Empty Handed Saints

Text: Matthew 5:1-12

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day.  In other words, today is the day that we think about heaven and remember the blessed saints who have died and are with Jesus.

Now, we must keep in mind that when we say, “saints,” we are not referring to every single person who has died and we are certainly not referring to people who have surpassed everyone else in their degree of holiness. That is to say; we are not referring to people who have accumulated holiness by doing a bunch of holy things, but instead, when we use the term ‘saint,’ we are using it to describe Christians in general.  Yes, the term ‘saint’ is a term that is used to describe Christians who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that includes those who have died in Jesus and those who are still living in Jesus. 

Now, even though all Christians are called saints because of what Christ Jesus did on the cross and delivered in baptism, there are some people who still imagine that saints are those individuals who are extraordinary, strong, and successful.  Yes, some people imagine that saints are super Christians that are resilient, cheerful, brave, and secure.  It is believed that these saints walk through life on some higher level, with a shiny halo over their head, while speaking with religious overtones. 

Jesus, though, describes what these saints are like in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  Yes, Jesus gives us a picture of the new life that follows from faith.  And to our surprise, these saints are not resilient.  They are not cheerful or brave.  And they have no self-security.  In fact, these saints are not extraordinary, strong, or successful at all, but they are quite the opposite.  With their titled halos, scuffed knees, and scrappy garments, we hear that these saints are poor in spirit, mournful over their sin, humble in their abilities, and starving for righteousness.  Jesus goes on to say that these saints are often “abused, persecuted and lied about because they don’t live like other people.  However, they’re gentle.  They don’t demand their rights.  They don’t put themselves on a pedestal.  They establish peace by suffering rather than fighting.”[1]

Now, I don’t know about you, but this description certainly does not sound like a great description of a saint.  It sounds more like the description of a loser – someone who amounts to nothing in this life… a weakling.    

And yet, contrary to what we might think, Jesus is describing what it looks like to be a saint, He is describing the Christian life. 

But why are these saints poor in spirit?  Well, they are poor in spirit because they are aware of their profound helplessness and are beggarly in their abilities – they know that they cannot do anything to obtain eternal life. 

And why do these saints mourn?  They mourn because of sin and its consequences.  They have sorrow over their sin and the sin of the world.

And why are these saints humble; that is to say, meek?  They have learned not to take themselves too seriously, and when offended they have learned from Jesus not to get too worked up.  They are not easily triggered. 

And why are do these saints hunger?  They are hungry not for temporal things for they know that the temporal things of life fade.  But they hunger for that which is eternal. 

Behold, what Jesus speaks about in our Gospel reading is the life of a saint!  Here in this world, these saints are a poor company of beggars, filled with tears, because of the sufferings of this life.  Yes, this is what a saint looks like: distressed by sin and failing over and over and over again.  These saints, hunger, and thirst for righteousness, knowing that they’ve got nothing to offer before God, except their sin.

So, considering all that we’ve heard thus far, I ask you today, are you among the saints?  Are you poor in spirit confessing your moral bankruptcy, or do you pretend that you are not a sinner – pretending that you are a good person? 

Are you among the saints?  Are you sorrowful over your sin and the sin of the world or do you try to normalize sin and then celebrate it?

Are you among the saints? Are you humble, or are you easily provoked and triggered when offended and then seek revenge – plotting your neighbor's demise? 

Are you among the saints? Are you hungry for righteousness seeking out God’s Word and Sacraments, longing to come to the Lord’s house, or are you apathetic with a full stomach of sin and put off by church services?   

I ask these questions of you and me because if we are not poor in spirit, we will not possess the kingdom of heaven.  If we are not sorrowful for our sin, we will not be comforted.  If we are not humble and meek, we will not inherit the earth.  If we do not know hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will never be satisfied.  To the point, if we are none of these things, we will not be blessed. 

Dear friends, an ancient Christian named St. Augustine once said, “God gives where He finds empty hands.”  And so, what we hear today is that a saint is not a person who has his hands full of all sorts of spiritual trophies, but a saint is someone who has empty hands.  A saint is not someone who pumps his hands in the air in victory, but beats his chest confessing, “God have mercy on me, the sinner.”  A saint is not someone who is cool in the eyes of the world but is one who knows that Christianity has never been cool and never will be cool in the eyes of the world.  A saint knows that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. A saint knows that Jesus came for the sin-sick, not for superstars.  A saint knows that the Gospel is for sinners only – sinners like you and me too. 

Dear friends, drop everything!  You neither have the power nor the ability to be a saint by your own reason or strength.  Yes, drop everything, you do not have enough faith or goodness to become a saint.  But instead, know this.  Jesus Christ made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men so that He could live that perfect life for you and die that death for sin in your place.  Yes, Jesus humbled Himself, and in meekness and sorrow for our sin, endured poverty, contempt, and persecution for you and me.  He suffered, died, and was buried in a tomb voluntarily to redeem lost, prideful, and condemned persons.  Yes, He takes sinners and clothes them with His robe of righteousness and pronouncing them to be saints.   

In case you haven’t noticed, I am speaking of you, you beloved Baptized Saints. This message is all about you and for you! 

Dear Saints, Jesus humbled Himself to do all of this for you, and then He sent His Holy Spirit to you to enlighten you and create a clean heart within you.  Indeed, in your baptisms, the Lord renewed a right spirit within you and called you into this blessed mourning and this blessed hunger and this blessed meekness.  In other words, the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, creates a hunger and thirst for righteousness within His people – that is you and me.  He constantly makes us people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, a hunger, and thirst which is only satisfied at the Communion altar, where the supernatural food of our Savior’s body and blood is given as a sheer gift!

And so, what the world sees here at Zion is a bunch of poor miserable sinners gathered together.  The world sees a bunch of meek, humble, and hungry people who are supposedly cursed with low self-esteem.  However, what the world cannot see is that even though we are all struggling along the way of life, Jesus nonetheless pronounces us blessed.  Yes, blessed! Blessed: because He opens our hands to receive continually. Blessed: because we are continually given the gift of sorrow for our sins. Blessed: because we are given that hunger continuously for the Lord and His gifts.  Blessed for where we are headed.  Blessed for what He will give to us when we are gathered to the throne at last.  Blessed through whatever sufferings come our way, because we know that the day will come when the sufferings will be left behind forever. Blessed: because we are in Jesus along with all of our loved ones who have passed away before us.  Yes, blessed, because just like those saints who have passed away and are with Jesus, we too are clothed in the same righteousness of Jesus.  We too are saints, but saints who wait for the great day when all of our tears, all of our sorrows, and all of our pain will be wiped away, forever. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ: Devotions by Bo Giertz, tr. Bror Erickson (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 781. 

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