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Sermon for All Saints 2022

First Reading: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

2I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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. 15Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 Psalm 149

1Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful. 2Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. 3Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp. 4For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory. 5Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; let them be joyful on their beds. 6Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two-edged sword in their hand; 7To wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples; 8To bind their kings in chains and their nobles with links of iron; 9To inflict on them the judgment decreed; this is glory for all his faithful people.  Hallelujah!

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-3

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, 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. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

1Seeing the crowds, {Jesus} went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


A Child of God

If you could create a whole new identity for yourself, who would you be?  What would be your new name or occupation?  Where would you live?  Would you change your name, move to the great white north, and live off the land?  Would you become a beach bum in Florida, or a long-haul trucker based out of Texas?  For the people who enter the Federal Witness Security Program, or WitSec, these questions are not just idle musings.

The WitSec Program was set up in 1970 to provide new identities for witnesses who risk their lives to testify in criminal cases.  Over the past 52 years, around 19,000 witnesses (and almost 25,000 family members) have been given new identities and new locations by the U.S. Marshals Service.  Before a person is admitted into the program, he or she must settle any debts and take care of any other obligations.  They need to leave as few “loose ends” as possible from their old life.  Then, they’re reassigned to a city or town in which there’s very little possibility of them being recognized.

Relocated witnesses are encouraged to choose a new name that’s similar to their old name, even sharing the same first letters as their old name, so they can adjust to it more easily.  The Marshals Service also helps the relocated witness find a new job, find housing, arrange for counseling, and obtain new paperwork (like birth certificates) supporting their new identity.  There are two incontrovertible rules that every relocated witness must follow in order to remain safe and remain in the program: they must never contact their old friends and colleagues, and they must never return to the town from which they came.

As you might guess, creating a new identity, in our highly connected world, is no easy matter.  Yet in some cases, people choose to change their identities for much less serious reasons than a threat to their lives.  At the turn of the twentieth century, a young woman named Cassie Chadwick was able to borrow almost $2 million dollars from banks and rich individuals from Cleveland high society.  Why were people so eager to lend Ms. Chadwick money?  She claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of business tycoon Andrew Carnegie.  Chadwick hinted that the Carnegie family paid her a large sum of money in order to keep her true identity a secret.  But when Cassie couldn’t afford to pay back the bank loans, she had to face up to her lie.  The Carnegies had never heard of her.  She was no relation to the multimillionaire family.  Chadwick served ten years in prison for fraud.

Our identity is important for so many reasons.  It’s how we pay our taxes, it’s how we conduct financial transactions, how we fly, open and close business accounts, it’s how we vote, and so much more.  Having an identity is the way we function in this world.  Yet having an identity doesn’t really tell us anything about who we are as a person.  With all the ways with which we identify ourselves, it seems like we spend our entire lives trying to answer the question, “Who am I?”  We sense that if we can answer that one question, then our path in life will become significantly clearer.  When we know who we are, we can then have a better idea of what our values and priorities should be.  When we know ourselves and how we’re connected with the whole, we can get a clearer picture of how we should invest our time, our mental energy, and strength.

Lance Armstrong, as you know, was a world-famous athlete.  Although now stripped of his world titles, this aspect of his life was an integral part of his identity.  Because he defined himself as an athlete, he knew how to invest his time, his mental energy, and strength: to train his body and mind for the grueling physical challenges of world-class bicycle racing.  Because he defined himself as an athlete, he knew what was off-limits to him: alcohol, tobacco, or any substance that would weaken his body.  He couldn’t afford to be a couch potato or a junk food junkie.  He couldn’t afford negative thoughts and self-doubt.  His choices, the use of his time, his whole lifestyle reflected his identity as a 7-time world record holder and an athlete.

Let me ask you this: How much conflict would be eliminated from our life if we knew our true identity?  If we could stand up and say, “This is who I am, and nothing I do and nothing you do can detract from it”?  According to our epistle reading for today, we have the privilege of doing just that.  Today’s passage was written by the apostle John, a man who was a member of Jesus’ “inner circle.”  When St. John wrote this letter, he was an old man, exiled on the island of Patmos, and he knew he doesn’t have much time to share Jesus’ message.  The young churches throughout Asia and the Middle East were struggling to define what it meant to be Christ-followers, striving to fully comprehend what it truly means to be a child of God.

Many of the newest believers never knew Jesus in the flesh; they came to the true faith after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Because the church was only 40-50 years old, and struggling with persecution, these new followers were easily led astray by false teachings.  John wanted desperately for these new congregations to understand what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and how to live out their new identity in an often-hostile world.  And this is his message: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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”.  Think about that statement, the world does not know us, because they don’t know Jesus.  What does this say about the importance of us sharing the good news of Jesus with the world?

St. John continues, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,” that is confesses their sins and obeys God’s commands [and be pure] just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3).  To be pure, we must strive to live a life of righteousness using Jesus as our example for living.

All Saints’ Sunday is the day we traditionally celebrate the lives of all those godly Christians who have influenced us or influenced the Church.  However, for whatever reason, we tend to distance ourselves from the title of “saint.”  We deliberately choose to reserve that title for those who are now at rest in the care of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Yet the Bible says that in Baptism, we become saints.  In the waters of baptism, the old Adam was drowned, and we were raised anew in Christ.  By God’s gift of grace, the sin we inherited at birth was forgiven and we were given a new heavenly name.  We were made part of the Body of Christ.

Our sainthood isn’t based on what we do; we know salvation is a free gift of God.  Our good works of love and righteousness are a response of thanksgiving for all God’s love and mercy.  We’re called saints because of Christ in us.  This is our new identity.  It was instantaneous.  And we will spend our entire lives learning what it means to be a child of God.  Author Maxie Dunnam writes, “The dynamic process of saint-making is to work out in fact, what is already true in principle.”  But there’s another title we receive in baptism; it’s a title we’re more comfortable with, and it’s equally important to claim it as our identity: Children of God—that is what we are, a saint and child of the King.

Think about that for a moment, you and I are saints and children of the most high God.  The Bible says that all those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior and obey His commands are the children of God.  God loves all His creation, but only those who place their faith in Jesus and are baptized are adopted into God’s family.

Playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith remembers one of the earliest lessons her grandfather taught her.  He used to say, “If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.”  Sounds like a simple lesson, but it reveals the huge influence that our words have on our self-image and our view of the world.  What words do you use to describe yourself?  Friendly, athletic, trustworthy?  Or do you use disparaging phrases to describe yourself?  What words do you use to describe your loved ones, your job, your average day?  We have a tremendous impact on who we are and how we view life by the words we use.

The question is, do you really believe that you are indeed a child of God?  And more importantly, if you believe this, how has that knowledge impacted your life?  If you really believed that you are a beloved child of God, how then does that affect your attitudes, your words, and how you treat other people?  In other words, as a child of God, how do you live your life, and how do you see your future?

There’s a powerful reflection by William Arthur Ward titled “I Am More” that expresses the life that can flow from our identity as a child of God.  It reads: “I am more than happy, I am joyful.  I am more than healthy, I am whole.  I am more than alive, I am radiant.  I am more than successful, I am free.  I am more than caring, I am loving.  I am more than tranquil, I am peaceful.  I am more than interested, I am involved.  I am more than adequate, I am triumphant.  I am more than fortunate, I am prosperous.  I am more than human, I am a child of God.  What a real difference it can make in our perspective when we really believe that we are God’s child.  It means that we are wholly unique, precious in His eyes, and blessed with an inheritance that we can never comprehend.

Being a child of God will be reflected in how we raise a family.  It’s reflected in how we use our financial blessings.  It’ll be reflected in how we treat our enemies, in how we respond to injustice, to hunger, to violence and to how we respond to the death of another.  Being a child of God should be reflected in our priorities, our values, and our goals.  Being God’s child means that we carry God’s presence into all of life’s situations.

Pablo Casals, a world-renowned cellist, once remarked, “Each second we live, is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again . . . And what do we teach our children?  We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France.  When will we also teach them what they are?  We should say to each of them: ‘Do you know what you are?  You are a marvel!  You are unique.  In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.  Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.  You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.  You have the capacity for anything.  Yes, you are a marvel.”

Dr. George Morris is a seminary professor and a world expert on evangelism.  He has dedicated his adult life to spreading the message of Jesus around the world.  George grew up in a poor Appalachian family.  His grandfather was an atheist, and none of the family showed any interest in spiritual things.  The year that George turned seventeen, his father became friends with a local Methodist pastor.  At a revival one night, George got the shock of his life when his father knelt at the church altar and surrendered his life to Jesus.  But what happened next really shook him up.

George’s father got up from the altar and headed straight for George.  His words burned their way into George’s heart.  He said, “Son, I know this is embarrassing to you, but I want you to hear me out and trust me if you can.  I have found something here this evening that I have been searching for, for fifty-six years, and I would rather die than see you make the mistakes I’ve made.”  Young George came to the saving faith in Jesus that night as well.  In that one prayer George’s life was changed and has led him to influence countless other people and point them to relationship with Jesus, too.

On Monday as we were discussing our gospel reading for today, one of the other pastor’s made a comment: “This is what discipleship looks like.”  This got me to thinking about our Matthew reading and about two verses from our other readings.  The first verse is from our Revelation chapter 7 reading, verse 17, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  The second verse comes from verse 3 of our epistle reading, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as [Jesus] is pure.”  It’s Jesus that we look to, to guide us each day.  And by emulating Him, we can then live pure and righteous lives that are pleasing to God.  This is where our Matthew reading becomes important.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He described what the life of a disciple should look like.  In this sermon, Jesus lifted up the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted as all those who are blessed by God and rewarded.  This isn’t, of course, something that happens overnight, as I said, we’ll spend our entire earthly lives learning the full depth and breadth of what it means to be one of God’s saints.

Becoming a faithful follower might seem hard, it might seem like a daunting task, but this is where the promises of our first reading come in: The Lamb who sits at God’s right hand will lead us and guide us to springs of living water and He will wipe away all our tears.  And in the verse just before this one we read, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst no more, the sun shall not strike them, nor any burning heat.”  As a Child of God, we are indeed blessed, and we have nothing to fear because we are heirs to His kingdom.

We don’t know all that God has planned for us and for our future.  What we do know is that in the waters of baptism we were adopted into God’s family and made His children and His saints.  Each day as we remember our baptism and strive to grow as His followers, the Holy Spirit in us will help us to grow and to reflect God’s glory more and more each day.  As our passage says, “…and what we will be has not yet been made known.  But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”

Isn’t it time we stop and reflect deeply on all that it means to be a saint and a child of God and of how that reality should govern our lives?  I encourage you, over the course of the coming week, to really ponder what this promise of adoption means.  To reflect on how we will live our lives once we fully understand this fact.  Once we do, we can then proudly claim our true identity, that reality, that fact, and in how it can and will give us courage and strength, and be the source of a more abundant, faith-filled life.


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