As usual, some of the comments in this sermon are stolen.  They are from commentaries and from articles written by others.  No apologies.  Just beware.  This version only made it to the 8 am service.  A much abbreviated, ‘down in front’ version was offered at 10:30, because we had a baptism this morning…not a bad touch for All Saint’s Day.

 

ALL SAINTS DAY

November 7, 2010 Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

How do we live with death? What hope does our Christian faith offer for the real anguish of death’? Most of us resent the thinned-out version of Christian hope, “They are in a better place.” That can’t make up for the injustice of death by evildoers. It can’t make up for sudden loss, or for agonizing months of pain. And the reminder of St. Paul, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.…” sometimes fails to inform in a manner we need.

We are so tuned to the world, you and I, that it is much more important to psychologize about the Grief Stages, or to identify if our grieving is normal or complicated grief. It is not a comfortable topic, or experience, as removed as we are from the normal trajectories of life: which moves from birth to death. When modern people like you and I come face to face with death, we usually avoid it. ‘De’ Nile isn’t only a river in Egypt. We avoid it by cherishing the young and not the old. We avoid it by doing everything in our human power to avoid it from cosmetic surgery to incessant attention to such meaningful personal qualities such as white teeth and hair color.

And yet, from the church comes an old tradition of honoring our dead, of cherishing the faith journey we are all on, and when we die, carrying our beloved as far as we can go together in this world. We listen to ancient voices that offer us guidance, a way even, to claim life in the face of the reality of death.

In the lesson from Daniel, we are treated to a vision of four Beasts. We have a hard time figuring out this kind of literature, especially when it appears in the bible, because we so want the scripture to speak to us in concrete simplicities, directly in ways that are void of allusion and metaphor. We may even complain that it would be easier for Daniel to just say how awful life is under the Roman Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes, instead of describing creatures that sound to us as if they lept from the pages of Harry Potter.

But the reality that life is difficult it is not the final point. The final point is that in the midst of this highly troubled and dangerous world, God is present, a God more powerful than all the beasts—a God who loves and nourishes rather than hates and devours.

The first thing that ALL SAINTS DAY teaches us is that it is in this God we are given hope and meaning, life and salvation “forever and ever,” as the prophet announces.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, the author speaks a bit more rationally, but does not describe a situation much more pleasant. The Christians of Asia Minor felt vulnerable. They constituted a religious minority in their towns—probably not dissimilar to the status of Muslim worshipers in many North American settings. They worshiped and behaved differently. Rumors circulated they were a simmering threat to the stability of culture and state since they claimed as their ultimate Lord not Caesar, but one Jesus Christ, crucified at the hands of Rome but (so they claimed) raised to life by God. Christians were shunned and sometimes persecuted.

The Ephesians writer answers that human struggles and failure, life and especially death, plays out within landscape lit by the hope of God’s future. The reign of Christ is not a future “maybe” but already begun. The realized eschatology of Ephesians declares Christ reigns not “when” all enemies are put under his feet, but “until” the day when all creation acknowledges his rule.

The second thing that All Saint’s Day teaches us is that God works, and Christ reigns even now; our part is to discern how we are summoned to participate.

We are people of the Gospel, of the good news. Today’s Gospel lesson also gives us reason to face the reality of death. Luke records this preaching session in a direct way. Matthew gets all poetic, but Luke writes it down in such a manner that we cannot escape the way Jesus speaks the word “You.”

Jesus’ direct speech is disquieting, compelling us to ask, “Who me?” Jesus focuses first on his disciples (6:20) within “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon” (6:17). With the crowds, we overhear his words, wondering if he means it only for the twelve. Then we find ourselves specifically included in verse 27 among “you that listen.”

Jesus is not delivering an abstract definition of discipleship or sainthood. He is not listing the qualifications to “get into heaven.” He is calling all who hear to become faithful and effective agents of God’s reign here and now.

The third thing that All Saint’s Day teaches us, speaks to us really is in this way we are asked to participate in this blessedness in a particular and peculiar way. Jesus brought God’s way of ruling the world down to earth and invited his disciples into this holy venture. This is not an ideological agenda or a political platform, but a vision of God’s reign which he embodied.

None of these passages denies the painful, disorienting consequences of death. However, they challenge the human responses which block our perception of God’s redemptive power. All Saints reminds us of Death, which isn’t pleasant, but it reminds us that death is not the final word, any more than life is the final word. God deals with us and saves us, even in the midst of beastly terrors, through human means, in human form.

Because of this, the New Testament is able to use this passage from Daniel to describe Jesus as the “Son of Man coming in clouds” at the end of time (Mark 13:26; 14:62). But we do not need to wait until the end of time to “possess the kingdom forever,” as Daniel 7:18 promises. The kingdom (this world, the world to come, all that is) belongs to God, not to the beasts and demons. And a gracious God freely gives it to all God’s children. This is what makes us all together the “saints” of God that today’s festival observes, sharing that status with all past, present, and future believers who have been rescued from their personal and cosmic beasts and brought by Jesus into the loving arms of a gracious God. 

Given the hope and strength of that safe home, we need not wait either for the end of time to confront the beasts of this world—again, whether personal, political, or mythic.

The “Son of Man,” who comes to face down the powers of the world in Daniel, will finally be seen in the Gospels to be our Lord Jesus, but the title applies often in the Bible to all of us—sons of men, daughters of women, human persons, saved and set free by God to make a difference in the world now. That seems to be what “saints” are for.

As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know where is the hope to which he has called you…” [Eph 1:18]. May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may know the hope [and live the life] to which we are called.

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