Saturday, November 03, 2012

Isaiah 26:19; The Festival of All Saints; November 4, 2012;

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today is All Saints Day. In a few moments we will read together the Role of the Saints. We remember the names of all those who have died in the faith this year. This is just one of the things some of us Lutherans do to commemorate this festival. There is that sticky word here "saints." Of course the word saint to many is people is people who are good. Think of the people who we automatically think of as "saints". Like Mother Teresa. One thing we know about our loved ones, who are now with Jesus, is that they weren't saints in that sense. We knew them to be the sinners they were. And yet we celebrate today by remembering that they are with Jesus and indeed they are forgiven sinners.

In a story by Mark Twain called "Captain Summerfield Goes to Heaven". In the story the captain is totally shocked when he discovers after he dies what heaven is like. There he is in heaven floating on clouds playing harp. He gets bored very quickly and finally throws his harp and goes to find out what's going on. The angel in charge named Sandy tells him that everyone spends their first day in heaven this way, and it's been set up so that people don't get disappointed. This is what they expect heaven to be like so God makes it that way. When they get tired of it they check in their harp and get assigned to the job and a place to live. Summerfield is again surprised that he actually has a job in heaven. But even more so is he surprised when he finds the biggest saint in heaven is not Moses or David or Adam or Noah but a man who's been a barber in Cleveland. No one could see what a righteous man he was, other than God.

To be sure it Mark Twain was no professed Christian. His insight to the saints does not exactly hold up except that saints are saints buy only what God can see, that is faith in Jesus Christ. All Saints Day was actually Thursday. All Saints Eve or Halloween is very important day for Lutherans. It's the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door. The theses were about indulgences and how one receives the grace of God, or forgiveness of sins. In other words, how do you become a saint, that is how do you get to heaven. Martin Luther was beginning to understand that it's not by our decisions, choices, willpower or efforts. None of these things can save us from our sin. All of our choices, all the things we think, do and say are plagued by sin and self-interest. When we are left to these we are simply hell bound. And we cannot be saved.

All Saints Day is a celebration of true Christians sainthood. True Christians sainthood is not about us, or the things we do, but it is about Christ and all that he did for us.

To get the celebration of All Saints Day in proper's perspective we need to look at a little background first. Since All Saints Day is about those were gone before us to be with Christ, we need to talk bit about death, what it is. First of all, we wish we had a lot more information about death, especially what happens to people after they die, until the time of judgment day. Scripture simply does not fill in this blank to our satisfaction. It says that those who die in faith are "with Christ". It tells us that death is not the annihilation of the human person, but the separation of the body and the soul. The tearing apart of what God created to be an eternal being forever. This separation, called the first death, is caused by sin. The body goes to the ground, and the soul, separated from it, goes to be with Christ. Well, the soul of the believer goes to be with Christ that is. This separation for Christians is a blessed thing. But for those without faith it is not. Our culture these days tends to speak of death is a release from the suffering of this world. While that is true for Christians, it is not true for those who reject Christ. For the unbeliever there will be no comfort in the afterlife. They will suffer eternally for their rejection of Jesus, the Savior. For believers on the other hand the Bible speaks of the most wonderful things. They are joined with Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. They laud and magnify God's glorious name forever and ever. They are there with Christ and all the souls from the Old Testament and New Testament in the presence of God. And they wait for the consummation of the age, the time when God will remake heaven and earth into a new and perfect paradise for people to live.

The most important promise in all of Scripture, the one that outweighs all the false religious claims about life after death is this: our goodbyes are only temporary separations. Death is not an end of our relationships, but only a time of separation. This also is what we celebrate on All Saints Day. We mourn this separation from our loved ones, yet we don't mourn as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and promises made sure in his life, death and resurrection.

Here are just a few of the promises that apply to us here and now who live with the separation caused by death:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)

We are not in control of life and death. God is the one who gives life and takes it away. These decisions we leave to God, in faith, even when we don't understand. We know that he knows best. We trust that, even in death, God is doing what is best for us and our loved ones.

Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV)

There is a day appointed when Jesus will come again. He will return in all his glory. No one knows that date and time but God alone. It will come suddenly, for everyone. All the dead will be raised. All their physical bodies, born into sin and death, will come back to life and be reunited with their souls. Those who have died in faith will rise first.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, ESV)

And those who are living will join them and Jesus in the air and go with him to eternal life.

What great promises these are! We won't be disembodied spirits living on clouds playing harps in heaven, but we will be complete human beings, body and soul together for all eternity, with Christ and our loved ones. Living in a perfect, physical creation made for complete human beings to enjoy. We will see each other again with our very eyes, we will talk with each other with our tongues in our mouths . We hug and hold each other again with our arms or hands.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25–27, ESV)

This to is the joy we celebrate on All Saints Day.

But All Saints is about more than only those who have gone before us to be with the Lord. For we do not become saints only when we die; We are saints already because of faith. St. Paul uses the word saints to describe the recipients of his letters to Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. "To the saints in…" Because of Jesus God already considers us perfect and holy in his sight. We have the forgiveness of sins and good works that Jesus did. It is all accounted to us by God for the sake of Christ.

Why is this important? There are great benefits given to us right here and now. We are the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church. We are a great fellowship given to each other. Sunday after Sunday we gather together to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross. As God gives these gifts to us, we begin first by giving them to each other. Then we take this good news and forgiveness and proclaim it to the whole world. When we see each other as forgiven sinners because of Christ, it makes it more difficult for us to treat each other poorly. Instead of always trying to change each other, we can more easily practice gentleness, patients, love, and forgiveness.

And don't forget in this fellowship we are connected not only to those standing here in the flesh. With Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… All the company of heaven! Especially at the communion rail, we join together with those who are with Christ. Separation between us evaporates as we are all joined together in Christ. This is true for you and me because of God's promise. Is not because of your synod membership, not because of your church attendance, not because of your good works. It is yours because God's name was placed on you in Holy Baptism. He made you a part of himself and the Communion of Saints through the forgiveness of sins in the work of Jesus Christ.

This is the joy of All Saints Day. As the text says, "awake and sing for joy". This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

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