Sermon – November 3, 2019 – All Saints and Stewardship Weekend

All Saints Sunday – Stewardship – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Ephesians 1:11-23

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

A couple months I was listening to a science podcast that happened to be about reproduction, and while I knew I had heard this before it struck me: by the time my daughter had been growing in my uterus for merely 20 weeks, my potential grandchildren existed as well. Already, eggs with half my daughter’s DNA were nestled into her ovaries. I wasn’t just carrying a child, but the next generation beyond her as well. During those first weeks of pregnancy, my health and well-being impacted not just me at that moment, but also my daughter andany children she may one day have. Listening to that podcast suddenly I realized how close the present and the future are tied together.

There are occasions when our sense of time collapses in, when all that was and is and will be come together in a single moment. All Saints Sunday is one of those occasions when we recognize the fluidity of time. It is a day when we often look back into history, remembering all those believers in Christ who have gone before us; who modeled for us what faith in Christ means. But as the stewardship theme for this year highlights, nothing is ever just about the past, or even the present. Today we gather as the living saints; no, not perfect-make-no-mistakes kind of people, but those who trust Christ with our lives. When the apostle Paul wrote to “the saints” in Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth, he was writing to those who were in Christ, just like you and me. And as Paul says elsewhere, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s; we belong to Christ; when we were baptized we were brought into Christ’s very own life, and so we are the saints, along with those who went before us, and even with those we do not even know yet.

This celebration of All Saints is of cosmic proportions. That is, it goes beyond all time and space; today we recognize that we are onewith the saints in Ephesus two thousand years ago, and the saints who willexist here in this place in twenty years or fifty years; we are saints with Malagasy people in the in Ambovombe-Androy and Faradofay Synods in Madagascar, our companion synods, and with those across town at St. Andrews, Grace, and Good Shepherd; we are saints with those in the Roman Catholic Church, and in non-denominational churches; we are saints with those Christians who might be kind of like us, and those with whom we may not agree politically or theologically. All of us who are in Christ, who have been in Christ, and will be in Christ, are IN Christ together. Today we recognize that Christ unites us through all time and space, making us the great communion of saints that is expressed in our creeds. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints. We profess in the creeds that the Spirit unites us to be the community in Christ; and we are community for Christ.

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. All time is gathered into Christ. These past weeks you have reflected together on the past and the present. Today, this All Saints Day, when we have often turned to consider those who went before us, we turn our attention to the future. But it’s not just any future. We are talking about the future that belongs to Christ; the future that Christ holds, the future that Christ ushers us into.

There’s wonderful language in our second reading today in the letter to the saints in Ephesus, or the Ephesians as we usually say. This passage opens up that cosmic scope of Christ’s reign. “20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all thingsunder his feet and has made him the head over all thingsfor the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And if our reading had started just a couple verses earlier we would hear this: “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In other words, the future is Christ’s, and knowing that future belongs to him frees us to consider how we live and what choices we make.

There’s another word in this passage that crosses the boundaries of time: inheritance. An inheritance is a gift for the future. It is often something that is carefully stewarded and planned for to benefit another; at the least by definition it is something passed down from one generation to another. Paul uses this word three times, in verses 11, 14, and 18. “In Christ we have obtained an inheritance,” the Spirit is the “pledge of our inheritance,” and “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” What do we know about this inheritance?

First of all, it is a communal; that is, it belongs to the community. We have obtained an inheritance; ourinheritance; the inheritance among, or with, the saints, plural. While the abundant life in Christ is for you, and it is for me, it also belong to the world. The good news of Christ is that he is for all people. When we hear in John 3:16 that God so loved the world, the Greek word for world is cosmos; Christ’s work is cosmic, generous, abundant, for the world.

This inheritance, specifically, is the riches of Christ’s grace; it is the abundant life we receive in Christ, to be people who are forgiven, restored, who are made new amidst our daily struggles and failures, who know that there is more to life than what is just visible in front of us. It is why we gather here in this place, because we know that Jesus matters for us, and we know that Jesus matters to our neighbor; and Jesus matters for the whole world. This inheritance we have as the body of Christ is the grace that renews us; it is the hope that propels us to gather and to minister to our neighbor. This inheritance is at the heart of our decisions about what we as individuals do with all that we have been given, and as a congregation we decide how steward and manage the resources of our congregation? How do we manage, or steward, the grace of Christ that has been entrusted to us?

A couple years ago in the parish I was serving as associate pastor, we were considering whether to take up a building project and capital appeal. The physical church building needed updating and renovation; the desire for a project like that was gaining momentum, but we were also heading into a time of pastoral transition. As I had conversations with lay leaders in those months, two conversations in particular struck me, and I do have their permission to share their stories.

One conversation was with the Petersons, who have been retired for some years now. They had been members nearly all their adult life; they had also seen both their sons and families leave Salem and join other churches. It was clear their family was not going to be part of Salem’s future ministry. But the Petersons said to me, “Pastor Elise, Salem does wonderful ministry. This community has been Christ for us in our struggles and in our good times, and we want it to go well into the future. We know we need to update our building for fruitful ministry to grow, and we have already talked about what we are willing to give toward it. Our children and grandchildren aren’t here, but other people’s children and grandchildren will be.” They were willing to make a sizable gift that would benefit future Christians they would never even know, and who were not related to them, other than also being Christ’s people.

My other conversation was with Regg, who was looking toward just a few more years work ahead of him at Caterpillar, and then he and his wife were planning to retire to his parents’ farm in South Dakota. And he said to me, “Pastor Elise, my daughters are grown, they don’t live here, they won’t be moving back here, but Barb and I want to see ministry happen at Salem, and so we are prepared to make a large lead gift, even if we aren’t here when the building is finished.” I was amazed – not totally surprised; after all, I knew these people, but amazed to hear of their intentions to  make such generous gifts, knowing that they would not even be there to reap the benefits was the riches of Christ’s grace at work in them. Regg and the Petersons know what it is to be Christ’s people, and that the ministry they share is about Christ and what he will do through them to nurture more disciples into the future. It is about the mission of Christ and stewarding the future Christ brings forth.

Over these last few weeks you have been asked to consider your part in the work of the body of Christ. Before you are the saints who with Christ have brought you to this place and this day. Now it is time to consider the future of Christ’s mission in this place. You are asked to make a commitment to support the on-going work of Jesus in this place, for the sake of those who come through the doors next week, next year, and in the years to come.

Through you, believers are fed and nourished in the Word and in the meal around this table. Through you, new believers are ushered into new life in Christ through water and the Word; through you the hungry are fed, the poor are given hope, those who weep are comforted. This is the work of Christ; the riches of Christ’s grace at work through you who are the body of Christ, the communion of saints in this time and place, and into the future that Christ brings forth.

And so with Paul, and I imagine these also to be the words of future generations here, I say, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

Amen.