23rd Sunday after Pentecost (All Saints Day)

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary
Revelations 7:9 - 17
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12
Catholic lectionary:


Revelations 7:9 – 17
The worship of God is sustained in Rev 7 by those about whom John hears (the 144,000 who are the true Israel) and then by those whom he sees (the great multitude from every nation). They are in white, the colour of victory, because they have experienced the coming (in history) persecution and have emerged the other side, into Life. Their robes are white in colour, not because their actions were intrinsically pure or holy, but because they have washed them in the dark red of the blood of the Lamb, whose purity has covered their own impurity. 

Psalm 34
This is not a claim (v.10) that everything in the garden is rosy for those who fear the Lord. The first thing to recognise is the background. Those who fear the Lord are, in this case, David’s “holy ones” (for that’s what he calls them) in 1 Samuel 21. They do indeed suffer hunger, but they find it satisfied when they eat the bread of the Presence of the Lord, contrary to strict Torah. Those who fear the Lord are thus the desperate, those who have no resource except the Lord himself. For such as these, God is himself the resource. David in the psalm commends that we should recognise our desperate plight and we will then be in a position to recognise God’s goodness when it meets us.

1 John 3:1-3
Stott comments that potapen in v.1 means “of what country” – that is how foreign to our  norms the love of God is. “The world” as in all Johannine writings does not mean “the inhabitants of the planet” but “the inhabitants of the planet insofar as they are spiritually caught up in being opposed to God and his ways”. Opposed to the world are God’s children, who, being born of him, are characterised by a life that is “doing what is right”. That does not mean every thought and action, but whatever flows from the basic fact of being born from above by God’s Spirit.

But what it means to be children of God is not in this life given a defined and predictable shape (lest it be short-circuited by an ambition for, say, justice or generosity), in order that God may guard to himself the provision of all that is needful and may be varied from generation to generation – when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  

Matthew 5:1-12 
All commentators speak of this material as being “in contrast to” or “opposed to” the wisdom of the world.


We mark the feast of All Saints, and those of us committed to Creation Care hit a problem. By definition, we are committed to care of this creation that we see. Yet everything about today’s readings is about another world entirely. 

Psalm 34 – David is reflecting on the ways in which God has rescued him and his men (the “holy ones” of 1 Samuel 21) from the ordinary expectations of the religious world. “Holy” always has the sense of “separate, set apart, different from” the environment around. 

1 John 3 – those to whom John is writing are not like the rest of the world. They have been born of God, precisely not something true of the rest of the “world”, They are the “pure”– they are set apart, and different. They belong to a wholly different country (see potapen above).

Matthew 5 – the disciples of Jesus are to inhabit a topsy-turvy world, in which everything they have been taught may be wrong – see the “you have heard / but I tell you” moments of the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes note God’s blessing, giving value to those who may appear to be without it.

One town (Babcock Ranch) survived Hurricane Ian (September 2023), because it was built deliberately to withstand hurricanes and has solar power for its 20,000 homes. But Revelation says the sun will be no more. The British government has just enabled more power from wind in the UK – but Revelation says that the winds will not blow. 

How can we commit to Creation Care, when these readings tell us of another world, a new Creation in which what we know now will be no more? How can we care for the plastic in our oceans, when Revelation tells us that all life in the seas will die? While parts of Revelation may need to be taken at a non-literal level, our other readings make clear that there is a whole strand of Scripture concerned with another world entirely. Are we wasting our effort?

Well, consider how we act in other areas. 10 years ago, you helped an older person to cross the street. Now, that person is dead. Had you known, 10 years ago, that, 10 years hence, the older person would be dead, would you have left them to cross the street alone? Of course not!  Jesus says that those who gain eternal life will be few. Should you stand back from speaking with your neighbour about the Good News because there is a statistical uncertainty about the outcome? Of course not! We act within the Creation because the mandate concerns what is, not what shall be. And part of that mandate is to be the stewards to whom God has entrusted the creation (Psalm 115). Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that the world would tomorrow fall to pieces, I would still plant my tree today.”

Some of us will be familiar with an old tag-line, that we, as God’s people, are called “to be in the world, but not of it”. Perhaps we can expand the tagline and re-commit ourselves, alert to the full picture of Scripture, saying “God’s saints are to be in the world, not of it, but born of him, and therefore for the world.” 

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The Rt Rev Dr Robert Innes

The Bishop in Europe

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