The Crossroads, Rev. Fred Kinsey
“… Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
That’s the song being sung in the new age, the age that is already coming, where all the redeemed, that God names, have assembled before the Lamb and the Shepherd, as envisioned by John.
We sing it in our ELW as the Hymn of Praise: This is the Feast of Victory for Our God!
It was the vision John had! that was a reversal of the tribulation, so many believers were living at the turn of the 1st Century, especially under Emperor Nero, a time of persecution for the radiant and aspiring movement of Jesus followers, who were starting to gather as worshiping communities all across the Roman empire, before they were legal.
Today, on this All Saints Day, we remember and celebrate, in song and acclamation, in our liturgy and in our hearts, all the saints who have gone before us, and especially those closest to our hearts, our loved ones and family members.
In Revelation, John envisioned a universal choir of people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” of God “a great multitude that no one could count!” Your loved one is included! God’s grace effects a big yes to all the sinners of this earthly kingdom, we know not how or why, but only that it is so, because God is God. Now, in this age, Jesus bids us enter by the narrow gate. Then, in the age that the Lamb has ushered in, God is welcoming everyone from everywhere. Go figure! John’s vision is beyond our comprehension. But by faith, we confidently turn ourselves over to the love and forgiveness of Jesus’ example, that we too might be an example, for our neighbor.
This blessed-conundrum, is not unknown to us, but seems to have come to some kind of a head, this week. We are at a crossroads as a nation, even as we celebrate All Saints Day, near the end of our Church Season – celebrating with joyful-tears, and anxious-hopefulness.
The election, this week, will define who we are as a country. Are we a nation of inclusive values, desiring to continue to overcome our early days of white male privilege? Do we allow people of every race and language to vote and participate in our democracy? Do we hold one another accountable, when the meek, and the merciful, and the poor, are abused, made fun of, and demonized? Do we welcome the stranger, the refugee and immigrant, and come to their aid?
On this All Saints, as the church year comes to an end this month, we hear from one of Jesus’ most universal and challenging teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, and specifically, the Beatitudes, or blessings. Like the Revelation to John, in the gospel, Jesus envisions a world in which all believers no longer suffer a meaningless life, but the world order is reversed. God’s kingdom is beginning even now in the words and deeds, in the preaching and healing, of Jesus, where the marginalized are blessed, as recipients of God’s kingdom:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
American Lutherans have never been known to especially gravitate to this passage. We have often rationalized, avoided or shied away from its demands and difficult sayings. But one Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, made it a center piece of his teaching on the Christian community. In his conclusion to the Beatitudes in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he said:
"Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place o[n] this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all [humans] is to be found – on the cross at Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified. With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all. From the cross there comes the call ‘blessed, blessed.'”
Bonhoeffer, of course, found all and lost all, in Christ. His earthly battle, even as he stayed true to his faith, was with the Nazi regime. He could not run away from the call of the cross, and the fellowship of the beatitudes. He tried rallying the faithful as a leader of the Confessing Church, but many capitulated. He tried escaping to the United States, but couldn’t remain there with a clear conscience. Back in Berlin, he aided the secret resistance, and was arrested, even as he wrote this book.
Bonhoeffer met his crossroads, understandably, with great anxiety, but ultimately with great courage. He preached and taught a costly grace, and lived it too – even by giving his life.
Bonhoeffer knew the Christ of John’s Revelation who was both Lamb and Shepherd. Jesus, the Lamb of God, gives his life for the sake of the world, the lamb that was slaughtered at the Passover, sacrificed at the high feast, that we, may wash our baptismal robes and make them white in his blood, only to witness Christ lifted up to the right hand of God, exalted and reigning as our king, like king David, the Shepherd who leads us into green pastures, and provides a kin-dom of peace and justice.
Jesus the Christ, is our Lamb, and our Shepherd.
And we are at a crossroads. Who we choose on Tuesday – and elect, once all the votes are counted – will determine who we are as a country, for a long time to come.
It will not change our faith, or our God, who reigns already from the throne, who our loved ones, we will name, know, worship and praise. But for us here below, it will make for a crossroads in how we are called to live out our faith. The cost of our discipleship will likely take on different paths, different shapes, perhaps costlier, choices.
So let us rest in the promise, that, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” who is also our Shepherd, where one day we will join the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” Let us, the meek and the poor, and all the blessed, be joyful that we have done everything that has been asked of us, at this, and every crossroads of our lives. Let us rejoice and sing with all the saints!