All the Saints

“All the Saints”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 9:7-28 (9:7) – November 5, 2017

Today, we commemorate All Saints Sunday. The first Sunday of November, that day we remember all the saints who are now in heaven, worshiping God in that great cloud of witnesses. We also remember familiar people, relatives and friends known to us, dear to us, who died since last All Saints Day last year. What is it about these formal occasions of remembrance? Often, we remember those who have sacrificed much, displayed tremendous bravery, or were persecuted—even died—at tremendous risk to themselves.

What is it that causes you and me to be listed in among a great multitude of saints like these? Or, aren’t we even to be worthy to be listed on the same page as these rarefied superstar saints? These women and men who followed after God, no matter what?

One of our Scripture readings today comes from the book of Revelation, starting at verse 9: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

We break into the narrative as the elderly John has another vision, this time a scene of heaven. And, instead of seeing a predominance of Jews and only a sprinkling of other tribes and people groups, John sees a great multitude of all colors, all ethnicities, all languages and dialects, from every place on the globe.

I am blown away by that vision, the more I think about it. I am in awe, because the great multitude is of every possible description, every possible people group under the sun. Not just me and my family, not just me and the people from the neighborhood where I grew up. Not just people from one region, or one country, or one ethnicity. But, people from everywhere.       These people of the vision are called “saints,” and many people today have only one specific idea of what a “saint” is. St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Martha—the patron saint of our neighbor Catholic church, or the newly beatified saint, Mother Teresa.

Robert Louis Stevenson, writer of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, has a different definition of “saints.” “The saints are the sinners who keep on going.” And, both apostles Paul and Peter call their friends “saints” in the greetings, to all of the people who receive their letters.

But, we know very well that life often does not go smoothly. Not for us, not for our friends and families, and certainly not for the multitudes who lived in centuries past. Interesting, that “because we sinners are made holy by God’s grace, and not by our own actions, we are able to keep on going as Stevenson says.  Our keeping on in life often involves suffering.” [1] And, if we know anything about history, we know that believers in Christ often had to deal with grief, pain, suffering, and even persecution.

When John received this grand series of visions that he wrote down in the book of Revelation, he was often puzzled. He had to ask the people or elders or angels around him what it was he was seeing. As is the case here: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

Leading question, you may say! John persuades the elder to answer the question himself. ““they are before the throne of God and serve God day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.”

It sounds like to me that these people in heaven, who are identified as “saints” in other places in the book, no longer have to go through that valley of the shadow here on the earth, where God walks right by their side as they are in difficulty. They no longer need to face challenges of health reversals or job loss or crushing poverty or horrible accidents, or various calamities of one sort or another. They are at God’s side in heaven, and never have to experience those trials, losses, hunger and anguish any more.

But we are still left on this side of the veil. On this side, on a troubled world where suffering and loss and fear and anxiety rear their heads all too often. Especially grief, where we mourn the loss of loved ones, friends and relatives who left us too soon.

Rev. Janet Hunt talks about a sad situation like this: “And yet, for all of those for whom I light a candle and remember each All Saints Sunday, there is still really just the one I carry closest of all. One whose dying has me yearning most deeply for the promises of this day.

“It came to me again last week when a beloved cousin came to visit. He had stopped to see his folks the night before he flew out and as he sat with them he told his dad he was going to see Kathleen. “You remember Kathleen, don’t you dad? She was Tommy’s wife.” (Kathleen is my mother.)

“Now in these recent years my dad’s brother does not remember as he once did. For a moment last week, though, there was clarity as he remembered his only brother and as he registered all over again the fact that he had died and with that remembering, his face fell along with his tears. And mine did, too, to hear of his remembering.” [2]

Grief, sorrow and loss are like that, sometimes. We can be fine, content, living our lives. Then, out of nowhere it seems, the thought of that special loved one, that dear friend who is no longer with us in this world, comes to mind.

And then, Janet Hunt reminds us, “nothing makes us more grateful than the gift of that time and place so vividly described in today’s words from Revelation. A time and place:

  • where the whole world will gather and join together in song and where we will be washed clean,
  • where hunger and thirst will no longer hold sway,
  • where there will be shelter from all that would harm,
  • where the very water of life will sustain us,
  • and where God Himself will bend low to wipe away our tears.” [3]

Is such a place even possible? In those times when you or I are grieving anew, remembering with sorrow or longing in our hearts, the apostle John assures us that “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And, ““Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

In plainer words, from his first letter to the scattered believers in Christ, John gives us further assurance: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Today, we have a foretaste of heaven from both Scripture readings. Revelation tells us of the wonderful worship service in heaven, where everyone is praising God. And 1 John lets us know that when our Lord Jesus appears to each of us, we shall be like Him in glory.

“So with all of you, I will light the candles this All Saints Day. In memory and in powerful hope we will light the candles. Standing confident in the very promises of God we will light them.[4]

Amen. May it be so. Amen.

[1] https://preachingtip.com/archives-year-a/pentecost-year-a/all-saints-day-all-saints-sunday/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/all-saints-day-in-memory-and-in-hope/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Reconciled to God

“Reconciled to God”

2 Cor 5-19 God reconciles the world

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 –September 13, 2015

Last Friday was a typical day, in many ways. People had a normal day of work. Since it was the second Friday in September, for most school children it was a normal day of school. Except—it wasn’t quite a normal day here in the United States after all. Friday was September 11th. 9/11. A day that will remain in the forefront of many people’s memories.

I wanted to depart from the Sermon Series on Acts I’ve been preaching to bring a message about this serious and sobering day of remembrance. Yes, we remember the fateful day, fourteen years ago. The horrific happenings in Manhattan, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. And, we will remember the bravery of so many who served so selflessly, and gave so willingly.

As I prayed about this service and what bible passage I ought to preach on, I thought of several Scripture verses. Yes, I could focus on the past, and preach for those thousands of people who died on September 11, and who since have died as a result of injuries or challenges they experienced on that day and in the aftermath. We can remember. We ought to remember.

However, I also want to hold up a vision of hope. I try to keep my personal outlook on life and living firmly on hope and hopefulness. Even when looking at terribly sad events, even horrible situations, I earnestly try to see where God might have a place. Even in the worst situations, God is there. Hope is there. Somewhere.

That’s the situation we all find ourselves in. We all sin. Some sins are worse than others, and more visible. Some people sin a lot! Some people have particularly hard hearts, and they walk all over others. Hurt them, and do even more callous things to them. Did you know that Jesus came into the world for them, too? Jesus died on the cross for the people in and out of jail who have committed three, four, five and more felonies, just as much as Jesus died on the cross for the people who have not been to jail.

I’m getting ahead of myself. We need to take a closer look at this paragraph from the second letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the town of Corinth. In verse 18 of chapter 5, Paul tells us that God was reconciling us to Himself. Wait a minute! That sounds like making peace and harmony. Reconcile? That is not a term for a mean, angry God, one who just wants to smite anyone who gets in the way!

Do you know a bookkeeper? Has anyone here ever reconciled accounts, or financial statements? I mean, taken two separate and different lists of numbers, and make them compatible? See that both are in agreement? That’s another way of thinking about reconciliation. Our accounts, the deeds that we’ve done, the words spoken, the thoughts that go through our heads? The long lists of those things on our accounts are reconciled to God’s accounts.

I want to be up front and clear. I am a sinner. I freely admit that. I am stained with the dark stain of sin. But God—but God removes that stain. Through the provision of God’s love, through the coming of Christ into the world, through His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, the stain of sin has been taken away. And, I am reconciled to God. Do you hear? The sins, the awful things I have done, have been cleansed, and taken away.

That’s not only me, but it’s you, too. All of you. All of us!

I am going to talk now about some disturbing things. If anyone wishes to leave, I will not be offended at all. I wanted to let you all know before I spoke about it. It is terribly upsetting.

I’d like to take a detour, and tell you about a woman. Eva Mozes Kor. Eva and her twin sister Miriam—born in 1934, and their family were from a small village in Romania. They were the only Jewish family in their village. Shortly after the Nazis took over that area of the country, Eva, Miriam and the rest of their family were taken to a Jewish ghetto in a larger town and they lived there several years.

In 1944, their family was shipped to the Auschwitz death camp. The twins’ parents and older sisters were immediately killed. Since Eva and Miriam were identical twins, Dr. Josef Mengele wanted them as human guinea pigs for horrific medical and genetic experiments. He and his team abused approximately 1500 twins; that’s 3000 children and young people.

Eva and Miriam were among about 200 children liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army in January 1945. Almost all of these were twins abused by Mengele.[1]

Eva spent years working through her deep-seated feelings and emotions about being in the death camp. She finally came to the place where she made a decision to forgive those who had harmed her, because she needed to take this critical step for her own, personal mental health and well-being.

It did not happen overnight. It took a long while. But now, she has forgiven those who harmed her, her family, and those she loved.

What I am wondering: does God need to do deep thinking before God forgives people? When I sin against God, and knowingly do things displeasing to Him, how does God feel? Now let’s multiply that times all of the people in the state of Illinois. Make that all the people in the United States. No, let’s up that to all of the people alive today. Does God need to do deep thinking, working through deep-seated feelings and emotions, before God forgives the world?

Consider verse 19: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” God satisfies God’s anger, enmity and displeasure through Jesus Christ. Jesus and His mediation—He steps in between and takes the burden of sin for us. Jesus restores the world—that’s all of us—to God’s love, nurture, caring, and favor.

In the original language of Greek, the word “reconcile” has the meaning “obtain the good favor of” or “lay aside enmity.” That is exactly what God does for us. But God justly ought to be filled with righteous anger at us. At all of us! We sin. We go against the things we know very well that God wants us to do or to think or to say. Or, we go out of our way to do or say or think things that out and out displease God very much! But God forgives us. God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus and His death on the Cross.

Eva Kor and her forgiveness of those who hurt her and her sister as well as those who killed her family and others she knew is one way for us to begin to understand the huge amount of forgiveness and reconciliation that God has accomplished on our behalf. That’s all of us! On all of our behalfs.

Eva Kor not only is “a Holocaust survivor and a forgiveness advocate, and public speaker. Powered by a never-give-up attitude, Eva has emerged from a trauma-filled childhood as a brilliant example of the human spirit’s power to overcome. She is a community leader, champion of human rights, and tireless educator.” [2] She has founded a Holocaust museum in Terra Haute, Indiana, and my friend Josh Thomas who started and maintains the Episcopal website www.dailyoffice.org had Eva as their Daily Office retreat speaker several weeks ago. She has a brilliant and straight-forward definition of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma and/or tragedy.” I’m including her further explanation on the hand-out in your bulletins.

But what does Eva and her words about forgiveness have to do with me? Or with you? Great question! I’ll read verse 19 one more time: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Did you hear? Paul says this in a little different way in verse 18: “God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

So, God’s forgiven me! Amen! God’s forgiven you, too! Amen, again! But wait—there’s more! God has also given us—that’s you and me, and all of us—the message of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation.

What a wonderful way to show people the power of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can show people love, caring, nurture, and forgiveness. Each of us can reconcile ourselves to one another whenever we go astray. Or whenever anyone says a mean word, or does something unkind. Is there any way more powerful to show God’s love and care? I don’t think so.

Yes, this is really hard, sometimes almost impossible. It is so difficult to show love and caring for those who have hurt us, and have been mean to us. And have been uncaring, unkind, even cruel and heartless. Like Eva forgiving those in the death camps. Or, for those who have been enemies in war. Or even for murderers or terrorists. That’s why we can go to God. We can ask for help to show God’s love. God’s forgiveness. God’s reconciliation.

So, help us, God. Amen.

[1] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

[2] From the website http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/about/eva-kor.htm

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!