All Saints Sermon – November 5, 2017 – Rev. Joe Moore
New Philadelphia Moravian Church
Today we are celebrating All Saints Day. Admittedly, it’s not one of the big church festivals. It is certainly below Christmas and Easter, and even Pentecost and Epiphany. It’s not one of the ones that everyone wants to be in church to commemorate. While we all know plenty of Christmas and Easter Christians, who only attend on those days, I doubt that there are any All Saints Day Christians. It’s just not that big of a deal. Actually today isn’t even All Saints Day. It was this past Wednesday and being on November 1, it gets further lost in the excitement about Halloween. It’s kind of funny that we make such a big deal about Halloween and almost totally ignore All Saints Day. It’s like making a big deal about Christmas Eve and completely ignoring Christmas Day
Regardless, All Saint’s Day is one of those church festivals that is overlooked, especially in Protestant churches. I guess it’s because the idea of “saints” is so closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church. It can’t have been a coincidence that Martin Luther chose October 31, the day before All Saints Day, to post his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg Germany. One of the things that Luther was protesting was the sale of indulgences, which was the practice of purchasing forgiveness of sins. All Saints Church also offered indulgences for those who would come and “venerate” the relics of the saints, or in other words, show honor to the relics of the saints. Saints were symbolic of the things the Luther was protesting. Since the very beginning, saints and Protestantism don’t really go together.
And the Moravian Church doesn’t really “do” saints either. It’s likely because Jan Hus preceded Martin Luther in the condemning of indulgences by almost 100 years that we don’t have saints in the Moravian Church. But if we did, we could probably all easily name at least three of them. Jan Hus would be the first, followed by Jan Amos Comenius and Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.
But even though they are the “Big Three” of Moravian history, we don’t consider them to be saints. On July 6, we remember the martyrdom of Hus but we don’t think of him as St. Jan Hus. So why are we celebrating All Saints Day? Why do we have an All Saints liturgy in our hymnal? And it’s not something new in the blue hymnal. It’s there in the red hymnal and, going even further back, it’s in the old black hymnal as well. And it is almost the same in all three hymnals.
All Saints Day is obviously significant in the Moravian Church, even though we don’t have official saints and we rarely make a big deal about it. It seems like we get kind of hung up on the second word “saints” and forget about the first word “all”. But we shouldn’t. Because it isn’t just “Officially Recognized Saints Day” or “Some Saints Day” it’s “ALL Saints Day” and the difference is important. All Saints Day isn’t only the celebration of people like St. Francis or St. Augustine or St. Joan of Arc. It isn’t simply celebrating those people who have been canonized or are seen as exceptionally holy or close to God, like Hus or Comenius or Zinzendorf. It isn’t reserved for those who have been martyred or killed for their faith. All Saints Day is about celebrating ALL the saints. Including the not so saintly Saints, including our personal saints, including the broken saints.
All Saints Day is when we have to pay attention to the 2 churches. No, not the Catholic and Protestant churches. But the church above and the church below, the church on earth and the church in heaven. Both are filled with the saints. The scripture that we read in Revelation is about the church above. It is the Church Triumphant, the “great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” It is the church that is filled with saints- Peter and Paul, Francis and Augustine and Joan of Arc, Hus and Comenius and Zinzendorf. It is the church of those who have suffered for their faith, who have been killed for their faith. The church of those who are holy and special and “saintly.” This is the Kingdom of Heaven.
This passage from Revelation paints a beautiful picture of what heaven is like. And notice that I say it is what heaven is “like” as opposed to what heaven “is”. One of the things that the Bible strives to do is to put ideas and concepts that are beyond our human understanding into language and images that we can understand. So while the description of the Kingdom of Heaven is true, it is not necessarily exact or precise or literal. What this depiction of the Kingdom of Heaven describes is a state of being in the continual presence and under the constant care of God, the one who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb. The Kingdom of Heaven is the place the saints end up, after they have come out of the great ordeal.
That phrase “the great ordeal” makes it sound like the Kingdom of Heaven is only for those “true saints”; the ones of whom the world was not worthy. They deserve to be in the continual presence of God after having spent their earthly lives wandering in deserts and mountains, in caves and the holes in the ground. They are worthy of the constant care of the Lamb after having been stoned to death, sawn in two, slain with the sword, burned at the stake, killed by an assassin’s bullet. They get to be forever in the shelter of God after having spent their lives destitute, persecuted, and tormented. They have come out of great tribulation and been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They gave their lives for their faith and now they are receiving their reward. They have truly earned the title of “Saint”- whether official or unofficial. Today we celebrate them, we celebrate the “Saintly Saints”.
Dwelling with the “Saintly Saints” in the kingdom of Heaven, the other members of the Church Triumphant, are what I like to call our personal saints. These are those who we knew and loved and lost. Our personal saints are those who guided our lives and informed our faith. They are the ones who helped bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, at least for us. They showed us what it was like to love God with our heart and soul and strength and mind. They are the ones who showed us how to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. They are likely the ones who showed us how to love ourselves, because they loved us when we couldn’t love ourselves.
We all have our “personal Saints.” I’m sure that we are thinking of them right now, remembering their names and the impact they had on our lives. For that they are Saints. They may not have been as holy as the “saintly Saints”, they may not have given their lives for their faith. They may have been flawed and sinful and human and broken. But they too have earned their sainthood. They are worthy of being in the Church Triumphant, they are part of the kingdom of heaven. They deserve to be in the constant presence of God, receiving the continual care of the Lamb, in whose blood they have been washed. Along with the “Saintly Saints” our personal Saints are now in the place where they will neither hunger nor thirst anymore, where the sun and it’s scorching heat will not strike them. On this day we celebrate our Personal Saints.
And on this All Saints Day, we celebrate the broken saints, too. This is where we move from heaven to earth, from the Church Triumphant to the Church Militant. Honestly, I don’t really like that term “the Church Militant” because hearing it conjures to mind images of the church as being engaged in war, of Christianity being a battle or a fight that can only be won be overcoming, overpowering it’s opponents. And that is certainly not what Jesus did and it is certainly not what Jesus taught, as we heard in the Matthew passage. But we will take a closer look at that in a few minutes. In the context of the church, the Church Militant is used to signify the church on earth, the church that is still struggling with sin, with darkness, with evil. Not necessarily battling but definitely struggling. This is the church of the Broken Saints, this is our church. This is us.
We have trouble thinking of ourselves as “saints”. We almost exclusively think of saints as being holy and perfect and special. And we know that we aren’t holy, we are far from perfect, and we don’t see ourselves as special. We know that we are broken. While it may not be easy to see ourselves as saints, it is too easy to see how we are broken.
We see our brokenness every time we hurt someone else with our words or actions. We see our brokenness every time we hurt ourselves with our thoughts or words or actions. We see our brokenness every time we hurt God with our thoughts or words or actions, every time we sin and fall short of God’s glory. We do these things, we see how broken we are, and we just know that we can’t be considered “saints”.
Yet we are. We are saints, even when we are feeling our most sinful, when we are feeling downright unholy, when we are at our most broken. Because saints aren’t born. Saints are made. Peter and Paul, Francis and Augustine and Joan of Arc, Hus and Comenius and Zinzendorf, none of them were born holy, or perfect, or saintly. They all had their sins and their flaws. They were all broken. But we know them and see them as saints. Because they didn’t let their brokenness stop them. They didn’t let their brokenness prevent their blessedness.
They persevered in their faith despite being persecuted and reviled. They did what God called them to do and lived as peacemakers in a world that glorifies war. They did what God called them to do and showed mercy in a world that thirsts for vengeance. They were who God created them to be and hungered and thirsted for righteousness among people who celebrated sinfulness. They were who God created them to be and were meek in a world that values assertiveness. And by doing what God called them to do and being who God created them to be, they were blessed. And they became saints, they were made saints. Despite their brokenness. Or really, because of their brokenness.
You see, saints are saints, not because they are perfect, but because they know that they are not. They recognize that they are broken. They know that they need God. And they rely on God to enable them to do what God is calling them to do, they rely on God to help them become who God has created them to be.
When we recognize our brokenness, when we know how much help we need, and we rely on God to make us whole, to help us get through our lives, we have taken our first steps into sainthood. We know that we can’t do it alone, yet we also know that we must do it- we must live in this world that is so opposite of the world that we want it to be, that God created it to be.
The world that Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount is not the world as it is, it is the world that God as God wants it to be, as God intends it to be, as God created it to be. And it is the opposite of the world as it is. So we rely on God to help us live in it as the people God created us to be- God’s beloved children. We rely on God to help us make this world the world that God created it to be- a world where the poor, the mourning, the meek are not only blessed but where they know that they are blessed.
That’s what Saints do, they help others to see their blessedness. They help others to see God. They help others to know God. Saints are those who help others be who God created them to be and who help the world to be the place that God has created it to be. Saints are those who don’t allow their sinfulness and their brokenness to prevent them from striving to unite the kingdom of earth with the kingdom of heaven.
Today we celebrate ALL the saints- the ones in heaven and the ones on earth. The ones who have gone and the ones who are still with us, the ones who have shown us the way and helped us on our journey to God. So let us be thankful for those Saints. And let us not forget that we too are called to be Saints, let us not forget that we too ARE Saints- as sinful as we may be, as broken as we are, we are Saints. So let us strive to love each other as God loves us, let us strive to forgive each other as God forgives us, let us strive to be the Saints that we are as we show each other the way to God and as we show the world who God is and what it means to live as God’s beloved children. Let us strive to be the Saints who bring together the kingdoms of earth and heaven. If it’s not us, then who will it be?