I have a wooden box that sits on the windowsill in my office. It is about the size of a brick. If you were to see the box, you would wonder why I keep it. The box is beaten and broken and should probably be thrown away.
It used to have a picture of downtown Chicago on it. Unfortunately, with the sun shining on the box for years, the picture has begun to fade. Once I left the window open and the box got soaked in the rain, so the picture is starting to peel, and the wood is warped. It has fallen on the floor. One of the hinges is broken. The lid does not fit perfectly. As I said, most people would probably throw the box away.
But I keep it on my windowsill because it reminds me of my congregation on the south-side of Chicago. When I left that congregation, a parishioner gave me this box as a present. She told me it was a memory box. If you were to open the box, you would see what she meant.
My parishioner had gathered together a bunch of small white stones and then, with a Sharpie, wrote a word or drew a picture on each stone so each stone represented a memory of life in the congregation. One stone captured a memory of a parishioner whose life was a blessing to the community. Another stone reminded me of suffering that happened in the years I served there. From the 50th wedding anniversary of a couple, to the burial of child, the box is filled with memories and invites me to see God at work in various ways in the world.
I thought of that memory box when I read the gospel reading for All Saints’ Day. Matthew tells us that the ministry of Jesus is beginning to gather crowds. Right before this passage, Jesus is going through Galilee and His reputation is growing through Syria. When you look at what Jesus is doing, you know why. He is casting out demons and healing paralytics. He is performing miracles which provide people with healing and hope.
That miraculous context is important when you look at our reading for today because, as Jesus gathers the crowds and starts teaching them, He is not calling attention to His miracles. Instead of the miraculous, Jesus points to the mundane. He speaks about people who are mourning. He talks about those who are meek. He identifies peacemakers and those who show mercy and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Instead of the miraculous, Jesus gives us the mundane. Why? Because the Kingdom of God belongs to these people.
In a sense, Jesus is like my parishioner. In this opening to His sermon, He creates a memory box for His Church to have and to hold in later generations. Jesus opens our eyes to see the people among whom and through whom God works.
Jesus opens our eyes to see the people among whom and through whom God works.
On All Saints’ Day, it can be easy for the Church to lose hold of this vision. Either the Church can so emphasize the set apart (“holy”) character of the saints that it loses sight of how this designation embraces all of God’s people or the Church can so emphasize the broad sweep of God’s people that it loses sight of the individuals whom God has set apart.
The beatitudes hold the two of these together. We have individual people, in all of their particularity, set apart for sacred use.
Reading the beatitudes is like opening a memory box. We see in beautiful particularity the way in which God works among His people. For example, we see peacemakers. In a world so full of argument and so empty of common ground, what a blessing it is to see God has called forth peacemakers and promises that, in time, they will be called children of God. At present, their work may not seem peaceful. They call for radical honesty and hard work to heal broken relationships and injustice. This can be inconvenient or even threatening. But, in time, Jesus will reveal they are children of God.
The beauty of the beatitudes is how they open our eyes to the people God the Father gathers around His Son. They call for us to pause and to confess the variety of people who God brings into His kingdom and the many ways in which He blesses them, now and in the future.
In North America, the Church is declining. Churches are being converted into event venues or condos or banks. As God’s people gather on Sunday, they enter churches which are emptier than before. The glorious picture of beautiful cathedrals is fading. The picture of the perfect church is peeling. The Church seems beaten and broken. Some would argue it is time to throw this broken box away.
Yet, Jesus comes this morning and opens the box for us and pulls out a few stones. He reminds us of the people He has raised up in our congregations, the members through whom He has worked and whose lives He has blessed. They are sainted, not by what they have done, but by what Jesus did for them.
Jesus is able to open the broken and beaten box of the Church because He Himself was broken, beaten, and placed in a tomb. Breaking the seal of that tomb, He revealed the power of God at work through Him. God blesses that which is broken and beaten. God works among the worthless because all people are of value to Him. All sin is forgiven, all blessing is given, and all praise belongs to the Lord our God.
On All Saints’ Day, then, we pause for a moment to take out a few stones and remember the work of Jesus. He comes to our broken church and brings out of it His blessing.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 5:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 5:1-12
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!