Sunday, November 5th, 2023

For All the Saints

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.  Let us pray.  O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears, that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Language is a funny thing, especially English. Take the sentence, I cannot bear to bear the bare bear. In that sentence, the word bear means to tolerate. I cannot bear it means to carry. I cannot bear to bear it means naked or uncovered, and it means a big scary animal with massive teeth. I cannot bear to bear the bare bear. I mean all the spellings are different, but if you were to look it up on dictionary.com the word bear has over 30 meanings. Language can be confusing. Even more confusing is the way the meaning of a word can change over the course of time. Think about the language of the internet. Web used to be the place where spiders lived, surf used to be associated with sand and beaches and waves, net used to be for catching prey. Cookies were snack food, snap was a sound you made with your fingers, and posts were those vertical supports for the fence in your backyard. Language changes over time. That’s pretty obvious. That makes reading old things difficult sometimes. Think about Romeo and Juliet and Juliet ‘s famous line from the balcony,  “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo.” I remember several times reading that and thinking, Juliet just doesn’t know where Romeo is, after all she’s on the balcony alone. The word wherefore says where right in it. That’s got to be what it means, right? But in reality the word wherefore doesn’t mean where, it means why. Romeo, Romeo, why are you Romeo? Why are you a Montague, the son of my enemy? Why did I have to fall in love with you? Knowing what the word means helps you understand what the line is actually trying to communicate. Language changes over time. We deal with a similar word today, a word whose real meaning has been obscured throughout the course of history, and that word is saint. Today is All Saints Day. The feast of All Saints. What does that word saint actually mean? What are we celebrating today? Most of the time when we hear the word saint, we think of two things. Most commonly we think of someone who’s been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and probably has a high school named after them, Saint Luke’s, Saint Pius, St. Francis and the like. These Saints are men and women who have met certain criteria, according to the Roman Catholic Church, they’ve LED an especially godly life, they’ve been credited with doing documented miraculous deeds of some kind. They’re Christians who are put forward as best examples of the most holy and most virtuous followers of God. But the other way that we typically think about the word saint is in reference to anyone, Christian or not, who leads a good life. She’s a saint, we say about the relentlessly patient mother of five, the person who volunteers all their time at the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter. Or, on the other hand we look at the girl with a bit of a wild side and say well she’s no saint. In either case we have associated the sainthood with the behavior. The case of the virtuous mother, the case of a faithful Christian, the word saint has been tied to actions. Those who live right, we call Saints. Those who don’t, we call something else. Just like Juliet’s, wherefore, the word saint means something different in the scriptures. Just like knowing the right definition of wherefore helps us understand what Juliet is actually saying, knowing the definition of the word saint, sheds some light on what we’re actually celebrating today. The word saint in scripture, the Greek word there is Agios and it literally means holy one. To be a saint is to be a holy person, which of course raises the next question, what does it mean to be a holy person, and we often associate holiness with behavior, which is probably why we’re so often associating saints with behavior. We call a person holier than thou based on that person’s behavior, how it makes us feel about our own. We tend to think of holiness as if one way of life is holier than another, which I suppose is technically true, that’s not because of the actions that are involved. No, in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, the word holy is applied to more than just behaviors. It’s applied to furniture, like the temple, the holy candle stands, and the holy tables. And it’s applied to places like Jerusalem, the Holy City or Zion, the Holy Mountain of God. It’s applied to things like oil, food, or incense. That’s because holiness is not ultimately determined by actions, but  by ownership. To be holy is to belong to God, to be set apart by Him for His own, set apart for His purposes, and this holiness was not earned by acting or living in a certain way as if a mountain or a bottle of oil could do anything to make itself holy. No, this holiness is something that God gives as a gift. Something becomes holy when it comes into contact with the God who is holy. The temple was holy because, that’s where God dwelled among his people. Mount Zion was holy because that’s where the temple was, where God was. And holy food, and holy oil, and holy candlesticks were holy because they had come into contact with the God who is holy. In the Old Testament, holiness worked something like King Midas’ touch. Just like everything Midas touches turns to gold, the touch of God makes you holy. Nothing was holy until it was touched by the God who was holy. The holy God touched the holy altar and started the holy fire, then the priests, who had been made holy by the holy sacrifices, would turn around and take the Israelites sacrifices to the altar of God, making the Israelites holy, by placing them on God’s holy altar. Holiness in the Old Testament, it’s like real estate. It’s all about location. Those who were in the presence of God’s holiness, were made holy by it. Those who were outside of God’s presence, were not holy. Those who were in Israel were a royal priesthood, a holy nation, because they were a people belonging to God. Saints. What exactly is a saint? Well, the saint is the holy one, one who has been made holy by being in the presence of the holy God. Nothing to do with ethical living, nothing to do with being extra moral, or extra virtuous, or better than the guy next to you. Nothing to do with our actions at all. It has everything to do with the God who makes us holy, the God who put his holy name on us in baptism, the God who adopted us into his Holy Family, giving us the gift of new creation, one that shares in His Holiness. Holiness comes to the actions of the holy God who gives you His holy body to eat and to drink from this very altar literally filling you with His Holiness so that you can be holy in this life of sin. Holiness comes to you through the proclamation of God’s holy word, spoken from the mouth of a sinner like me, someone whom you have called to proclaim, in the stead and by the command of the holy Lord Jesus Christ, that your sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the holy name of God. God’s holiness is all over this place, and it’s coming to you as a gift to you, to make you holy, to make you a saint of God. It does not depend on our living. If our holiness was up to us, if it was somehow up to our decision making, we would be in pretty rough shape, for our lives and our hearts are far from holy. I mean sometimes we do the right thing, but usually not for the right motive. Often, it’s just to cover our own backside, to preemptively paint ourselves in a more favorable light. We may sometimes say the right things but often it’s just an attempt to make ourselves look better in the eyes of the people around us. Our motivations are never totally pure, never fully selfless, and beyond that we cannot control the thoughts and the desires of our hearts. We may have learned to keep our sins at bay during the daytime, but we have no control over that which fills our dreams, the lust we indulge while we sleep, the greed and the hatred that season our daydreams, the excuses that we bend over backwards to make for ourselves, while demanding absolute perfection from others. No, if our holiness was up to us to accomplish, all hope would be lost because none of us, no human being who ever lived could live such a way, except for one that is, the holy one, Jesus himself. And so today, we celebrate All Saint’s Day, a day set aside to remember those who have gone before us in the faith, to celebrate their sainthood. But their sainthood, their holiness, comes not from the things they did in this life, but from what our Lord Jesus did for them on the cross, and what he continued to do for them through His Word, and through His sacrament, all the days of their life. And our holiness comes from the same place, it comes from Jesus. The world does not see us as saints. The world does not understand us, but we should expect nothing less, at least that’s what John tells us. The reason the world does not know us, is that it did not know him. They considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. The world esteemed Him not, but the world’s estimation of Jesus doesn’t change who Jesus really is, and it does not change what He did 2000 years ago on the cross, does not change what He’s still doing among us today. My estimation of something, doesn’t change the reality of that thing. How many times have you been convinced that someone was telling the truth, only to find out later they were lying. How many times have you been convinced that the rumors about a certain celebrity or coworker simply had to be lies, only to be disappointed when the truth came out. The world these days, the world in the days that John wrote his epistle, the world looks at Jesus sees a failed Messiah, one who couldn’t stop the soldiers from nailing him to the cross, one who couldn’t get himself down when they did. The world looks at Jesus and sees maybe a moral teacher at best, one who might be worth, you know, including with the likes of Buddha, or Confucius, or Gandhi, or Mohammed, but certainly not God. But the world’s opinion of Jesus doesn’t change the reality of who He really is. He is the holy Messiah of the holy God, the one sent to be the sacrifice to cover the sin of the world so that we might be made holy through Him. It’s not about morality. It’s about being forgiven, so that we can stand in the presence of the holy God. And that’s who you are in Him. You are forgiven, you are holy, you are a saint. The reason the world does not know that, is that it did not know Him. The world does not know God’s holiness. The world laughs at bread and wine. The world laughs at water and Word, calls them superstitions, calls us gullible. But take heart dear Saints. Behold the kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God, that we should take part in His Holiness. That’s who we are. He has made us holy. Take heart dear Saints, for you have been touched by God, His holy name placed on your forehead with a splash of water. Take heart dear Saints, for though for a while you struggle through this life, one day the world shall see you for who you truly are, one day you will see yourself for who you truly are. One day you will see that white robe of salvation, washed in the blood of the Lamb. One day you will be holding palm branches and standing before the throne of God, serving him day and night in His temple, while the one who sits on the throne shelters you with His holy presence. You will hunger no more, neither will you thirst, neither will the sun or any scorching heat harm you. The lamb who sits on the throne is your Shepherd and He will guide you to streams of living water. He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, for you are His people. You are his saints. You are His holy ones. You belong to Him. In Jesus name, Amen.