Sermon – November 6, 2016 – All Saints

All Saint Sunday
The work of the saints

I want to show you something this morning. This is my father’s small catechism. In fact it was the catechism for a lot of kids in the homesteads around Cave Hills Lutheran Church in South Dakota. It looks like they passed it around. The Big Blue name in the middle there is my dad, Albert Rasmus. He dates his signature June 12, 1932. Right above him is his brother Edward. He signs his name three times. Not sure why. Below my dad’s signature is Einar G. Rasmus. He dates his signature June 25, 1933. Below is my uncle Floyd Rasmus. He signed his name of June 25, 1940. In the back were the members of my father’s confirmation class, his sister Ida, and brother, Einar, Olga Wickstrom, Violet Seppala, Alvin Wickstrom, Roy Manly and Gunnard Kuoppala. All of them received their confirmation instruction from a 1907 Luther’s small catechism, which included incisive analysis from Joseph Stump, Dr. of Divinity. This might be a small litany of the saints.

I don’t know what they did in my dad’s time, but when I was in confirmation I was expected on my confirmation day to recite from memory the Apostle’s Creed and then one of Luther’s explanations of one of the three articles. I chose the third article, the one dealing with the Holy Spirit. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. “Luther’s explanation was as follows, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, and enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

That seems to me to be a pretty good cue to what it means to be a saint. To be made holy. One whose faith proceeds from the gift of the Holy Spirit, and not by one’s own work or decision and through this faith is bound to the forgiving grace of God and called into the community of Christ. One from whom God’s gaze of love and purpose never looks away. Sounds like a saint to me.

My dad is one of the folks I remember on all Saints Day, one from whom I received some example and modeling for participation in a church. I’m not sure my dad was convinced that he was any sort of saint, though. For reasons unknown to me, he did not feel able to take Holy Communion for many years after he returned from the war. He had ample flaws and maybe by some measures he would not have qualified to be a saint. I’m sure you’ve got your own friends and family, neighbors and acquaintances whom you recall with fondness and give some credit for your own faith journey who, under close examination, might fail the “perfect life” criteria for sainthood.

Thankfully, that has nothing at all to do with the Saints. As we lift up and remember those whose witness and work we mark, it is with the certain understanding that that work and witness, whatever guidance or model they have made meant for us is a mere reflection of, a mere vessel through which the Holy Spirit works. As we’ve heard before, a young mother sat in church with her daughter on All Saints Sunday, and the daughter, trying to understand, asked, “Mom, what is a saint?” And her mother looked up, pointed to the stained glass windows with scenes biblical stories, replied, “The saints are the ones that the light shines through.”

Today, Jesus is suggesting that the saints are those he names as the poor, the mournful, the rejected. The unexpected, the blessed ones, ones through whom the lights shines, How can that be a model for us? How can that be edifying?

Well, maybe they are the ones who recognize their poverty, recognize their need, recognize their isolation. . . and lay their dependence and hope on God’s grace and power because they don’t have their own. These are compared with those whose lives are materially much better. Again, do we reject all those with wealth, security, status and some joy in their lives? If so, they we all ought to be squirming in our seats. No, I think Jesus is suggesting here that those who think that these things they have and enjoy are their own doing and that they, therefore, have no need of God’s gifts are bound for worry and woe. Again, Jesus is turning things on their heads. The gifts of wealth and security in his time were deemed to be gifts of God that reward the righteous, and the lack of them indicated those out of favor with God. But now, Jesus says, that those assumptions are false, they are wrong.

Instead, the currency of the kingdom is the relational, that the old battles, the old inertia of tit for tat and mine and yours are undone, that God’s in-breaking of the kingdom through Christ will break these cycles that divide, separate and isolate. It will be the saints, the blessed ones who will be the hands and hearts that bring it to pass, rich or poor, young or old. Teaching that we do to others as we have them do to us.

This, it turns out, is not a terribly new innovation, but a reclamation of the relationships God had sought for centuries to establish with the covenant people of Israel as its ambassadors. As that covenantal relationship strained and shifted, that call to the neighbor was reinterpreted. . . .

We were reminded in our morning prayer group that God is in a covenantal relationship with all of creation, those we know and those we don’t, those we love and those we don’t, those we fear and those who fear us, and those with whom we might even be in conflict.

The work of the saints, the call of the saints is to speak and live that Gospel into the stew of human existence, so that God’s grace will be made known. It puts flesh and blood on Paul’s words in the 10th chapter of Romans, “ there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom may have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

The path of the saints begins with a gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism, nurtured by the fidelity of the baptized community, made real and present in the practice and proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and sent out for the sake of the world. . It is mitigated by the constant work of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we come neither to this work nor this faith on our own, but as a gift of God.

Today, with thanksgiving and joy, we remember those saints living and dead whose word and witness has contributed to bringing us to faith. As with many of the things of God, this is hidden behind the common – and folks like neighbors and friends, parents and grandparents, pastors and siblings and strangers alike.

As we noted, the path of the saints is relational. Some of those that we remember today, those for whom we have lit these candles, we still grieve. We still remember with the pain of loss. But we light these candled with thanksgiving, and remembrance and hope, because we all live and die under the unwavering promise of God’s abiding love in Christ. We remember the word of our teaching, the Holy Spirit has made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, and enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

The promise is true and real and the same for all of us, we living saints, bearing our burdens, ye carrying this good news into our families and workplaces, friendships, and unfamiliar places. Finally it is the hope of Saints, based on unconditional promise of God, that God never has nor will ever look away.

Thanks be to God.
Amen