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All Saints Sunday A Sermon
Revelation 7: 9-17,
Matthew 5: 1-12
November
1, 2020

 

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Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Have you ever wondered how it’s all going to end? “It” can be everything from an exciting sports event, to a challenging dilemma, to life itself. “It” can take all of our time and our focus and take us to a place of hopelessness and despair, if we let “it”. Today, for All Saints Day, we have some texts that are both challenging and comforting at the same time, and they let us in on a little about how “it” will end- no matter what it is; about what God says about it all, and about the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. The best news to share is that as we dwell in the “its” of our existence, God dwells with us to comfort, enlighten and guide us along the way.
I have shared this story before many times, but it is worth telling again. One of the Saints of the Church is Dr. Walter Bouman, professor of theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary when I attended there. Walt died a few years ago, but he left a great impression on pastors today that he taught. Walt loved to read murder mysteries, but he did it a little differently than most of us. He would read the final chapter of the book first – to find out who the victim is, whodunit, how, why, and all of those important things. Then he would go back and read the book from the beginning – knowing what happens in the end, what he needs to look for, who to believe, who he needs to become acquainted with and who he doesn’t, etc. It is an interesting way to experience literature, something that I admit that I have never done.

Walt shared this as an illustration of the “it” of our lives – as we wonder how it will all come out. We Christians know the ending. In the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we can be confident that our own stories will include most if not all of the elements of the story of Jesus … including death. But lest we invest ourselves too greatly in detail, we know the end … the very end – the resurrection that Jesus experienced, and that is promised to each of us as well. I like to think that Walt is still sharing that good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ whenever I or any of his former students preach with the foundation of the influence he had on our lives.

Before my quarantine grounded me for the upcoming week, I was supposed to preach at the chapel service at the seminary tomorrow, using the All Saints Sunday scripture. I took down the picture of my graduating class and seminary faculty, sitting and standing in rows on the front lawn of the seminary on that day in May of 1990. Along with Walt Bouman, I noticed other professors, living and dead, that had helped to shape the pastors and church leaders captured on that image. Ron Hals, Jim Schaaf, Merlin Hoops, Paul Harms, President Paul Meuser and Barbara Jurgensen, to name a few. Their legacy is currently filling pulpits and sharing Jesus’ love all over the country and world. I imagine them now with the great multitude which no one can count, singing with one voice, “Salvation belongs to our God and to Christ the lamb forever and ever!” And they are there with the folks who were present when Jesus first taught that the poor in spirit are blessed, as well as the meek, those who mourn and all who are persecuted. They may even be discussing with Jesus as to exactly what he exactly meant by the word Blessed – is it happy? Content? Special? I once heard Dr. Bouman tell a classmate with whom he disagreed, “You can think that way, but YOU WILL BE WRONG!” I would love to be there to see Walt correct Jesus about theology!

All Saints Day is sometimes called the Second Easter
Sunday of the Church Year. Even though every Sunday is a day to celebrate and share the good news of the resurrection, today as we remember our loved ones who are now part of that countless multitude, it is even more appropriate to share their stories and remember how “it” will end for all of God’s faithful people. Tom Clouse, longtime faithful member of North Community Lutheran Church, and proud veteran, husband, father and grandfather. Tom would call me by my father’s name during our visits his last couple of months of life – he knew dad far longer than he knew me. Dan Spivey, proud alumni of Central High School also with my parents, and beloved school administrator and leader of Christian Education Ministries at Clinton Heights. Eda Jane Spivey – piano player, church musician, leader in our Women’s ministries and friend to so many. And of course, an avid Pittsburg sports fan! Dave McKean – that first person from the congregation to want to take me out to lunch that veteran pastors warn younger pastors about … and a wonderful partner in the men’s section of choir. Jim Spruance – a quiet and kind soul who was in the army at The Battle of the Bulge – I once asked him what he remembered about it and he said, “It was COLD!” Matt Davies – our first dentist when moving back to Columbus, who had a heart for evangelism. Nancy Davies – Matt’s partner in life who loved to host folks from church at their pool for gatherings. And Marline Kelley – supporter of her husband, the Bishop, and a faithful disciple of Christ in her own right. Her smile lit up any room she was in.

Those of us who are still navigating through this life as simultaneously Saints AND Sinners must accept some mystery about the resurrection promise. We don’t know the specifics about our eternal salvation, so we rely upon the word pictures that we have from books like Revelation, apocalyptic literature written in code so that the faithful understood and those who persecute the faithful would not. This picture shows a universal gathering of people – every tribe, people, language; there are no divisions that keep people away from this event. They sing out words that are reserved for the Emperor – Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! In the midst of terrible trouble and tribulation – this comes between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal, releasing those horrible Horsemen and beasts and all manner of destruction – the angels hold back the four winds so that worship can happen; heavenly worship, that captures the joy of being in the presence of God and Jesus forever. Revelation is not a book that is used as a roadmap for predicting the events of the end of the world; it is a book of comfort and promise as we all wonder how “it” will come out: honestly dealing with the things that frighten and threaten us but promising that our tears will be wiped away, our hunger fed, and we will worship and serve God always and forever. We will be saints only, as our sinfulness will be healed perfectly. Everything will be transformed into something new, including our relationships with God and with one another.

None of us know the specifics about how “it” will all come out.: this pandemic, the elections, your test, procedure or surgery, an argument you are having. I do know that because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and the promise of blessings to all who mourn, are meek, are peacemakers and the like – this great ordeal is but a short interlude for the heavenly promise of which we have just a small snapshot in Revelation 7.

Looking at that picture of my seminary graduating class with the faculty reminded me of a scene from the movie, “Dead Poets Society.” Robin Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, takes his class into the hallway for their first session together. They are looking at the pictures of students from Helton Institute from many years ago. He points out that they are just like his current students – same haircuts, hormones, feeling invincible, destined for great things, eyes are full of hope. Then he asks, “did they wait until it was too late to make of their lives even one iota of what they were capable? These men are now dead. But if you are very quiet and listen carefully, you can hear them whispering to you.” And as they lean in toward the pictures, Mr. Keating whispers, “carpe …. Carpe …. Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys! Make your life extraordinary.”

Let’s listen carefully to the voices speaking from this picture, the voices of Harms, Hals, Bouman and others: “We know …. We know … we know how it comes out. Seize the day. Be faithful. Blessed are you when you serve God!” Amen!