This past week, there were a number of memes that mocked Lutherans as heretics, and mocked the Romanists as followers of the anti-Christ. All in good fun, of course. Reformation Day is when we remember the Reformation. All Saints day is when the “why” of the Reformation is brought into sharp focus. Is it Jesus that saves us, or are we ultimately responsible? That’s what is at stake. And the Roman teaching on the saints is blaspheme. No joke. Because blaspheme is not something we laugh at. With that as an introduction, here is my sermon from yesterday. (After the jump)
Death is not a natural thing. God did not intend that there would be death in the world. Death was our decision. “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day you eat of it, you will surely die. And Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and desirable to make one wise, and she took it and ate of it. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate of it.” Death entered the world. From dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return. And everything, from the Oak Tree, to the Elephant, to dogs and cats, suffers because of our sin. Humanity, with it’s ingenuity and modern technology can delay death for a time. But we can not stop it. The Doctor always loses the patient. If not now, eventually.
But God would not have the sinner die. He would have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. He sent his only begotten son so that death would be swallowed up in death. So that you would have life, and have it to the full. On the cross, Jesus defeated death. On the third day, when he was raised from the dead, he broke the power of death. He earned forgiveness for all, and so He brought salvation and life to all who believe in Him.
Now the grave has lost its power. Oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory. The sting of death is sin, the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, even those who die will live, and those who live and believe in him will never die. We confess the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but the living. They live in Christ. Those who have gone before are not gone. They are now in presence of God, where they worship day and night. All those in Christ are new creations. The old is gone, the new has come. This is not just a maybe someday millions of years from now sort of thing. We have the life Christ gives today – made alive in the sacrament of Baptism, we are fed in the Supper which he gave us – the supper which sustains and strengthens us in this new life.
The Saints Live! So what is a saint? Some say they are the super-apostles. The really great Christians who, having finished their race in this world, now abound in merits which they can share with the faithful on earth. So, praying to them, asking them to deliver a loved one from torment in the world to come – those are all acceptable things. Others would deny that the saints of old hear prayers, but that Grandma or Aunt Madge are watching from above, and taking care of you. Whether it is a process of canonization that officially declares one a saint, or just common folklore that says loved ones watch over us as if they were angels, such beliefs have no scriptural foundation. We just don’t know – and to be honest, in our sin corrupted state, where we can not even comprehend the true nature of God as Trinity except by faith, we probably wouldn’t understand these things even if God laid them out with charts and diagrams. “Such knowledge is too wonderful.” We get glimpses. That is all. The presence of God day and night, angels and archangels, and we join them in their song of praise to God who sits upon the throne and to the lamb who was slain, but now reigns forever and ever amen.
So, if this is not a day to remember the superheroes in the church like Peter and Paul, what is it for? Well, we remember Peter and Paul on this day. The Saints are all of those who have been made holy through the washing of water and the word, all those who have been Baptized in Christ Jesus and his death, and so have been sanctified, declared holy and righteous in his sight. It is the merits of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit that make a saint, not our efforts or work. On All Saints Day, we give thanks to God that he takes sinners, and makes saints of every member of his Holy Church. But especially this day, we remember those who have gone before in the faith.
We give thanks to God for them – not because they have extra merits that they can share with others – it is always and only Christ’s merit for us that saves, that avails anything before God in heaven. Our works can not avert our doom, they help and save us never. But the saints are examples to us of what God does through Christ in the lives of those who believe on his name. Peter, James, John, Paul, the great saints of Scripture. Luther, Walter, the great saints throughout church history. In them we see examples of those who lived in faith toward God, and in love toward their fellow man. But not only those who are known and remembered fondly by the entire church throughout the world. Also parents who taught the faith, and now rest. Friends who invited to church, a pastor who instructed or confirmed. Many in this parish – and throughout southeast Wyoming – remember Saint William Bornemann. He served as pastor here for 8 years, and then as occasional vacancy pastor for almost another 30 years. He now rests from his labors, and his works do follow him. The faithful work he did in the church bears fruit in congregations all over the area. Just as the work of parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, and so on bears fruit in the lives of those who continue to follow their example of faith and love.
This year, our celebration of All Saints is especially poignant. Since this time last year, we have laid to rest three of our own faithful saints who were dearly loved and have been greatly missed. Saint Glen Bohnenberger, Saint Dorothy Hunzicker, Saint Debbie Osberg all served the lord faithfully, and all rest from their labors. They are not dead. They are alive in Christ, and their bodies will be raised again. We continue in this world for a time, and we live according their example. We continue to receive the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. We continue to live solely by his grace and mercy, solely by his merits on our behalf. And we continue to serve our neighbor as they did.
In our Gospel reading, we hear of all those who are blessed. It ends rather oddly – blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So also, did they persecute Jesus himself. Why does the world insist on persecuting those who speak the truth? To ask is to answer – because they speak the truth. The church continues to speak against the forbidden fruit of sin, the corruption and death around us. And acknowledging sin is unpopular. It offends. We would rather take pride in our sins, parade them around for all to see. But pride is sinful in itself, whether pride in sin, or just pride in our own good works. We boast not in ourselves, but in Christ work in us. We boast in our own weakness because it shows the strength of God in us. It destroys the wisdom of the wise.
And yet, when the world mocks us, we are not discouraged by such persecution. We know that Jesus Christ has already won the victory on our behalf. Now, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. With death conquered – what can man do to us? We are dreed from bonds of the law, freed from sin and death, and so we are freed from need to chase success as this world sees it. We can just faithfully carry out our vocation, our calling in this world. We can receive the gifts which Jesus gives in and through his church. We come to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in his name. To give thanks for all his benefits. And to wait with eager and expectant hearts the day when he returns, when all the saints are raised to be with him.
Grant this Lord unto us all.