"Hidden Children of God" - All Saints Sunday
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 5, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 5:1-12

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12


Hidden Children of God


            I know I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again. Twelve years ago, I was a 24 year-old seminarian in orientation week with fifty-some other classmates. We did a number of things that week: we worshipped together, we heard each others’ call stories, we took a walking tour of Hyde Park. As part of that week, we met with one of the seminary deans in a tiny classroom and, at her invitation, described what kind of community we were going to be.  


            Adjective after adjective went up on the chalkboard. We would be a “tolerant” community. We would be a “loving” community. We would be a “gracious” community. The problem was that we never stopped to consider what any of these adjectives actually meant. What would it mean to be gracious when pressure from classes was on and you found it difficult to be around your colleagues? What does it mean to love someone you find totally obnoxious (realizing that you yourself are also totally obnoxious to someone else)? What does it mean to be part of a temporary community, in a pressure-cooker learning environment, where stresses and fears abounded – both personal and professional? Those things were never properly explored in those first few weeks at seminary. It probably isn’t surprising that there was a fair amount of conflict among us.


            It was a discouraging first year for me. I expected to be part of a group that “had life together”, who were exemplars of holiness (and by “holiness”, I meant “niceness”), not the group of people I was with. I remember thinking, “If these are the kind of people going into professional ministry (myself included), then what kind of church am I going into?” (I should note that every single judgment I leveled against my colleagues came from a place of deep self-judgment and self-condemnation.)


            The answer was, of course, that I was part of a church of sinners and saints. A church where the sinner was totally obvious, but the saint was hidden. A church where I, as much as anyone, needed grace to see how God worked in others – without grace I was doomed to simply see the sinner and not the saint.


            Jesus talks about hidden saints in today’s Gospel from Matthew, in the section of the Sermon on the Mount we call the Beatitudes. Jesus calls these people “blessed”. However, “blessed” is only one way to translate the Greek word makarioi. The word could mean “happy”, or “fortunate”, or perhaps my favorite, “congratulations”, for maximum ironic effect. “Congratulations to the poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven! Congratulations to those who mourn, for they will be comforted! Congratulations to the meek, for they will inherit the earth!” And so on. Jesus congratulates those who embody the opposite of the usual system of values in society.


            After all, whom do we usually look up to? Whom do we usually seek to emulate? The answer is usually no farther than the commercials we see. The people we want to be are the people who seem to be so obviously blessed, so clearly happy. They are self-reliant and popular. They see what they want and they take it. They are happy because they seem to have what they want. In a word, they’re “winners”.


            The blessed, though, are those who are not so obviously blessed. They are not the self-reliant, go-getters who’ve got life figured out. They are the people who don’t have life figured out, who fail, who mourn, who are sometimes beaten down by the world. These are the hidden children of God.


            Most saints are not obviously saints. They are ordinary people, with their own weaknesses, sins, and foibles. It’s just the same with holy things. The water for baptism doesn’t look like anything more than water. The bread and wine for communion look and taste like bread and wine. To our senses, nothing seems to happen to them. But with the Word of God, they are made holy. Same with people. With the Word of God, ordinary people become a holy people, while still seeming ordinary.


            So why is this? Why doesn’t God give us some proof in the form of a dramatic change? Why doesn’t baptism work like magic? Why don’t we always feel some kind of change in ourselves when we receive communion? Why can’t God make us perfect, whole, and healed right now?


            I know that I wish that I could be made “perfect” according to my standards right now. But my standards for wholeness and perfection are not God’s. My standards for wholeness and perfection would make me into my own god, without the need for a relationship with my creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Perhaps, just perhaps, God sees me as ‘perfect’ just the way I am and just the way you are, right now – not because of our own worthiness but because of what Jesus has made us. Jesus has already made us holy, complete, and perfect in the sight of God, but for our own sakes, we need to learn the implications of that. We need to know that we are not our own god. We need to learn that we don’t have to pass judgment on each other or on ourselves. We need to learn to be loved.


            Perhaps that’s behind John’s assertion in his letter that “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” We only know that we are God’s children by faith for the time being. We already know this. But then John says something extraordinary. “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” We will be like Jesus. We will see him for who he truly is, because then, when we are raised, we will be able to see and hear him in a way that we cannot right now. We will take on everything that Jesus is in full, while remaining created beings. We may not have it all together now. We may not meet our standards for goodness or blessedness or holiness. But in Jesus, we already do. Right now, today, God sees us as complete. And with God’s grace, we will continue to grow into that completion.


            Let us pray.


            Lord God, we thank you that your standards are not our standards. Give us the faith to see you at work in ourselves and in others. Help us to see your presence in the ordinary and everyday. Amen.