Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Not One Alone, But One Communion

Sermon for All Saints, Observed, preached on Sunday, November 7, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

     When we confess the Nicene Creed, our many voices come together as one and we say, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, the communion of saints.”  This is an article of the faith and it must be taken on faith, because we don’t see this one communion.  We don’t see all of God’s people, from all time and all places standing together as one.  But God’s Church is one.  It may be divided by space and time, but that doesn’t mean it’s divided.  As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we recognize that unity.  We thank the Lord for all His saints who’ve come before us.  The Church Triumphant at rest and the Church Militant still enduring today, together, we stand before our Savior praising Him for His salvation.  
      Unity is something that’s important to us.  It’s foundational for a strong and successful community.  But in truth, unity has a strange place among us.  We call ourselves the United States of America, but, from day one of our founding, we’ve never been completely and 100% united.  Yes there’ve been times in our history where we’ve come together to accomplish specific things, but even then, there’s always been a bit of division.  Everyone has their own ideas and opinions, their own way of doing things.  And this is where the strangeness of unity comes in.  We talk about unity, but at the same time we also hold up an ideal of American individualism.  
    We can’t deny the value that we place on individualism.  It’s always been a part of our make-up.  America’s the place where you can be free, where you can live the life you want, where you can succeed if you just work hard enough.  America’s the place where you can be anything you want to be.  We treasure this individual ideal.  
You see it in advertising.  If I were to mention Burger King, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? … “Have it your way.”  And don’t forget the Army’s recruitment slogan back in the early 2000’s…“An Army of One.”  It’s ironic that the military, the very place where you need absolute unity, where soldiers all where the same uniform, stand together in formation, train together, fight together, where they work together to accomplish a single goal, it’s ironic that recruitment to this group of unity would be based on individualism.
    We see American individualism in all parts of life, even in the life of the Church.  For many, the Christian faith is just a “me and Jesus” personal relationship.  They have a no need for community, no need for unity.  Because of this individualistic view of the faith, many believe it’s okay to ignore the gathering of the Church on Sunday because they feel closest to Jesus while they’re alone sipping coffee on their front porch.  People believe church membership is a useless relic of the past.  For them it doesn’t matter what community of believers you belong to because all that matters is what you believe.     People commune at any altar thinking the Lord’s Supper is based on what they believe as an individual.  American individualism is everywhere in the Church; and at times, we’ve all bought into it.  But American individualism has no place in the Church because it’s not our Church.  It’s Christ’s.  
    Christ’s Church is what He says it is.  It’s His people.  It’s those whom He’s called to Himself.  It’s those who’ve received His promises.  It’s those gathered around His Word and Sacrament.  It’s those who trust in God and His salvation.  This isn’t an individual thing.  It’s a communal thing.  
   God’s Word always talks about His people in the plural.  In the Old Testament, it was the congregation and assembly of Israel.  In the New Testament, it’s His saints.  You won’t find the word “saint” singular in Scripture, because it isn’t there.  It’s always “saints,” plural.  
   You are not alone in God’s Church.  Faith isn’t just a “me and Jesus” relationship.  Baptized into Christ, you’re a member of His body.  You’re united with your brothers and sisters in Christ.  You stand together with them.  And it’s not just with those whom you see sitting in the pews next to you.  This unity is with all of Christ’s Church, the Church that is seen and the Church that is unseen.  
   We see the Church Militant, the part of Christ’s body that still endures the trials and tribulations of the day.  These are our brothers and sisters sitting in the pews with you; and your brothers and sisters in Christ in other cities, states, and countries.  Together you stand united in Christ’s salvation.  And in that same salvation you stand with the Church Triumphant that you don’t see, God’s faithful who now rest from their labors.  
   The defining tradition of All Saints’ Day is speaking the names of our faithful loved ones whom the Lord has called home.  During the Prayer of the Church, their names are spoken and a bell is rung.  We will keep this tradition today.  And while tears may be shed at this time, we don’t remember our family and friends as if they're gone, because they’re not.  Our loved ones who’ve died in the Lord may not be here right next to us, but they rest and live in the nearer presence of our Lord.  They stand with us as we worship and praise our Lord for the salvation He has given to us.
   St. John received a vision of the heavenly throne room.  There, he saw a crowd unlike any other.  The number couldn’t be counted and every nation and people group was represented.  They were all united, wearing the same exact white robes and doing the same exact thing, waving palm branches and praising the Lamb for His salvation.  It’s because of that salvation that they are standing before Lord.  
    Christ’s death and resurrection rescued them from sin and death.  His death and resurrection brought them out of the great tribulation and into eternal life.  It’s this gift of salvation that our loved ones receive that we remember today.  And it’s this gift of salvation that we hold on to as we continue on as the Church Militant until that day when our Lord calls us home.  On that day we too will stand before His throne with our loved ones, with all God’s people, praising Him for His salvation.
    American individualism has no place in Christ’s Church.  It’s not about “me and Jesus.”  It’s not about what you as an individual can do.  It’s about Jesus and what He has done for you, what He has done for His one Church.  Today, we stand together with all God’s saints.  We thank the Lord for the faithful saints who’ve gone before us, and we thank the Lord for the faithful saints that stand next to us.  You’re not alone.  You stand with all of God’s faithful.  And together we will endure all tribulation looking forward to that time when we’ll stand together with the saints before our Savior sitting on His throne, praising Him for His salvation, forever.  In His name...Amen.  

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