Monday, October 30, 2017

All Saints' Sunday, Year A

The most remarkable thing about these blessings is that they completely reverse the values of most societies.

1st Reading: Revelation to John 7:9-17
The context of this reading is the opening of the scroll with seven seals, which had been given to the Lamb to open. There is great anticipation and fear about the opening of the last seal.  Chapter six ends, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  In chapter seven, before the opening of the last seal (8:1), that question is answered:  God’s people will be rescued.  Revelation 7:9-17 is a vision of that rescue, and it is true even for those who have been martyred.  The end of the scene borrows from visions of the prophet Isaiah (see especially Isaiah 25:8).  Note as well the paradox of the Lamb who is also the Shepherd.
7:9 I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Psalm 34:1-10, 22
Psalm 34 is a hymn of praise for deliverance from “troubles.” We are told twice to “fear” the Lord, a common sentiment in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew word translated “fear” does not denote terror. It is more akin to respect and reverence, particularly when combined with a commitment to the sovereignty of God (God as the one and only “Higher Power”). Verse nine is the only use of the English word “saint” in most translations. In Hebrew it is literally “holy ones” (of course, the New Testament word translated “saint” is also literally “holy ones”).

1    I will bless the Lord at all times; *
                his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2    I will glory in the Lord; *
                let the humble hear and rejoice.
3    Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
                let us exalt his Name together.
4    I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
                and delivered me out of all my terror.
5    Look upon him and be radiant, *
                and let not your faces be ashamed.
6    I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
                and saved me from all my troubles.
7    The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
                and he will deliver them.
8    Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
                happy are they who trust in him!
9    Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, *
                for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger, *
                but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.
22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
                and none will be punished who trust in him.

2nd Reading:  1 John 3:1-3
The writer of the First Letter of John has a strong sense of God’s steadfast love for his people, so much so that he will say, “God is love” (4:16). He is also convinced that it is our greatest desire to be like Christ, who has revealed this love to us. All our hope is in our relationship with him, and so we seek to be holy/pure as he is holy/pure. This does not mean that we never fall short. No, forgiveness is always available to those who recognize and acknowledge it (1:9).

3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:1-12
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the well-known “beatitudes.”  The sermon covers three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (5-7).  It is the first of several extended bodies of teaching by Jesus in Matthew.  The sermon begins with blessings.  They are not commandments, but statements: “Blessed are those who…”  The most remarkable thing about these blessings is that they completely reverse the values of most societies. Jesus is claiming those whom society rejects as his kingdom people.

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with attribution.

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