We begin today by recalling the prophet, Daniel’s vision of heaven . . .
“As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, `and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened] . . . [and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
This lesson from the Book of Daniel, and as I have read many like it in my life, reminds me of at least two things . . . one is that, through the mercies of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, most of us will actually make it into heaven . . . and two, it shows that the brightest crowns that are worn in heaven are ones that have been tried, and smelted, and polished, and glorified through the furnace of tribulation.
And isn’t that what Jesus came to affirm to us . . . that one . . . we are loved by God, redeemed by God and saved by God . . . and two . . . that those who are one with God will be hated in this world, persecuted for their belief and rejected by men.
Today of course is a day set aside for the Celebration of All Saints . . . Christians . . . believers in the messiah, the Christ . . . like you and like me and like the many millions who have come before us. We, who are the universal church militant (those living) share this particular day with the church expectant (those who have died) in joyful anticipation of the final glory that awaits us at the end of all things.
And why do you suppose we do this? What purpose does it serve for the living to remember the dead? Its purpose is to strengthen our resolve to fight on in the midst of great adversity. To give us the strength of our convictions in order to live out the gospel message in our own lives. To recall those who have died reminds us of their great sacrifice in a just cause, to keep true faith alive so that people yet to be born might one day inherit the truth od the gospel of Christ and gain everlasting life.
I for one have always been interested in the lives of the saints since I was a kid. I occasionally stop at the Fatima Shrine in Niagara Falls for a walk among the saints depicted there in sculpture. I have favorite saints as I presume you do also. Mine are St. Francis and St. Augustine. In our church newsletter we provide a synopsis of a saint that we celebrate each month. Since doing this, I have found that the saints of yesterday were fighting the same spiritual battles that we continue to fight in today’s world. Injustice and hatred towards believers is nothing new and spans the church’s two thousand year history.
I believe Jesus knew this too and gave us a glimpse of what the future would hold for those saints who truly sought God. The beatitudes are probably the most recognized group of verses there is . . . but there is one that for me has always been an enigma . . . that is the first one that reads “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”
To my mind this has never made sense how one with little or no spirit could also be first in line to inherit the kingdom. I always thought that by only being spirit filled . . . that is . . . up to the brim . . . that one could please God. But here is Jesus saying that no . . . it is by being poor in spirit that we inherit the kingdom of God.
And so I have been pondering this most of my life. And this is what I think Jesus meant. To be poor in spirit means a deep and abiding sense of the absolute need we are in of a Savior, a messiah, because of our utter helplessness, hopelessness, wickedness and condemnation. To be poor in spirit, our minds must perceive and feel guilt in such a sense as to be sure that salvation on our own merits is simply out of the question. To be poor in spirit provides in us a sense of our own vileness and that except through the sacrifice of Christ we are completely doomed in our sins.
It is easy to say we are helpless and that Christ is our only hope and dependence; it is easy to recite this in our confessional prayer each week . . . We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. But how hard is it to see our vileness and guilt . . . our abominable filthiness for what it really is.
And so such a one who is ‘poor in spirit is given the kingdom of heaven’. Why? . . . Because in a sense, such a person has already learned what the remedy for sin is. He has learned to reject himself, and that his dependence must be utterly and forever placed on someone other than himself. He has learned how blessed it is to be nothing, to know and do nothing of himself, to be universally dependent upon Christ for everything . . . for his breath, for his grace, for his faith, for everything; to have Christ be the fount of all blessings in this world and the next.
In Christ’s eyes, the poor in spirit are emptied of dependence upon themselves, and because of this they have become rich in faith. To be poor in spirit then means to be rich in faith. And isn’t that the point of the whole gospel.
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 righteousness’ sake, 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.
Finally, Jesus teaches us that in order to be a saint there are two basic truths that each person has to admit in this life before proceeding into the next. These two truths are perhaps the most important things you ever need to know and remember:
1. There is a God. 2. It isn’t me.