Bible Study: All Saints’ Day (A)

November 2, 2014

Steven M. Balke, Jr.Virginia Theological Seminary

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Revelation 7:9-17

First-century Christians understood the Revelation to John is not predicting future events exactly as they are going to unfold. Rather, it revealed some truth to strengthen them during the trials they faced. The fledgling church was composed of little pockets of Christian communities. They were surrounded by harsh opposition from the larger communities around them that thought they were crazy and misguided. To make matters worse, the newborn churches, faithful as they were, fought amongst themselves over how to live Christian lives. Through all this disunity, it would be very easy to lose one’s hope for what awaited someday.

This revelation, however, assures them that Jesus has not led them astray – he is the Lamb that is also the shepherd (v. 17). Look at the diversity of the multitude in this passage. People are gathered together in love around the God that loves them – all while still being diverse (v. 9)! They need not look the same, speak the same language and have the same culture in order to come together in love. Jesus taught them well, and God assures them that it will all work out one day.

God has not led us astray either. We struggle with the same disunity the first Christians faced, from inside the church as well as outside it. This revelation is also for us, assuring us that loving God and loving one another will prevail. We will remain a great diverse multitude of people who have different values and opinions about a lot of things, but our differences are no match for the God who created, saved and redeemed us.

Where are you letting your differences with someone else get in the way of loving God and loving one another?

In what ways does diversity improve how you love God and one another?

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

We read this psalm on All Saints’ Day and it brings to mind the question: What makes someone a saint? Traditionally, it was more common to think of saints as being those humans who somehow transcended the bounds of mere humanity, full of its brokenness and sinfulness. Some contemporary views on saintliness share that all people who faithfully aspire to follow Christ’s way are saints in their own unique ways.

This psalm is attributed to David, a man who was filled with flaws, sins and brokenness. David is highly revered not because he never made mistakes but rather because, despite how tragically he fell short sometimes, his deep love for God led him to keep trying. He recognized that God was present and active in his life, nurturing him, teaching him and loving him. David praised God for all the blessings in his life, setting an example for a saintly life.

We are not going to be perfect. We may try and try to get it right and still fail sometimes. Fortunately, what makes us saints is not that we are flawless; what makes us saints is that God is present in our lives and loves us. Our job is to pick ourselves – and each other – up, dust ourselves off and keep trying our best. We are blessed because our souls cry out and are heard by our God (v. 6). We need not fear, because we are delivered by our God (v. 7). We are saints because we are redeemed by our God (v. 22).

When facing adversity, when do you turn to God for support and when do you face it alone?

When do you praise God and when do you praise yourself?

1 John 3:1-3

Have you ever known someone and, after meeting that person’s family, really come to understand them in a whole new way? Maybe some interesting quirk suddenly makes more sense. Maybe some skill or struggle that person has is clearer now that you know these important people of influence. As the children of God, the same situation applies. The author of 1 John knows that the actions and motivations of Christians must seem very strange unless you come to know something about God (v. 1).

The problem is that there is such a diverse array of opinions about who God is and what God wants, which leads to an equally diverse array of what Christians are and what they think God wants them to look like. We do not really know who knows it better than whom or who has it more right than the others. As the author points out, there is much that is still so unclear to us (v. 2a).

One thing we do know, however, is that, just as the people who raised us influenced the people we grow to become, our creator has influenced who we have grown to become. We are all, regardless of our vast differences, made in the image of God (v. 2b). Any attempt at understanding other people should start with the recognition that they are children of God.

Can you think of someone who is so different that you cannot “get” him or her? Where do you see God in that person?

What about God’s influence do you wish people to see in you?

Matthew 5:1-12

The Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are often quoted, so let us look at them in the context of All Saints’ Day. Jesus does not want people to think about what will gratify them in the immediate moment, but to think about the bigger picture instead. These Beatitudes are a lesson for the crowd about coming to see the blessedness around them as a great opportunity to change the world.

Mercy, forgiveness, compassion, justice and fairness are not the kinds of things to strive for if we want material gain lavished upon ourselves in the immediacy of life now; they are the virtues for which we strive to achieve the grander prize of a better world. Jesus is continuing a long line of teachers and prophets who explained that we receive what matters most preciously by seeking to give rather than take. Giving away our love does not diminish the supply, but adds to it.

We have all that we need to be saints to those around us. When we are merciful to others, we create a world that is more merciful – for ourselves and everyone else. When we can love ourselves and love others for who they are, honestly, openly and as children of God, we create a world that is more loving. When we do these things, we are joining in the work of all of the saints, past and present, who have come before us to make this world the place God created it to be.

When have you been merciful when you did not need to be? Gracious when you did not need to be?

How does your perspective change if you see yourself as a saint?

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