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Sermon: Who Are These? November 1, 2020

November 1, 2020

Today’s Dispatch is the sermon I preached for All Saints at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL). The texts for the day are Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17, and 1 John 3:1-3. We had a problem with the livestream, so the beginning of worship is missing from the video, but we sang “For all the saints” again. You can watch it here. Check out the bulletin, too. The image is of my kids on Halloween. Be well, friends. You are loved.

Sisters and brothers, friends in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day, in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.                                                                                    

  1. Halloween was a bit different this year. We saw fewer trick-or-treaters than usual and visited fewer houses than we do most years. Still, we saw plenty of people costumed for the day. It would take us a moment with each person to recognize who they were. I imagine this was how people reacted to our kids, too, during their very brief foray to find candy. Before they could be recognized as Greta, Anders, and Torsten, first they would have been seen as the cutest Bigfoot, Luke Skywalker, and police officer you ever did see. Who are these? The Lyle kids! Dressing up improved what was otherwise a less exuberant Halloween; on the other hand, we’ve all been wearing masks and eating too much candy for the past seven months, so maybe it’s okay that the day was less festive. Safety first during these difficult days.

  2. All Hallows’ Eve has given way to All Saints Day, and we are invited into John’s vision of the heavenly kingdom. Here, we find a similar scene. John sees people dressed in strange ways and he can’t recognize them. Who are these? The Elder speaks: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In the presence of God’s glory, surrounded by the angels’ songs of praise, at the foot of the throne of the resurrected Lamb of God, these saints are almost unrecognizable. But make no mistake; these are not they who have avoided the ordeals of this world. They are the ones who lived faithfully through the ordeal. These are the ones who have washed their robes, their lives, in the blood of the Lamb and who live now robed in the righteousness of Christ forever.

  3. There can be no doubt that we are the ones currently living in the great ordeal. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to spiral out of control as we head into winter. Almost 1.2 million people have died worldwide, 230,000 of them in our nation. Still, we fight about how to respond instead of doing everything we can to care for one another. Cases are rising as winter slowly makes its way toward us. We do not know how long this ordeal will last, nor how bad it will become. Closer on the horizon is this week’s election. Not only do we not know the outcome, we don’t know to what the outcome will lead. If the conversations I’ve had recently are any indication, there is no shortage of anxiety among us.

  4. Not knowing what the future holds is the at the root of our sin. We attempt to create the illusion that we have a modicum of control, building identities for ourselves based on status and power, and by using status to exert power over others. All we end up doing is exacerbating the ordeal, drawing it out and deepening its damage. Just so, the heavenly vision, the promised future of a life lived in praise of the Lamb, is not only a gift for the future. It is not simply a good ending at the end of an otherwise bad story. It is the very thing that sets us free for life in this world. John writes, “what we will be has not yet been revealed.” We know neither what exactly eternal life will be like, nor what our future in this world holds. But we are, John says in the same breath, God’s children now. Now. At this moment, in the midst of this ordeal, with an unknown future stretching out before us, we are God’s children now. Saints are not only those who live in God’s immediate, heavenly presence. Saints are those who have been brought through the waters of baptism, out of death and into life, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb here on earth. The future, whatever it holds, is sure and certain, and therefore our identity now is clearly defined. You, saints, are children of God.

  5. Promised the Kingdom that will one day dawn, we are free to look for the Kingdom in the midst of the ordeal. Jesus tells us where to look. We find the blessings of God in our poverty of spirit, in our mourning, in our meekness, and in our hunger and thirst for righteousness in this unrighteous world. These are not the shiny symbols of success that we imagine would herald the reign of God, but Christ has always revealed God’s presence hidden within those things we would avoid or ignore. Precisely there, Jesus says, you will see me at work. The preacher Harvard Stephens, Jr., recalls for us Archbishop Oscar Romero’s encouragement to “keep searching for the kingdom of God precisely because it always lies beyond us, beyond our efforts and beyond our accomplishments. Romero believed that our work is always unfinished, but this does not diminish its importance – because it allows God’s grace to enter and complete what we have begun.” So, friends, you who are called saints and children of God, search for the Kingdom. Look for it in the poor and the marginalized and, discovering with them the Kingdom, work for the good of the poor and the marginalized. It will not be easy. This world has long had little time for mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking. We nailed the giver of these graces to a cross, but God just went and turned that into the means of our salvation. So be blessed by showing mercy with a pure heart, by making peace for the sake of the suffering. It won’t be easy, but there is blessing there, too. The prophets and the saints of old were treated the same way. They were brought through the ordeal. You’ll come through, too, for Christ is with you.

  6. This year has been hard for us in so many ways. We have commended fourteen saints of Grace into God’s hands: Salvador, Fern, Sophia, Marjorie, Alvin, Ruth, Wayne, Walter, William, Mary, George, Carl, Evelyn, and Wesley. These are now gathered, singing the song of resurrection, in a world beyond the reach of death and the tears of grief. Our tears at their deaths are holy, as we give thanks for the faithful ways in which they lived by grace through life’s ordeals. We praise God for clothing them forever in Christ. May we, who walk as yet by faith, live as they lived. Let us seek blessing where the world wouldn’t, in the suffering of our neighbors and in our own poor spirits, seeing how it is precisely there that God is at work. In this life of tears, let our hands be the hands of God to wipe away one another’s tears, to restore one another to the promise of hope. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are God’s children now. And we know that whatever happens on Tuesday, the Lamb of God cannot be dislodged from his throne. In protest against this world’s dying ways, let us sing the song of resurrection: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Who are these? The better question is, “Whose are these?” These, we, you are children and saints who belong to God forever, who belong to God now. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → COVID-19, Sermons

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