Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sermon: All Saints - 2010

7 November 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev. 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

November is a month to commemorate military victory. The eleventh of November is celebrated the world over – sometimes as Armistice Day and sometimes as Remembrance Day. In our own country, it is Veterans Day. It serves both as a time to honor brave warriors as well as to celebrate the peace they won.

But there is another Day of Victory, commemorated by our other country, the first of November. It too is celebrated the world over, known as All Saints Day. It is such an important festival in the Church that we usually transfer it to Sunday, as we have done today. It serves as a time to honor brave warriors as well as to celebrate the peace won for them and for us.

We Christians are a military people. For we are soldiers of the cross, warriors of the Word, and defenders of the faith entrusted to us by our “Captain in the well-fought fight.” We don’t fight men, but the forces of evil. Even as St. Paul teaches us, we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We fight as citizen-soldiers of our other country, our heavenly Jerusalem, our kingdom that has conquered empires and our nation that transcends all nations.

Today, we honor the brave men and women who have served their country well, bravely, often unto death, even as we honor our King, to whom we praise in our anthem:

“Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!”

For we soldiers of the Kingdom of God do not rely on our own strength, courage, or valor. In fact, in this Kingdom, when we are weak, we are strong. We are bound not only to our Lord Jesus Christ, but to the myriads of divisions and brigades, “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…. A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Indeed, our General is a Lamb, a humble sacrifice who dies an atoning death for the sake of the sheep. And yet this Lamb is worshiped, for He is not only our General, but our God: “and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”

And our armies are equally unusual – “clothed in white robes” that have been “washed… in the blood of the Lamb.” They surround the throne “day and night in his temple” – having died for their King and kingdom. And though they have suffered, they have triumphed. Though their lives were taken from them, they are the victors.

“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.”

Moreover, our armies fight with different weapons – weapons that cannot be defeated, made obsolete, seized, or turned against us. Our brave men and women defeated the Roman Empire, the Soviet Empire, and countless tyrants in between, not with awe-inspiring weapons and glittering technology, but rather with simple love. The love of the martyrs and the persecuted Christians was the one thing that could not be defeated with superior arms or by hatred. When Christians are sent to be torn by lions, tortured in prison cells, or burned at the stake, they show love to their captors. They sing hymns praising their crucified Lord. They show devotion to their Master that exceeds the death-defying loyalty of any elite member of the Praetorian Guard or of the secret police of the Communists.

“See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The love Christians have for one another is one of the marks of the church. The love Christians have for their enemies is the single-greatest weapon Christians have in their armory. For we do not win over our enemies by dominating them, but by loving them. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now” – even now when we remain temporarily in this fallen world, trapped by our sinful flesh, and held captive by sin and death.

For once more, we are victors because He is the Victor. We have defeated death because He has defeated death. We have crushed Satan under our feet, because He has bruised the head of the serpent. And so, “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.”

Think of this promise, dear friends, dear fellow soldiers, dear weary ones who continue to march to the sound of the Lord’s drumbeat. Think of this promise when you fall out of line, fall to the ground, and even fall away from your comrades. The promise of mercy and forgiveness pulls us back to our feet, back into formation, and back to the final parade of triumph that we shall see endlessly in heaven!

For we have it from the very mouth of our General and our King: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled. For it has already been proclaimed by the Word of the living God that theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they shall be comforted, they shall inherit the earth, they shall be satisfied, they shall receive mercy, they shall see God, they shall be called sons of God, theirs indeed is the kingdom of heaven.

“Rejoice and be glad” exhorts our General, “for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Indeed, dear friends, the people of God have been serving, fighting, resisting, attacking, defending, and yes, dying for King and kingdom, for friend and foe, for millennia. Today is yet another holy day to honor the brave men and women of our Kingdom’s forces of faith and love. It is yet another day to thank and praise God for His mercy, for the cross, for the forgiveness of sins, for the Word, for His holy sacraments, and for the freedom we have to kneel before our King and share the eternal banquet table with Him, in forgiveness, in praise, in thanksgiving, and in victory.

For He has won the victory. He has secured the peace. He has given us the right to be children of God and the freedom to live as more than conquerors over sin, death, and the devil. With all of our brothers and sisters of every time and place, every tribe and tongue, we cry out in triumph: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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