In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The idea that sainthood is something to be achieved, a goal to be attained in the future, something for which you are or should be working, is a lie from the devil himself. Because it causes us to look at the outward works and judge holiness by them; it causes us to base holiness on what we can see, in ourselves or others. That kind of sainthood stands against everything that our Lutheran ancestors believed and confessed. Because it stands against everything the Scriptures say. “Saint” is just the noun form of the adjective “holy,” so what do the Scriptures call holy? In the Scriptures holiness is a current reality based in the fact that something, or some place, or some person either belongs to God or it is a place He has chosen to be present. What kinds of things are holy in the Scriptures? The Sabbath day, on which God rested; it is God’s day. God’s Name is holy simply because it is God’s, and because it tells us what He does. When Moses approaches the bush that burns but is not consumed, the ground is holy. It’s not because that ground is particularly special; the dirt is not more holy than any other dirt. It’s holy simply because that is where God has chosen to be to speak to Moses. Moses has to remove his sandals so that he doesn’t bring other ground onto the holy ground where God is. The tabernacle’s instruments, vessels, holy place and most holy place are all God’s. The ark of the covenant is holy because it’s God’s. Israel is a holy priesthood and a treasured possession simply because God made Himself their God and them His people. As God says in Leviticus: “You shall be holy to Me for I, Yahweh, am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (20:26). The gold plate on the turban of Aaron the priest said, Kadosh leYahweh, “Holy to Yahweh.” The mountain of God, Zion, His holy dwelling, holy hill, holy heaven: all holy simply because they are God’s or where God chooses to dwell.
We even have an example of the opposite in Numbers 16. A man named Korah gathered 250 people from Israel and they confronted Moses: “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Yahweh is among them. Why then do you exalt yourself above the congregation of Yahweh” (16:3). Korah assumed that Moses’ holiness as the leader of Israel was because he had exalted himself over them. But Korah forgot that no one can put himself forward for holiness before God. You must be chosen by God for Himself.
In the New Testament it is no different, although it’s not so much about places and things, as about people. Of the 80+ times that the word “saint” appears, I could find only one or two that refer to people who have died. The rest refer to people who have received the Holy Spirit, who are holy because they belong to God in Christ. It includes people like the Galatians and the Corinthians who certainly did not attain sainthood as we are used to talking about it. But whether we are talking about the Old Testament or the New Testament, the fact is that the holiness of people, places, and things simply means that that person, place, or thing belongs to the God of the universe, and it is holy because He is holy.
It is not a coincidence that the very first word to the disciples out of the mouth of Jesus, the Holy One of God, is a blessing, and not a curse. Jesus goes up on a mountain, His disciples come to Him, He opens His mouth, and the first word is a blessing: Makarios, “blessed.” He speaks nine blessings to them, and to those who would believe after them. To His chosen ones, His gathered ones, His holy ones, He gives them blessings both for themselves and for others. The blessed ones are the spiritually poor and the humble, who receive from the Lord—as we heard last week—like beggars who have nothing to give in return. They have the Kingdom of Heaven, and they will inherit the earth. The blessed ones are the mourning and grieving. That’s the way it will always be for the holy ones in this life and in this world: sin and death and the weakness of our flesh means grief and mourning. But it is precisely them who will be comforted. The blessed ones are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Deprived of their own righteousness, they hunger and thirst for the righteousness that Christ alone gives. They will be filled up and satisfied, like multiplying loaves and fish. The blessing of the cross will give way to the blessing of the resurrection.
But there is also blessing here for others. Because the blessed ones are the merciful ones. Because you have been shown mercy, because your Father continues to show you mercy; because His steadfast love endures forever, and His mercy is new every morning, be merciful to all, especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ. They struggle as you do. They sin as you do. They fail as you do. They need your mercy like you need the mercy of Christ. The blessed ones are merciful. And the blessed ones are pure in heart. You are already pure, Jesus says to His disciples (John 13:10). The one who hopes in the resurrected Jesus, coming again; the one whose hope is in the fact that when Jesus, crucified, resurrected, and glorified, appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is—that one purifies himself as Christ is pure. Who shall ascend the hill of Yahweh and stand in His holy place? Only the one with clean hands and a pure heart. So Jesus goes up that mountain alone and is crucified. There He receives the blessing of God and righteousness from the God who saves by resurrection. All those who belong to Him by faith seek the face of the God of Jacob (Psalm 24:3-6). The blessed ones see the face of God in Christ and are driven back out into the world in fervent love for one another. The blessed ones are the peacemakers. Not just in the sense of wars and international conflicts, since Jesus is speaking to His disciples, and not to governments. But in our day-to-day lives. How easy it is not to make peace, but to stir up dissension and division. It’s so easy to spread the worst, instead of building up the best. But the blessed ones are peacemakers, like St. Monica, the mother of Augustine, who when she saw “two people at odds, she would always speak the best to both sides. Whatever good she heard about the one, she brought to the other; but whatever evil she heard, that she kept to herself or mitigated as much as possible” (Confessions, Book IX, Ch. 9; recounted in LW 21:41). Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, St. Paul says. These will be called sons of God because the Son of God makes peace in His own flesh, tearing down the walls of division and dissension. And the blessed ones are the persecuted ones. Simply believe this blessed Gospel, receive in humble faith the holy Word and the holy Sacraments, go about your duties to family and neighbor, and see what will come of it in this world. These blessed ones are persecuted not for their sin; they are not afflicted because they do what is wrong, but because they are righteous. But when you are persecuted, do not worry or doubt or despair: you are the blessed ones, who have the kingdom of heaven. Who are these, wearing white robes? These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, the great persecution, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Blessed are you! You are the blessed ones, whenever people persecute, or mock, or hate you because you bear Christ’s holy Name. This world has always persecuted the holy ones of God; the blessed ones have always been blessed with the cross of Christ.
But rejoice! Be glad! Your reward is safe in the heavens. Whatever you lose, whatever relationship, or job, or friend, or family member; whatever money or possessions, it will all go away in this world. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is in heaven. But it will not always stay in heaven. It is hidden with Christ in God, but when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear in the glory of His resurrection. The new Jerusalem, the holy city, will come down out of heaven from God and then He will dwell visibly with His people in the new earth under the new heavens. Then you will see the sainthood you have now. Then you will see all the innumerable saints, and they will see you, and we will, together, see our Lord. For now, the Lord gathers, chooses, names His own holy, blessed ones. Together with angels, archangels, and all the holy company of heaven, we hear His holy Word and eat His holy Body and Blood. Blessed are you!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/31/15