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Great Tribulation Great Reward

November 3, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: Matthew 5:15–5:12

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
November 3, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

All Saints
Great Tribulation Great Reward

Now seeing the crowd Jesus ascended the mountain, sat down, and his disciples came to him, and he opened his mouth and began to teach them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
     for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle,
     for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
     for they shall be fully sated.
Blessed are the merciful,
     for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
     for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
     for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted on account of righteousness,
     for their is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when men revile you, and persecute you and speak only evil about you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be filled with gladness, for your reward is great in heaven. For thus persecuted they the prophets who were before you. (Mt. 5:1-12)

 

Come to the altar today, O saints and purify your hearts! Wash your robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb and you will see God. You will be comforted. Take eat, take drink and you will inherit the earth; the Kingdom of Heaven will be yours, and you will be called the sons of God.

These are the blessings promised us by the crucified and risen Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. Blessing that are more than notions, ideas or religious talking points; but priceless gifts more precious than rubies, showered upon us from the Christian altar each Sunday.

Today’s feast, All Saints, was originally established to honor the martyrs and confessors of the faith. Those believers in Christ who accepted punishment or death from their persecutors rather than deny Jesus. But what about today? Do we still need to remember them, honor them, thank God for them, and learn from them?

The church says yes! And so this feast which began in the persecuted church of the late 200’s; and was made an holy day of the church in 835 AD by Pope Gregory IV; is still joyfully celebrated by Lutheran catholics, as well as Roman catholics and Anglicans throughout the world today.

But as Reformation Christians we know that what started out good, morphed into something bad. People began to pray to the saints, and trust in them rather than the One who purged them from their sins, and made them saints by his blood.

During the churches youth, during her first 250 years that were marked by ruthless persecution meant to delete the name of Christ from the earth … it is no surprise that a persecuted church would pray to their saints. They had a seamless bond with them.

They watched in horror as men and women, boys and girls, were brutally tortured and murdered by the authorities before their very eyes, because they would not deny their Lord in the face of persecution.

Often it was a surprise attack that took place in the church, during her holy communion, even as we saw on Palm Sunday 2017 in Egypt when 50 people were murdered, and 100 injured in twin bombings in 2 Coptic churches in Cairo.

One day alive, the next day dead!

One day happy together, the next day catatonic with grief … but to which Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Take those words with you beloved, and they will see you through every trouble in life, and carry you into heaven.

The fledgling church understood that these dear souls, who had gone through the Great Tribulation, were now in possession of the Great Reward for which Jesus suffered the Greatest Tribulation of all. That they now beheld God face to face. And so their liturgical remembrance of these saints, and even their prayers to them were quite natural.

But over the centuries things went terribly awry so that by the 16th century Reformation was badly, badly needed.

Today Lutherans do not pray to the saints, or ask them to pray for us. But we do honor them, remember them, thank God for them, and seek to imitate their unshakeable faith.

Unfortunately following the Reformation much baby was thrown out with the bath water! As a result most Lutherans have never been exposed to the Lives of the Saints, or read the famous book by that title written in the 18th century by Fr. Alban Butler. A book still available today that told the story of nearly 1500 of the church’s saints. Those to whom and about whom these holy Beatitudes poured forth from our Lord’s sacred mouth.

But what about us?

“Oh for a faith that will not shrink though pressed by many a foe”!

Oh that our goal would be neither to love the world! Nor to be loved by it in this short life of labor! But rather to hunger and thirst after righteousness. To go to heaven when we die. To leave sin, death and Satan behind and commune with the Lamb upon the Throne, and all the saints and angels.

That is the Great Reward granted those who have come out of the Great Tribulation – which is not a particular event as radio preachers would have you believe. But consists of living in this world as a Christian. There is nothing harder; but nothing more blessed as the Beatitudes teach us today.

Presently in our land persecution is relatively light. The culture speaks all manner of evil against us just as Jesus predicted, but we have “not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Hebr 12:4)

But if things continue on their current trajectory that could change, and a few words written in a constitution 2 centuries ago will not protect us if the populace chooses to ignore them.

But whatever the cultural conditions, favorable or not, God’s saints must continue to grow in Christ as St. Paul teaches … “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. To mature manhood. To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So that we might no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, craftiness and deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:13-14)

But this is not something we can accomplish by “our own reason or strength,” and most certainly not in isolation from the communion of saints.

THIS communion of saints. The one occurring here and now.

But instead as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we intersect with the worship we see in today’s first reading from Revelation chapter seven.

We leave the world, are brought to heaven, and take our place stationed with the host arrayed in white, before the throne of the Lamb, wrapped in baptismal righteousness. With the sword of God’s word in our hands, and his high praises in our throats.

Together we sing: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and Eucharist and honor and power and might to our God unto the ages of ages." Amen.