The Saints of God, All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA
All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Psalm 149 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:20-31
The Saints of God
It is wonderful and certainly an honor for me to bring you the word for a second time this week, this Sunday of All Saints. Now we are sinners and saints at one and the same time according to Martin Luther of old, and today, because you remembered the time change and on Halloween you had the Holy Spirit drive all the witches and goblins, zombies, demons, and devils, yes-sir-ee, had them driven out of you, so you should be slightly more saintly than being sinners this morning. I know they came out of me because I saw them all running outside in the street the other night. There were a lot of them out there so they must have come out of some of the neighbors as well. It’s something when our hearts are pure, good, and just because of the Word of God once more, when our better angels lift us up and fill us with forgiveness and love. So here you hear me getting serious.
When people wished me a happy Halloween, I said, “And a happy Reformation Day to you.” Luther picked Halloween knowing quite well that evil spirits had to be driven out of the church, if it was going to be reformed: the spirits of greed, the spirits of the power-hungry, the corrupt, and those who wanted in on the wealth that the church possessed in those days. It owned 30% of all the land in that day. The wealthy church owners of the day wanted nothing to do with the cross.
The new Catholic Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. He refuses to live in the plush palace which is the usual residence of the pope and he just reprimanded and knocked a German bishop out of his see, his bishopric, because he spent many millions building himself a new residence, upsetting the people there. In the old days, a wealthy and powerful pope excommunicated some of the Franciscans, who criticized him saying Jesus was not wealthy and pampered like that on earth, so the pope also shouldn’t be. Now a Jesuit calling himself Francis after that great saint has become the pope.
The popes after the eleventh century said that Emperor Constantine had given them the rule of the empire as a donation. The document that they showed as evidence was a forgery. And you probably know that the Romans not only crucified Jesus, but persecuted his followers one after another. St, Paul was beheaded, we think, St. Peter crucified upside-down, and then the emperor Nero blamed a huge fire on the Christians so they were brought to the arenas and fed to the lions. It is quite an indignity, when we are on the top of the food chain and then become fed to animals. They wrapped hides soaked with oil around them and lit them on fire to provide light for the show. Our football players get brain damage, but at least we don’t feed them to wild animals for our entertainment the way the Romans would have done.
Now when the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky before a major battle, he promised God if he would be victorious, he would become a Christian. With the cross he heard the words: “In this sign you will conquer.” He won and then he stopped the Christian persecutions and soon Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Now the only way you could get ahead, the only way you could have opportunity was to become a Christian. Soon a great many Christians became opportunists, whose Christian values soon dissolved in their opportunism.
When we read the lesson today in Luke, which is called the Sermon on the Plain, there is no opportunism there. It will smack you right in the face if you think our religion is a path to privilege, wealth, power, and the high life, which as the religion of the empire it became. Jesus declares the poor, the hungry, the grieving blessed and warns the rich, the satiated, the partying high-life people, that they will get the short end of the stick when the kingdom of heaven breaks in.
Really when a society has people that are filthy rich, then it will also have abject homeless people sleeping on doorsteps, on sidewalks under newspapers, and in the parks. They are the two different sides of the same coin, the same unjust society. Luther said, “There should be no beggars amongst us” and when Christians have maintained the values that Jesus Christ taught us, we would not have beggars on so many corners nor the homelessness everywhere.
In the online commentary, Brian Stoffregen explained how the word “blessed” (makarios in Greek) changed over time. First the word referred to gods, who were in another world of happiness and contentment beyond all human cares, labors, and even death. Then they called blessed those who had already died and were beyond this vale of tears here on earth. The blessed had to be in heaven, they couldn’t be here where there was so much suffering. Then they called those blessed who had become the wealthy and powerful elite and then those who had so many possessions that they seemed to have not a care in the world. Now Jesus calls us up short and calls blessed the poor, the hungry, and the grieving! You see how Jesus makes the first last and the last the first. He keeps on reversing the values that we accept from our society and gives us different ones.
Hey, we are called to be the saints not because we have done three miracles, but because we live out the compassion, love, and forgiveness with which Jesus fills our hearts.
Love our enemies; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek offer the other one also.
Now the point is not to be an accomplice to your own abuse, but to have that power inside you that comes from on high so you do not have to react the same way some bully does. You don’t have to react on the same level as those who don’t realize that we have a Father watching out over us in heaven.
Following Christ means that we just don’t live and act the way everybody does in our society. When you hear someone justifying his actions by saying, “Everybody is doing it.” Then you can be sure it’s not ethical. We pray for our enemies. Now if our enemies in turn start praying for us, the way Christ says, “do to other as you would them do to you” then before you know it, your souls could unite in heaven and you could become friends. Abraham Lincoln said that the best way to destroy your enemies is to make them into your friends. Lincoln did not only talk about his better angels but also listened to them.
To be one of the saints following Christ we have to dance to the beat of a different drum, the one we hear Jesus playing in heaven. And it is not easy. It is really hard. And it takes a whole life-time to learn. Face it. It’s quite impossible. But when we wake up every morning with our minds stayed on Jesus and when we pray for the Holy Spirit and for Christ to be really present with us, then we can’t help being the Saints of God, we can’t help carrying out Jesus’ words, because with God all things are possible. We too will receive the glorious inheritance of the saints in light and we too in the here and now start seeing this world and all our neighbors in it with the eyes of our hearts.
So just let me describe just four saints who were also sinners too. Two of them were a married couple; the husband was a blue collar worker, a carpenter and construction man. Where all the workers on the construction site spit clams on the floor and cursed each other, and even often had seizures of anger, he never swore and always had gentle responses. He saw himself as a person who wanted to be gentle and kind. He said that he offered his physical cleanliness and the purity of his speech and language as an offering of love to others. He also called and sang for square dancing, wore his bejeweled cowboy shirt, cowboy hat and boots, and gave people a grand old time. “Swing your partners, dose-do, round and around you go.” His wife wasted away with Parkinson’s Disease and he cared for her lovingly until her end. A worker like that should have been raw and rough, because his work was, and his fellow workers were. But he was not like that. He was an incredibly gentle, kind, quiet-speaking, and a wonderful person. He was a sinner too. But today, I remember him as a saint!
Now this may even say more about him. He was married to a woman who had a mission. She always wanted to be a missionary, but when her daughter dated an African American boy and they went to Sunday School together, the church rejected the whole family and told them they were no longer welcome. She and her husband had five children, but she was determined to still fulfill her purpose. So she opened up her home and family as a half-way house to juveniles who were released from reform schools. We were never allowed to ask why they were imprisoned. So there would be four or five kids in the family in addition to hers. She would invite policemen to dinner so that they could relate together with the kids. If someone left a chair, anyone could claim it, and no one was allowed to say it was theirs. There was always coffee brewing and we students from the seminary would come and visit and talk with her and she would help us understand ourselves and what we were going through. From her little four year old boy, to all the other sisters and brothers, all her children, they ministered to these kids until they could get jobs and learn to walk on the straight and narrow. Often we seminarians would watch the kids and the family would go to a motel for a weekend to get a break from helping these very troubled kids. I could go on and on. I just want to remember that husband and wife as the saints of God!
The next person I want to feature today is the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich – I think Jerry Brown is a saint too, but let me tell you about Gov. Kasich, who said in a speech, “I’m concerned for the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. And the very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked for the W.P.A.” He just governed at cross purposes with his party and expanded Medicaid to cover 275,000 poor Ohioans. “The lady working down here in the donut shop,” he said, “that does not have any health insurance – think about that, if you put yourself in her shoes.” underscoring her vulnerability. The news article continues, “The governor, whose brother is mentally ill, spoke of how Medicaid would get more people into treatment, decreasing the homeless and prison populations. ‘For those who live in the shadows of life, for those who are the least among us…’ he continued, ‘I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.’” This Republican governor is a saint illustrating the words of Jesus that we heard in our lesson. I’m certain that he is a sinner too, it may just be for his political advantage, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That does not stop God from loving and forgiving us, when we continue in God’s word and fight the good fight of faith for our whole lives. Be faithful until death and you will receive the crown of life!
The name of the last saint is Destiny. She is one of those who has gone on before us. She is much loved and remembered by her mother. She did not live to be 90 or even go to school and have a childhood. She was stillborn and only lived for a while in her mother’s womb. It’s like she died almost before she lived. But her mother still grieves for her and will not forget her, and names her with her living children. And we of course know that there is nothing we need to do to be saved. We are saved by grace and so is little Destiny. And what’s more, there are so many other little ones, who died the way she died, not yet having lived, who never even got a name. These are the saints with no names, but you can be sure they are named by God, when they enter heaven with all the others, sinners that we are, changed into the saints of God by grace.
So when we remember the saints, let’s remember those little saints as well. And we know that the bell sometimes chimes for those whose relationships with us were not happy ones. For some of us change starts happening in this life. For others nothing changed, the estrangement endured, it did not get better, the hurting did not stop, and now they have passed on to the other side. God was always there. Love did not win over here, but be assured God’s love will win over there. The love, mercy, and compassion of Jesus will win out over there for sure.
But know that going to that place where a river of grace makes glad the city of our God, is where all the saints will receive their inheritance as the children of God around the table of the Lord, each with a place, and each receiving a goodly portion and not mere crumbs, not by no means, not anymore, that place that God fills with marvelously transforming love and forgiveness, where Christ is more than victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Down here we still struggle all the time, while they up there, in glory shine, where there are no more diseases, and where there’s no more fighting and bloodshed, no wars anymore. Where Christ is the light, the shining light and all the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, and we praise God with all the saints on that marvelous shore forevermore, yes ever and evermore. Amen.
 New York Times, 10/29/2013 p. A-2.
 Ibid., page A-16.
 I thank Chaplain Pandora Glover for the thoughts expressed in this paragraph.