Sunday, November 2, 2014
Since today is All Saints Sunday, we’re talking about saints. Not the New Orleans’ football team, not the other-worldly creatures that roamed around just a few days ago on Halloween night, but ordinary people that we Lutherans call saints. A pastor recently shared that one of his parishioners asked, “Why do we celebrate All Saints Sunday? Lutherans don’t believe in saints.” The pastor asked the parishioner to pull out the local church directory and read the name of the Protestant churches in the area: there was St. Timothy’s, St. Peter’s, and St. Paul, right there in that city, all Lutheran churches. So yes, as Lutherans, we do believe in saints, but not just those famous saints of the Bible – people like Timothy, Peter, and Paul. And we don’t just believe that the famous people we might consider “holy” of recent past – Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., or Nelson Mandela, for example, are saints. We have the audacity to say that because of Jesus Christ, I’m a saint, you’re a saint, we’re all saints of God!
This morning, I’m just going to challenge all your Lutheran stereotypes by not only telling you that we believe in saints, but also that yes, even Lutherans can preach on the book of Revelation, our first reading for this morning. In this passage from Revelation, John the Revelator has a vision of what God’s kingdom looks like – people from every nation, different tribes and languages, a great multitude that no one could count, standing robed in white and waving palm branches. Some of you probably have read Revelation before and were confused, surprised, or even afraid of what is contained in this book of the bible. Images that first come to mind when this book is mentioned are probably anything but comforting. However, almost all of us have heard this passage read before, where we hear the amazing promise that one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes. It’s a common passage used at funerals. While Revelation is a book that contains many warnings and vivid descriptions of the battle between good and evil, we also see here and in other passages in Revelation God’s ultimate vision for us – a huge crowd, more than anyone can count, standing before the throne in worship, who are able to drink from the springs of the water of life as God wipes every tear from their eyes. It is a vision, a hope, and God’s promise to us who believe, that as we remember today the special saints in OUR lives who have gone before us, we look forward to the day when Revelation’s vision for all of us is realized.
Each and every Sunday, we come to worship and are reminded of God’s vision here in Revelation. That’s why our choir dresses up in robes, and our assistants in worship wear white robes along with the pastors – to keep us focused on this vision with the hope that one day we all will be gathered with all the saints in robes around God’s throne. That’s why we confess in our creed and in our communion liturgy that we believe in the communion of saints and the life everlasting. That’s why we began this morning at the font, giving thanks for the gift of baptism as the water of life. We thank God for baptismal waters, that there we begin and end our life with God as we read St. Paul’s passage to the Romans at most funerals: “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
So maybe you’re listening to all of this and re-reading that Revelation passage and thinking, “Alright, this is a great promise for our future, but what does this have to do with me NOW?” Well, I’m glad you asked! It is my sense that most of us more readily claim the title “sinner” rather than “saint.” Partly, we don’t want to be too proud. I mean, can you imagine if I walked around introducing myself, “Hello, I’m SAINT Pastor Rebecca! And please, do be sure to call me “saint.”” Partly, we don’t have to do much beyond waking up and looking in the mirror as we notice a few more gray hairs, a few more wrinkles, a few extra pounds, to be confronted with the reality that we are not perfect, we are sinners! We don’t measure up to who we want be or who God wants us to be. From an argument with our spouse to a little bit of gossip that flies too quickly out of our mouths, we know we mess up and that we can’t help but mess up more than we’d like. And we may even have really dark days where we start to think we’re so messed up that we’re not sure if we’ll make the cut to be a part of that multitude worshipping around God’s throne. We are sinners in need of a savior, scripture and our own experience has made that clear.
But scripture also makes it clear that because of Jesus Christ, we are called children of God, as John’s letter reminds us this morning. In Christ, we are a new creation. At our baptisms, God claimed us and named us saints, so that we don’t have to wait until we die to be a part of that crowd serving and worshipping God night and day. We are blessed to be a blessing, we are God’s saints created and claimed by God to be about God’s work in the world NOW. I love how the Message Bible (a modern English translation) puts it in verse 15 of Revelation: “The One on the Throne will pitch his tent there for them.” As Christians, we believe that God didn’t just stay up on the throne, but came down as a human being in Jesus the Christ, “pitching a tent” with us here on Earth, to live how we live and experience what we experience.
We are sinners, this is true, but we are also saints. Daily we make mistakes and are confronted by our mortality, but daily God in Jesus Christ pitches his tent here for us to walk with us, guide us, and even work through us so that we can be God’s saints in the world. This means that when we tell people we’re Christian, that we go to Bethel Lutheran Church, and so on, that people notice and that matters. Have you ever thought about how being honest about who you are as a sinner-saint may impact someone else? People aren’t looking for perfectionists or holier-than-thou friends, they’re looking for real friends – real people – who have struggles, who’ve made mistakes and yet can tell the story about how God has done awesome things in their lives. As one of God’s sinner-saints, you may be the face of Christ for someone else! Look at chapter seven in Revelation again: God’s saints are people who have been hungry, thirsty, dirty, and gone through all kinds of ordeals to stand before God in spite of all of that in worship and praise. They’re people who know what’s it’s like to experience pain, suffering, and sadness, people who are ready for God to come and wipe every tear from their eyes. They are sinner-saints, ordinary people like you and me, yet God has called them and us to worship and to service just the same.
Who is on your mind today as you think of those sinner-saints who have gone before us, who impacted your life in a profound way that you still feel that loss in deep and tangible ways? You might remember particular conversations, treasured moments, quirks in personalities. Perhaps there are regrets – things left unsaid, future plans that were never fulfilled, disappointment and even shock. Whoever you hold close to your heart in remembrance today, remember also that these were ordinary people, sinner-saints. Yet these special people were able to impact your lives in powerful ways. YOU have been called by God as one of his sinner-saints, too. You have the potential to impact others just as the ones we name today have – for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God, who satisfies our hunger and thirst, who wipes every tear from our eyes, and who pitches his tent to live eternally with us. Amen.