Sermon audio here.
There’s a popular series of books out right now about Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children. The children are peculiar because they can do things no one else can do. The main character, Jacob, can see things no one else can see. Miss Peregrine has the ability to turn into a bird and manipulate time.
One of the reasons books like this are so popular is because it’s fun to imagine what it would be like to be able to do things no one else can do. The thing is, Christians don’t have to imagine. Christians are, by definition, peculiar. We are anything but ordinary. That’s what the word “holy” means. We’re set apart, not like the rest of the world. And yes, we can even do things no one else can do.
So today, as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we rejoice in our peculiarity. Again and again Scripture describes Christ’s saints as peculiar. Before giving the 10 Commandments, God tells the children of Israel,
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.[i]
And the apostle Peter writes,
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.[ii]
Our Lord described a number of the peculiarities of His children in today’s Holy Gospel. Christ’s saints display a poverty of spirit and a peculiar sorrow.
There is a type of sorrow that is common to humanity. That’s the sorrow that comes from pain and loss. Everyone mother experiences the pain of childbirth. Every relationship suffers under the curse of sin. Everyone mourns at the death of loved ones.
That’s the sorrow that’s common to humanity. The sorrow of which our Lord speaks is a peculiar sorrow, a sorrow which can be felt only by Christians. That’s contrition, or sorrow over sin. You have to be a Christian to feel the profound sorrow of denying your Lord. Everyone feels guilt, but only a Christian can experience sin as a betrayal of Christ.
Contrition, or this peculiar sorrow over sin, comes from recognizing your spiritual poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit, our Lord says.[iii] Notice He doesn’t say anything like, “Blessed are the good people,” or “those who try really hard.” Most people think we’re basically good and if we try really hard, God will bless us.
Christ says the opposite. The sorrow of the saints comes from recognizing our spiritual poverty. The sinful flesh would have us believe that God should be praising us, not the other way around. But we know, according to the Spirit at work within us, that we, of our spiritual poverty, have nothing to give and everything to receive.
God needs nothing. He didn’t create us because He needed servants. Had God wanted to serve Himself, He’d have been better off not creating us in the first place. The fact that He went ahead and did it anyway cost Him a great deal, culminating in the death of His Son. God doesn’t need us; we need Him. The Son of Man didn’t come so that we might serve Him, but that He might serve us.
St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”[iv] Our vocation before God isn’t servant. That’s a vocation that He reserves for Himself alone.[v] Christ is the Suffering Servant who laid down His life because you’ve served another master.
Our vocation before God is not servant, but beggar. We are those who cry out to the Lord with empty hands, pleading for mercy. We do this because of our peculiar sorrow that knows our poverty of spirit and looks to Jesus only for salvation.
Once after many of his disciples counted the cost and turned back from following Jesus, our Lord asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”[vi]
Peter looked to Christ alone because he knew his sin, that he had nothing to contribute to his salvation. He felt that peculiar sorrow that belongs only to Christ’s children, that strange and wonderful blessedness of spiritual poverty. St. Paul once told the Corinthian Christians that he rejoiced over their grief, not because he delighted in their sorrow or wanted them to be miserable, but because they were grieved into repenting. He writes,
For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.[vii]
This godly, peculiar sorrow can be seen also in the life of the sinful woman, who once, during dinner, began to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint them with oil. Here’s a woman whose sin was so well-known that one of the Pharisees was critical of Jesus for even letting her touch Him.[viii]
Much could be said about this woman, but the one thing nobody would have said is that she was a “good person.” And yet, she had that poverty of spirit, that peculiar sorrow, because she knew her guilt before God. She knew she was a sinner who forgiven much, and so she loved her Lord much.
But there’s more to your peculiarity in Christ than just sorrow. Our Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” In order to be a peacemaker, you have to have peace yourself. This is a peace that comes only by way of the cross, the peace of having sins forgiven and being reconciled to God.
This is the peace that the angels sang about on the night of Christ’s birth. This is that peaceful conscience that yields a quiet, confident resolve in God’s mercy so that you do not lash out at others or become easily provoked, but rejoice even when the nations rage and hell itself would devour you. Only a Christian can experience the peace that passes all understanding, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
Christ’s children have a peculiar sorrow and a peculiar peace. But Christ also calls you to be peculiar in how you live—to be holy, to not indulge the flesh with its pagan ways.
The world says to look out for number one, but Christ says to look out for your neighbor as if they were number one. Christ calls His children to obey His Commandments, which forbid that which is most desirable to every fiber of the sinful flesh’s being. St. Peter warns us against indulging the flesh, lest Satan devour us. He writes,
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[ix]
Or, as St. Paul told Titus,
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all men, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people who are zealous for good works.[x]
As Christians, we also know that there is more to our troubles than just bad luck, bad health, or the unkindness of others. Like Jacob in Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, we can see things no one else can see. We know that behind it all, Satan and the forces of hell are at work to destroy our faith.
As terrifying as that is, we can also hear that distant triumph song that no one else can hear. While the rest of the world hears a sermon as a religious sounding lecture, Christ’s peculiar children hear the voice of Christ. As He has promised, “He who hears you, hears me.”[xi]
At the baptismal font, the Christian feels what no one else can feel: not a really ineffective shower, but the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And in the Sacrament, we again see what no one else can see. Not a flimsy little wafer and a sip of wine, but the very Body and Blood of Christ, given for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And Christ’s peculiar children proclaim that which is most peculiar of all: God crucified and risen, who grants to His saints a communion that extends beyond the grave.
Oh blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.[xii]
Indeed, we join together with them—the whole company of heaven—again this day, along with angels and archangels, in singing to Him Who alone is Holy.
This past week a friend of mine reminded me of a sermon one of our seminary professors, Dr. David Scaer, once preached. It’s a sermon that does a really nice job of summarizing some of the peculiarities of the Christian life. To paraphrase, he said,
Ordinary people want to win, and they want to win big. We, who are in Christ, have won big, even though we see misery all around us. Over the noise of the battle we hear the triumphant shout of Christ, the Victor and God’s Champion.
The resurrection of the Old Testament saints means that one-half of the stadium has already emptied out onto the field when Christ died and crushed the head of the ancient serpent. And we, on the edge of our seats, are waiting to pour out of those stands, ripping up the benches as we go. If you’re not into throwing beer bottles, borrow a few inkwells from Luther and let the old evil foe have it.
On the Last Day, we will not come forth from our graves with gloomy faces, nor with the painted-on smiles of the fanatics. We will come forth with such joy and rejoicing that it will be absolute bedlam, and it will be magnificent.
The last day will be less like a prayer circle and more like a Wrigleyville World Series celebration. As long as 108 years is, this one’s been in the works since before the foundation of the world.
Tears be wiped away from every eye and the grave will have no power over you. The royal banners of Christ are going decisively into hell and not one demon will be immune. If you never understood what it meant when David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as he came into Jerusalem, you will know all about it at the Resurrection.[xiii]
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] Exodus 19:5–6
[ii] 1 Peter 2:9
[iii] Matthew 5:3
[iv] 1 Corinthians 4:7
[v] The coam deo/corum hominibus distinction is particularly helpful here. While we might speak of serving God, such service is, in fact, directed toward our neighbor.
[vi] John 6:66–68
[vii] 2 Corinthians 7:9–10
[viii] Luke 7:36–50
[ix] 1 Peter 5:8
[x] Titus 2:11–14
[xi] Luke 10:16
[xii] For All the Saints (LSB, 677; st. 4)
[xiii] Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer, In Christ (132–133)