Sermon for All Saints’ Day, November 1, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 John 3:1-3
Sermon Theme: “Everything You Wanted to Know about Saints”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 25, Part 4, Series B; Nelson’s Three-in-One; What Luther Says, CPH; Lutheran Cyclopedia, CPH; Believer’s Commentary; original ideas; SermonCentral.com; Online Christian Jokes about Saints)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last night was All Saints’ Evening, or All Hallow Eve,’ transliterated into “Halloween,” and transmigrated into trick or treating frivolity.
A priest told the little kids they could come trick or treating at the rectory this year, but they must dress up as one of the Saints.
So the kids arrived. One little boy was dressed up like St. Anthony, another was disguised as St. Joseph. A little girl arrived as St. Clare of Assisi. The priest was pleased, and then a little boy shows up in a dog costume.
So the priest asks him, “Where’s your Saint costume?”
The little boy replies, “I’m Saint Bernard!”
Today, All Saints’ Day, is the day yesterday was the Eve of.
In these post-Christian times we live in, if you mention the word, “Saints,” people think you’re talking about the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League, who in their early history were almost a laughing stock, but have since won five divisional championships, two conference championships, and one Super Bowl. Their behavior hasn’t always been “saintly.”
Other people, when you mention “saints,” are convinced it’s just a Roman Catholic thing. Not relevant to them.
Many Lutherans know that the ”Communion of Saints,” which they confess in the Apostles’ Creed, has something to do with what they believe, but they’re mostly confused about what that is! Before we go any further, let’s try to clear up the confusion.
The Roman Catholic Church taught at the time of the Reformation, and still believe, that “saints” are the faithful departed who have been recognized by the Church as deserving this title of “Saint.” Catholics do this by canonization.
After the Reformation, Martin Luther adopted this list of canonized Saints, but there were no new canonized saints added by Lutherans after the Reformation, thus there is no Rite of Canonization in the Lutheran Church. To confuse things a little more, the Catholic Church added another festival day, “All Soul’s Day,” which is observed on November 2.
All Souls’ Day is observed by Catholics in honor of those souls still trapped in purgatory, in the hope that they might eventually attain the beatific vision. Obviously, the Lutheran Reformers rejected this belief and the festival observing it.
The Lutheran understanding of sainthood is that it is conferred upon all those who are “pure” because they are forgiven by grace through faith alone. In other words, saints are all true believers in Christ, living or dead, or yet to be born. That would include you and me, and hopefully my deceased parents and your deceased parents. Martin Luther said they are not considered saints because they are without sin, nor have become saintly through works. On the contrary, they themselves are condemned sinners, yet have become holy through the righteousness and holiness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They are both saints and sinners at the same time.
This concept of the true believer as saint is totally Biblical. The Apostle Paul again and again referred to members of congregations he supervised in general and specifically as “saints,” so that it’s obvious to Paul, “true believers and followers of Christ” is a term synonymous with “saints.”
Scripture says that these saints, that’s you and me, are to keep God’s Word, Jude 3; they are to grow spiritually, Ephesians 4:12; avoid evil, Ephesians 5:3; they are to pray for others, Ephesians 6:18; and to minister to others, Hebrews 6:10. I said that’s you and me. But is it really? You have to ask yourself the question.
According to our sermon text from John’s First Letter, saints are set apart from others, in that we should be called children of God. An unbeliever is a “creature” of God, but he is not a “child” of God.
Our text says, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” The essence of sainthood, our text makes clear, is love. Not how much WE love, but that GOD loves saints into being His children. Good parents love their children into decent, law-abiding, productive citizens. And so it is no surprise that God’s love should have this impact on us, His children.
In the case of God’s love, His love can sanctify you and turn you into a saint. So, if you are not a saint, you have closed yourself off from God’s love, for whatever reason. If you are not a saint, you have rejected God’s GRACE which is yours through faith. Churches are founded to try to keep this from happening. A church, like this one, gives you a place to experience the actual presence of Christ, something that happens when you sing the liturgy, participate in the prayers, listen to the sermon, stand or kneel in honor of God, sing the hymns chosen for that day, partake of His Body and Blood.
But what kind of saint are you if you don’t open your hymn book, or you talk during the prayers, or daydream during the sermon, or in any way turn your back on God by showing disrespect for Him? Your actions can stop God’s flow of love to you. Your attitude can reject the amazing grace He is offering you.
During the time of the Cold War with Russia and other communist regimes, the Soviet Union was made up of atheists, while the United States was a Christian nation. So, on Flag Day, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. That marked our identity as People of God.
In a similar way, John wants our identity sealed as Children of God. Our text says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” And that’s why we are saints.
Now that we understand the Biblical meaning of the word “saints,” let’s examine what we mean when we confess, “I believe in the COMMUNION of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed.
First of all, we don’t mean we ask the saints to intercede for us, because we have only one mediator, Jesus Christ. Lutherans don’t pray to saints. All saints, here on earth and in heaven, pray for the church in general, but they are never mediators of redemption. However, we do honor them.
The “Communion of Saints” means that we are joined in unity with all true believers of all times – those that have gone before us, present ones, and future believers. Our Lutheran Confessions approve honoring the saints, and this would be part of the communion thereof. We should honor the saints, whether the canonized ones like St. Paul, or our loved ones who have gone before us, by thanking God for giving us such examples of His mercy, by using the saints as examples for strengthening our own faith, and by imitating their faith and their other virtues.
We know how to celebrate Christmas, we know how to celebrate Easter, but what about All Saints’ Day? Today should be a time of reflecting, remembering, and offering up thanksgiving. Let us express gratitude for the canonized saints like St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter, St. Stephen, etc., appreciating how they paved the way for us by giving up their lives for the Christian movement
Today, let us remember and thank God for our dearly departed Christian parents, grandparents, and other loved ones, whether husband or wife or brother, whose faith inspired us and strengthened us to be workers in the Body of Christ. Let us thank God for the joy these memories bring to our hearts. And let us celebrate by expressing our love and appreciation for the living saints who surround us in this caring and loving House of God, 115 years ago named St. Paul Lutheran Church. Thanks be to God for all saints, living or dead. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.