All Saints’ Sunday
November 6, 2016
Ephesians 1: 11-23 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
Two weeks ago we buried Lolita Cramer. Last week we buried Bertha Olsen. What is it that we trust when we say that they have gone home to Jesus and that we, too will make that journey and see them again when we meet at Jesus’ feet? For me, this reading from Paul’s letter to the congregation at Ephesus gives us the answer. We have been given a promise, sealed in the Holy Spirit that we are God’s own, living a life of praise now, and inheriting a life with God when this life is over. That promise is made and confirmed for us in our baptism, and the faith we live into as we grow informs our actions and our beliefs as we go through life.
In our baptisms today, we include an anointing. We take scented oil and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person who has just been splashed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We say, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” This is Paul’s language. He says that we, who have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit are destined to inherit a life in Christ now and forever – our redemption as God’s own people. All the time I was thinking about putting these words on paper to preach them, I was singing Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours!” We are named and claimed by God and included with the saints in heaven and on earth forever. Permanently.
Well, Lutherans don’t believe in saints, do we? No, we don’t; not in the sense that some people are holier enough that their faith can add to our faith. We believe that God’s forgiveness comes to us purely through God’s love, freely given to us through Jesus. We believe that each of us is loved and invited to be part of God’s family, and that Jesus came into our world to prove God’s love to us. Each of us is forgiven and restored to wholeness through that grace and that we cannot add anything of our own to God’s love to make ourselves more worthy. We believe that you cannot earn God’s love or lose God’s love; it comes to us because God is loving and loves each of us. In the days when the church taught that you had to add a certain amount of goodness to God’s forgiveness to make it into heaven, the extraordinary faith and goodness of people who were lifted up as saints could be added to your own goodness and get you in. This was one of the things that the reformers wanted to correct. Luther said that we are all saints and sinners at the same time – holy because we are forgiven by God, and still sinners because we cannot escape the human failings that make life on earth so miserable sometimes. So we think of saints not as people who are extra holy, but rather our mentors in faith, people whose faith inspires us, and we ourselves who struggle to live as God’s people by loving God and loving others.
Besides, our faith is not ever only about what happens when we die. Our faith is always about how we live every day. It’s about what difference it makes in your life that God knows you and loves you. It’s about the change that happens when your heart has been transformed through God’s love for you. Listen to what Paul says about the Christians in Ephesus: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints…I give thanks for you…remember you in my prayers. 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 (1) know what is the hope to which he has called you, (2) what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, (3) and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” To me, this says that what Paul wishes for them and for us is to understand and appreciate the hope of God’s presence that carries us through our tragedies and triumphs. We are to understand and really trust that God’s promises to us through life and death are true. And that the very same power of love that raised Jesus from the grave is at work in our lives to transform our inward-turned hearts to being as caring for others as God is for us. A few weeks ago we talked about God’s rules – the famous Ten Commandments. We said that their purpose is not to make us miserable by taking all the joy out of life. Just the opposite, their purpose is to show us how to live together in peace, caring for each other and honoring the God who made us. “Not only in this age, but also in the age to come,” says the Apostle.
So this morning as we remember our saints and honor the saints among us, let us rejoice that we are signed, sealed, delivered by the Holy Spirit in our baptism, and led throughout our life with the power of love that raised Jesus from the dead. I pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened to the love that leads us and to recognize the importance of the life you live right now. And then when the day comes that you will join all those whom you have loved in your life, who are now with Jesus, may you rejoice in a life well-lived and a journey completed. Amen.