Lessons for All Saints Day, November 5, 2017

Revelation 7: 9-17

In the vision and purpose of John of Patmos, the book of Revelation is a ringing cry to new Christians now suffering from persecution. It is not clear exactly who the great multitude of his passage could be, but quite likely, it consists of both Jews and Gentiles.  All have been baptized for they appear in John’s story as wearing white garments, the practice of both Jews and new Christians.  The hymn of the heavenly choir sets the stage for the proclamation – that those who have been sealed, that is God’s own, who have faced the terror of persecution will now forever be with God; they are the saints of our belief and history.

I John 3: 1-3

Despite the name of the author of these three short letters being the same as the writer of the Gospel of John, it is unlikely that they are one and the same, and tradition had the author as John, son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles.  Yet the theological development in these letters surely indicates a later time than the New Testament gospel.  Perhaps the author sought to enlarge and emphasize the power of the Fourth Gospel.  The very strong words of the letter (e.g. “antichrist”) may indicate disputes within the community.  So in the rather simple words of this passage, the author seeks to reduce his call to belief to basic expressions:  we are children of God, we need to be like Jesus and God and our eventual destiny will be revealed to us.

Matthew 5:1-12

Today’s gospel reading is popularly called the Sermon on the Mount, a reference to the hill Matthew describes as Jesus’ location for teaching early in his ministry.  A collection of his teaching, the sermon is better described as an instruction.  Matthew often sets the teachings of Jesus in groups of messages as in this section today.  In the classic form of Jewish teacher, Jesus sits down on the mountain before delivering the single statements we know as the Beatitudes.  This collection can be thought of as the preamble of the constitution of the church of Jesus Christ. Like some other preambles, the beatitudes seek to turn the world’s values upside down.  For example, “blessed are the poor in spirit” refers to those in abject poverty, those who are failures by the world’s standard.  Each teaching requires us to think through its meaning in our lives.