All Saints Day

Isiah 25:6-9  Revelation 21: 1-6a  St John 11:32-44

The lection for today is related to ‘All Saints Day’. This festival reminds us ofgordon5 those countless witnesses, according to the book of the Revelation, ‘who no one can number’ and who surround the throne of God with their heavenly praise of the Lamb: Who hear, know, and experience Christ’s promise, “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

The 11th chapter of the holy gospel of St John concerns the events, associated with the raising of the dead Lazarus, which foretells the newness of which the Revelation of John speaks, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This 11th. Chapter is pivotal in the plan of St John’s presentation of the evangel. For it is the event of Lazarus’ raising and its disruptive consequences for the Jewish peoples’ relationship with the occupying Roman authorities that precipitates the discussion of how Jesus may be removed from the scene through his death. The counsel offered by the High Priest is that it is better that one man should perish than that the whole people should suffer (v.48) This was in the context of the consequences of the unwelcome attention of the Romans to the Jews, caused by controversies associated with Jesus’ action in raising of Lazarus from his death.

The raising of Lazarus is not simply, as an incident in the gospel narrative, a literary device, which St John uses to introduce the question of Jesus impending passion and death due to the Jewish authority’s planned execution of Jesus. This chapter is also filled with potent meaning as to St John’s view of the relationship between Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and Christians understanding of their life. It concerns the way God has taken with us in Christ, encompassing as He does our human life in its vulnerability to the ravages of death and decay, encompassing our life with the grace of His life-giving presence.

To put these issues into more a manageable context it is necessary to concentrate our attention on particular aspects of St John’s account. To this end I take the shortest text in the New Testament. “Jesus wept.” (v.35 Chp. 11)

In the presence of the death of Lazarus, He who had previously said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (v 26) The One who says this of Himself weeps? Why is this so?

The onlookers of this drama suggest some answers. The Jews who see Jesus’ weeping say “See how he loved him.” They understand Jesus weeping in terms of his grief at the loss of a dear friend. This would be a perfectly reasonable observation except, except, St John has already told us that Jesus deliberately put off coming to Lazarus’ aid when he heard that he was sick. “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’” Again, when Lazarus’ death is reported Jesus says, “For your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.” (v.15)

These are hardly the actions of one consumed with empathy and/or grief at the plight of his friend. St John indicates an intentional delay by Jesus in his coming to the situation of need and distress. According to Jesus we must seek the reason for this delay in his statement made in (v.4) that Lazarus’ illness and death is, “for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.”

How then is Jesus weeping to be understood as glorifying the Son of God and thus in turn glorifying the Father? It cannot be simply in the obvious sense as an expression of human grief in the face of death.

The other comment offered by the Jews standing by is, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (v.37) The inference in the rhetorical question is that Jesus weeping was an expression of his weakness in the face of the human ‘Destroyer’, death. It was a sign of his inability to help the helpless in this most human situation of family grief, weeping at the loss of their brother. Acknowledging their complete helplessness in the presence of death, the destroyer of all human hope.

It is possible that this second comment by those standing by, even though it is intended as an ironic jibe at the seeming inability of Jesus to act in the situation of distress which now confronts him, this comment draws attention to Jesus’ weakness. And it is, I suggest, precisely this, that Jesus’ weeping is about!

Not in the sense in which the Jews intended. Jesus’ weakness, and therefore his weeping, is not because of His own inability in the face of death. He has already in this chapter said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life……” (v. 25) In Himself as the Son of God the frontier of death and the negation of human existence, its hopes and dreams, has no place in Him. His weakness, his weeping is not for his own sake. Instead, we must understand his weeping as a sign of his awful humility, his accommodation of himself to our weakness and our being subject to the ravages of death in all its forms of sickness, anxiety and paralysing fear. In this way in our place his weeping is for us, for our sake he confronts the sovereignty of death in our flesh.

Here God’s glory, the glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is revealed as Jesus promised in (v.4 of chp. 11.) “This illness….is for the glory of God; so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” But God’s glory is revealed in that which according to the standard of our human judgment hides God’s glory, conceals his divinity. It is revealed in weakness, in weeping. Finally, in the apparent absence of God in the darkness of Gethsemane and Golgotha; shame, abandonment, nakedness and death. There the glory of the Son in His obedience to the Father, his unity with the Father is to be seen. There God’s glory is revealed in the hiddenness of the cross; since His glory consists in his inestimable humility, his divine freedom to be one with us in the depths of our estrangement from God. God’s almightiness here is the almightiness of a love so powerful that it is capable of accepting powerlessness, hiddenness, in terms of what is normally perceived to be the manifestation of God’s presence in the world. We measure God against our conceptions of power and almightiness. God who is present in the world in Jesus has refuted just this conception of power. God is so free as to be powerless and weak in this world without ceasing to be God. This is how God accompanies us and the world in its history. God’s apparent powerlessness and weakness are revealed in Jesus to be God’s limitless power.

The raising of Lazarus is a sign of this limitless power of God and its effect in the alienation of the human situation subject as it is to death. Lazarus is a sign of this coming glory of God. Lazarus himself is not the resurrection and the life, he dies again. But the overcoming of his death by the presence of the humiliated Jesus, His weeping at Lazarus’ grave as a sign of the solidarity of the Son of God with us, becomes for us the sign of His victory over sin and death achieved once and for all in the cross and resurrection.

This indiscriminate generosity of God which lays claim to the world turns upside down our natural understanding of how God is present and acts in the world. We hold it as an unchallengeable fact that we live in a world in which what negates human life is sovereign. The situation in the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany reflects the situation of the church in the world; anxiety, grief and unbelief.

The action of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb puts an end to this anxious view of Christian discipleship – the anxious view of the situation of the church in the world. It seeks to address a church that is always taking a tragic view of itself and its future. The inveterate pessimism of the disciples and the church that dare not to understand themselves as people who belong to the Victor of Gethsemane and Golgotha. This is the word we hear from St John in this 11th. Chapter to be read for ‘All Saints Day.’ The fact that, “Jesus wept.”

In this holy sacrament we find again the sign of the presence of Christ’s glory, His weakness for our sake. As Luther put it in his inimitable forthright manner, in the Eucharist Christ comes to us:

“Allowing Himself to be profaned and taken by hands, mouth, and belly, as if He were a fried sausage? Would this be consistent with the majesty of God and the glory of heaven? Ah, this is more than certain.” (Luther Works Vol 37 p 47.)

So, Jesus goes on His strange journey of obedience from Martha and Mary’s house at Bethany to Jerusalem in order that by sharing in what we are, we may share in what He is. He makes us one with the Father by giving us to participate in his righteousness as at one and the same time he takes upon himself our sin and death. This is Christ’s glory; this is how the Father glorifies the Son and the Son glorifies the Father and how both are glorified in the Spirits mediation of this reality in the life of the church. It is this ‘glory’ that Jesus intends when he says at the tomb of Lazarus, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you would see the glory of God?”

Whether we think of our circumstances and that of the church good or bad, the decisive thing we must learn from this text which tells us “Jesus wept;” is that in Jesus Christ before darkness and death could threaten and torment us, He triumphed over them for our sake. That this One who wept in his weakness, his identification of Himself with us, this One lives as the Lord for us and all people.

Therefore, let there be, “glory to the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Amen

Dr. Gordon Watson.

All Saints Day

What is All Saints Day?

1Corinthians 1:2-3 ESV

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration in honour of all the saints from Christian history. johnmacIn Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st by the Lutheran Church, and other mainstream Protestant denominations.

All Saints Day relates to giving God earnest gratitude for the lives of his saints, remembering those who were well-known and not. Additionally, individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley, as well as people who have personally guided us to faith in Jesus, such as a relative or friend.

In addition to weekly worship gatherings, “All Saints Day” annually reminds us of our connectedness as Christians. It’s commemorated every November 1st.

Perhaps, we think of saints as statues in a church building. But the Bible teaches something completely different. Who is a saint? You are. That is if you’re a follower of Jesus. God calls a “saint” anyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation.

All Saints

Dear Saints in Christ, I want you to have a quick look around, and tell me if anyone here is wearing a golden halo.

Is there anyone here who is looking particularly saintly today?

Your husband or wife perhaps? No?

Children – have you been little saints this morning?

The fact is, we know that we’re all pretty human, and being human means “warts and all”.

Most of us have probably said, “I’m no saint”. However, in just a little while we are all going to say the words, ‘I believe in the communion of saints’.

And with these words we will confess our belief that there is more to the church than meets the eye.

There is more to this Lutheran congregation, than meets the eye.

The church is far more than a gathering of individuals loitering with religious intent.

The church is, in fact, a communion of all people who have been made holy by Jesus – all believers in Christ, in all places, of all times.

The communion of saints includes all Christians living now, all the faithful who have died, and even those believers who are yet to be!

All of these are “saints” because they are baptized into Jesus, and all of these saints are a “communion,” because being united to Jesus makes us united to each other.

But as you probably know, among the various churches there exists a differing emphasis on the saints – who they are, how we are to honour them, whether or not they pray for us, and so on.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, recently canonized Mary McKillop and she was made an “official” saint of the church.

And many other Christian traditions, ours included, hold the saints in memory by naming our congregations and schools after them.

But quite apart from these questions, the thing I’d like to focus on today is that we regard all Christians as saints.

All baptised believers are holy, and that’s what the word ‘saint’ means: a holy person.

And to look at the role that the saints (both living and departed) play in our lives, I’d like to focus on a passage from the Lutheran Confessions, one that I think all Christians could say ‘Amen’ to.

Let me read the relevant passage to you.

Our Confession approves giving honour to the saints. This honour is threefold. The first is thanksgiving: we should thank God for showing examples of his mercy, revealing his will to save people, and giving teachers and other gifts to the church….The second honour is strengthening of our faith: when we see Peter forgiven after his denial, we are encouraged to believe that grace does indeed abound more than sin. The third honour is imitation, first of their faith and then of their other virtues, which each should imitate in accordance with his calling. (Apology, XXI)

Let’s look at these three ways of honouring the saints in more detail.

First of all, we give thanks to God for all his people.

Because apart from the gospel and the sacraments, the saints are the greatest blessing the church has.

Every saved man, woman and child is a wonderful cause for rejoicing.

Every believer sitting in the pew today is evidence that God is still at work in the 21st century just as much as he was in the first.

Every believer sitting here today demonstrates that miracles still occur.

We should never stop giving thanks for the fact that despite all the faults we can find with others, and all the warts others can find with us, God has begun his work of salvation, and is daily working to bring it to completion.

Moreover, we can thank the Lord for those who taught us the faith and brought us to Jesus: our parents, our uncles and aunts, our god parents our pastors, our teachers.

Thank the Lord for every mature Christian who showed us what following Christ means.

Thank the Lord for the pastors who established congregations in this region decades ago.

Thank the Lord for the early missionaries who gave up everything to bring Christ to this unforgiving and harsh land as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Thank the Lord for those whose theological insight has helped us to think through the faith clearly.

Thank the Lord for those whose lives were channels of divine love – like Mother Teresa or St Francis of Assisi – and have shown that in a world of poverty or cruelty or war, God still draws near to us.

Thank the Lord for those who shed their blood rather than deny the faith and by doing so secured or strengthened the future of the church, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of the Nazis, or many centuries ago, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna who when ordered to curse Christ responded:

‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

But thank the Lord also for ordinary Christians who have simply and steadfastly kept the faith, and for unknown Christians who were never remembered in this life, but will receive ample reward in the next.

And, we can even thank the Lord for those living saints with whom we disagree, with whom we experience conflict, because they too are our brothers and sisters, and our unity in Christ transcends our disagreements and tensions.

Every saint, in fact, is a demonstration of how much God wants to save us, how much he wants to forgive us.

And that brings me to the second reason for honouring the saints: for strengthening our faith.

Again and again we discover that the saints are forgiven sinners.

They may have been heroes of the faith, but they were highly forgiven heroes!

The greatest hymn-writer of the Bible, King David, was an adulterer and a murderer.

Jacob, who was named Israel, was dishonest and tricked his brother Esau.

Peter denied his Lord three times.

Paul confessed to a lifetime struggle with sin.

And yet, God’s grace triumphed over all their faults and his forgiveness covered their most disastrous sins.

When they were weak, God showed his strength in them.

Whenever they thought they had failed, God’s word returned to them having achieved all it set out to do.

And how does this strengthen our faith?

Well, if God has shown such mercy to them, think of what mercy he will show to us.

If God has used other sinners, he will also use us.

There is hope for us all!

And that means it doesn’t make much sense to say “I’m no saint”.

In effect, that’s saying: “I don’t believe in God’s forgiveness” or even worse “I don’t need God’s forgiveness”.

Remember, that the only kind of saint is a forgiven saint.

Even Jesus, the saint of saints, the holy one of God, became sin for our sake.

The third way we honour the saints is to imitate them.

The saints who stand out are worth copying.

They are good role models for the rest of us.

In St Pauls letter to the Phillipians he said quite unashamedly:

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you’.

We too can ‘take note’ of those who have excelled in faith and love and seek to imitate them.

I think this is especially true for younger Christians.

We need heroes to inspire us. We have sporting heroes – why not faith heroes?

A young Catholic I spoke to some time ago said that at their confirmation they chose a saint to whom they could look as a model and inspiration.

What a good idea!

In so many TV shows, novels and movies, the idea of a hero has gone out the window.

Often, all the characters are depressingly hopeless.

There is no-one you can admire or respect.

How sad if for young Christians if it’s no different in the church.

Although I haven’t any formally recognised saints in my own mind, there are a number of people who for me have really demonstrated a faith and love worth following.

And by being more like them, I am being more like Christ.

Parents and Grandparents: why don’t you talk about this with your children or grandchildren when you have lunch today?

Who modelled the faith for you?

So, our honour of the saints is three-fold, say the confessions.

We give thanks for them, our faith is strengthened by them, and we imitate them.

To finish off, let me return to a point I made at the beginning: the communion of saints is a spiritual reality, and therefore it’s something we can hardly begin to understand in this life.

But because we are all joined sacramentally to Christ – through baptism and holy communion – we are also joined to each other.

Because my left ear is joined to my head, and because my right ear is also joined to my head, both ears are in union with each other, even though my ears have never seen each other in their life!

They share the same health, they share the same illness, they share the same life by being members of the same body, united by one head.

So it is with all the saints: we share all things in common.

The spiritual strength of some saints help and sustain those who are weak.

On the other hand, the sins and weakness of others are shared by the rest as well.

As Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘If one part (of the body of Christ) suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’.

So, on this festival of All Saints, let us give thanks for what we all share in common, and let us confess: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints”. Amen.

 

24th Sunday after Pentecost 4th November

Text: Revelation 7:13-14
One of the elders asked me, “Who are these people dressed in white robes, and where do they come from?” “I don’t know, sir. You do,” I answered.
He said to me, “These are the people who have come safely through the terrible persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb.

You – a saint?

Are you a “saint”? Do you write the word “saint” in front of your name when you sign things? Do you introduce yourself saying “Hello, I’m Saint …?” 20180311_103505 (1)Most of us would think that it would be far too presumptuous on our part to call ourselves a saint. We know just how unsaintly we are.

When we think of a saint we think of the heavy weights of all saintsChristianity A saint is someone like Mother Theresa – you go and live in a third world country somewhere and dedicate your life to helping others – that’s a saint.
The Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul – those guys are saints – the real good people. These are the champions of Christianity – they are shining examples to the world of what it means to be a Christian.

But me – a saint? No way. I’m definitely not a saint.”

Let’s say that we have a committee here at church, called the “Saint Committee.” And their job is to determine if you should be called a “saint” or not. And so this committee goes into your house while you’re not home, and sets up hidden cameras. They set up microphones all over your house. They set up surveillance equipment at your work. They bug your phone so that they can listen to your conversations. They follow you around, take pictures of you, and take notes on everything you say and do.

Then, after gathering all this information, they meet as a committee, and the chairman says, “Well, what have you learnt about so-and-so? Is this person a saint?” What do you think they would say, after observing the lives of any of us closely?
“He’s no saint,” one of them might say. “I’ve listened to his conversation. I’ve watched what he does. He’s no saint! Without a doubt he’s a sinner!”

Do you think that’s what the committee would say about you?

It is true, that we are sinners, and we have more than earned that title in our lives. If our all of our conversations were taped, and we were watched every day, we would be embarrassed by what other people would see in our lives.

We know that God knows everything about us – what we say and what we think and what we do? That thought is so embarrassing. There’s no way God could think otherwise – we are no saints; we are sinners.

Everyone is sinful, and even the so-called “good” people have skeletons in their closet. No one deserves to be called a saint.

And yet, the strange thing is, God does call us to be saints! The word “saint” appears in the Bible over 60 times, and every single time it is used, it refers to those who are Christians but interestingly not necessarily those whom we think of themselves as good and holy. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

He begins his letters to the Corinthians in the same way and we know all too well that the church in Corinth had so many issues to deal with. They could hardly be called a model Christians. The congregation was divided according to their favourite pastor, there was sexual immorality, drunkenness at church gatherings, claims of superiority over others because some claimed to have greater and more important gifts from the Holy Spirit, there were even lawsuits between members of the church. And yet in spite of all this Paul’s opening words, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those … called to be saints”.

If the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to this church, he would write, “To all in Caboolture who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

It’s good to remember this because we can be so hard on the church and the people who make up the church. Many people drop out of the church because all they can see are sinners in a congregation – people with all kinds of hang-ups, different and difficult personalities, people with any number of pet sins they find hard to kick, people who seem to specialise on stepping on other people’s toes. If that’s all that God could see when he looks at us, he would have every right to drop us like a hot potato. He knows all about our sin but he doesn’t give up on us.

So why does Paul use the word “saint” so freely when addressing even the most perverted Christians? How does a person become a saint in the eyes of God?

The answer is found in one of our Scripture lessons for this morning – the reading from the Book of Revelation, chapter 7. There you have a picture of the saints in heaven gathered around the throne of God.

Verse 9 – there is a huge crowd – so big no one could count them. They were from every nation on earth, wearing white robes and holding palm branches, praising God in heaven with all the angels.

Verse 13 – someone asks, “These people in white robes – who are they and where did they come from?”

And then verse 14 is the key verse, “These are the people … who washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb”.

That’s the secret of how a person becomes a saint – by washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Your robe” is your life. The Bible sometimes talks about our robes – our clothes – as covered in dirt – the dirt of every sinful thought, word and action. They are so filthy that no amount a Sard Oxy Action Plus or Omo would get rid of the stain of sin. There is only way your robe of life can be made white as snow and that is in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

At the beginning of our service, we confessed all of our sins to God. And after confessing our sins, what happened? We again received the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. And it wasn’t some warm fuzzy statement about how God is nice and loves everybody and doesn’t really take sin seriously. No, the forgiveness of sins you received was a special kind of forgiveness. The forgiveness God gives is very costly. The high cost was the life of God’s Son given for us on the cross.

The Bible says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7). We believed this; we put our faith in it. In the eyes of God, we are saints. Sure, we will always be sinners while we walk this earth, but as far as God is concerned we are also saints – people who have been cleansed of all sin through the blood of Jesus.

You see, a “saint” is someone who realizes that he/she is a sinner, repents of that sin and believes that the blood of Jesus Christ takes away all of our sins.

In our baptism God cleansed us for our sin by connecting us to the blood of his Son.

When we receive Holy Communion we eat and drink the very body and blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. At that moment, you are washing your robe in the blood of the Lamb. You and I are “saints” in the eyes of God. It’s not because we have done something so good that somehow makes up for all the bad we do. Quite the opposite Jesus has done something good for us by giving his life for us on the cross.

Maybe there are some people here who aren’t yet convinced that God can accept sinners, especially if you are feeling guilty over something you feel is unforgiveable. Be certain about this – through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and the holiness that Jesus achieved for you on the cross, he is calling you to have faith in what he has done for you – that the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed you of all of your sins.

It follows then that since God has made us saints that we should endeavour to live like saints. It’s a tough call but saints strive to show love, forgiveness, compassion and understanding in every relationship and every circumstance. That’s the challenge that God throws out to us. You have been called to be saints and so strive to be who you are.

We know how often we fail to live up to our calling. Without hesitation we say, “Well, I’m a sinner – that’s no secret to anyone who knows me. But I’m also a saint because Christ has taken my sins away. I’m a saint because of Jesus.”

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy