Sermon All Saints Sunday Yr B
October 30, 2009 Leave a comment
All Saints Sunday Yr B, 1/11/2009
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“God’s saving acts”
The story is told of two evil brothers. They were rich and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians.
Then their pastor retired, and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he also spoke well and true, and the church started to build a new assembly. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building.
“I have only one condition,” he said. “At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check.
The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” he said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”1
The story, although humorous, raises the following question on this All Saints Sunday: Who is a saint? Is a saint one who does not sin? Are saints reserved for such elitist people who think they are perfect? Do you have to undergo some “burning bush” or “Damascus road” encounter with God before you qualify as a saint? Or perhaps you have to work miracles like making the blind see and the lame walk to be a saint? Maybe you have to be a prophet and predict the future to be a saint? Or do you have to be a televangelist and accumulate over one million dollars a year income to qualify as a saint?
Who is a saint anyways? Well, it seems Christians have trouble agreeing on who qualifies as a saint. A number of years ago, a bishop of Sweden said, “Saints are those who make it easier to believe in God.” Not a bad definition, yet I’m not completely convinced, since that seems to suggest there is an elitist group of folks who tower above the rest of us. On the other hand, the truth of the matter is that even those who make it easier to believe in God have their imperfections and shortcomings. You, me, all of us have feet of clay. So I’ll go for another definition of a saint. Who is a saint? The right answer for me is: A forgiven sinner. We Lutherans historically have preferred this answer, as we believe that we are simul justus et peccator—translated into English that means we are simultaneously justified and sinful. At one and the same time we are sinners and saints.
You don’t need to do anything; you cannot do a thing to save yourself—only God can do that. Yet, paradoxically, we are commanded to do good works. However, not because they can make one iota of a difference in God’s eyes to get on the good side of God and he’ll reward us eternally for them. NO WAY! Rather, we do good works because they are the result of—and our response to— what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. You see, we take very seriously the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We also take very seriously the words in 1 John 4:19: “We love, because he (God) first loved us.” So, every good work we are able to do is possible because God first acted to take the initiative, to love and save us first.
Speaking of God’s saving love and action; we have a beautiful picture of this in today’s passage from Isaiah. The metaphors grab our attention. Isaiah gives us a picture here of the LORD playing host on Mount Zion at a future banquet feast. He is host “for all peoples” whom he loves. God’s menu shall not consist of ordinary fare either. Rather, on the menu shall be quite exquisite food and drink: “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Notice too that the Central Actor is the LORD; he’s the one who shall prepare and serve this banquet feast.
The next verse continues with God as the Central Actor. Now the metaphors change though. In verse seven we have the Warrior God who “will destroy…the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.” The shroud and sheet that the prophet is referring to here is death, which is the consequence of sin in the world. In the last segment of this verse, Isaiah gives us yet another picture that parallels the previous verse. However this time, it’s God who is doing the eating. Did you notice the strange fare? Isaiah tells us that the LORD “will swallow up death forever.” Now that doesn’t sound very appetizing to me—however, who am I to tell God what to eat?! Why would Isaiah describe God’s destruction of death by making a banquet feast for God out of it? Well, maybe it’s not so strange—at least to a Jewish audience.
The rabbis in their general and humorous playfulness pictured “the coming age” under many images, and one of them was the delightful image of the huge banquet in which Messiah would gather together with his people. As a matter of fact in some of these playful rabbinic exercises one had even settled the menu for the messianic banquet. One was going to feed on Leviathan, thereby signifying the destruction of evil at the same time as there would be the great and glorious banquet.2 So it is here with Isaiah the prophet who sees a future bursting with hope and joy at God the Warrior’s victory over and destruction of death. Notice that Isaiah tells us death will not come back to haunt us at a later date. NO! The LORD “will swallow up death FOREVER! What a victory that shall be—one in which all of our longings of hope and joy shall be fulfilled.
God doesn’t stop there though. Listen, there’s more here of God the Central Actor. In verse eight, Isaiah changes the metaphor on us again. Now the LORD is like a gentle Father. The prophet tells us there will be no more sadness, since God “will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Usually tears are also connected with sadness and death as well as suffering. In this future reign of God, all of that shall be wiped away by our LORD. Now that’s something to look forward to with hope and joy. Isaiah goes on to say in verse nine that God will continue to act, how? He says, “the disgrace of his people God will take away from all the earth.” Why disgrace? Well disgrace comes from our sinful state, we do things that we regret later when we look back on those foolish, sinful acts. However, what’s done is done, and can disgrace us; we can’t undo what we did, even though we desperately wish that we could. We cannot always reverse the disgrace we bring upon ourselves. We need the LORD’s help. Isaiah promises that God will help us by taking away our disgrace from all the earth. After it has been taken away, then we can come closer to our LORD and live more in peace and harmony with him as well as with each other.
The closing verse nine of our passage then focuses on the response of God’s people, the saints who shall be the recipients of all of these acts of God. Here Isaiah records the saints giving God the glory and worship and honour for what he has done: “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” So the response of God’s saints to the saving acts of God is twofold here: waiting for the LORD and worshipping him in gladness by rejoicing in his salvation.
On this All Saints Sunday, we continue to wait for the LORD as we long for that time when we shall share more completely in the communion of saints in heaven. Yet, we also worship God in gladness by rejoicing in his salvation thanks to what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us by giving us a Holy Meal to bask in his Presence among us and receive “a foretaste of the feast to come,” the heavenly banquet which has no end. Amen.
1 Cited from: David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2008), pp. 265-266.
2 Cited from: Krister Stendahl, Meanings: The Bible as Document and as Guide (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 185.