Sermon for All Saints Sunday – November 3, 2019
Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31
Dear saints of God, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you go to the Mariners Hall of Fame at T-Mobile Park, you will see people who have won great victories for the team over the years, people like Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez.
If you go to the Country Music Hall of Fame, you will see people who have done great things for the genre, people like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris.
If you go to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, you will see the names of people from a variety of forms of entertainment who have achieved some level of fame, everyone from Humphry Bogart to Meryl Streep to Mickey Mouse.
Sometimes this is how we think of the saints. We think of them as those Christians who have won great victories for God, those blessed faithful who have done great things for Christianity, particularly those who have achieved some level of fame for having done so.
And this isn’t necessarily wrong! The calendar of remembrances for various saints of the church is indeed a list of those who have done great things for God and have been remembered and celebrated by millions of Christians over hundreds and hundreds of years.
It is good to remember not only the people of the Bible, but also the saints from throughout church history: people like Perpetua & Felicity, brave young woman who gave their lives for Christ in the third century, or Gregory the Great, a reforming pope in the seventh century, or Francis of Assisi, a renewer of the church in the thirteenth century.
Remembering and celebrating these saints is not a “catholic thing.” It is a Christian thing, or at least it ought to be! It is certainly a Lutheran thing! The Lutheran Reformers only beef with the saints was that they not be prayed to or seen as mediators of salvation. Otherwise, they were to be remembered and celebrated. As it says in the Augsburg Confession:
“Concerning the cult of saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith. Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example.”
And so we do remember and celebrate the saints – particularly those who have been given a place on the Christian calendar of remembrances for all God has done through them.
But today is All Saints Sunday. Today we remember ALL the saints! And our gospel reading for this morning moves our gaze from the saintly hall of fame to some people we are far less likely to think of as saints. A saint, after all, is merely someone who has been blessed by Jesus. A saint is someone who has been brought to faith in him. A saint is someone who has been claimed by Christ and made holy by his Word. And these aren’t always the people we think they are!
In our reading from Luke we hear how Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be filled.” Here Jesus is bestowing his blessing on those who have little, those who are just scraping by – the kind of people who usually have no worldly influence. These are people who were thought by many in Jesus’ time to be cursed by God, but here is Jesus blessing them!
We hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Jesus is blessing those who hurt, those who grieve, those who are feeling defeated and lost instead of strong and victorious. Again, suffering like this was seen by many in Jesus’ time as a consequence of sin. Remember when some disciples asked Jesus, “Who committed the sin that caused this man to be born blind, this man or his parents?” That’s what people thought! But here Jesus is blessing those who weep.
We hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.” People have always associated truth and goodness with popularity, right? Here Jesus is blessing those who are not popular or well-liked, those who have been cancelled by the culture or cast out of certain circles because of their faith in him.
All of these are declared blessed, they are declared holy – and so they are declared saints! They are not saints because of anything heroic they have done, but simply and solely because the Lord Jesus has declared it so by his word: “Blessed are you,” Jesus says. “Blessed are you, blessed are you.”
There are warnings here too. Jesus says: “Woe to you who are rich, and full, and laughing, and liked.” As Professor Matt Skinner explains in his commentary for this week’s gospel, the word translated as “woe” does not mean “cursed” or “bad.” It certainly doesn’t mean “damned.” It is a word indicating warning. Jesus warns those who are wealthy and secure and happy and popular.
And for good reason! It is so very hard to receive the gifts of Christ when your hands are already full. It is hard to live for his kingdom when you already have your own castle. It is hard to be filled with his blessing when you are already full of yourself. There’s a part of all of us that needs to hear this warning, to be sure. But there are blessings to be heard as well.
To those here today who are struggling financially, those who are worried about making ends meet, those who are looked down upon because of your economic status, Jesus declares you blessed. He says that yours is the kingdom of God!
To the many here today who weep for the loss of loved ones, those who reach for the familiar warmth of your beloved in the middle of the night and only find cold bedsheets, those who want to call a mom or dad to share something with them only to realize there is no one there to call, Jesus blesses you. He has a promise for you: you will be comforted.
For those who take flak for your faith in Jesus Christ – maybe you are mocked at work or excluded from certain social circles, maybe you get teased in your own home, from your own family members – Jesus blesses you. He promises you that you are in good company. That’s what happened to the prophets too! Jesus promises you your reward will be great in heaven.
I don’t know if any of us here today will ever end up in any “Saint Hall of Fame.” I know I have several people in this congregation I’d like to nominate! Even so, I don’t know that any of us will ever end up with a date on the Christian calendar and be remembered and celebrated a thousand years from now.
But as the saints of God we have something even better than a spot on a calendar. We have an inheritance. Paul refers to this inheritance twice in our second reading for today. He says, “In Christ we also have obtained in inheritance.” When we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in him, and were marked with the seal of the promise of the Holy Spirit, we were given the pledge of an inheritance. Paul prays that we would know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”
The Lord Jesus has made us his saints. And as his saints we inherit a kingdom that is eternal. As his saints we have the promise that we will know the warmth of our loved ones again one day. As his saints he has a reward in heaven in store for us that will make all we suffer through on this earth disappear in the blink of an eye. To borrow from Tolkien, we will inherit a kingdom where everything sad becomes untrue. That’s Jesus promise to his saints! That’s his promise to you!
We are not saints because we have achieved for ourselves a hall of fame level of holiness. We are his saints simply and solely because Jesus has declared it to be so. He declared it to us in our baptism, where we were made holy by his grace, declared a saint and a child of God, and marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
For those of you who are hurting and may have forgotten all this, our Lord Jesus declares it to you again here today through his Word, saying: “Blessed are you, blessed are you, blessed are you.”
Thanks be to God. And all the saints said: “Amen.”
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church