Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” Jesus begins his ministry with those words. Today is All Saints’ Sunday. We light candles, to remember our loved ones, lost to death this past year. Some of us are still grieving. We grieve with hope, standing on the promise of the Resurrection, believing we’ll see our loved ones again. Hearing Jesus speak of the Kingdom of Heaven brings us comfort. Many people name Heaven as a place we go when we die.
Jesus is on the mountain, today, for the first sermon of his ministry. He’s surrounded by his disciples and a crowd of people, who are expecting to see Jesus heal. That’s what they have heard, and why they are there. But Jesus starts talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” but what Jesus says makes no sense! Blessed are you when you feel hopeless, God is there. Blessed are you when you’ve lost what’s most dear to you, God is there. Blessed are you when you’re humiliated, God is there. Blessed are you when you continue hungering and thirsting, but are still oppressed, God is there.
What the heck? If Jesus is trying to win converts to his cause, this is not the way to get people to follow him. Jesus paints a picture that doesn’t make any sense. The people he describes don’t sound fortunate or blessed in any way. Jesus names some pretty tough realities. We cry out that the world doesn’t look like what God has promised, and Jesus confirms that the world is a mess.
Maybe that’s the point. The Kingdom of Heaven is in direct contrast to the world we live in. The world values strength, success, vitality, and looking good. God stands with the vulnerable, the least, the lost and the lonely, the throw away invisible people. The world looks for a strong and mighty God. Jesus says we’ll find God in places of vulnerability and weakness, the dark and scary places of life. God shows up in the most unexpected places in the most unexpected ways. Where is God? According to Jesus, if you’re looking for God, God is in your tears as you grieve. God is standing beside the homeless, the suffering, the people we would rather not see.
And Jesus continues His sermon. How blessed are those who show mercy, rather than exact revenge, you will see God’s mercy triumph. Blessed are you, when you put God first. God will be there with you. Blessed are those who strive for peace, rather use violence, you will belong to the family of God. Blessed are you who, when you are committed to being part of God’s work in spite the consequences, God is there with you.
God knows the world needs healing. Jesus named some of those realities in the first part of his sermon. Now, in this part, Jesus invites us to become part of the solution. God’s healing comes through the hands of Jesus’s followers. The Kingdom of Heaven looks like God’s children bringing God’s healing love to transform the world. We pray, Your Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Love is what transforms the world into the place God imagines. A world where God’s mercy abounds, where devotion to God is the guiding principle, where peace and reconciliation are how people respond to one another. And where everyone works together for the good of all.
This picture is definitely in contrast to what we are experiencing today. The Kingdom of Heaven, the world as God imagines it, Is not the hate, fear, divisiveness, and selfishness we see swirling around us. Jesus’s sermon is essentially a call to action. What might our world look like if we grounded our words, attitudes, and actions in God’s love? In what ways is Jesus inviting you to love as God loves, working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven near?
Transforming the world begins with living a Kingdom life, in our small part of it. We ask in prayer, “What would you have me do, today?” We see God present when love shows up! And sometimes, we are the answer to the prayers we pray. Sometimes, we’re the ones who need a word of love, or a hand up. Sometimes, we are the ones called to reach out our hands to those in need.
God loves you! That’s what we celebrate on All Saints Day. While we remember and honor our loved ones who have died, the day is named ALL Saints. ALL includes EVERYONE God loves. You and me, those who are resting in God, and those who will come after us. We are ALL Saints, loved by God, invited by God to join in the mission of bringing the Kingdom, on Earth, as it is in Heaven. May our hearts be open to the challenge… and the promise. Amen.