Feast of All Saints’
November 7, 2010
11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I 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, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Every year I look forward to this festival. My life has been filled with saints. Some of them were hard to live with. Some of them didn’t agree with me about how to read the Bible. Some of them were cantankerous in church meetings, seeing them as a chance to get their way by behaving badly when no one would call them out on it. Some of them were so strict about what the church should be and shouldn’t be that I often thought that they had lost sight of the Gospel altogether.
But all of them staked their lives on the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ, and the difference that made in the way they acted in the world. They trusted completely that God had called them by the Gospel, as Dr Luther says, and forgiven them by grace alone. It changed the way they lived their lives. They sought to raise their children, spend their money, treat their work and the people that they encountered according to the riches of God’s mercy which had been granted to them just because God loved them.
I was extraordinarily blessed to have parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who lived the faith they professed. In addition, I had pastors who taught me the language of faith, choir directors who gave us the gift of lifting our voices in praise, Sunday School teachers who taught me the stories of God’s people and taught me to pray. There were Bible Study leaders and Bible Study friends who carried me through the worst disasters of my life, teaching me about prayer by praying over me when I couldn’t pray myself. There were the faithful church ladies who welcomed a young mother and gave me the opportunity to teach. Maybe you didn’t have such riches of saints in your life, but my guess is there is someone in your life who was so filled with the love of God that they helped you understand what being a Christian is all about.
When I hear the words of the letter to the congregation in Ephesus: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” I think of the inheritance passed down to me through the people who loved Jesus enough to love me and introduce me to the kingdom of God in which we live this moment.
I think of those people when I hear Paul pray that God will give his people a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened and that you may know what is the hope to which God has called you in Jesus Christ; that you may know the riches of his glorious inheritance and the immeasurable greatness of his power to all who believe. This is the power which raised Jesus to new life. It is the same power which can turn our failures and tragedies into opportunities to walk more closely with God and with each other.
You see, the thing I love about All Saints’ is that we get to talk about how our lives are different from the lives of people who don’t have Jesus. We know we don’t deserve God’s love, but that God loved us anyway, entering our history to bring new life to all through faith in Jesus Christ. Many Christians think that the real payoff for trusting God happens when we get to heaven. I don’t believe it. Every commercial and newspaper tells you that if you aren’t rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, you aren’t worth much. Paul tells us that there is another way to see the world: through the eyes of faith – with your heart changed into being loving, filled with hope and clinging to different riches – the riches of that inheritance that we will never be separated from God’s love. It’s not where you go when you die that makes you a saint, it’s how you live, it’s how you love, it’s that you really trust that God is at the heart of everything that happens to you, and that nothing can separate you from God’s love.
This God that you trust has lifted Jesus from his shameful death to new life, giving him power over all in every age. This is the same Jesus who said he would be with us always, and asked us to carry on his work, feeding, healing, raising the dead. And so we have everything we need in this world and the next to live with joy and freedom, a light in a dark and weary world. What a gift we have to be such a light in this world, to be the people who live the Gospel we have come to trust.
It’s no accident I am sure that we are celebrating this All Saint’s Sunday here in this spot instead of our usual place. This morning we remember those who gave their labor and their love and their monetary gifts to this congregation so that we could worship here and carry on the work they began on this corner of Prineville Oregon. As we remember the people who have gone before us in faith, may we thank God for giving them to us. May we thank God for the promise that we will be with them again at the end of our life. And may we thank God that we have their example of what a saint looks like, to keep us true to the life of love God gives us now.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.