Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday
November 6, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 John 3:1-3
Sermon Theme: “Saint and Child of God”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, vol. 26, Part 4, Series C, 2016; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Life-Application Study Bible footnotes; original ideas and examples; The Timetables of American History; Merriam-Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I want to begin with my favorite joke about saints, so if you’ve heard it before, laugh anyway. It goes like this:
A pastor dies and is waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him is a guy who’s dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans. St. Peter first speaks to this rather colorful-looking guy: “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
The man replies, “I’m Joe Cohen, taxi driver, of New York City.”
Saint Peter consults his list. He smiles and says to the taxi-driver, “Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The taxi-driver goes into heaven with his robe and staff, and it’s the pastor’s turn. Pastor stands proudly and booms out, “I am Jonathan Snow, Pastor of St. Mark’s for the last forty-three years.”
Saint Peter consults his list. He says to the pastor, “Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Just a minute,” says the pastor. “That man was a taxi-driver and he gets a silken robe and golden staff. How can this be?”
“Up here, we work by results,” says Saint Peter. “While you preached, people slept; while he drove, people prayed.”
While that joke implies that there are levels of sainthood based on good works, we are convinced all true believers, dead or still living, are “saints.” Period.
Even though All Saints’ Day was in actuality on Tuesday, November 1, our church celebrates it today, — that’s why your CPH insert says “All Saints’ Day (Observed).” Celebrating the Festival this late causes it to lose some of its impact, but the All Saints’ Day texts are uplifting and meaningful.
Our sermon text from John’s First Letter, Chapter 3, Verses 1 through 3, offers hope to a world which too often seems without hope.
Each time one of my daughter’s was born, it was a time of hope. I’d look at her, peacefully sleeping in my wife’s arms, and wonder what her future would hold, — what sort of world would she live it. I did the same thing and thought the same thoughts when each of my granddaughters was born. After each birth, the world seemed to get a little worse. And now, it’s a bold thing to bring a child into the world.
It was also daring for my parents to bring me and my twin brother into this world, back in 1934, right in the middle of the Great Depression, which started in 1929 and lasted until about 1939, the year World War II started. No doubt they, too, wondered what type of world their twin sons would face.
Because we do not know what our children and grandchildren will face, it is important for us to be quite certain about what we do know. We know that we and they are children of God, and made in God’s image. In the midst of all uncertainties which can produce paternal anxiety, we can know that our heavenly parent looks over our shoulder into those same innocent, sleeping faces. That the Heavenly Father’s love encompasses ours, in this we trust.
We also know that all true believers in Christ, living or dead, are “saints.” And that includes you and me and our faithful loved ones who have gone before us. We can live assured that they are with their Lord and Savior and the angels in heaven right now. They were not canonized as Saints by the Church, no, they were made saints by the blood of Christ and His glorious resurrection. No matter what lies ahead for us, for our children and for our grandchildren, we know this: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Our sermon text from John’s letter is short but uplifting. It tells us what our true self-worth is all about. Our self-worth is based on the fact that God loves us unconditionally and calls us His children. As true believers we are His children right now, not in some distant future, not just when we meet Him behind the Pearly Gates.
Our text tells us that we live in a state of becoming more and more like God, that someday we will become totally like Him, reflections of His Son Jesus. This process of becoming will not be complete until we see Christ face to face. In the meantime, because of God’s life-giving, no-strings-attached love, we are known by our Heavenly Father as His child, His spiritual offspring, fully adopted by Him because of the salvation work done by Jesus.
There is tremendous excitement and expectation about being a child of God; we know who we are now, and when we see Him face to face, we will be a mirror image of Him. Our text says so, and thus, we know so!
Joe Wicke tells the story of a young boy who, out of curiosity, wandered into a small town evening Advent Vespers service. This child was a community outcast. His mother had never married and he did not even know his father’s name. Because of his background, he had very few friends or even playmates. Mostly, he had heard only ridicule from other children because of his family background. To say that he had a poor self-image would be an understatement.
Arriving late to a filled church, the boy had to wander close to the front to find a seat. He had wanted to have an easy access to an exit by sitting on the aisle, but a rather robust woman “about the size of a tractor tire,” as Joe described her, came later and blocked him tightly in the pew.
This being a small town, the pastor, like everybody else in town, knew everything about everybody; and so he knew the background of this young boy and was aware of the child’s low self-esteem. So, even though his regular worshipers were used to a formal vespers service, right in the middle of his sermon, he pointed his finger right at the child and said, “I know who your Daddy is, and I see a remarkable resemblance between you and your Father.”
As the boy’s eyes got huge with amazement, the pastor said, “Yes, I know who your Daddy is, — you are the much loved child of God. You are God’s child now! A child of the Heavenly Father!”
This experience changed the boy’s life. He started coming to Sunday services as well as on Wednesday nights. He continued to understand what his true self-worth was all about. He was God’s child. Fully! Totally! Completely! He was a member of the Family of God!
To be a part of the family of God means we are entitled to the rights and privileges that belong to the children of God. Becoming a child of God was a great act of God’s love, because we were not His children by nature. Of course He created every human being, but our sin separated us from Him. Immersed in sin, we were God’s creatures, but not God’s children.
Thus, He carried out the greatest act of love ever known in the universe, — He gave up His only begotten Son. God’s Son Jesus became one of us, came to us even as a child, born in a barn. Jesus met all the demands that God’s Law places on us human beings. Then He died on the cross for the sins of each of us wayward children, including you and me. So now we aren’t just CALLED God’s children, we ARE His children! And by grace through faith, we are His saints. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.