Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 -Christ the King Sermon on Matthew 25:31-46

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

A couple of weeks ago, my good friend, Pastor John Weisenburger, put out a plea on Facebook. There was a family, which included 5 children, in our community that was facing eviction if they didn’t come up with $2,000 within about 3 days or so. Pastor John called all the agency. All the places meant to help in a situation like this, and there was little they could do. So he turned to Facebook. And within those 3 days, he had people driving into his driveway and handing him a $100 bill. People calling up and saying what they could give. In fact, Aurora gave $200 from our local aid fund. In the end, he came up with the $2,000 for this family. The eviction notice was lifted, those kids got to stay in their own beds that night, and the family is able to pay their rent now going forward.

Jesus said to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” Or in this situation, I was about to be evicted and you covered my bill. So, John Weisenburger is a sheep! He went out of his way, gave up a whole weekend day gathering up enough money so this family wouldn’t be evicted out into the cold winter.

But then, a couple days later, John was out late at night walking his dog, when she pulled him over to this car on the street. John couldn’t figure out what she was so interested in with this car…until he looked inside and saw some people sleeping in it. It just so happens that their car was right out side one of our shelters in town, which meant the shelters were full. And what did John do? Nothing. Unsure of what to do and with a heavy heart, he went home to his warm house.

And Jesus said to the goats, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Or in this situation, I was homeless, and you gave me no place to rest my head.

So, John is a goat. For he saw people in need, had plenty of beds in his home to host them, but didn’t.

Now, I have permission from John to share these stories. In fact, he’s sharing them in his sermon today. And it is not meant to praise John or to judge him. But rather it is to reflect the complexity of this parable. Because according to the parable, at one moment John was inheriting the kingdom of God for the good work he did. And then the next, he was being sent away into the eternal fire prepared for the devil for the work he didn’t do.

And we all start to squirm. Because we all can think of a time when we were brave and generous and giving to someone in need, and we all can think of a time when we weren’t. Who hasn’t ignored someone in need before. Whether it be someone sleeping in their car. Or a stranger asking for financial help, and we lie to them say that we have nothing to give.

In the end, we are all sheep and goats, aren’t we? And so what are we supposed to do with this parable? Are we supposed to use it as spiritual ruler that we can hold up to ourselves and others to see if we have measured up enough to get into heaven? Should we use it as a spiritual checklist, where all you need is a hungry person, a thirsty person, a stranger, a naked person, and someone who is sick and in prison. And you make sure that you feed the hungry one, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, raid your closet for an old sweater or something to give to the naked one, and a give up an hour or two of your time to go visit the one who is sick and in prison. And then you’re good to go. Is that how it works? To make sure you’ve got your Christian checklist checked off?

Anyone who knows me or who has listen to any sermon I have preached, knows that I am big fan of this thing called grace (meaning the unconditional love of God that is free and forever and for all). It is foundational to our Lutheran-ness that we are not saved or loved because of the good we do, but rather we are saved and loved only by the gracious and free gift of God. But then Matthew comes along and seemingly destroys all of that saying, “You better be sheep or you will face eternal punishment.”

What a pain Matthew is. Because if that is true, if it is fully dependent on you to be a good enough sheep to get into Heaven, then who needs Jesus? If we’re the ones who need to pass some spiritual test, then Jesus is just the teacher who grades it and not the one who saves us from the test itself.

And so I just simply cannot accept that this parable is about what Christians must do to be saved. But then it dawns on me. What if we have spent all this time, looking in the wrong direction with this parable. But maybe the problem is we’ve got our eyes focused in the wrong place. You see, most of us hear this parable and we try to find where we fit into the story – are we a sheep or a goat. When maybe what we are asked is not to notice where we fit into the story but to notice where Jesus fits into the story. To look for where Jesus is.

Most of us tend to think that Jesus shows up in the one who does the right thing – the one who feeds the hungry, the one who clothes the naked. Right? We ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then we try to do that because we are trying to be like Jesus. We think that is where Jesus shows up – in the helpers. But did you notice what Jesus said to the sheep? Jesus doesn’t say, “When you fed someone who was hungry, you did what I would do.” No, Jesus says, “When you fed someone who was hungry, you fed me. When you clothed the naked, you clothed me. When you visited those in prison, you visited me.” Jesus doesn’t come as the one who helps; Jesus comes as the one who is in need of help.

And that is the great surprise of this parable. That Jesus shows up not in the helper but in the one needing help. Jesus is the hungry one. Jesus is the thirsty one. If you want to find Jesus, that’s where he is. But both the sheep and the goats got that one wrong on the test. Did you notice that both groups – the sheep and the goats – were surprised? Not by which group they ended up in. But both the sheep and the goats were surprised by the mistake that they both made – both groups failed to recognize the face of Jesus in those who are most in need. The sheep say, “When did we feed you or give you something to drink?” And Jesus says, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” And the goats says, “When didn’t we feed you or give you something to drink?” And Jesus says, ‘When you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Friends, when we help someone in need, we don’t do it because we think it is what Jesus would do. Or that in helping this person, we are somehow bringing Jesus to them. We help someone in need because when we do, we help Jesus. When we go to feed hungry people at Meals of Hope next week, Jesus isn’t the one serving the food. He is the one standing in line waiting for it. We don’t feed the hungry so we can bring Jesus to them, but rather because they bring Jesus to us. We do it because Jesus promises to be with those who are hungry. And so we go to help at Meals of Hope, because that’s where Jesus already is.

And so on this Christ the King Sunday we become witnesses to the promises that Christ as king is like no other king we’ve ever known. The parable begins saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” But then the parable twists and Jesus says that he is the one who is hungry. He is the one who is thirsty. He is the one who is naked or imprisoned. Some king, huh? You see, Jesus comes as the hidden king. As a king that we don’t recognize. Hidden not among those with power and authority, but among the weak and the vulnerable.

So if we claim Jesus as our king, and if kings are who we give our allegiance and our loyalty to, then we are called to give our allegiance and our loyalty to those who are most vulnerable in our community. To find Christ the king hidden there, and not in some palace. You see, Jesus the king will be found hidden among the family about to be evicted from their home. Or the couple huddled together in their car at night. That’s where Jesus the king will be found.

As many of you know, especially this week, our country is deep into this immigration debate, about how to handle 11 million undocumented immigrants. And I know some of us are pleased with the actions the President has taken and some of us can’t even stomach it. But regardless of what side we are on or what we think about the President’s decision, I think both sides are asking the wrong question. I don’t think the first question should be what is best for our country. The question shouldn’t be what’s practical and easiest. The question shouldn’t be whether they are taking our jobs and getting a free ride on American tax dollars. The first question we should be asking is, “Do we see the face of Jesus in them? Do we see Christ the hidden king among our immigrant population?” To ask the questions, what would we do if it was Jesus climbing over our boarder fence? Or if it was Jesus living in hiding, waiting for the day when the police will show up to deport him?

Does that make the decisions of what to do any easier? No. But if we started with that question – do we see the face of Jesus among them? – maybe it would change the whole tone of the debate. Because at least according to this parable, that is exactly where Jesus will be found. When you welcomed the stranger, you welcomed me, Jesus says. Jesus is the undocumented immigrant. The homeless man. The desperate one looking for a job. The addict in need of rehab. The question is do we see them as Jesus. This isn’t about you getting into heaven. This is about God’s loyalty and God’s primary concern being with those in need.

I once heard this short story: Someone once asked a mother which of her children she loved the most. The mother, of course, said, “All of them. I love them all the same.” But the person pressed her and said, “No really, which one do you love the most?” To which the mother said, “Okay, which one do I love the most? Whichever one is hurting more. I love that one just a little bit more.”

In the end, I don’t think this parable is about finding yourself and knowing whether you are a sheep or a goat. You’re both. There. Now you know. And guess what -both of them make the same mistake – they don’t recognize Jesus. And that is what the whole thing is about – finding Jesus. Out there. In the world. In flesh and blood. In the least of these. And those most in need.

And so that is my challenge to all of us this week. To go out in search of Christ the Hidden King. The one who will be found among whoever is hurting the most. Look for Jesus in the face of everyone you encounter this week. Let’s all start from that place. And see what happens.

May we have eyes to see. Amen.

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Sunday, November 16th, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 25 (14-30)

Matthew 25:14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Does anyone know what psychologists will tell you is one of the, if not the, most powerful motivators?

Fear.

Now, this can be a good thing. It can be good that fear is such a good motivator, because sometimes, when we are afraid, we need to do incredible things. Like run fast away from a potential threat. Or jump out the window of a burning building.

But problems arise when someone takes advantage of our fear, by causing or creating fear, so that it benefits them.

Too often, we use fear to get things from people. Marketers, commercials, news media, and politicians do this all the time. In fact, most commercials I see are built around making you, the consumer, afraid. You don’t want to get into a car accident with all of this snow, so you better buy our car which is # 1 in safety. You don’t want the girls at school to think you smell and are a nerd, so you better buy this body spray so that they will flock to you. Or you don’t want to have an ugly body at the beach this summer, so you better start dieting now with our new weight loss program. Or all of the political ads which were about who was going to destroy the country more. Or take Ebola. Who isn’t a little bit afraid of Ebola right now? But did you know that you are more likely to be killed by a shark, a bee sting, or lightning, than you are by Ebola, but no one seems freaked out by those things. Do you see how our world is saturated by one phrase: be afraid. Be very afraid.

Well, that parable we just heard…it kind of frightens me. But not in a good way. Jesus tells a parable about a master who was leaving town for awhile, so he gave a sum of money to each of his three slaves for them to look after. The first two went off and doubled the master’s money. But the third one went and hid his money in a field. And when the master returned, he praised the first two slaves for doubling his money. He even promoted them, saying, “I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” But did you hear what the master said to the third guy at the very end? He took the money the slave buried in the field and gave it to the first slave with the most money, saying, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That is utterly terrifying. And when I hear it, all I want to do is figure out what I need to do to not be like that guy.

Now, over the years this parable has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some preachers will tell you that the message is easy enough- take what God has given you and grow it for the kingdom of God. And while you’re at it, be sure to share to sure to share the profits with God by giving to the church. This is stewardship season in most churches, and therefore a lot of churches are talking about money. And some pastor may be very excited about this parable today, because it offers this great opportunity to frighten people into giving money to the church. They might say that this parable of the talents is about God who has given you so much, now you need to give even more back to God. And then you, like the first two slaves, can enter into the joy of their master, ie. heaven. And if you don’t then you, like that third slave in the story who really had nothing to give back to God, will be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And generous.

Which is convenient, I guess. I could use this as a fundraising opportunity and say that it’s time to give back some of the profits of all that God has given you. I’m certain we could have our new children’s playground fully funded in no time, if I simply spent the next 10 minutes convincing you that your eternal salvation was entirely dependent on it. And many of our visitors will go home and email their pastors and say what an awful sermon, and greedy sermon they heard over in Owatonna, MN.

Others will go with a softer approach to this parable, but still no less scary… Some will say that this parable is a moral tale about not being lazy. The first two slaves took the money that the master had given them and they put themselves to work, doubling the money they had. But that third slaves did nothing with it and had nothing to show for it. And God doesn’t want lazy people in the kingdom of God. This is capitalism at its best.

Other preachers have done a little word play with this parable. Now, when the gospel of Matthew uses the word “talent”, he means a sum of money. In fact, a large sum of money. 15 years worth of wages, or $756,000 in our day. But preachers have turned this parable into being about talents, as in the gifts that God has given you – like the talent of singing or the talent of speaking or the talent of financial management. And then they would say, “All of us have a talent. We are all good at something. Don’t bury your talent in the ground. But let it out where others can see!”

There have been many ways people have interpreted this parable over the years, and almost always, the master in the stories was God or Jesus and the third lowly slave was the one no one wanted to be. And they almost always motivate the listener with one thing: fear. Because whether he wasn’t generous enough, or was too lazy, or didn’t honor the gifts God had given him, he always ended up in the same place – outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

But here is what I keep wondering is: whoever said that the master in the story was God or Jesus? I am not trying to make a fancy move or do some theological gymnastics – but seriously why does the master have to represent Jesus or God? Jesus certainly doesn’t say it. Jesus simply tells the story and leaves the interpretation up to us. And if the master is God, what kind of God would that be? A God who does the opposite of Robin Hood by taking from the poor (the third slaves with the least amount of money) and giving to the rich (the first slave the one with the most)? That’s the God of Wall Street, not the God of Jesus. The master in this story has at least $6.2 million in his possession based on the talents he gives. This is a rich CEO kind of master to say the least. Is that what God is like? Earlier in this gospel, Jesus told a rich young ruler to go and sell everything he has and give it to the poor, because it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to get into heaven. In fact, just next week, we will hear Jesus say to his disciples that when you give a drink to someone who is thirsty or something to eat to someone who is hungry, you give it to him. Throughout the gospel, Jesus always seems to be associating with the poor and those who have nothing. And do you remember that the master in the parable is leaving town for awhile, but Jesus says to his disciples at the end of the gospel, “I am with you always. Until the end of the age.” Jesus isn’t going anywhere.

So maybe God and Jesus aren’t the master in the story. But if not the master than who? What if God and Jesus are the third slave? The one who tells the truth about this master and his trickle up ponzi scheme. The one who goes and hides the money in the field, where it can’t hurt one anymore. Because money does that doesn’t it? When we value money more than people. It divides family. It severs relationships. Someone dies and everyone wonders how much they will get and when. Or just ask most lottery winners who will tell you that when they won big, it ruined their life. What if God and Jesus are the third slave? Because in just a couple of chapters, Jesus too will be thrown out to the dark place called Golgotha and onto a cross where there is weeping and great suffering.

Think of what kind of God that would be. A God willing to suffer and die to display such undying love for the people of God.

Maybe Jesus is telling this story to the disciples and to us, to paint a picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus tells us it’s risky. It means not keeping with the status quo. It means standing against destructive system like that third slave did by burying the money. It means not playing into the game anymore of who can be the best and at the top of the social pyramid. And to do that, to live like that takes courage. We will need to practice it.

And we have two beautiful opportunities to do just that. Two beautiful opportunities to practice and proclaim that we play a different kind of game.

Opportunity #1: Today we get to stand witness and participate in little Kira’s baptism. A sacrament that publicly proclaims Kira as a beloved and claimed child of God. A promise that God gave to her long ago before any of us knew her, but that gets spoken out loud and affirmed by all of us here. And here is the thing, Kira didn’t earn this. As far as I know, Kira has given no money to the church. She has done nothing to deserve the title of “child of God.” The talents that she does or does not have are not yet obvious to her or us. And yet today we declare that God has claimed her as God’s own child, and nothing can ever change that. The rules of this world will try and try and try to convince Kira that she is not enough until…she acts right, looks right, smells right. Until she is generous enough, is smart enough, independent enough. And we today get to do this incredibly radical thing, which is to lift her up and proclaim that even when she has nothing to give, that’s enough for God.

Opportunity #2: we get to enter into this joy of our master, the joy of the Communion table. Where all are given the same amount to eat and drink, the same blessing. Those who give more money to the church don’t get more bread. Those who give less aren’t served a cheaper wine. It doesn’t matter if you got student of the month or if you’ve been in the principal’s office every day this week. Whatever status you have out there, it is not recognized at this table, except for the status we all share: beloved child of God.

It’s risky…to live out the promises of these two sacraments out in the real world. It’s not easy. People will want to throw you into outer darkness. But maybe this isn’t a parable that is supposed to stir fear in us. After all, the most common phrase in scripture is Do not be afraid. But rather what if it is to give us courage. Trusting that as disciples of Jesus, wherever we go, whatever we are led to, whatever challenges are ahead… , Jesus (that third slave) has gone ahead of us. Therefore…

Be brave. Be very, very brave. For Christ is with you. Always. Until the end of the age. Amen.

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 – All Saints’ Day Sermon on Matthew 5:1-12, 1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

1 John 3:1-3
1 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. 2 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. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

There is St. Francis who gave up a life of wealth and abundance to live in poverty on the streets and preach to the poor. Legend has it he even preached to a flock of birds. They gathered around him and not one flew away. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. Or there is St. Christopher who is said to have carried an unknown child on his back across a river. Upon reaching the other side, the child revealed himself to be Christ. St. Christopher is known as the patron saint of travellers. And, oddly, enough the patron Saint for the toothache. Or Saint of Joan of Arc, “who led men twice her size into battle. She preferred armor to petticoats and puzzled everyone by dressing like a man, but the voices of her critics were nothing compared to the voice of God in her head.” She is known as the patron saint of martyrs and military personnel.[1] Or Mother Teresa. While not yet an official saint, she is widely believed to be on her way with her remarkable work with the poor and her willingness to draw close to those other’s viewed as untouchable.

Saint. It is a tricky word. It evokes images of halos and bleach white robes of the super-Christian and super-righteous who did miraculous and amazing things in their life. They are the ones we simultaneous aspire to be but also loathe because we know we never could be.

The interesting thing, though, is that as you dig into the stories of these saints, you’ll quickly find out that they were not all that…saintly. “Legend has it that St. Francis rolled naked in the snow to defend himself against his lusty thoughts and St. Christopher was on his way to work for the devil when a mysterious hermit recruited him for God instead.” Joan of Arc was put on trial for heresy and cross-dressing (of all things). And Mother Teresa was plagued with spiritual doubt, feeling nothing but emptiness and darkness when it came to her faith.

And that is what we often forget about this word saint. That it isn’t a word meant for those who have done amazing things in their life in the name of God. But rather it is a word that is meant for the people of God. All of them. All of us. Whenever the word saint is used in the New Testament, it never refers to the super-religious or spiritual, but rather it refers to the people of God whom God has declared blessed.

A brief look at Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 reveals this to us. Jesus declares: 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. 7 “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.

The meek and mourning. The poor and hungry. The persecuted and the reviled. These are not the ones we are used to claiming as blessed or saintly or belonging to God. But they are and they do.

God makes people into saints. People don’t make themselves into saints. How does God make people into saints? By claiming them as God’s own. By declaring that they belong to God and only God. And the only people that God ever uses to become saints are sinners.

Welcome to All Saints Sunday. It is this audacious day when we read and speak the names of all who have died. Not some. But all. Never knowing their full story. But today we claim them as saints of the church.

To be a saint is to be claimed by God. Which is a promise that God gives over and over and over again throughout scripture. In Genesis, God makes you in God’s image. In Deuteronomy, God promises – I will be your God and you will be my people. I am yours and you are mine. In Isaiah, God is referred to as the mother who comforts you, or according to Jesus, God is a mother hen watching over her brood. And in Romans, Paul says that nothing. Nothing can separate you from the love of God.

“What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things.” (Nadia Bolz Weber) And that is God’s great promise to the people of God. That they will be a blessing to the world. To be put aside for God’s use. In Genesis, the promise that God makes to Abraham and Sarah is that their descendants will be a blessing to the world. That’s God’s promise. That you will be a blessing to this world. Not that you should be, could be, would’ve been if you had been a better person. No….it is that you will be a blessing. And that’s a promise.

And today we lift up the flawed people that God has claimed as God’s own and used to be a blessing to this world. We speak their name and we light candles in their memory. We have St. Gladys who would faithfully bake communion bread for church, but who also had this remarkable way of welcoming in people who were different than her. Or St. Ruth, who faithfully hosted the church choir in her home during the winter months, because her house was heated and the church was not. Or St. Marvin who was notorious for always letting others go ahead of him at the creamery.

But of course these are not the only three who touched our lives. There were other saints whose lives touched different members of our community in different ways – some of which are known by all and some of which are known only to a few…And they belong in the list of saints as well. Saint Lester. Saint Marvin. Saint Adam. Saint Justin. Saint Colton. Saint Annette and Saint Jolene. Saint Ellsworth. And more recently, Saint David.

These people have been claimed by God, and through ordinary acts of love, they have helped bring the Kingdom of Heaven just a little bit closer. “We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what St. Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.” (Nadia Bolz Weber.)

We have among us the great cloud of witnesses that are just as much a part of the body of Christ as we are.

Many of you have probably noticed that it is becoming more and more rare for churches to have cemeteries beside them. Over the years, cemeteries were move moved away from the church. Part of it was because of lack of space and practicality. But it is also probably because of our fear of death. We don’t want to see it or be reminded of it every time we go to church. It’s kind of a downer. But now churches are starting to rethink that. Church are starting have cemeteries next to them again or columbariums where ashes of loved ones can be laid to rest. People have started to realize that we have missed the purpose of having our dead so close to us. It is because when we gather each week as the body of Christ, we gather with the whole body of Christ. Those who are present and here to day in these pews, and with those who have gone before us. In her memoir Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris writes about her time at St. John’s Monastery here in MN. And in the book, there is a moment where Kathleen has been at Saint John’s for a while, and the head monk comes to her one day and says, “I think it’s time you met the rest of the community.” The rest of the community? And he took her out to the cemetery and introduced her, one by one to the saints who had gone on to glory. That sense of worship being gathered in the presence of the communion of saints.” (Tom Long https://internal.calvinseminary.edu/continuingEd/resources/funerals/tomLong/transcript.php)

When churches have cemeteries right next door or columbariums nearby, it gives this great theological reminder that when we gather for worship, we gather in the presence of the communion of saints. All the saints from past and present are here. Even in our communion liturgy we say, “And now with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, let us them in singing their unending hymn…Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.”

Today is about the gathering of all the saints. And if to be a saint is to be claimed by God, then today is just as much about you as it is about those who have died in years past. You too are part of all the saints. To be a saint is to be claimed by God and you have been claimed. It is the promise heard and lifted up in baptism – that you have always and will always belong to God.

God has claimed you as God’s own. God has promised that you will be a blessing to the world too. In and through your small acts of love, you too help bring the kingdom of heaven near. Even today.

The reading from 1 John reminds us: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we areBeloved, 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. Thanks be to God. Amen

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, “God’s Handkerchief.