by The Rev. Randy Asburry
Everyone loves browsing through the family photo album. “Ah, what memories!” we say as we take in the faces and the antics of the past. Grandmas and grandpas; aunts and uncles; children and pets; holidays and other festive times; even just good ol’, ordinary, day-to-day happenings around the house. But why look at the photo album? We like the trip down memory lane. We might be just curious about what sweater Grandma was wearing that day. But let me suggest a deeper reason. Why keep and look at the photo album? Because it gives us an anchor to our past. It reminds us who we are. It gives us a foundation for carrying on the family line and living the family life.
This is also why we celebrate All Saints’ Day – technically, November 1, but we celebrate it today. All Saints’ Day is the big day when the Church stops to look at her own photo album. How comforting to look at past saints and see how God dealt with them in His mercy and forgiveness. How comforting to have the family history of God’s people. It reminds us who we are as God’s people. It reminds us that we are not alone on this journey of faith. It reminds us that we are not home just yet. We are merely passing through this world.
So, what makes a saint? When you look at God’s saints, you can see it. When you listen to our Lord Jesus today, you can hear it. What makes a saint? The answer is simple: God’s blessing—being in the right place with God, living in communion with the true “Holy One,” our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, we poor, sinful human beings cannot make ourselves saints. So, Jesus tells us how saints are made. Four blessings focus on our emptiness, our need for God’s favor; four blessings focus on saintly lives of love.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. What makes a saint? Being poor in spirit, having nothing to offer God, being empty of yourself and your pride. Not only do the poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of heaven is made up of the poor in spirit. When Jesus makes a saint, He does not begin with spiritual supermen or religious wonder women. Instead, He uses spiritually poor people who faithfully receive His mercy, His life, His forgiveness, and who lead holy lives as a result. God blesses the poor in spirit and uses them to make up His kingdom.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What makes a saint? Being comforted in the midst of sorrow. Jesus does not preach against grieving. We all mourn—loss of loved ones, pain of family trials, stress on the job, confusion over the chaos of the times. Those who mourn are emptied of their own, self-made comfort. Instead, their comfort comes from the Lord Himself. They seek the Lord and He delivers them from their fears. Jesus blesses the mourners by comforting them with Himself.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Being meek does not mean being weak or milquetoast. Meekness is strong gentleness. The meek do not have to assert themselves with aggression. Instead, they have the poise of faith, the same poise Jesus had when He was falsely accused and slandered. There is strength in that gentleness. It’s the strength of Jesus. That’s how saints inherit the earth. They don’t look to themselves to control or dominate. There’s nothing there but sin and death. The meek rely on Jesus. His love controls and strengthens His people.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. It’s amazing how Jesus keeps praising those who are empty of themselves and their own goodness. You see, if you are full of your own goodness and rightness, then Jesus can’t fill you up with His. But when you hunger and thirst for “rightness” with God that means you don’t have it, you couldn’t get it, and you can’t buy it. And speaking of hungering and thirsting, how can we not think about the Lord’s sacred meal of His Body and Blood? When you hunger and thirst for Jesus and His “rightness,” the Lord’s Supper is where He fills you. Jesus fills you with His “rightness” when you eat and drink Him.
So, what’s the result of God blessing you in these ways? You show mercy. You are pure in heart. You are peacemakers. And you are even persecuted because Jesus makes you His saints. First, Jesus fills you with His mercy and life, with the riches of His dying and rising, with His forgiveness. Then He teaches you how you live as saints in the world.
The merciful show mercy because Jesus first showed His mercy to them. We love because He first loved us and sacrificed Himself for us. The pure in heart watch and ponder what God says. Their ideas get replaced by God’s pure Truth. Their impure, man-made priorities and solutions get replaced by God’s pure Gospel priorities and solutions. That’s seeing God! The peacemakers are those who bring other people to God’s peace. Jesus probably had in mind the Hebrew word SHALOM. SHALOM means wholeness. Peacemakers are “whole-makers.” They seek to make people whole by bringing them to the peace of Jesus. Peacemakers don’t just get rid of conflict by glossing over problems or differences. They resolve the conflict by calling people to confess their sins and then giving rich doses of Jesus’ forgiveness. And the persecuted—they are scorned, despised, gossiped about, attacked, and all out condemned because they want Jesus to be the center of attention. Again, God’s kingdom is made up of these people.
But is all this just the perfect picture of sainthood? Is this only a target that we try to shoot for, but we know we’ll never hit it? No. Let’s open the Church’s photo album. Let’s see how Jesus made saints of two other people, because He makes us saints in the same way.
Let’s look at St. Ansgar. He lived in the 800s. We know of “Murphy’s Law,” but back then they might have called it “Ansgar’s Law.” For St. Ansgar everything that possibly could go wrong did go wrong. Yet he’s still a saint. Every mission effort he started failed. He preached Christ and Him crucified and risen, but very few converts resulted from his preaching. He went to Denmark and Sweden to preach the Gospel, but just when he seemed to make progress, pagans would invade the land. Sure, some received the Gospel. King Erik and his subjects believed the Good News of sins forgiven in Jesus. St. Ansgar shows us that when Jesus makes us His saints, He doesn’t call us to be successful, just faithful.
And then there’s St. Bridget. She lived from 1303 to 1373. Did she know death and tragedy! Her mother died when she was young. She became a widow early in life. Two of her eight children died; the others had marital problems and extra-marital affairs. St. Bridget stands out not for how she avoided the trials, but for how she endured the pain and tragedy. She was known for her education and her devotion to Christ. She was made chief lady-in-waiting for the Swedish queen, Blanche. Bridget was able to influence the king’s policies for better human rights. Later she moved to Rome and taught Christian women in the ways of prayer and Christian charity. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. It was true for Bridget; it’s true for you.
As we ponder our fellow saints, it’s very comforting to know that they were just like us and we are just like them: poor in spirit, mourners, gentle, and hungering and thirsting to be right with God. The Lord Jesus died and rose for them; He also died and rose for you. In a world of fast-paced change, it’s good to know that some things never change. God blesses us in Jesus in the very same way He has blessed all His saints through the centuries. God even uses His saints of yesteryear to inspire us to trust in Him and to love one another. What makes a saint? Jesus, His bloody death and His glorious resurrection. Jesus is the merciful One, the pure-in-heart One, the one true Peacemaker, and the One who endured persecution to make you right with God. That’s what makes you saints. Blessed All Saints’ Day!