Sermon by Rev. Zickler for November 5, 2017

20171105 Sermon All Saints 2017
November 5, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we are observing the Feast of All Saints, and as we do that, I think it’s helpful to clarify this a bit. Those of you who have read the Newsletter article saw that I wrote about this there too, but I think it’s helpful to explain in the Service as well. That is, when we speak of saints, what are we talking about? For example, when I introduce the Gospel Lesson each week, I introduce it as the Gospel according to St. Luke, or St. John. This week, the reading was the Beatitudes, so I introduced the Gospel according to St. Matthew. I recall as I was coming to Lutheranism out of general American Evangelicalism, this was sort of jarring for me. Why do we say St. Matthew and St. Luke? After all, we don’t believe in saints like the Roman Catholic Church, do we? That is to say, we don’t believe that the Saints who have gone before us are people we pray to, nor are they people we pray for. Most assuredly they are also not people whose merits can help us get to heaven or out of purgatory. And to be clear, we also don’t believe in purgatory. So you can see why this was sort of confusing for someone like me who was leaving Roman Catholicism who didn’t want to be drawn into other such similar things. So, what do we mean? And why do we speak of the saints?

Well, to start we speak of the saints because the term is utterly biblical. Those of you who read the article would note that I mentioned Paul uses the word to introduce his letters. He writes to the “saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae” or “to those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” So this is why we use it. The members of the Church are saints. Every one of them. Every one of you. This isn’t just something limited to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and James. No, it includes the oldest to the youngest, the longest standing member to the newest member. Saints, holy ones of God. And we see what that means in these readings today.

To start look at the reading from I John. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Being holy means being God’s children. This doesn’t mean we’ll see this perfectly now, as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” We are children now, but what this is something we don’t see yet. But when Christ comes then we will become like Him. Christians this is our hope. Our hope that makes us holy: when Jesus returns in the clouds just as He went away, we will be like Him. How so? Will we become God and man? No, we’ll still just be men. But we’ll be men, we’ll be human just as God intended for us to be. We’ll be human as Christ was after His resurrection. Flesh and bone—if you remember Christ ate and drank. So, human in flesh and bone, but human no longer broken by sin. Human made whole in the resurrection. Human in perfect holiness. And John tells us, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

Now, as I say that I have to make something clear. I mentioned having come to Lutheranism out of American Evangelicalism. As a part of my life in Evangelicalism there was a great emphasis on holy living. I seem to recall hearing more than once that we know the Gospel as Christians, so now “let’s get on with the Christian life.” In particular, I remember memorizing this passage, I John 3:3, as law to spur myself on in this holy living. The assumption was that if I had this hope that Jesus would return, then I better purify myself and my life just as Jesus is pure. That’s my duty as a Christian. Now, as I say that to you, is that true? Is it true that I need to live a holy life? You bet. It is absolutely true that as a Christian I should be doing everything I can to avoid sin. As a Christian you have that same duty. You have the duty to eliminate sinful behavior from your life. If you have a sin you give into way too often, you need to repent of that. But Christians, take heart, because it’s not your job to make yourself pure. You can’t do it. You’ll just fail and fail and fail. No. When John says “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure,” he means that this hope actually purifies. The hope that Jesus’ return will bring about your healing and renewal to the eternal life which He gives, the life of the fullness of humanity, that hope itself brings purity.

And as I say this, I think it’s helpful for us to look at the Beatitudes and understand them in the same light. It’s easy for us to think that we should hear these as commands to fulfill. To hear, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and think, “I better make sure I get poor in Spirit.” Or to hear, “Blessed are those who mourn,” and think, “I better start mourning.” And so on. But first of all when we hear these we should think of Christ. They speak of Christ most accurately.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t also speak of us. So, what do they mean for us? Look at what they say. When it comes to being poor, think about that. Some of you maybe know this firsthand, and others only second, but think about real poverty. Think about the homeless man who sits on Michigan Avenue asking for a hand out. That’s poverty. And what does it require? Just that, begging. Putting out your hand hoping for something to fall into it because of the generosity of others. So, what does it mean to be poor in Spirit? It means that we have to come to God, the source of all true spirituality, and we have to say, “God, I am spiritually bankrupt. When it comes to deserving any good from you, my account has been overdrawn and should be shut down. But in Your mercy, fill it please! In Your grace, please put more funds in there! Not because I deserve it, but because of Your Love!”

And think about hungering and thirsting. When you are hungry, what does that tell you? It tells you your body needs food, doesn’t it? It tells you that you eventually have to consume something so that your body would have the energy to continue in its functioning. And the same goes for thirst. What does thirst tell you? It tells you that you need liquid for your body to continue operating. You have got to eat and drink or you’re going to die! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. What does this mean? You have got to realize that you need righteousness, that you need goodness because without it you’re going to die, and just like food and drink you can’t produce it within yourself. No, it comes from outside of you.

And what this means is looking around us. After all we can see this need for righteousness all over if we’re aware. We see it in the homeless. We see it in hunger and famine. We see it in terrorists mowing down people on a bicycle path. In fact, we see it in how we react to these things as well. “How could God let this happen? How could He let that terrorist kill those people? How could He let people starve, or let people be homeless?” We see it in the fact that we would blame God for these things. But blaming God is like feeling hunger and deciding that means I should exercise more. It’s taking the cue and utterly misappropriating it. This mess isn’t God’s fault. It’s ours!

All the more we realize this as we hear God’s commands. This should crush us as we see our own brokenness and worst of all our own sin. And in it we should see how we are not only hungry and thirsty for righteousness, but we are parched. This is the experience of sin. We look at the world and we weep and we call for justice. We look at our sin and we mourn and we cry for mercy. And there is the hunger and thirst. We look at our sin and we see how we are not only poor, but we are utterly destitute when it comes to righteousness. And we see this and we grieve. We mourn, this makes us meek. We can no longer be the self-assured, cocky children who demand from God and the world. No, we are meek. And so, we see the mercy God has shown us and we show mercy. Now we see God for who He is and we see His purity, His wealth, His righteousness and we see how we don’t have it at all.

So what do we do? We see the satisfaction of that hunger, we see the One who showed perfect mercy, we look to Jesus who won the Kingdom of Heaven for us. Jesus who is the only one righteous of Himself. The One who did no wrong and made perfect peace for us: the Son of God. And we see that we can’t will ourselves into being meek or pure of heart. Instead this is given to us by Grace, won for us in the bloody death of Jesus on the cross and through His resurrection. And it’s given to us; given to us in His Word; given to us in baptism; given to us in His body and blood—righteousness in food and drink.

In particular, we see what this looks like, what it means to be His holy saints, His holy ones, when we look at this reading from Revelation. Look at that again. And remember this Revelation is from John who was given a vision of heaven. As a quick aside we often think of Revelation as being about the end of this world, and there’s plenty there about that. But all the more, it’s about the saints gathered around the throne of the Lamb, Jesus. And look at that picture. The elder comes to John and says, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come.” John says, “I don’t know, but you do.” And the elder says, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but this is baptism. This is faith. This is being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. As we hunger and thirst for righteousness, this is being covered in that righteousness. I often make this point: it is represented by the black of my clerical and the white of this robe, my alb. The black is my sin, but the white is the purity and holiness of Jesus. This is what you were clothed in in baptism: the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, the robe of His perfection—the robe of His holiness. Now you are a holy one. Now you are a saint.

So as we celebrate all saints today we celebrate the holy ones of Jesus. We celebrate your holiness by grace through faith, and the holiness of every saint gathered around the throne. We celebrate by our own gathering around that throne in the Lord’s Supper. Gathering with them around Jesus, because that’s who saints are. They are holy ones, holy ones made holy by the One who is holy. That’s what it means to be a saint. Amen.