Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 November 2023.
For All The Saints, Royal Albert Hall, 2009
• First Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17 (A crowd from all nations before the throne and the Lamb)
• Epistle: 1 John 3: 1-3 (Children of God – not known by the world)
• Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12 (The Beatitudes – opening of the Sermon on the Mount)
Wherever people have gathered, we have dreamed. Dreams of a more perfect world, stripped of its evils and impediments to progress. Safe, well fed and healthy.
All are equal, no crime, plenty for all. Harmony with nature and peace in the streets and on the borders. No discordant voices, no arguments, no disputes. All is happiness and light.
And some have really tried to build such communities. The early new towns, from New Lanark to Port Sunlight and Bourneville all had such high ideals. And then in reaction to the squalor and misery of the city slums new towns were built at Letchworth and Welwyn, with the latest town planning thinking and methods.
Depending on their aims, they worked quite well and the more modest and realistic the aims then the more successful were the new communities.
And yet others took ship across the oceans of the world, like the Pilgrim Fathers of the 1690s. The aim was fine – but survival in a strange and harsh land was much more testing.
And then there have been modern ideologies which looked fine until they had to deal with the complexities and subtleties of the human heart – and then it was less fine.
Socialist ideals may be one thing but the reality on the ground is something else.
What is missing in all of these high aims is their reliance on the human spirit and that alone. For you just cannot design out greed and selfishness, power-seeking and aggression. You cannot legislate against envy and covetousness, or to enforce forgiveness and reconciliation.
Design out God and you have a godless solution. You cannot avoid it. And you cannot have a little of God – enough to keep the children quiet but not so much as to obstruct earning a living, competing for resources, never mind the business of climbing to the top of the pile and treading on as many others as is necessary.
And so in Revelation we have the uncompromising picture of the whole company of those who have given their all during the Great Tribulation, gathered together in the presence of God and worshipping Him with total dedication and abandonment.
There is none above Him, or beyond Him. And the One who created the heavens and the earth has given us the fulness of His presence in His Son Jesus Christ.
Just as we cannot look into the sun without being blinded so we cannot look on God directly – but He had given us the lens and the clarity of vision in giving us Jesus Christ.
And so the worship of those brought out from the Great Tribulation is total and sincere. They have trusted in Him and Him alone – shorn of all other political and cultural ideologies and now they are drawn together before Him in an utter and total state of salvation.
For some this is all pie in the sky when we die.
So we are also given some very practical and personal applications of what it means to serve the Lord. They are there in the Sermon on the Mount and we have just read its introduction in the Beatitudes.
There is nothing here about social or economic justice, the Rule of Law, or the rights of citizens. It does not set out political structures or procedures, voting systems or legislatures.
But it is deeply and directly personal. It goes to the heart of our motivations and how we confront them.
Those in poverty of heart are those whose low opinion of themselves, who are not busy exulting in and projecting their strength or fitness, their intellectual grasp or social skills. They are not striving for position or advantage. They are just busy being themselves in the presence of God and in light of their own inadequacies. And yet they are already blessed.
Then there are those who grieve and sorrow, who mourn and are faced with personal loss. Not the getters or achievers of life. But in the sight of Jesus they come immediately next.
Then He tells of the meek. Those who let others go first – who give preference to the other man or woman. Who do not insist on their own point of view and may be slow to express it. These are the easily set upon, the but of others’ jokes, the easy prey. But not embittered or resentful. Somehow rising above it all despite every provocation and disappointment. But these also are to be blessed.
Next are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Not so much a political programme as the righteousness of God and of none other. The truth and glory of God and satisfied with nothing less. It is there in their thinking and pondering, their relationships and transactions. And they apply it to themselves before lecturing others about it.
Then there is mercy – kindness to others and the refusal to hold grudges. Who seeing a need, move to meet it themselves so far as they can. Refusal to bask in any kind of resentment or memory of wrongs of the past.
Next are the pure in heart. Pure in motivation and intention. No ulterior motives, no manipulation.
It is only now that we come to the peacemakers. Those who are active in making peace without falling into any of the pitfalls and traps set out above. Those who indeed strive – but with utter purity of purpose and method.
To do and be all of this will definitely invite opposition and maybe persecution. And those who are persecuted for His sake are already highly blessed.