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Sermon for 2 November 2014

FIRST READING Revelation 7:9–17

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “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.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


PSALM Psalm 34:1–10, 22

1 I will bless the LORD at all times; the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth. 2 I will glory in the LORD; let the lowly hear and rejoice. 3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD; let us exalt God’s name together. 4 I sought the LORD, who answered me and delivered me from all my terrors.
5 Look upon the LORD and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed. 6 I called in my affliction, and the LORD heard me and saved me from all my troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear the LORD and delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are they who take refuge in God! 9 Fear the LORD, you saints of the LORD, for those who fear the LORD lack nothing. 10 The lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack nothing that is good. 22 O LORD, you redeem the life of your servants, and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.



1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
GOSPEL Matthew 5:1–12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Blest are the lowly; for they shall inherit the land. Blest are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; blest are they who show mercy; blest are the peacemakers. I’m sure by now you’ve looked at the hymn board or your bulletin and realized that today is All Saints’ Sunday. It was Pope Gregory IV who established November 1 as All Saints’ Day in the year 835 A.D., for the Western church and thus the Sunday following became All Saints’ Sunday.
The day was intended to be a day of celebration and commemoration of all the saints of God, known and unknown — a victory party, as it were, for those who shared in the mystery, yet continuity, of resurrection eternity. However, and unfortunately, it’s hard for many of us today to get into the party mood, because saints seem so distant — so removed from the action of our daily living. The whole theme of “All Saints’ Day” seems to take on a rather musty air, like something experienced when peering into a damp corner in the basement of history. Saints are from a different time of self-perception; a fascinating topic in the realm of church history, but are they really relevant to the bottom line of our daily interaction?
A pastor once asked a study group of students to define “saint” and then to name some saints. Their definitions and candidates all seemed to fall into one or more of three categories: “A saint is someone who is either deified, dead, or different.” First there were those saints who are practically deified. From the ancient stories about them, they seem pretty God-like in total personality. We envision them with halos. They are the superstars of past ecclesiastical piety. You can easily tell who they are because “saint” seems to be a part of their name. For example, Saint John, Saint Mark, Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis – additionally, all are apparently removed from us by a large slab of time. And all the saints that were listed by the students at the time were dead, except for one.
They were people in the past who had died in the faith, and in most cases died for the faith due to intense persecution. This was important for canonization by the study group — Saint Stephen and Saint Peter — and listed here were more modern names — like Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the young pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis toward the end of World War II — saints as people who had put their bodies on the line for their faith and were killed. Then there was the third category.
The students agreed that saints were willing to go against the people that are faithfully different. Saints were willing to go against the flow of the ordinary, to risk and sacrifice their lives for their faith. In their initial discussion, it was in this category that the students placed the one, contemporary saint that was a part of their list: Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa, who went on to meet her Lord in 1997, was a little, fragile woman living out her life as a part of a religious order serving in the city slums of India and other parts of our world where human need and desperation seem to peak.
In the eyes of our society, she was a very different kind of person — a woman who, it appeared to the world, had sacrificed what most people seem to define as pleasure, comfort and success so that she could minister to those who were most obviously in physical need. Her ministry was in the very style of Jesus Christ. She was a woman who had forsaken a biological family and personal safety and any kind of possessions. She was a woman who fasted, wore a habit, spent hours in prayer — a person who was very different — like Saint Francis caring for the birds and talking to the birds. Respected, revered — Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize.
A contemporary at that time, but it appears to us she was someone who was very different from us. Well the odds are good, of course, that all the people, represented by the names that I previously mentioned, were, or are, saints of God. But deified? These people were lifted up in our memory, in most cases, because some of their actions were God-like, or more specific in human inter-relational terms, Christ-like. But if we study the record closely, we quickly discover that they were also human creatures of limitation and separation — just like us.
Many are certainly dead, but let’s also look around — in our very midst. Yes, saints are always different, in the sense of living a faith that results in actions and philosophies that often fly in the face of societal expectations that are based on ego or self-interest. When the will of God acts through a person, that person, now a saint, becomes in that very moment a divine corrective to loveless action and momentum. Let me describe to you some “different” people that were encountered by the pastor I previously mentioned during a chapel field trip to Chicago some time ago. It was different in the sense of being saint-like.
The first person he described was Dan Jorenko who worked for the Northwest Community Organization — a neighborhood action-justice organization in a low-income neighborhood of active shops and stores. All the signs there are in Spanish. Most of the people on the street were Latino, coming from Mexico or Central America. It was about noon when they arrived in the neighborhood. The group went into the storefront office to find Dan. The front office had the feel of a Dickensian sweatshop for accountants. There were five or six ancient wooden desks buried under a sea of papers. Dan was in the back room, hands covered with ink, cranking out flyers on an old mimeograph machine.
The flyers were about a neighborhood meeting at St. Mark’s parish hall — a meeting to help convince city officials of the need for low-income apartments in the neighborhood, places to live that are rehabilitated and sanitary. There were many families desperately seeking a place to live. One side of the flyer was in Spanish, the other side in English. At the bottom it said, “For a ride … call Dan at NCO.”
Dan took the visiting group to lunch at a local cafe to talk. Over Chorizo sandwiches and enchiladas they tried to talk. That turned out to be somewhat of a mistake because this was an authentic Mexican cafe and the music was blasting away — so maybe only six or so of the group could actually hear Dan. Dan told of political wars that were trying to bring about justice in his little area of the city. They were getting very poor people to see that they, too, have rights; trying to build a sense of dignity in people who for the most part felt that they had been forgotten by the normal process of goods and services. Dan was a graduate of Michigan State and then a Methodist seminary. He decided not to seek a call as a pastor of a church because he was afraid that he would not be placed in a poor section of the inner city. Almost three years prior to our meeting, he took this poor paying job with NCO, living in an old apartment two blocks from the office. He works days and most nights.
Wearing a torn shirt and ripped jacket, holding a burrito in ink-stained hands, he talked about how he cared for people. He had a certain smile and a sparkle in his eyes, and could only see the positive things that were happening around him, even when his stories seemed to all be about uphill battles against forces of prejudice and apathy, which were affecting families in desperate need. Dan kept a spark of hope and joy in the midst of all this. It was a part of his faith. Is Dan a saint?, perhaps. Blest are they who show mercy; blest are the single-hearted for they shall see God. Jesus said, blest are you when others insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of Me.
During the same trip, the pastor and his group talked to Gary Mills at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church. It’s was a mission church in the basement of a low-rent apartment house owned at the time by the American Lutheran Church. The pastor’s parsonage was across the street — that street and the few blocks around it had the highest homicide rate in the United States. It seemed like a nice enough neighborhood, but the year prior to their visit, some 48 children between the ages of 11 and 21 were knifed or shot to death there. They watched a videotape in the parsonage basement Sunday morning about the mission’s neighborhood and ministry.
For what seemed to be forever, the videotape showed a string of wallet-size school pictures of boys — giving that school-picture smile like they must have promised their mothers. They were all children that were killed the previous year in gang assassinations on the street outside of St. Mary’s. Gary told of one funeral for an eleven-year-old where a rival gang with guns drawn stormed into the funeral service, pushed the bereaving family aside, knocked Gary to the floor, took the body of the slain boy out of the casket, carried it out into the street, and threw it on the top of a car. These were desperate teenagers trying to steal everything from their enemies — even hope. To them there was no meaning to anything — even the words of the funeral or the tears of a dead child’s mother.
They slept that night in an office that had a bullet hole through the window, the bullet lodged in the wall. They worshiped that next morning in the boiler room, which doubled as their sanctuary. They worshiped in both Spanish and English and shared together the body and blood of Christ. The visiting pastor sat next to a teenager who had no expression on her face. She never sang or said one word. When they shared the peace she wouldn’t look into anyone’s eyes, or say a word, just offer a limp hand. What had happened in her life to cause her to lose all expression? She did take communion, and she held around her neck a crucifix and she listened to the words of love. Over ninety percent of those from the area who came to worship had never been in a church before St. Mary’s moved into the neighborhood.
Here is where Pastor Mills, who was fighting his own battle with cancer at the moment, and his wife, Diane, had decided to live and speak words and do deeds of gospel love. Blest are they who show mercy: mercy shall be theirs. Blest too the peacemakers: they shall be called the children of God. Who are the Mills, are they saints?, probably.
Next they visited Dennis Lauritsen, pastor of another Lutheran Church. He told how his small church decided to use their basement as a winter shelter for homeless people. People can come in the late evening, receive a warm meal with a mattress and clean sheets and a blanket for the evening. And who were these people? People laid off of work, refugees, alcohol and drug abusers kicked out by their own families, many social rejects, all of them most desperate at the moment. The church started a food pantry for needy families and a used clothing exchange.
Why did they do it? Dennis said, “This is the Word of God, the life of Jesus, and the Bible calls us into caring for the well-being and safety and future of others.” Who is this Dennis Lauritsen, a saint? Many think so. However, what he told the visiting group next is worth considering. He said, “This is all sort of easy. The needs here are so obvious; these men are freezing in the street in the winter; they have no safe place to stay, no warm meals. The families that come to us for food or clothes have children who are crying because they are hungry and have no shoes. This is obvious.” Then Dennis said, “I know about Wittenberg and our other Lutheran church-related schools, and it seems to me that a lot of kids are going there just to learn the skills to get out of there, earn a big salary, get the big house, and drive nice cars. [They are] students in life for the money. [It’s] you guys [whose] got the big job, bringing God’s will and Word for love and justice and compassion to those people. You’ve got the tough job of ministry. You guys are saints to attempt ministry in the battleground at Wittenberg.”
In his lectures on the book of Galatians, Martin Luther spoke about those who should rightly be called saints. Luther wrote: The saints do not live without temptations of the flesh, nor without sin. Saints are not stones, or like in the imagination of monks and students, saints are not senseless blocks without all affections. When I was a monk I did often times most heartily wish that I might be so fortunate to see or converse with a saint. I imagined such a saint as one who lived in the wilderness abstaining from meat and drink, and living only by eating roots or herbs and cold water. Now, in the light of the gospel, I plainly see that those whom Christ and his apostles call saints are those who are called by the gospel and baptized. Saints are those who believe that they are sanctified (of worth and purpose), as well as cleansed by the death and blood of Christ.
Therefore Paul, when he wrote to any Christian anywhere, called them all holy and the children of God. Whether they be male or female, bond or free, they all are saints; not because of what they do, but because of what God does through them. So whether ministers of God’s Word, the magistrates of the community, parents, students, children, masters, servants — all are true saints if first and before all things they assure themselves that Christ is their wisdom, their savior, and their purpose for being. They are true saints if they attempt to do one thing in their daily living: God’s will.
Sainthood does not pertain only to the saints which are in heaven, or on earth as hermits and monks who do certain great and strange works, lurking in caves and dens, fasting, wearing hair shirts, hoping this will single them out for heaven. Let us now learn by the Holy Scriptures, that all who faithfully believe in Christ are saints.
With great rejoicing I give thanks to God, for God has given to me the grace to see not one but many saints. Yea, an infinite number of true saints … as Christ himself and his apostles do describe, of which I also, by the grace of God, am one. For I am baptized, and I do believe that Christ my Lord by his death has redeemed and delivered me from all my sins and has given to me eternal righteousness and holiness.
According to Luther and Saint Paul, All Saints’ Sunday is our day. The day is for those who have been grasped by Christ. The day where the Word of God is piercing through our lives. Blest are the peacemakers: blest are those who show mercy. Saints are not supra-humans, not persons in some mystical state of moral perfection; rather, saints are those, like us, in the process of growth, in grace. Saint and sinner rolled into one, daily death and rebirth, baptized children of God attempting to be open to the moving Spirit of God. All Saints’ Sunday is our day. A day we share with the big name saints and with those who have labored in obscurity and silence but who nevertheless within their own sphere of influence, repeatedly have been witnesses to their living God.
Today is a day, as is every day, to be challenged by all the saints around us to match their obedience and dedication. A time for us, the present saints, to reexamine our contacts with others, in our social transactions, in the classroom, dorm, home, work, in our family life and love life, in our voting on Tuesday, in our allocation of money, and our use of free time, our occupational discussion making, in how we influence others. Today is a day to ask ourselves if we are putting the integrity of our inner selves as saints on the line for our faith in daily living. As sinners we pray for God’s guidance, direction, strength and forgiveness so that our sainthood may be the dominant force in our lives together — allowing loving interaction to form the very heart and soul and purpose of all our relationships. Who are the saints? It’s you and me; all who are called, redeemed and willing to live our lives following Christ as our example.

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