Archive for November 2015
All Saints Day
Isaiah 25:6-9 / ELW #728: Blessed are they / Revelation 21:1-6A / John 11:32-44
“Lazarus, Come Out!”
The feast of the Day of All Saints goes way back. It is nearly as old as Christmas, which began in the fourth century. It first celebrated only the martyrs, but then also the outstanding followers of Christ. They are the holy ones, hagios in Greek, those touched by God or who are connected with God and holy things, as the Old Testament explains. Martin Luther of old declared that all believers, all the baptized were saints, but at one and the same time, recovering sinners.
In the Roman Catholic tradition saints are elevated and beatified by a set of criteria, like having the evidence that they performed three miracles. The most recent example is Father Junipero Serra of Mission Dolores, the founder of eight of the sixteen missions here along the coast of California. Now although he has been beatified as a saint, he was very much into the oppression of the indigenous people, destroying their way of life, enslaving them, whipping them if they spoke their own language, flogging them if they tried to escape their forced labor. In short, a saint like Junipero had a rather dark shadow side, illustrating Luther’s point, that although he might be named a saint, he was a sinner at the same time. That’s why Luther taught that we are all recovering sinners.
Not taking account of our shadow-side, our sinful nature, makes for a two-dimensional view of human beings, often blocking out and giving free rein to our sin, because often we don’t even realize that we place our strengths between us and God and think that our weaknesses alone are our sins. But our weaknesses can often draw us closer to God. Gandhi is called a Mahatma, meaning that he was a great soul, but his son committed suicide and he decided to become celibate without even consulting his wife.
We don’t have to go to India. In the Old Testament, David is God’s darling and Jesus is called the Son of David. You know the story about Bathsheba, how to marry her, David had her husband Uriah killed to marry her. Moses, the greatest figure of the Old Testament, murdered an Egyptian overseer. Imagine if he had not fled to Midian and had been executed, because like us, the Egyptians surely had capital punishment. Where would Judaism be and who would have written the Ten Commandments? Perhaps Moses understood the law because he had broken it.
Our New Testament writers depict characters mostly in a two dimensional way, except for Jesus, Peter, Paul, and perhaps, Mary Magdalene. Judas is all evil, the Virgin Mary, goodness and light. For a while she tried to have Jesus committed, to use our words, because she thought he was insane. Imagine that!
An Old Testament scholar, Robert Alter, describes the art of those Old Testament writers to depict the complexity of human beings in such a nuanced way:
“What is it like, the biblical writers seek to know through their art, to be a human being with a divided consciousness – intermittently loving your brother but hating him even more; resentful or perhaps contemptuous of your father but also capable of the deepest filial regard; stumbling between disastrous ignorance and imperfect knowledge; fiercely asserting your own independence, but caught in a tissue of events divinely contrived; outwardly a definite character and inwardly an unstable vortex of greed, ambition, jealousy, lust, piety, courage, compassion, and much more?”
In the words of Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt, who can understand it?”
Jesus can. We mature in the new life that Jesus provides us. It is not by morality, the Ten Commandments, that we turn the corner, but by maturing in the life of Christ and then morality is the byproduct of that maturity. It takes some self-knowledge, knowing how other people know us, and learning how God knows us, so that we can be mindful of our strengths and weaknesses and take responsibility for our shadow-side.
We die to our whole selves in baptism, with all our strengths and weaknesses, and are then raised by Christ into the new life. That new life is described by the beatitudes that we sang in place of the Psalm. We become rich in spirit, like the poor, who do not have the help of money; we are filled by sorrow over the refugees flooding Europe, all our lives lost to gun violence, and all the poor families up north who lost everything in those fires. Jesus forgives us and gives us the gift of a humble and pure heart, makes us peace-makers, and lovers of justice, we become persecuted, if we take following Jesus seriously.
Today we will remember those loved ones who have died and name them. But let’s remember, the way Lazarus died in the midst of life and was raised by Jesus, we too die in our baptisms and are raised by Jesus, who is our life and resurrection, as he told Martha, “I am the resurrection and life!” So those are not only the saints, those we will name, who have died; but also those who have been baptized like little Madeline Larsen, and those who have joined us to become holy in the real presence of Christ, who long not only to believe in God, but to experience God in their lives as we do in our lives. I’m thinking of Matt and Joshua, Cassandra, Rachel, Emily, Andrew and Heather, Angel and Rebekah, with their children, Cielo and Rio, and Elsa-Jennie and Eleanor. Let’s not forget Mimy and Kirsi who also want to join us in following Christ.
So if we want to be saints, then let us be mindful of our sins and that we are sinners. Let’s identify with sinners, because Jesus did not come to save the saints, but sinners like you and me. God must have loved sinners; he made so many of us! Of course, the saints have a chance too, but only because of the blood of Christ, who is their righteousness, just like Christ is ours. We can have no self-righteousness. We receive pure hearts, because we are forgiven, because we die to our old smelly dead selves and are raised up by our life and Resurrection, Jesus Christ. When we respond to his call and appear in God’s Presence, Jesus says, “Unbind us!” and we then experience the wonderful Christian freedom of the children of God. Amen.
 Jeremiah 17:9.