies Advent Dinner
St Peter’s Lutheran Church

Hebrews 10:35-39
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
For yet, ‘in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’
But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

What is saving your life right now?

I have been reading Barbara Brown-Taylor recently and she begins her book ‘An Altar in the World’ with that question. I think it’s a good one. I’ve asked myself – What does my life depend on right now?

I currently live in England – have done for the last 10 years. I have a life there, a home, friends, a job, I’m studying for a degree in theology, a car, a ministry as an ordained minister in the Church of England (Anglican).
What allows me to live there – aside from the call of God in this season – is a visa. My visa situation has been quite straightforward – I had a grandfather born in London which means that I can have an Ancestral Visa to live, work, travel freely and go to school – basically anything I want (as long as I pay!) It is a lovely thing to have! This visa expired in April of this year. I looked at what my options were and thought I was doing the right thing by applying for Citizenship in the UK and so I applied in March.                                               But this was the wrong thing to do!

I made a big mistake!

Not to bore you with the details – but there is another visa that I needed to apply for first – before Citizenship. This meant that my application was refused. I found this out at the beginning of August.

Total shock! Completely unexpected. Completely my fault! I didn’t seek any outside advice. I thought I knew what I was doing. I read what was on-line but clearly not all the right information. The refusal of this application meant that I did not have a valid visa to stay in the UK. I was an illegal immigrant!
I then contacted the HR department of the Church. This set off a whole series of events – such as having my license to officiate temporarily suspended, being fired (at least on paper), my degree course had to stop, I stopped getting paid and I couldn’t live in my house as it comes with the job.

Job, house, school, money all gone! Because I made a mistake!
This has been my life for the last few months.

Yet – despite having the contents of my life turned inside out – I have learned some valuable things that I will share with you… the things that have saved my life.

Confidence – I would describe myself as a confident woman. When something new comes my way – my first response isn’t ‘oh no – I can’t do that! Or I couldn’t possibly do that!’ and then list all the excuses and reasons why I can’t. My first response ‘do I want to do that?’ ‘does this interest me?’ I think about competency and commitment later!

I also like to think that I am organised, intelligent, know what I am doing – or so I like to think – most of the time. This confidence of mine took a hit in all of this. Confidence in myself, my abilities and particularly in my decision making.
Confidence is something that we all have to some degree. Confidence grows – I remember that I wasn’t the most confident little girl – I struggled in school – especially with Math, wasn’t a great athlete (still am not), was just okay musically (mostly because I didn’t like to practice), I don’t inhabit the body of a super-model. I’m not married, don’t have kids. I am not actually convinced that these things in and of themselves give confidence. I think that they help to grow confidence through the lived experience. They can also have the potential to rob us of confidence if we are not careful.

Fortunately growing up, I had parents who loved me very much and encouraged me – pushed and pulled me at times; set expectations that were achievable and then moved the bar. They weren’t afraid to let me suffer at times.

All of this helped to foster and grow my confidence and resilience.
I had my sister Jenn read the passage from Hebrews at the beginning because it has been important to me over the last few months. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is begging them not to give away their confidence.

Little history – The Hebrews were likely a community of 1st century Jewish Christians that had been established for some time. This community had been persecuted, some members had been put into prison and they were generous to fellow Christians in need. Yet there is something wrong in this community. The writer is telling the people to imitate its former leaders and get along with the current ones. This suggests they were inclined to go their own way. They were following ‘strange’ teachings (13:9) and had stopped meeting together (10:25). But worse was that they had stopped growing as Christians (5:11-12) – the writer accused them of lazy discipleship (6:12). He begs them to persevere (10:36), to hold on to hope (10:23) and to not drift away (2:1) or shrink back (10:37-39) in their faith.

I heard the American writer and teacher Beth Moore talk about this passage a few years ago and it always stuck with me – We can give our confidence away. The translation I picked talks about abandoning it. We can let our confidence go or give it up. I think that women are more likely to do this than men.

Who did you give it to? Who did you let have it?

Like I said – confidence grows. You can grow more if you’ve lost it! Another person can’t give you confidence as though it were a thing to have. They can help you grow it – experiences, situations that test confidence are all part of life. Back to the reading – confidence doesn’t come with shrinking back!
Get it back! I have had to grow more confidence in this time. Through this experience I have also had to look at who and what my confidence is in.
I had to clean out the closet of self-confidence as other things had gotten in there – like: arrogance, self-sufficiency, laziness, pride. These things are not confidence! Nor are they confidence builders.

Life-saver number one has been coming to a better understanding of my confidence – how it works, what does or doesn’t feed it and what knocks it and how to protect it.

The second life-saving lesson was learning to graciously ask for and accept the help of others. This is not easy! I was a Registered Nurse before I was ordained – I am far more comfortable being the helper – not the helped.
Being the helper makes me useful and important, indispensable. Can also lead to an unhealthy sense of pride – and not to mention arrogance if unchecked.

We all need help at times – there is no shame in that despite what society tells us. I was offered an amazingly generous amount of help – the little old ladies of my churches offering me a bed to sleep in, tea, meals, loans. I’ve had to ask for financial help from the church – again not easy! But if I wanted to keep the lights on in my house, gas in the car. Whatever I needed I just had to ask and they would do it. It was hard! But it was a blessing both to them and to me to accept the help that was being offered.

What was surprising is that I didn’t feel like I was somehow weak or a failure – nor was I ever made to feel that way – despite the situation I was in was of my own making. This taught me a lot about how to respond to people when they ask for help! To do it in such a way as to not make them feel worse than they probably already do.

I also realized that some of the confidence that was re-growing was the confidence to accept help graciously. Confidence that despite my mistake – I am loved by my neighbours and worthy of help.

I also thank God that I work for the church! In the same letter that I was told about being fired – I was also given money from a clergy charity. This wouldn’t have likely happened in another organization. My position is waiting for me until I get back. I didn’t have to move out of my house but I had to look like I didn’t live there either just in case a Border Agent came knocking.

These were all acts of grace. My imperfections have been magnified – rather publicly – in these last few months. I needed confidence to accept help and acknowledge that I am loved by my neighbours.

Ultimately – my confidence is in Jesus. His love for me is so great that despite my mistakes, my wrongly placed confidence, my stubbornness to accept help, the general messiness of me – I am still worthy of His love.
I find the greatest security in His love – the courage to keep going, the courage to know that when (not if) I make mistakes He will give me the confidence get back up.

But I have needed more than that – because I know there are limits to human love and understanding however well-intentioned. I have needed to know the love of God the Father. Needed to now at a deeper level that I am not a complete mess up. This is what has saved my life!

So what does this have to do with Advent…

Advent means waiting, it is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent also marks the start of the new Christian year.

Forget January 1st – December 3rd is where it is at!

I know many people for whom 2017 has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. For others, 2017 has been great and filled my many blessings and excitement. Maybe 2017 was a fair mix of peaks and valleys. Wherever you find yourself this evening – God bless you! Know that you are loved.

I am waiting for a new start. My new visa is here but not effective until the beginning of December – I wait to go back and resume life in England. I wait to work out the greater purposes of this time, I wait to see what the ongoing consequences of my mistake are.

But I wait with expectation – with love, peace and joy of God. This is what Advent is about. These are really what will save my life.

All Saints Sunday – Why We Need to Remember

This is my Sermon for All Saints Sunday and was preached this morning at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Cochrane. My home church in my home town! This was a great privilege but also a bit of a risk with not knowing many of the new people (lovely to see this amazing church growing). There are also a number of people with cancer diagnosis and other health issues as well as some newly bereaved people. Could only pray that it would land in the right place!

St Peter’s Lutheran – All Saints                                                                         November 5, 2017 

Revelation 7:2-17                                                                                                 1 John 3:1-3                                                                                                         Matthew 5:1-12

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the festival of All Saints; and I am delighted that Pastor Bart invited me to deliver the sermon this morning. I was supposed to give the All Saints’ sermon at my church in England this evening. The Church of England – by my observation makes a bigger event of All Saints than the Lutherans do.

My church is holding a special service tonight where we invite church members and the friends and families of the people whose funerals we have officiated in the last 2-3 years to come to church. There is special music, readings, a sermon, we leave time for silent reflection, the names of those who have died are read, prayers of thanksgiving are offered and candles are lit.

This might seem weird or unnatural – or even un-Lutheran! Pastor Bart & Pastor Paul have been educating us these last few weeks about the Reformation and Luther’s issues with the Catholic church of his day. Praying to the Saints is definitely out! However, the festival of All Saints was retained by Luther after the Reformation and assumed the role of general commemoration to the dead in the Lutheran church. This has been extended to include living saints as well.

I want to be clear from the outset – we are not praying to the dead. To pray to the dead goes along the lines of ‘Dear Aunt Betty – thank you for this snowy day. Please do x, y or z. Could you ask Jesus to do… Amen.

Praying for the dead – again – might be troublesome for some. I like how Methodist theology puts it ‘All Saints Day resolves around giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints, including those who are famous or obscure.’

A Saint is a person of great holiness, or likeness or closeness to God who remains this way through life and into death. The lives of the Saints are set to be examples to the rest of us on the graciousness of God and what virtuous living can look like. Not all saints are famous. Most are everyday people.

My attempt this morning is to talk about why it is important to mark All Saints Day.

Firstly – The dead sit at the dinner table long after their gone.

All Saints stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church triumphant) and the living (the Church militant).

We don’t tend to forget people once they have died – whether we loved or liked them – or not. The impact of our relationship with them, their life, the love, the moments that were shared do not cease to be important once they have bodily departed. This is true regardless if the relationship was positive or negative.

Does God shut his ears to prayers for them? If I am concerned about the soul of a person who has died – will God not hear that prayer? He knows far more than I do about them and their situation. Can I not seek his peace and reassurance? We have biblical evidence that indicates God cares about the dead. He created them, he loves them more than we do.

1 Thessalonians tells us that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will all meet together. The Apostles’ Creed – which we will say in a few minutes – ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’

The Revelation reading tells us of the great gathering. This is a tricky chapter for some – the numbers of who is in or out can be a real hang-up. A total of 144,000 is for the 12 tribes of Israel (the Jewish people). This doesn’t have anything to do with us non-Jewish people. It makes the point that a faithful remnant of Israel will be saved; the number 144,000 should be regarded as symbolic.

Alongside the faithful remnant is the countless multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language – these are the Christians – whose sins have been purged by the saving death of Christ. This countless multitude will be taken care of – no more hunger, thirst, scorching heat – the Lamb (that being Jesus) will be their shepherd who guides them to the springs of the water of life, tears will be wiped away. Jesus will do for them in death what he did for them and does for us in life now.

Saints are with us and around us. We don’t forget the ones who have died, neither does God.

Secondly – we have limited experience of death in contemporary society.

It has been said that a 100 years ago people talked about death and avoided talking about sex. But today we talk way more about sex than death.

There are many reasons why we don’t talk about death. In the 20th & 21st centuries the advancement of medicine and hospitals took sickness and death out of the home. People now live much longer than they use to which means that some people don’t experience the death of a loved one until much later in life. Infant mortality and childhood deaths in the western world are lower too.

I would also argue that the rise of the professionalized funeral industry has taken death out of the church and community. Gone are the days of dying at home where the minister was more likely to be called than a doctor, being laid out in the parlour, taken to the church for a funeral and then buried in the cemetery. Usually in a very short period of time.

Today death is handled by paid professional (usually very nice) strangers (for the most part) to take us from the institution where death occurred to the funeral home for preparation. It is clean, no muss, no fuss. The advent of embalming and refrigeration has meant that body disposal isn’t as urgent as it once was.

Death still comes to us all but largely out of sight. As a result, we have lost some of the vocabulary to talk or write about death. Think of the language we use – we don’t even like to say that someone has died. They passed away. Hmmm– no I think they stopped. You pass an exam or a driving test. You prove your competency and carry on at a higher level.

Or how about ‘they slipped away’ – you slip out of a meeting or maybe out of this sermon – in a way that does not interrupt or interfere.

But the nature of death is just that – it interferes, it upsets, it destroys. Death is not subtle or considerate! Our person may have been unconscious or unaware when they died. But we weren’t. Many of the deaths I’ve experienced have struck like lightening. Even the ones that ‘were expected’ still have an element of shock to them.

Consider to how we write about death – a person ‘succumbed to…’ or ‘lost the battle’. This phrasing implies that maybe if they had just put a bit more effort in they wouldn’t have died. Battle is the language of war – battles are lost because of bad strategy, lack of preparedness, an enemy that overpowers. If someone ‘loses their battle to cancer’ – was it down to bad planning? What do we do with those who are diagnosed late and never get a chance to fight? Or those who choose not to?

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the National Funeral Directors Exhibition for England as part of a conference I attended. What a fascinating event that was! It had everything you would expect – hearses and body removal vans with all the latest in comfort & technology, urns and caskets, headstones, embalming fluids, make-up, flowers and lots of digital options too – all on show.

What surprised me most was the company who – for a fee (of course) – would text your family and friends to notify them of your death! Yup – you provided the phone numbers, then your next of kin would contact them when you died and then they sent the mass group text! This company would also text the obituary and details of your service. And they would text reminders!

Really?! Have we become so removed from death that our thumbs now do the talking for us? What a shocking thought that I could become so busy that a death of someone I loved would require text reminders!

Have we lost that much vocabulary?

Jesus talked about death a lot. He spoke openly about his own death and what was to come for the disciples. John 14 – ‘In my Father’s House there are many dwelling-places’. God’s House has places prepared for us – this is clearly a God who loves his people! He was waiting for them. For us. We are not to be afraid.

Jesus also responds to the death. Jesus wept at the mouth of Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus was not afraid to confront death. In Jewish culture touching a dead body made one ritually unclean and it was quite a process to made clean again. But time and again we see Jesus cut through the rules to reach out to people.

Jesus cares for the dying, the dead and their families – Lazarus, the Widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus. Jesus was firmly in control in these situations – he was the only one that did.

As we have been distanced from death and have lost some of the vocabulary and experience – we have also lost control (if we ever really had any) over death. Western culture would like to tell us we can control our lives and do what we like, when we want to. All we have to do is figure out how to get what we want. Death is the most uncomfortable reminder that we have so little control over what happens.

Back to the Funeral Exhibition – I reflected after that a lot of the products and services went some way to trying to restore some form of control – but not to the dead – this control is for the living. The distance that death brings could be reduced through the distraction of arranging the personalization of stuff.

Caskets could be personalised – Harley-Davidson logos, majestic mountain scapes, clouds, kittens, The Last Supper, wood, stainless steel, willow baskets – whatever you want! For a few thousand dollars you can be buried or burned in a customized box – made just for you.

Urns came in every shape and size to ‘reflect ones’ personality and design taste. I particularly liked the 6 or 8 pack mini urns that could be purchased! No kidding – handy if you hadn’t quite decided or told anyone where you would like you final resting place to be. Or maybe you have a family prone to fighting – now everyone can have a piece!

What is a Christian response to this? The Beatitudes are a good place to start as we are reminded that the world is not always going to be as it is. They speak of the past, the present and the future all at once.

The Beatitudes are the opening lines of Jesus’ The Sermon on the Mount – probably the most famous words that Jesus ever spoke. Jesus is setting out the main themes of his Good News.

Jesus is not simply telling people to behave properly and then all will be right with the world. This isn’t about trying harder to be better. Neither is Jesus suggesting the Beatitudes are some kind of timeless truths – because they are not. Mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, and those who long for justice don’t often see it in their lifetimes.

In our world, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life and victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, poor in spirit and the peacemakers.

The world the Jesus is offering is upside down! Jesus is saying that with his work it’s starting to come true. Those who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit and the persecuted will get the kingdom.

So when do these promises come true? The great Christian temptation is to say in heaven, after death. And it can seem like that with the references to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’

Heaven is God’s space – where full reality exists, close by our ordinary ‘earthly’ reality and interlocking with it. It is not a place of fat babies playing harps on clouds. One-day heaven and earth will be unified forever and the true state of affairs, which are at present out of sight, will be unveiled. The life of heaven, the life of the realm where God is already king – is to become the life of the world. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now.

It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring and imagination, that it is in fact the right way up.

Thirdly – All Saints is ultimately a celebration of Christ’s victory over death.

I used the words festival and celebration at the beginning – the festival of All Saints. We do well to remember that the Christian faith is built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let’s not forget that death came first – Good Friday before Easter Sunday. For those who die in Christ their physical death is not the end of the story. This is Good News!

I also appreciate that this can be cold comfort to those who live with grief. Christian or not. Grief can overwhelm and when allowed to can rob life from the living. The only solace I can offer is that those who mourn will be comforted. Jesus is the great comforter and friend to those who mourn. Go to Him with it. People, friends, family can be helpful but they can’t fix it.

One of my favourite saints is John. He lived a life and death closer to Jesus than anyone. John stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die; his brother James and most of his closest friends were crucified. He was an old man when he wrote Revelation and the letters of John.

John – I believe – has distilled down a lifetime of experience to ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ As he is coming to the end of his life, John writes about the love of God – because that is all there is at the end of the day. It is the only thing that will sustain us. The love of God is the only thing that stands up to the heart-breaking, interrupting, destruction of death.

God’s love will carry through the experience of death and give us our vocabulary back. It is through God’s love that we are even able to love and be loved. He first loved us!

I would encourage you this morning and in the coming days or weeks to remember and give thanks for the Saints in your life – both the living and the dead. They are around. Have a conversation about them. See what comes up – compare memories. They still sit at the dinner table!  If it’s hard or brings up any feelings of grief or love or guilt or joy – pray about them. Ask God for his peace and input. He is in this with you. He loves and cares for all his Saints. That means you to.