The (Not Always So Obvious) Kingdom of God

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent B, November 11, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today marks the beginning of the brief season of kingdomtide, where we focus on the kingship of our Lord Jesus. This season culminates in the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our church calendar year. Thus we turn to the royal color of red—I do look extra stylish in red, don’t you think?—to help remind us of this royal focus (although green is still acceptable as we are still in so-called ordinary time of the calendar). You’ll also notice the readings begin to shift their focus more to the future with the promise of the Lord making his reappearance to consummate his saving work. Now that you’ve had a brief lesson on the church calendar, we can turn our attention to the matter at hand and focus on the letter to the Hebrews. What are we to make of our epistle lesson’s strange claims about blood sacrifice to remove sin and Christ entering heaven to appear directly before God on our behalf? What can that possibly have to do with us? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

You recall that last week during our celebration of the feast of All-Saints we talked about our sure and certain Christian hope of living in God’s direct presence in the new creation. But here’s the problem with that. As Scripture makes clear, living in God’s presence can be a dangerous proposition. Just ask, for example, Korah and his followers who rebelled against the Lord in the wilderness and were swallowed alive by the earth or consumed by fire (Numbers 16), or Uzzah who was struck dead because he reached out to prevent the Ark of God from falling off its cart as it was being transported to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6.6-8). The reason living with God is a dangerous proposition for humans is because God is holy and we are not. We are sin-stained and God in his perfect goodness and righteousness cannot allow any kind of profane or sinful thing to remain in his presence. Something has to be done on our behalf.

This ought to make sense to us, at least on one level. Consider our Lord’s condemnation of the religious leaders in today’s gospel lesson. Here were the very folks charged with teaching God’s people how to be God’s people, but they were more interested in their own status and honor. Worse yet, Jesus accused them of robbing and extorting widows, people who represent the most vulnerable in society and who have God’s special attention and concern. No wonder Jesus warned of their condemnation. Or closer to home, consider the terrible events in the news this past of week. Twelve more innocent people were murdered in yet another mass shooting, with the murderer taking his own life. This on top of deadly wildfires in northern and southern California that are consuming entire communities, causing multiple fatalities and great anxiety as families wonder if their loved ones are safe. It is a heart-wrenching thing to watch. Or consider the recently completed midterm elections with its accompanying bombardment of attack ads that focus on destroying the character and integrity of one’s opponent. Never mind the pressing issues at hand. It’s all about claiming your opponent is the sorriest excuse for a human being that ever lived. I don’t know about you, but by election day, I was about ready to scream. Now tell me, could a good and right God who is absolutely opposed to any kind of evil allow that in his space? Would you, could you really believe in a good and just God if he didn’t put an end to this kind of stuff? Would you really want to live in the new creation forever knowing that there was violence, rancor, suffering, and injustice of all kinds, always wondering if you could be the next victim? I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to live forever in a world like that and if a Sin-corrupted person like me wouldn’t want that, I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet that God doesn’t want that either.

What we are talking about, of course, is the problem of Sin, that alien and hostile power that has entered God’s good world to enslave us by its power. I’m not talking about our various acts of wrongdoing or thinking, or our sins. Frankly they are not the real problem; they are the awful symptoms of the real problem—our slavery to the power of Sin. Biblically speaking, to be enslaved by the power of Sin is much worse than our various wrongdoings, heinous as some of them are. To be in Sin means to be catastrophically separated from the eternal and healing love of God. It means to be separated from God’s heavenly banquet with all its wholeness, healing, and joy, with no hope of ever being allowed in (think the parable of Lazarus, Luke 16.19-31) for reasons we’ve just seen. To be enslaved in Sin means that greed, violence, cruelty and the like will continue unabated in our lives and God’s world because we are hopelessly trapped in our own worse self and miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God created us to be. This latter knowledge can and does lead many to self-loathing and despair as many of us can attest first-hand. No matter how frequently we resolve to do better, no matter how guilty we feel, no matter how much we are determined to repent of our sins, it’s not enough. Our repentance cannot free us from our slavery to the power of Sin because it is far greater than our will and our mortal power. To repeat, the point is not about the wrongdoings we may have done, troubling and destructive as they might be. The point is that they are symptoms of a far deeper and more consequential problem for us: Our enslavement to an outside and evil power (Sin) that is hostile to God’s creative purposes and bent on destroying all that is good in God’s creation, and we are unable to free ourselves from its grip.

Why am I spending so much time on this? Well, I love calling you all miserable sinners and making you feel rotten and guilty. Plus, it irritates my wife to no end, value added. But I also have a more legitimate reason. If we are going to grasp the significance and relevance of our epistle lesson this morning, we have to be crystal clear in our thinking about the enormous gravity of the problem of Sin. When we understand we are slaves to it and are powerless to free ourselves from its grip, we begin to focus on the real problem and better appreciate God’s solution that can lead to real repentance. We understand, for example, why St. Paul would make the strange statement that our enemies are not other humans but the dark powers behind the evildoing, i.e., the power of Sin (Ephesians 6.12), so that we learn how to really call on the name and power of the Lord. A grieving mother of a murder victim in California raged that she didn’t want people’s prayers. She wanted gun control. Her anger is understandable and I can only imagine her pain and grief; my heart breaks for her. But she misses the point in her rage and grief. Until Sin’s power is broken and people’s lives transformed by the radical love of Christ crucified, acts like this will become increasingly common and no amount of legislation, however good and effective it is, will solve the problem because human solutions cannot overcome Sin’s grip on us that causes us, for example, to shoot others for no apparent reason. I am not suggesting we take no action. That would fly in the face of the witness of Scripture as seen powerfully in our OT lesson today about Ruth. What I am saying is that ultimately human solutions will be incomplete and only partially effective because of the radical nature of Evil.

Moreover, understanding our slavery to Sin actually helps us to not despise or loathe ourselves because as we’ve seen, our individual sins are not the real problem. When we understand the real problem of Sin as we’ve just discussed it, we start to see ourselves as God sees us: as victims who have become hopelessly enslaved by a power from which we cannot free ourselves, hard as we might try, and who desperately need God’s help. We acknowledge this reality every time we confess that “there is no health in us” in the General Confession. We don’t confess this so that we can self-loathe, reminding ourselves how rotten we are. We confess this to acknowledge our slavery to Sin and God’s ability and willingness to free us from our slavery. Don’t misunderstand. We are responsible for our wrongdoing and wrong thinking—the devil may have made us do it but we are still the ones who did it and therefore responsible for it—and there are some people who truly have been consumed by the power of Evil and who are past redemption. But those people, by the grace of God, are thankfully a small minority. For the vast majority of us, when we get our thinking right about the real problem of Sin and its enslaving power over us, it helps us hear the Good News of Jesus Christ about which our epistle lesson speaks and to which we now turn.

So if we truly are slaves to Sin’s power and helpless to free ourselves from its grip, what’s the solution? As we’ve seen, left on our own, we are doomed to live a hellish existence with occasional periods of respite to provide us with some distraction and relief. But break the power of Sin and everything changes. The basis for God’s healing us and freeing us from our bondage to Sin are established and real transformative change, however slowly, however idiosyncratic, is possible. That’s the punchline. So how does God accomplish our rescue? The writer of Hebrews tells us today and throughout his entire letter. That’s why we should read Hebrews regularly because it is the only NT book that focuses almost exclusively on Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin. But if we don’t understand the real nature of the problem, we’ll never come close to understanding the love of God expressed for us on the cross. God foreknew our predicament and our slavery to Sin. But God did not create us to be Sin’s slaves. He created us to be his image-bearers with all its relational implications. And so in God’s wisdom, love, mercy, and justice, God acted to break Sin’s power over us because only God has the power to free us from its power. So long before we were ever aware of Sin and our slavery to its power, God moved to defeat its power over us and free us. But God did this in the most unexpected way, by becoming human, or in NT parlance, by sending his only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so as to break Sin’s power over us and reconcile us to God so that we could stand in God’s direct presence without having to fear being destroyed by his perfect holiness. his is the achievement of the cross. This is Christ’s achievement on our behalf, thanks be to God!

In our epistle lesson today, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the high priest who atoned for Israel’s sins once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The chief function of priests in ancient Israel was to mediate God’s presence among God’s people so that God could live with them without destroying them for reasons we’ve discussed. Each year the high priest would offer an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people who in turn would confess them and declare their repentance. But as we’ve seen this was doomed to failure because humans don’t have the power to break our slavery to Sin. Only God has that power. But here the writer tells us that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice to God to atone for our sins. His sacrifice was and is perfect because Jesus is fully God and fully human and because Jesus remained sinless. He therefore could make reparations or atone for our sins once and for all that have alienated us from God and each other. In doing so, the writer also tells us that Jesus broke Sin’s power over us so that we might no longer be slaves to it. This happened long before we knew we were ever sinners and independently of any guilt we might feel over our sins. God acted before we ever did one wrong thing. The NT writers don’t spend a lot of time talking about how Christ’s death accomplished all that, just that his sacrifice was and is fully efficacious, i.e., it has the power to produce its desired results, in this case freeing us from our slavery to Sin and reconciling us to God, which was always God’s intention. That’s why it only had to happen once and was available to all before and after Christ’s atoning death. This is our only hope and chance to be freed from our bondage to Sin because only God is more powerful than Sin’s power.

But we all know that we’re not totally free of Sin’s power in this mortal life. We all still commit sins from time to time. Yet the NT writers insist that in Jesus’ death we are freed from our slavery to Sin and so we are called to accept the claim on faith—enigmatic, mysterious, and impenetrable as Jesus’ work on the cross may be. When we do, the writer of Hebrews promises that when Jesus appears again at his second coming, he will fully consummate his saving work started with his atoning death when he raises our dead bodies and banishes Evil and Sin forever. And so we live in hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come because of the Lord’s trustworthiness. As the writer warns, judgment for our sins there will be. But because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us, we will hear the verdict of not guilty because the Son of God has born God’s terrible judgment on our sins and freed us from the power behind those sins. When we realize the depth of the problem and God’s gracious and wondrous solution to it before we ever turned to Jesus in faith, it helps us bear the fruit of repentance in the truest sense of the word. God acted on our behalf to free us from that which would ultimately condemn and kill us. We certainly don’t deserve this love and mercy but it’s ours for the taking. I could talk about what that means for us in the living of our days, but I want to stop here so that we can all contemplate and focus on this wondrous love, goodness, justice, and mercy of God. Amen?

Without the blood of Christ shed for us, none of us has the hope of new creation because none of us could stand in the perfect and holy presence of God the Father. God knew the problem and what needed to be done about it from all eternity, and has God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power. God did not accomplish this by sending in the tanks and routing the enemy in a spectacular military victory, at least not this time. Instead God saved us by becoming human and dying on a cross to transform our hopeless human condition and then working behind the scenes in and through faithful humans who trust in God’s goodness and power to fulfill his promises to us. That’s one of the main points of Ruth. The Good News is that God has acted on our behalf to restore us to himself forever, albeit in a surprising and unexpected way (at least from a human perspective) just as he always intended. There is much ahead of us and many unanswered questions. But when we put our hope and trust in Jesus our Savior and let him claim us in a positive way like Sin has claimed us in a negative way, we will be transformed and healed, not completely in this world but surely in the new creation. In letting Christ claim us, we also proclaim to the world that we trust this King of kings and Lord of lords to rescue us from all that hate us and want to destroy us. I cannot think of anything more relevant to the living of our days than this, my beloved. Ponder this Good News of Jesus Christ that is yours and commit yourself to him in the power and grace of God the Father mediated through the Holy Spirit. Let it heal and transform you, one minute at a time, so that you too may be refreshed and equipped to serve the Lord who loves you and gave himself for you to rescue you from all Evil and darkness, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

A Brief History of Veterans’ Day 2018

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, the Great War. As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Taken at 10:58 a.m., on Nov. 11, 1918, just before the Armistice went into effect; men of the 353rd Infantry, near a church, at Stenay, Meuse, wait for the end of hostilities. (SC034981)

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Read it all.

A Prayer for Veterans’ Day 2018

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

For All the Saints: New Creation and the Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday B, November 4, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to list to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21.1-6a; John 11.32-44.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today is All-Saints’ Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate the communion of saints, those saints who have died in Christ and who are enjoying their rest with him, as well as those of us in Christ who still struggle in this mortal life with all of its joys and sorrows and everything in between. But why do we celebrate the Feast of All-Saints? Other than giving us a chance to remember our dearly departed—never a bad thing—what difference does it make if we have a robust belief in the communion of saints? To answer that question, we must look beyond the saints and see the power of God at work. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Death under any circumstance is extremely hard, isn’t it? Death is the ultimate form of dehumanization. We don’t get a do-over with death. It separates us permanently from our loved ones and tends to leave us angry and/or without hope. Death can also be the ultimate form of injustice. We’ve had people in our parish family who have lost loved ones to a drunk driver. We have folks who have lost loved ones prematurely to the wicked monster of cancer. We’ve had folks lose loved ones slowly over time to the evil of Alzheimer’s. Many of us have watched our parents or grandparents grow old and infirm and waste away, and it is heartbreaking. On a broader scale, we are bombarded with news of mass murder, horrific accidents, heinous crimes, drug fatalities and all the rest. None of these folks deserved to suffer and die the way they did, especially when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or happened to have the wrong genetic makeup. Where’s the justice in that? We can punish murderers but it won’t bring back our loved ones. We might find cures for some of the evil diseases that afflict our bodies but our loved ones are still gone. Where’s the justice, especially for violent or senseless deaths? No matter what we do, no matter how severely we punish evildoers or rage against the evil and injustice of death, our loved ones are still dead and we are still separated from them for the remainder of our mortal life. 

All this can make us wonder where God is in it all. Why does God allow such suffering and death to occur? Part of the answer is that Death reigns because the power of Sin reigns in this world and our lives (Genesis 3ff), and as St. Paul reminds us, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23). None of us escape it. We can eat right, exercise like crazy, and take very good care of ourselves. The result? We all die because we all have been enslaved by the power of Sin. But this answer is not ultimately a satisfactory one. A life-long smoker who has terminal lung cancer will not really find much help or comfort in the knowledge that his smoking caused him to develop a disease that is killing him. As Christians, we know that sin leads to death and we are going to die because we are all sinners. But in the final analysis that really isn’t going to be helpful to us as we face our loved ones’ mortality and/or our own. In fact, most of us get angry when thinking about Sin and Death. We might understand the relationship on a theoretical basis but we sure don’t want it applied to us or our loved ones and we become angry when it does. 

The ugly reality of death and God’s response to it is why All-Saints’ Sunday is so important to us as Christians because today reminds us that Sin and Death do not have the final say in this world or our lives. Now it is true that we live in a God-cursed world for our sin. God did and does judge human sin because a good and loving God cannot possibly tolerate any kind of sin that corrupts us and God’s good world. And so we live under God’s curse, but that is not God’s final word on the matter. As the rest of Scripture attests, God is faithful to his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures, despite our sin and rebellion against God. God does not intend to destroy his good world gone bad, he intends to redeem and restore it and us to at least our original health and goodness where we will once again enjoy perfect communion with God, and with it comes perfect health and eternal life. 

We get a glimpse of God’s promise to heal and restore in our OT lesson where God proclaims through his prophet that he will destroy the shroud of death—an appropriate image, don’t you think?—and swallow up death forever. In doing so God will wipe the tears from all faces and take away our disgrace. I cannot think of a bigger disgrace than death because it utterly robs us of our humanity. So let the picture of this promise take root in your mind. You are standing directly in the Lord’s presence and he raises your dead loved ones back to life. He gently takes you in his arms and wipes your tears away as he reunites you with those whom you’ve loved and lost. You know that never again will you have to worry about the possibility of being separated from either God or your loved ones and so there is no more reason to weep. Let that image sink in and strengthen you. Then give thanks to the One who will make it happen. 

Do you see what’s really going on in this OT scene? God not only deals with death, God deals with everything that corrupts and degrades, death being the most significant part of that. By removing our tears and disgrace, God promises to remove the evil behind them and free his world from all that infects and corrupts it. While the prophet never says this explicitly, that means the curse must be lifted and we must be freed from our slavery to Sin which leads to Death.

This OT promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his story contained in the NT. If the evil one has ever tried to deceive you about how God feels about death, look no further than our gospel lesson this morning to find the antidote. We see Jesus, the Son of God, God become human, snorting in anger—the Greek word for the English phrase “greatly disturbed” literally means to snort in anger—at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus as the emotions of the crowd and those he loves, as well as his own human emotions, kick in when confronted with the reality of his friend’s death. Sure, Jesus knew he was going to revive Lazarus, a preview of coming attractions when he raises the dead at his second coming, but this did not stop our Lord from being offended by death. So if you ever think that God takes any pleasure in our death, look no further than our Lord standing at Lazarus’ tomb and snorting in anger over this obscene evil. That’s the kind of God we love and worship, and thankfully God has the power to do something about it. The Son of God resuscitated his friend and then went on to die a godforsaken and terrible death to spare us from God’s just judgment on our sins and break Sin and Death’s hold over us. In bearing the weight of our sins and taking on the full brunt of God’s terrible judgment on all our sin and evil, our Lord Jesus made it possible for us to stand again in God’s direct presence because we no longer wear our filthy, sin-stained rags that got us thrown out of paradise in the first place. Yes, of course we all still sin in our mortal life. But the NT is adamant in its insistence that on the cross, God the Father has taken care of the vexing problem of human sin and the separation it causes us, and in doing so, has broken the dark Powers’ stranglehold on us forever, i.e., we are no longer slaves to the power of Sin. And in raising Jesus from the dead, God has broken the power of Death forever. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 6.3-8, those who are baptized in Christ share in his death and resurrection. Where he is, so we will be with him. We didn’t earn this and we sure don’t deserve it, but it’s ours anyway because life and death always have been about the power of God, not our own muddled ways and thinking. 

Jesus’ death and resurrection make the breathtaking scene in our epistle lesson possible. The new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, comes down to earth and everything in this world is recreated so that we get to live in God’s direct presence without the hint of any evil or corrupting force in our lives. This means, of course, that the ultimate evil of death is destroyed forever. The scene in Revelation 21 is Isaiah’s mountaintop vision on steroids because it it promises so much more and is a done deal by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and his resurrection from the dead. The new heavens and earth are not yet a reality, but they will be when our Lord Jesus returns to consummate his saving and healing work. 

Of course, the resurrection of the dead is fully integrated into John’s vision of the new Jerusalem. Without it, God cannot possibly wipe the tears from our eyes. With it, God’s perfect justice is executed and we can finally be healed. The dead are raised to live forever under the protection and power and beauty of God the Father himself. The cause of our mourning is erased forever and we no longer have to fear being harmed or being sick or alienated or being poor or growing old and infirm. We don’t have to worry about our worth or value. We are living in God’s direct presence, for heaven’s sake (no pun intended)! But death cannot be abolished in a world that still has sin and evil in it. That’s why the resurrection of the dead, while massively important, is not the ultimate hope and answer for us. To live forever in a world where there is no more sickness, sorrow, death, or sighing means that all that corrupts and dehumanizes and disgraces us is abolished forever. The NT calls this the new creation and that is the hope and promise for all the saints, living and dead.

So what does this mean for our dead saints? Where are they now? As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians and elsewhere, they are with Christ and they are enjoying his presence and their rest in paradise as they await the day when their Lord will return to this world and their bodies will be raised from the dead. The communion of saints means that we have a resurrection and new creation hope, that death is not the final answer. Jesus is the final answer because only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The saints kept their eyes on Christ in this mortal life, however imperfectly, just like we do, and they are enjoying their penultimate reward because as we have seen, they are united with Christ by virtue of their baptism and their faith in the Son of God who loves them (and us) and gave himself for them (and us). This is the Church Triumphant. Our Christian dead have triumphed because they put their hope and trust in the One who can and does rescue them from Evil and Death. In a little while, we will read the names of our loved ones who have triumphed over Death and who will one day receive God’s perfect justice be being restored to bodily life. That’s why we call it the Roll Call of the Victorious. Rejoice in that hope even as you miss them.

But what about us, who make up the Church Militant, those who live by faith and hope, but who do not yet experience the reward for our faith in the way that the Church Triumphant does? We too are called to keep our eyes on Jesus, to pattern our lives after his, to extend his love, goodness, mercy, justice, and righteousness out into his world in our own neck of the woods. Of course when we do, it means all hell will break loose and we will suffer for following Jesus, just as he predicted because the evil powers, while defeated, are not yet abolished, and they don’t want us acting like or in the power of the name of Jesus. But we don’t lose heart or hope because we keep in mind the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the new heavens and earth. We will be in that reality a lot longer than this current time of trouble. In saying this, I don’t mean to minimize our problems and suffering, my beloved. I know they are substantial. But the reality of the new creation and God’s love and power are far greater, and we must draw on God’s strength to help see us through. Without that strength, we will surely be lost. This is why it is so important for us to celebrate All-Saints’ Day today, especially in the midst of the darkness of this world. So this week as mid-term election hysteria peaks, let your resurrection and new creation hope guide and control you. As the strident voices on all sides partake in the shaming and blaming game and rely on fear-mongering to demean and disgrace their opponents to get their way, offer the joy and hope of God’s saints to those around you. A few might ask what is your secret. Most will wonder what you’ve been smoking. But that shouldn’t bother us. We believe and proclaim that God has overcome Sin and Death and opens the door to eternal bodily life and a new world equipped to sustain that life to one and all if they only have the good sense to accept the invitation. Let us always be the first to accept (or continue to accept) the invitation by keeping our eyes on Jesus our Savior and leading righteous lives. When we do, we proclaim to ourselves and others that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

All Saints’ Day 2018: St. Augustine Muses on the Saints of God

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19.25-26

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

–Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

One of the reasons I love Augustine is that he was never afraid to be real. As you read his description of the saints, you cannot help but wonder how these folks can be enjoying their rest with their Lord. I mean, look at their flaws Augustine is pointing out!

Here’s the answer. They have died with Christ and so are raised with him (Romans 6.8) They were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism so that they might rise with him in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And when they were alive in this mortal life, this treasure of life eternal was hidden with Christ (Colossians 3.3-4), i.e., this hope and promise of resurrection and eternal life is based on their relationship with the risen Christ, who remains hidden from us in this mortal life from his abode in heaven, God’s space.

For you see, it is not about the saints or our worthiness. None of us is worthy to stand before God in God’s perfect holiness! Rather, it is about what God has done for us in Jesus so that through his death we might enjoy real peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5.111). In Jesus, God condemned sin in the flesh so that we might be equipped to live with God forever, both here on earth in the power of the Spirit and in God’s promised new creation (Romans 8.3-418-25). This is what Jesus reminds us in the passage above from Matthew and that’s why we have hope for the Christian dead and ourselves on All Saints Day. Jesus is Lord, even over death!

Is this your hope or are you clinging to something less which is bound to fail? On this All Saints’ Day may God grant you the grace, wisdom, and courage to embrace the hope offered to you in Jesus. Come celebrate our victory over death in Christ this Sunday as we celebrate the communion of saints!

All Saints 2018: Bernard of Clairvaux: Why All Saints’ Day?

Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints? Do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the lightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. in short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Come, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head. Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession.

–Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 2

A Prayer for All Saints’ Day 2018 (2)

Blessed are you, Sovereign God,
ruler and judge of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
May we reflect your glory this day
and so be made ready to see your face
in the heavenly city where night shall be no more.
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever. Amen.

A Prayer for All Saints’ Day 2018 (1)

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.