Sermon for All Saints' Day (Observed) preached on Sunday, November 3, 2019.
Have you ever watched one of those home shows or perhaps a show in fashion in which a person looks at a prospective house and says “That is definitely not my taste” or holds up clothing as they look in the mirror and says “That is just not me.” Saint is one of those terms we might say does not reflect my style or who I am. We know who we are, what we like, and what we don’t like. We may not be evil people but we are not quite saintly. A saint is someone who never had too much to drink, never said a choice word when the hammer hit their thumb, never broke some thing in anger or told a lie. I may not be a terrible person, but I am no saint, we admit. That is just not me, not who I am or at least who I think I am.
The Roman Catholic Church has a definite process to decide who is a saint. It requires several steps along the way – one of which is a miracle attributed to the work or intercession of that dead person. It is not quite Lutheran to think of a saint as an intercessor who gave us a miracle. Besides we are not really miracle people. We see the world in cause and effect. In this age of YouTube, smart phones, social media, and such, everybody has a not so hidden past. Who has the nerve to say they are saintly when we know everyone has something to hide. Finally, how much fun is it to be a saint? Who wants to give up all the fun to pray all day and be good all the time?
But that is not how saint is used in Scripture. The word saint appears some twenty times in the New Testament and it means exactly what we think it does – a holy person. The problem is that “a holy person” does not mean what we think it does. For many of us, perhaps most of us, holy person means a person of virtue, without sin, with public righteousness of their own. A saint is somebody so good, that he does not need much help from God. But that is not what the Bible means when it calls us saints. In the Bible the saint is not the one who has his own righteousness or holiness but who has the Lord’s. The saints are those whom God has claimed as His own in baptism, set apart to be His people, and clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
If you look at those whom the Scriptures calls saints, they are flawed people, sinners in need of redemption, but they are also people called by God, set apart by Him for holy purpose, and declared righteous by faith. Look at the list in Romans 4 and in other places. The giants of the faith whose names we all know and the anonymous saints known to God alone share this common identity. They are sinners forgiven and redeemed by God. In the saints in heaven God has finished His good work but in the saints on earth are those in whom God is still working toward that completion. That is who we are.
On All Saints Day we combine our remembrance to include the saints who rest from their labors, in whom God’s good work has been brought to completion, and who are no more troubled by sin and death – along with the baptized, who still labor against sin but marked as God’s own by baptism, in whom God’s good work is still laboring toward completion, and who still sin but are forgiven. This day is not a day set aside to honor those who don’t need God’s redemptive work in Christ but to celebrate those who have welcomed that work by faith, rejoiced in what God’s mercy has done, and sought with every ounce of their being, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be the people God has declared them to be.
You are these saints. You were baptized. You are forgiven. Your guilt has been removed. You have been set apart to be God’s own. You are not your own but a people bought with a price. You belong to the Lord. Of course you daily sin much and need forgiveness. What do we say every Sunday? If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But because you belong to the Lord the blood of Christ cleanses you from your sin. You will not be a saint but you are one right now, and yet, not a finished one but one in whom God is still at work. So what do you hear every Sunday? May He who began this good work in you bring it to completion on the Lord’s Day.
Those who accuse the Church of being filled with hypocrites are making a false accusation. There are hypocrites among us but you, the saints of God, are not hypocrites because you sin. You would be a hypocrite if you denied that you sin. But you acknowledge that sin. You confess that sin. You repent of that sin. You do not claim to be without sin. What your claim is and mine is that you are a sinner claimed by God in baptism, forgiven in the baptismal water and daily forgiven of all your sins, and though you are filled with the inconsistency of a sinful nature and the new person born of baptism, God is still at work in you. Your sins are not minor things but big deals and only the big deal of Christ mercy and blood can cleanse and restore you. This is why you are here today.
We do not see much progress in our battle to quit sinning and be holy. Perhaps this is a good thing because as soon as we saw some progress, we would take credit for it and would presume we do not need God to finish His work in us. Because you do not see the progress, does not mean it is not there. God sees it because God is working it, with your cooperation and by the power of the Spirit. We see the sins we keep on sinning but faith also sees repentance and the forgiveness that takes those sins away in Christ. Righteousness is not only trying to be holy but fleeing into the arms of Jesus for forgiveness, and trusting that what Jesus says in the absolution, is true.
We live here in the world but we are not of it. Daily we learn to see what sin is and to hate it and to love righteousness and to seek it. That is why we hate the sins in others that we see in ourselves. Righteousness is calling us. That is why we admire in others the virtues we seek most for ourselves. The sad truth is that we don’t talk much about this part of it. We talk more about sin, repentance, and forgiveness than we do the other part – loving righteousness, hating evil, and striving to become holy. But this too is part of what it means to be called the saints of God.
You are to fight the good fight. Not simply the one against the enemies of the faith around you in the world but against your own sinful nature. You are to fight the good fight. Fighting with all your might and with the might of the Holy Spirit to become the people God has declared you to be – the holy ones of God, who wear Christ’s righteousness before the world, who love what is good and right and true, who hate what is sin and evil, who delight in forgiving as you have been forgiven, and who love serving as you have been served. The promise is clear. Those who hunger and thirst for the things of God, who desire to live in faith toward Him and toward neighbor, to do what is good, right, holy and true – they are the blessed of the Father who shall be satisfied. The good work begun in them will be finished.
For now, dear saints loved by God, your lives are not characterized by clear victories as much as by painful struggles. But do not lose heart. Do not grow weary in well doing. Fight the good fight of faith. Contend for Christ where you are. In our homes, on our jobs, in our neighborhoods, and in our church we fight the fight. It is personal within ourselves and it is public against the ungodliness and sin the world loves. It is tedious and costly. Only those who die in Christ live forever. Only by self-denial and taking up the cross. Only by being close to Christ and His Word and Supper. Only by remembering that the goal is never to be perfect but to be in Christ. Only by rejoicing in Him who is right now at work in you, finishing what He began when first He called you saint in the waters of your baptism.
You are the saints of God no less than those might ones whose names we all know as well as every anonymous saint who has departed this life with the sign of faith and now rests from his labors. You are those whom God has claimed as His own and marked as His people now and forevermore. You are those in whom God is now at work, teaching you to love righteousness and to hate sin and restoring with forgiveness when you screw it up. Rejoice and be glad for great is your reward in heaven. Amen