I used to think that the whole point of Christianity was getting out of here. I really believed and was told that if I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, then I could die and go to heaven.
Now, I wanna be clear here.
To be “saved” one must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God, God from God, of one being with the Father who did indeed become incarnate and was made man. One must believe that He lived a sinless life, was crucified for the forgiveness of sin and rose from the dead. One must believe that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and that His Kingdom will have no end.
But nowhere does the Bible say or our Creeds confess that the goal of belief in Christ is to “get outta here” and live forever in heaven. Actually, Jesus seems very concerned not only with what we believe but how we live. Jesus seems very concerned with us being saints.
A saint is defined as “a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God.”
I’d like to use this as our working definition of what it means to be a saint as we consider our texts today:
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1 John 3:1-3
In His time here and even today, Jesus was a polarizing figure. He was a human being. Albeit born of a virgin and fully divine, but nevertheless fully human. One could argue that He is the most human person who has ever lived. Jesus is the essence of what it means to be truly human. This is our destiny if we are in Christ! But I digress…
Jesus’ teachings were controversial to the religious leaders of His day not because they were wrong but because they pushed, in many ways, the faithful to even greater heights and set an even higher bar than the religious leaders of the day. The leaders had an idea of holiness that was off. It wasn’t that God didn’t want them to follow the law. He made that pretty clear to them throughout the covenantal history of His people. No, God expected them to “follow the rules.” But following the rules alone wouldn’t get them to where God wanted them to go…holiness of heart. That’s why Jesus was radical to them. He challenged their thinking and, sometimes, like in our gospel text today, told them they weren’t going far enough!
Jesus sets a high bar for holiness, for sainthood.
In this famous passage of the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus, in effect, turns their religious world upside down. All these years, the people had been told by their leaders to follow a set of rules and they would be just fine. But following the rules wouldn’t get them to holiness. Jesus tells them that it’s not enough to follow the rules; their hearts needed to change. Jesus is calling to mind the promise of God through the prophet Ezekiel (Ez. 36:26).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who recognize their need for a Savior.
Blessed are the meek, those who are humble.
Blessed are those who mourn, who weep for their sin.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who long to be like the God who is holy.
Blessed are the merciful, who recognize the mercy of God and return it to others.
Blessed are the pure of heart, who understand that God looks to the heart and not the appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).
Blessed are the peacemakers, who are themselves at peace with God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, who share in the suffering of our Savior.
Blessed are those who are reviled for the sake of Christ, who embrace with joy being “lumped in” with our Lord and, for many, die with His name on their lips.
This is a much higher and holier bar than don’t walk too far on the Sabbath. This kind of bar produces saints, not just people wanting to get outta here.
But how, we ask ourselves, can we live this way? Is this even possible?
The beloved Apostle tells us resoundingly in our Epistle reading today,
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
There is astounding power in this! Look at what manner of love God has given us! He has called us sons and daughters and promised us that we shall be like Him! Our hope in Christ purifies us, even as He Himself is pure! Oh, what a promise!
And if we live this way, if in the power of the Spirit we submit our lives in humble obedience to God our Father and His Christ, we shall be like those the Psalmist writes of in Psalm 24,
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness form the God of his salvation.”
And not just “one day” in the future will this be true, but it is true now if we are in Christ! And now we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses and then we will be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who will forever praise Christ the King!
We have the privilege even now of joining with the saints who gather around the throne every Sunday when we celebrate the Mass as we see in the beloved Apostle’s Apocalypse, where we read and experience every Sunday,
“After this I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne, and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands: And they cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures; and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God, saying: Amen. Benediction, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, honour, and power, and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
Oh saints of God, fall down!
Fall down and worship our God, who has come in flesh to make us saints and children of God! Fall down and worship with our saintly brothers and sisters who have gone before us and will come after us! Fall down and worship our Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come, for all eternity, King forever!
Thanks be to God!