November 2, 2014 – For All the saints

Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

1 John 3:1-3

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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All Saints Sunday   Nov 2, 2014   Psalm 84, Exodus 20:1-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12           For All the saints

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I’m not a big fan of Halloween. But dressing up in costume may be a good thing – if it reminds us – we really don’t know – who anyone really is – just by looking…

Happy All Saints Day, saints of God. I confess I still can’t recognize all the saints, all the time. But by the grace of God, I know, by faith – we’re blessed to be in the company of all the saints of all the church, in heaven and earth, today. Reminded together, again, by God’s Word and Spirit, of our job description as saints – meaning believers in Jesus Christ.

Probably we know our job description as saints, but it’s good to review, this All Saints Sunday, the New Testament definition of our job description as saints of God – which, in it’s simplest form is: Believe in God (Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit). Love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love our neighbor as ourselves.

Pray and practice this at all times. The rest is detail…(Important detail, sometimes, but much less essential than this basic description… And–)

Contrary to what we may have heard sometimes – being a saint doesn’t imply earthly perfection. As has been said – “you can get to hell by imitating the sins of the saints.” And – we can get to heaven, imitating the best things done by sinners. The only perfection we saints have in this lifetime, is to know the perfect love of God, in Jesus Christ… The love of God we are enfolded in, from before our birth, as the free gift of our gracious God… who calls us into new birth in Jesus Christ.

Believing in God who loves us perfectly in Jesus Christ… And doing our best to love as he loves us… This is the new birth. This is what it means to be saints…

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It’s good to review our job description periodically, because people, and the world itself, are often rather confused about this… And it can be challenging to remember who we are and who we are called to be.

When God gave the Law to Israel through Moses on Mt Sinai, lightning flashed, thunder roared, heavenly trumpet blasts proclaimed the fearsome presence of the Holy One. Moses came down from the mountain with the words of God engraved on tablets of stone. And there were times when every nine-year-old in Israel could probably recite the Ten Commandments we’ve just read by heart. But human memory and human hearts fail… and times change.

Today polling data consistently indicates that a majority of Americans can’t name even half the commandments. Fewer than 20% can name all ten. These Ten Commandments are engraved in stone on our Supreme Court building, and on many other public monuments throughout the land. But not very many remember what the ten commandments say. Or who God said them to, and why. More Americans can name all the members of the Brady Bunch tv show – and all the ingredients of a Big Mac accurately (according to poll results) then can name all the ten commandments.

And not even half the nation knows the names of all four gospels, or who preached the Sermon on the Mount – the most famous sermon in all the gospels, that reminds us of Moses, because of it’s location – the sermon that begins with the beatitudes – the “blessed are” sayings that Jesus gives today.

Part of our job description as saints includes remembering the words of Jesus, as living words of life, in a world that often forgets…

I’ve never heard of any monuments built to highlight the words of Jesus. Even though his words are far more central to our job description of being saints, believers in Jesus, than even the ten commandments.

We should of course know the ten commandments by heart. They’re still the word of God for us – though not exactly the same way they were as originally given to Israel. In fact, how the commandments are to be heard by Israel is a moving target, as Jeremiah 31 (echoed in Hebrews 8 and 10) and Ezekiel 18 tells us, are now to be written in our hearts and in our minds, not on tablets of stone…

But we should surely memorize the beatitudes even more than the Ten Commandments. Because here is where Jesus takes us to the very heart of what God’s blessings are like. What the life of his saints is also to be like – now, already, as much as possible – in fullness of life, eventually (as 1st John tells us).

When we are poor in spirit – when we know our need of God – Jesus says – we’re blessed with citizenship in his kingdom of heaven. Our most basic spiritual need is simply to know our need of God. This alone is enough – to get us into the ultimate blessing of God’s heavenly kingdom.

Yet Jesus has still more blessings to share. When we mourn, we’re blessed with God’s comfort. Sharing our hurt with God – and God’s beloved community – we receive the blessing of God’s comfort.

When we’re meek – gentle in spirit, humble in heart – Jesus says, we inherit the earth. Earth’s future is ours – as we gentle-down, humbly, with Jesus.

When we hunger and thirst for right relationship with God and neighbor, we are blessed and filled. Blessedly filled with God’s most abundant grace…

When we’re merciful, Jesus tells us, we’re blessed to receive mercy. And the measure we give will be the measure we receive… And yet more we receive.

When we’re pure in heart we’re blessed to see God. God, at work in creation – at work in human hearts. God, made known in the poor and needy, whom Jesus calls ‘least of these my brothers and sisters.’ God, working in Word and Spirit, making us pure… As we trust God, and practice doing all Jesus teaches us and equips us to do with him. And still more blessings, he gives…

When we make peace, Jesus tells us, we’re blessed to be called children of God…

When we’re persecuted for righteousness sake – afflicted in any way because of our relationship with God and neighbor – again, we’re blessed with the kingdom of heaven. At the very time we’re most down-pressed and put-down in the world – we receive the deepest blessings of heaven…

We who receive and faithfully try to live into all these blessings… of course are not likely to have any public monuments erected to our memories. The blessings of Jesus won’t bring fame, fortune, worldly prosperity… Often when we’re following Jesus, it will feel like we’re wearing Halloween costumes. Even our best friends won’t always recognize us as God’s children. (But –)

Jesus has told us plainly, our life as his saints, his followers, will be like his. People won’t recognize who we really are for the same kinds of reasons folks didn’t recognize Jesus for who he really is, most of the time.

Jesus and his message of the kingdom-of-heaven is, truth-be-told, still often regarded as weirder than ET or Star Trek – less entertaining than American Idol – less comfortable than eating Big Macs and watching Brady Bunch reruns…

None of which matters, of course… Since Jesus loves us beyond all measure… And we love Jesus… And his heavenly kingdom of everlasting life and peace and joy is ours… forevermore…

So, again – happy All Saints Sunday – saints of God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.