For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you -- Jesus' words at the end of the beatitudes ought to both flatter and scare us. The words should flatter us because Jesus is lumping His people in with the prophets. Yet, when we get over the initial excitement of being included in such an austere and profound group, we should probably be a little frightened. Think of the suffering of His prophets. We recently finished the narrative of Moses in the RCL. We know others were imprisoned, hounded, kept in cisterns, and reviled. Who wants a part of that? Further, how can someone consider themselves truly blessed (made happy by God) when they are suffering such injustices? I suppose I should back up a moment and comment on the Beatitudes themselves.
Among other things, the Beatitudes teach us about the ethics of God's people. We are called to humility, to mourning, to be reconcilers and to faithfulness to our Lord. In each description, Jesus says that those who practice the ethic He commands will be made joyful by God. It seems a bit counter-intuitive. How can a mourner be made joyful? How can a peacemaker be made joyful when neither disputing party can agree on anything? How can the scales of justice ever equal out for one who is merciful? The truth is that, of our own doing, no joy is possible. Jesus uses the word blessed to remind us that the joy is a gift of God. So, are we looking to some distant joy?
In one sense, we are looking to a final joy. When Jesus comes and remakes the world after His last judgment, His people will no doubt be blessed. But Jesus seems a little more focused on the here and now. How can you and I and all who claim to be His people ever claim to be blessed in the face of life's tragedies? The answer is profound and, yet, simple. We serve a redeeming God! Only such a God, who can redeem even death, can allows us to stand at a grave, make our alleluias, and look to the future where we can be with our departed loved ones in full communion with our Lord and Savior who made it all possible. Only such a God, who has bestowed upon His people undeserved, unmerited grace, can serve as a spring of joy in life's vicissitudes. Only such a God, who first showed each one of us mercy, can inspire us to find joy in sharing that same mercy with those who have wronged us. Jesus' list goes on and on. God has demonstrated those very aspects, those very behaviors to us. When we earned His wrath, when we earned His punishment, He showed us His grace and His mercy. Better still, He has called each of us into a relationship which empowers us to do the same for others in His Name!
So, how can we be happy in the face our own particular problems? We can be happy by reminding ourselves who it is that calls us into relationship with Him. We can remind ourselves that, though we might be sorry what our sins cost Him; He happily paid the price for each one of us to break us from our prisons and separation from Him. We can be happy, though we do not deserve such accolades, He has chosen to name us among His prophets and send us into the world to do His ministry.
Appropriately, this is our reading for All Saints' Day. You and I on this special day are called to remember the work He has done for us, the work He has for us to do, and the loving audacity and joy of His charge. He has called you and me to be His prophet! Despite knowing our deepest darkest secrets and sins, He has chosen to work through every one of us who submits to Him and accepts His offer of mercy. God has chosen to work through the ordinary, and what an amazing choice that is! You and I might argue that we are not worthy of such responsibility and accolade in His kingdom; yet that is precisely His reward and His promise. Think back in your life. Who led you to Jesus? Was it a magnificent prophet such as Moses or Elijah? Or was it a parent? A Sunday school teacher? A co-worker? A friend? A pastor? Were any of them extraordinary? Or were they approachable people with a joy you needed to discover? The fact is that in our ordinariness we are called by our Lord to show forth joy, joy that comes from knowing that He has redeemed us all.
This past weekend, we sang "I sing a song of the saints of God." It is a joyful song which reminds us of all the saints in our lives and in the world around us. It ends with the words "and there's not any reason, not in the least, why I shouldn't be one too!" Where in your life is He calling you to be a prophet and a saint? Whom has He given to you to shepherd into His kingdom? Where are the fields the Master has planted you to work? Be thankful He has called you, and live the life to which He has called you. Who knows? In the All Saints' Days ahead, maybe someone will remember you when they sing that song of the saints of God because you will have been the prophet in their life who called them into relationship with their Lord.