All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is some scary stuff in the Bible. Really scary, stuff that talks about the end of the world. Most of it can be found in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Beasts, antichrists, wars, persecutions, Death on a pale horse, all kinds of mysterious and unsettling things. And mostly, when we modern Christians talk about them, we play up the scary parts: shape up, if you don’t want to be Left Behind! If you don’t confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and if you don’t live a good live a good life, you’ll be out in the middle of all that nasty stuff! We forget—and sometimes we never realize in the first place—that these passages were not written to scare people. Quite the opposite, in fact. They were written in times of persecution and death and horror to comfort people, to tell them that no matter how bad things got, God had not abandoned them and God was at work in the world. The visions are frightening because they reflect the reality those first readers were living. But even in the midst of those things, God was working and protecting God’s people. The first reading is a prime example. Daniel receives a vision in a dream, and is frightened by it. But the messenger in Daniel’s dream says not to worry. The dream represents what’s already happening in the world, and yes, it’s bad, but God is with Daniel and his people. “The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”
Now, that begs the question. Who are the holy ones? Is it some special group of super-believers who are awesome and perfect? Great theologians like Martin Luther? People who devote their lives to doing good works like Mother Theresa? People who are persecuted and die for their faith, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Do you need to be someone really special to be counted among the holy ones of the Most High God? Do you need to do something really incredible to receive the kingdom and possess it forever and ever?
No, you don’t. You don’t have to do anything. All you need is faith. And it doesn’t need to be the greatest faith ever in the history of the world; faith as tiny as a mustard seed is enough. That faith is a gift from God who loves us, and through that faith we receive the grace of God. Through Christ Jesus our Lord we are saved, and marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Through Christ we inherit the kingdom and are made God’s own people. Through Christ we are made God’s holy ones. Through Christ, we are made saints.
Yes, that’s right—saints. “Saint” is an old word meaning “holy one.” We tend to think of saints as great holy people, better than you or I could ever be. Sometimes people use it for that, as a title for especially perfect Christians. But the older meaning of the word, the one the Bible uses, includes all people of faith, good and bad, small and great. All people who set their hope on Christ are saints who have been made holy by God. The power of God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and that same power is at work in us who believe, redeeming us, washing our sins, and bringing us together in Christ.
Now, that doesn’t mean that believers are perfect, or sinless; far from it. If you were at Pastor Hartley’s funeral yesterday, you heard the pastor speak eloquently on the sinfulness of all humankind. Even good and faithful people are full of sin. We are not saints because of any inherent goodness on our own part. We are saints because God has chosen to make us saints, holy and blessed and loved. We are saints because God has chosen to give us the kingdom, claimed us as his own, and blessed us.
Today is All Saints Sunday. Today, we remember all the holy ones of God, all those who have gone before us in the faith, all those who are faithful today, and those who will be faithful in the days to come. We particularly remember those saints who have touched our lives, and those who have died recently. They were not perfect—no one is—but they are beloved children of God who now rest safely in God’s care. All of their sins have been washed clean; all of their tears have been wiped away; all their wounds have been healed. They have been given their inheritance, they have been given the kingdom. Whatever sin and grief and pain and fear they felt in this life, they now know the fullness of God’s blessing.
Everyone here has been touched by the saints who went before us. I want you to remember those who were particularly meaningful for you who has since passed on. Maybe it was a parent or grandparent. Maybe the saint who means the most to you was a teacher or a friend. Maybe they taught you about Jesus through their words, or maybe they showed you what it meant to be a Christian through their actions. When we light candles for them, we remember them, what they meant for us, and how the light of Christ shone through them. We remember that we, too, are called to bear the light of Christ to those around us, just as they once did. And we remember that even in death they are safely in God’s care, and we will see them again, when we, too, come into our inheritance in Christ.
But lighting candles on All Saints’ Sunday is not the only day of the year when we remember them; and it is not only through the candles that the saints who have gone before us are present in our worship service. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper—every time we take Communion—they are here. This table is God’s table; it is a foretaste of the feast to come, a foretaste of the feast