All Saints Day – 2019 LSB #’s 812, 677, 651
Text – Revelation 21:27
Nothing impure will ever enter the Holy City, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
THE BLOOD OF ABEL & THE BOOK OF LIFE
Today we’re celebrating a church festival called All Saints Day – one of the lesser-known festivals. It’s certainly not as well understood or as popular as Christmas and Easter. Yet, many churches have a special tradition for this day. Sometime during the service they commemorate Christians who, in the past year, went on to the glorious and heavenly company of the Saints.
These followers of Jesus have fought the good fight, they have finished the race, and they have kept the faith. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s the peace that our faith brings, but somehow it’s rather easy for us to think of the dear departed as Saints.
But what about you and me? Do you often, or ever; think of yourself as a saint? I mean a dyed in the wool, washed in the blood of the Lamb, righteous, perfect and holy Saint! Is that the image you have of yourself? PAUSE
An old time preacher had a line that went like this: There are two kinds of people in this world: 1) sinners who think they are saints and 2) Saints who know that they are sinners. The way the sentence is structured we realize the two statements are meant to be in contrast to each other. Looking a little more closely we’ll see what that contrast is meant to teach.
Sinners who think they are saints – we easily recognize people in this category. Here’s a perfect example from the Gospel of Luke, “The Pharisee stood and prayed in reference to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people: robbers, wrongdoers, adulterers, or even like that tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all my income.’” (Luke 18:11 NET)
Throughout the NT, the Pharisees are often portrayed as sinners who think they are
saints. And no matter what our personalities are like each of us struggles with bouts of arrogance. We all know someone who doesn’t measure up to our standards, or our way of doing things, and relative to them we consider ourselves to be saints.
During my 1st days at seminary I had a book that most other students did not. Many of them wanted copies of certain pages and I offered to make them, if they’d just pay me when I got the copies finished. After about a month, only one of the students still had not paid, and I’d heard all his excuses. He did not measure up to my standards.
Have you thought poorly of someone for dressing differently than you do? Have you ridiculed someone because of the style, length or color of their hair? Do you dislike working with a person because they don’t clean up after themselves like you expect? Do you consider others irresponsible if they don’t organize things the way you would?
It still bothers me to think that one of my best friends from seminary almost didn’t become a friend because I was so concerned that he hadn’t paid me for those copies. Realizing how arrogant it was to reject him, for not measuring up to that miserly attitude of mine, I still feel embarrassed. I almost prevented our friendship, because I thought he wasn’t worth my time.
But generally speaking, as Christians, we’re aware of the sinfulness of an arrogant heart, so we tend to look out for it and try to avoid it. We know too well our sinful nature, and don’t want any ideas of sainthood to go to our heads. I think that’s why so few of us consider ourselves to be Saints, even in the proper sense of the term.
Now, we’ll look at the old time preacher’s 2nd kind of person – Saints who know they are sinners. It’s safe for us to think of the dead as Saints. They no longer struggle with their sinful nature. They’re free of those twisted desires. But us, no! We don’t want to think of ourselves as Saints, because that puts the pressure on. It makes us feel like we have to live up to something, some kind of high standard. If we have to live up to something we’ll probably fail, and none of us enjoy failure. Also, there’s a tendency to think of high standards, like Sainthood, as a sort of goody-goody two shoes kind of lifestyle. I used to think of pastors that way.
I didn’t want anything to do with living that ‘good’ a life. I wanted to be free to have fun and to live my life my way, according to my standards, not anyone else’s. I wanted nothing to do with the lifestyle of what I viewed as sanctimonious do-gooders. PAUSE
Fear of ridicule is another angle in our reluctance to think of ourselves as Saints. Do you feel self-conscious about praying in a restaurant? Would it bother you to think that people might be watching, and then judging you? You could be labeled a holy roller or a Bible beater. Even though I’m a pastor, I still struggle with that fear of standing out from the crowd.
Or have you turned down a nomination to the school board or the board of elders, either because you didn’t feel that you were good enough, or you didn’t want to be? Maybe it’s even been suggested by someone, with a lot of nerve, that you consider being a teacher or a pastor. Well what kind of life would that be?
You see, we’re uncomfortable with being thought of as Saints, especially in the here and the now. Those problems arise if we view being a Saint as something to achieve. It’s common to view sainthood that way, as depending on how good we are and how we live our lives.
That understanding is not taught by Scripture. The problem is our usual definition of the word Saint. When Mother Teresa died, talk quickly turned to when she’ll be canonized, or declared a Saint. It was mentioned that, among other things, there’d have to be absolute proof of two or more miracles that could be credited to her.
Well, that’s not the kind of sainthood I’m speaking about today. That kind of sainthood obviously has to be earned. It requires us to do something. As Lutherans, we teach that Christ has already done everything that can be done for our salvation. Our faith teaches that we are Saints because Christ earned it for us, even while we were, and still are, sinners. The Biblical definition of Saint is this: Anyone, in heaven or on earth, who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin. The apostle Paul uses this definition frequently, throughout his letters.
Now, the saints in heaven no longer have their sinful nature to contend with. Those of us on earth still do, and we are still fighting the fight of faith. We are still running the race, and it can be an exhausting, fearful battle. But in the text from Isaiah the prophet is holding out hope for us. He’s writing of the last day – the Day of Judgment when Christ will return.
He’s counseling believers to enter their rooms & hide themselves for a little while until God’s wrath has passed by. Isaiah says that the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her, and the Lord is coming to punish the unbelievers of the earth for their refusal to believe. Some commentators go back to Genesis 4 where it says:
“The voice of Abel’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” They see Isaiah referring to this 1st shedding of human blood, as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus Christ that would be shed to pay for all the sins, of all people. To those who reject that forgiveness, bought by the blood of the Lamb, payment will be exacted from them for that innocent blood.
For believers, however, that last day will be a glorious one. All our spiritual enemies will be cast into the fire, our own sinful nature will be removed from us, and we will struggle and suffer and run, the race of faith, no more.
For believers the wrath of judgment day is not to be feared, for it means the end of our struggles with sin – like arrogance, or weakness, or fear of ridicule. It means the end of all disease, the end of the process of dying, and the end of death itself. For all the families and loved ones who’ve lost one of their own this year, there will be no more weeping and no more sorrow. Instead, our lives will be filled with what was only a vision to St. John as he wrote Revelation. There, he describes the Saints of all time as the bride of Christ. We will meet them again that day, and they will shine with the glory of God like a brilliant crystal. He says the city does not even need the sun or the moon – the glory of God is so bright.
The father of lies would have us shy away from thinking of ourselves as Saints. Satan desperately wants us to believe the lie that we aren’t good enough to be called Saints. But sainthood is nothing more than being a child of God.
Our Savior has promised that nothing can tear us away from Him, but if the devil can cause us to doubt we just might walk away from the heavenly Father. So the sermon text begins with another of God’s promises. It says nothing impure will ever enter heaven. There, we will no longer struggle with our current dual nature, of Saint and sinner.
God’s holy and perfect light will prevent anything that is shameful or deceitful even from entering the Holy City. Our sinful nature will be stripped from us. We’ll be left perfectly at peace – pure & clean – with no doubts, no worries, no second-guessing. PAUSE
So what about that second kind of person – the Saints who know they are sinners? Are they for real? Dare we call ourselves Saints without arrogance or fear? The Bible clearly tells us so. It says whoever has their name in the Book of Life shall enter that Holy City on high, the city of eternal light.
And the Book of Life isn’t some guest register that we need to sign when we visit. It’s a book of promise, the promise of our Lord and Savior who personally wrote your name there with His own blood. Amen.
O blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine. Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen. LSB 677:4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet