All Saints' Sunday
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who names us children of God. Amen
Our readings for today,
this All Saint’s Sunday,
make it abundantly clear
that life as a saint,
that is a baptized child of God
is not easy.
John of Patmos, in his vision,
sees a great multitude gathered around the throne of the lamb,
and what seems to qualify them to be there
is that they had passed through some great ordeal,
persecution and martyrdom perhaps
and now finally, having washed their robes in the blood of the lamb,
a rather ironic image symbolizing forgiveness from Jesus
they are free to worship God day and night,
no longer afflicted by hunger, thirst, heat or sorrow.
In the beatitudes from Matthew
Jesus names those blessed by God
whose earthly life indicate that no such blessing is present,
those who mourn,
are poor in spirit,
who seek righteousness
and especially those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus.
And Jesus makes clear
that his followers can expect to be persecuted,
‘those who want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’ Jesus tells the disciples.
Contrary to the false gods of society
who promise to make life immediately better,
given the right incentive of course,
our God names the reality
that it is often darkest before the dawn,
that things will get harder before they get easier
and God promises that it will be worth it,
it will be worth it to participate in the struggle
to live on earth the ways of heaven.
Because in the words of the great multitude
standing before the throne and the lamb
“Salvation belongs to our God”
that is the simple truth of it,
salvation belongs to our God,
and what is interesting about this great multitude
proclaiming this great truth
is that it is an all inclusive crowd,
people from every nation and tribe,
proclaiming in all the languages of the earth
that salvation belongs to our God.
I think we’re suspicious of labeling something as true,
especially when it seems like many of the things
we have trusted as true
have proven themselves false
but truth transcends nationality and language
and here all nationalities and languages
are proclaiming the truth.
truth transcends time as well,
it was this truth that our ancestors knew,
the saints whom we remember today
and it is the truth that we intend on passing to the next generation,
and in all honesty,
that is a struggle,
we wonder how do we pass along this message of salvation from our God
to people who are suspicious of truth claims
and who are skeptical of the need for salvation
Well, we build on the work of the saints who have gone before us.
We remember their faithfulness and perseverance
as they faced the struggles of their time,
we are inspired by how their legacy continues
and we are thankful for the faith
that they passed on to us,
entrusting us with the present and the future.
This past week I attended the fall theological conference
for the Nebraska synod pastors.
The topic was reformation,
particularly looking to the future
now that the commemoration of the 500th anniversary is past.
The gospel and our tradition call us to continue to reform,
to live on earth as in heaven.
One speaker, former presiding Bishop Mark Hansen
made an important distinction,
in his discussion of the future of the church,
the distinction between nostalgia and living memory.
Nostalgia, he named as a virus,
a virus that gets in the way of living in the present.
Nostalgia, is remembering the good old days,
naming them as a better time
and longing to go back so badly
that churches infected with the virus
attempt to replicate the good old days
using the same techniques, with the same expectations.
Nostalgia provides a buffer against cultural change,
which is another way of saying that it prevents churches from being culturally relevant.
It is okay for us to remember when Sunday school was filled to the brim,
it’s okay for us to lament that for very practical reasons
we don’t have that kind of attendance anymore.
What is not okay
is to throw up our hands and say it’s hopeless,
and it’s a shame that people just don’t come anymore
and then continue doing things the way they were done
in the good old days.
What the gospel calls for,
what God calls for is living memory,
which Bishop Hansen defined as
being oriented in the narrative of the people of God
and through it being turned toward God’s promised future.
In other words
If you don’t take time to remember where you’ve come from
you’ll have a hard time knowing where to go in the future.
We see God calling for living memory again and again in the scriptures,
the Israelites are told to tell the story of their ancestors,
before they enter the promised land,
to remember how they were a wandering people
so that when they take possession of the promised land,
they will remember what it was like to be wanderers
and they will treat other wanderers with hospitality.
Jesus started his ministry
by going into the synagogue,
reading from a scroll of the prophets
and telling the people that the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing,
he was locating himself within the memory and the mission of his people,
to provide a way to understand why he was going to do the things he did,
heal the sick, preach good news to the poor
and ultimately give his life for the sake of the world.
Jesus calls us to this living memory as well,
each time we gather around the table
we hear the story of Jesus’ last night with the disciples
and his command to remember,
to break the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him,
a remembering the recalls us to the gift of forgiveness
that Jesus has given us,
a gift he has called us to share with others.
In this command to remember
Jesus calls us even deeper
toward the promised future of God,
where there will be enough for all to eat,
as people from all nations, tribes and languages
gather together to worship God and the lamb.
We remember the saints today, and each year
because we love them and miss them yes,
but also because remembering them
locates us in our story,
a story of a people who came as immigrants and refugees,
who worked hard to form a community
where they could worship in their own language
and serve the God of salvation,
and when the younger generations spoke a different language
the worship changed with the community
so that the message could continue to be shared,
we are a community that supported missionaries both near and far,
a community who took seriously the job of instructing children in the faith,
this is a community that has been present for over 125 years
one that still holds the values of our ancestors
even as we find new ways to achieve the same goals of worship, service and learning.
And yes, this is not always easy,
we struggle with change
but there is one thing that will never change,
who we are and whose we are.
Baptized children of God.
Hear again the words from 1 John
“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.”
Amen Thanks be to God
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.