Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Feast of All Saints (observed)

Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A saint is one who has been set apart by God for salvation in Jesus Christ. Therefore, one is not a saint because of his good works, his piety, or even his faith, but one is a saint because of the work of God in Jesus Christ – period. The Lord’s saints are both in heaven and on earth; some have died in the Lord, and some live in Him now on earth, set apart from the multitude of sinners, just as Noah and the children of Israel were set apart from the multitude of sinners around them. Again, they are not saints because they are particularly good or because they chose to follow the LORD, but rather because the LORD has called and has chosen them in His Son. Another word for saint is holy; the words saint and holy are synonyms, they mean the same thing: set apart. The saints are not holy in and of themselves, but they have been declared to be holy by God through Jesus, even as they are being made to be holy, a work that will be completed in the resurrection of their bodies on the Last Day. Thus, we are not to pray to the saints, though Scripture is clear that the saints in heaven do indeed pray for the saints on earth, the Church, even as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor do the saints contribute to some heavenly treasury of grace from which we withdraw in times of need, but they are recipients of the Lord’s grace and mercy, just like you. Likewise, the saints are not only those who have died in the Lord and await the resurrection, but you also are the LORD’s saints, His holy ones who have been set apart from the multitude of sinners that fill this world for life and salvation in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the saints are that countless multitude in St. John’s vision wearing white robes and holding palm branches before the throne of God and the Lamb, all those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the Church of Jesus Christ in heaven and on earth, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and all places, the Church that will persevere until the end, over whom the gates of hell cannot prevail but must fall before the victory of the Her Lord, Jesus Christ, the Lamb.
The Feast of All Saints is a chief festival of the Church’s Year of Grace. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement for the saints on earth for whom the saints in heaven pray, “How long, O Lord until You avenge our blood?” It is a day of remembrance and encouragement that God keeps His promises, for the saints in heaven are with Him, just as He promised, and He is with us, just as he promised. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement for the saints on earth who mourn the deaths of their loved ones, for their souls are very much alive with Jesus where there is no hunger or thirst, where there is no sadness or mourning, suffering or death, and where God Himself has wiped away every tear from their eyes. It is a day of remembrance and encouragement, comfort and peace in the knowledge that, when we, the saints on earth gather here in this place, and particularly at the altar of our LORD, heaven comes down to earth and we join our voices with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” in the communion of saints, both in heaven and on earth, and the Church of Jesus Christ is as one, as catholic, and as visible as it can possibly be until that day when our Lord returns and raises our bodies and reunites them with our immortal souls to feast with Him forevermore in His heavenly kingdom.
The saints in heaven are examples for us, not primarily of what the Christian faith and life look like for us to emulate in our own lives, but rather of God’s faithfulness and promises kept to those who have finished the course of their lives in faith. Thus does the preacher to the Hebrews exhort us saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Because of the promises of God fulfilled and kept in Jesus Christ, we must lay aside the desires of our fallen flesh, the values of this fallen world, and even the thoughts of our sin-corrupted reason and wisdom and listen to the Words of Jesus and copy and emulate Jesus’ faith and life.
Our Lord Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes, the first part of His Sermon on the Mount, of what true blessedness consists. The truly blessed are those who are poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It goes without saying that poverty, hunger, and thirst are not considered a blessing in our world and culture, but rather a curse. But, then, it is not physical and material poverty, hunger, and thirst our Lord has in mind, but spiritual. The problem is that, when we are satisfied, comfortable, and fat with worldly and material blessings, we often forget and deny that we are spiritually impoverished and starving to death. Jesus also teaches that there is blessedness in mourning, for only those who truly mourn the loss of holiness and what we have truly earned, merited, and deserved for our sin, death, can appreciate the comfort that comes from the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus who suffered and died in our place, giving us His life in exchange for our death. We are to be meek and merciful, pure in heart, and peaceful. Truly, these are fruits of the Spirit borne in those who are empty of themselves and all self-righteousness and are in turn filled by Jesus with His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Such saints will suffer reviling, persecution, and evil at the hands and mouths of this world, just as Jesus did for you out of love for you and His Father. When such things happen, Jesus teaches, you should rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. However, do not treat these Beatitudes as a commandments or as prescriptive, turning them into works that you must do; rather, they are descriptive, first of Jesus, and second of you who are in Jesus through Baptism and faith. What Jesus has described in these Beatitudes is Himself, and in so doing He has described His saints who are in Him.
So, being a saint means to be set apart by God from the sinful masses all around you. This means that you often will not participate in the godless things that they do. This means that you will show mercy when others are unmerciful, that you will show love when others show hate, that you will call God’s commandments right and good even when the world calls them wrong, backward, intolerant, and evil. This means that you will likely not be popular and praised by others, but more likely will be reviled, mocked, ridiculed, hated, and even persecuted. Guess what, you’re in good company! For so they treated the prophets, the saints, and your Lord Jesus before you. Blessed is he whose fear, love, and trust are in the LORD, who is His child, having God as his Father. The world has not known Him, rejects and reviles Him, therefore the world does not know you, rejects and reviles you. But, you are God’s children now, and what you will be will be revealed when He appears. You will be like Him and you will see Him and all His saints face to face. And, no one will take your joy from you.
We gather here as God’s holy saints, set apart from the world of unbelievers and sinners. We come here in meekness and poverty, hungering and thirsting for the Lord’s righteousness. He fills us to overflowing and He sends us back into the world to share His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness with others to the glory of His Name. And, we are not alone; not only do we have each other in this family of faith, but we kneel here at the altar and receive Jesus with the saints in heaven who are with Him always. Only here, in the communion of saints, does heaven come down to earth to encourage and preserve the saints on earth in faith. For, God has knit His faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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