Monday, November 30, 2009

Andrew, Apostle

The first minor festival in this new Church Year is the commemoration of Andrew, one of the Apostles of our Lord. This is the Collect for the day: “Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” This collect sets the tone for our commemorations of the saints who have gone before us. It’s not about them, per se, it’s about Christ. It’s about Christ for them and also Christ for us. We remember the saints so that we can rejoice in the blessings He accomplished through them. And we pray that He will do the same through us. God is rich in mercy, we see that in His calling of Andrew. Andrew was an ordinary man like most of us are, and yet God called him to be one of the apostles. God calls us to serve where we are as well because of His great mercy for us.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why We Start Here

First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2009
Luke 19:28–40

Today is not Palm Sunday. Today is quite a ways away from Palm Sunday. Lent is even a bit away; we haven’t even gotten into Christmas yet. Today we begin the Church Year and the Church Year always begins with Advent. So why do we start here, with the account of Palm Sunday?

Because we always start in the same way. Your focus is always on the cross. Today’s Gospel reading is pointing us to the cross. Each portion of the Church Year will be preparing us for Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week and the Passion of our Lord. That week is at the center of the Church Year and the center of history and the center of our lives. From Easter on through the rest of the Church Year, there is nothing that is different from our focus. It remains on Christ and Him crucified. The one who is risen from the grave is the one who suffered on the cross for the sins of the world. The Lamb who was slain is the one who reigns forever in glory.

Throughout the Church Year our focus will be on Christ and Him crucified. As we move through the Church Year we will be centered in Him and His cross. Everything we hear in the seasons and Sundays of the Church Year will flow from that singular event of history, the crucifixion of our Lord.

That is why we start here. Throughout Advent we will be preparing for our celebration of the birth of our Lord. We will have an eye also toward that Coming of our Lord that is yet to be, the glorious Return on the Last Day. Because of that, our eye will also be on the coming of our Lord here in time and nature in our Baptism and His Holy Supper; in the proclamation of the Gospel and the pronouncement of the Absolution.

Why we start here with the account of Palm Sunday is to help us see that the birth of Christ is not so much a beginning but a prelude. What Luke tells us in the Gospel reading is more of a beginning: “When He had said these things, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” He was beginning His trek toward the cross. That’s what we need to be focusing on here at the beginning of the Church Year.

As He entered Jerusalem, He did so in a way that seems odd to us. He came in on a donkey. He came in with pomp and circumstance, but that was because of the crowd. They were singing His praises. But the donkey is what really tells us what our Lord is about. He is about coming in humble means. As we prepare for our celebration of Christ’s birth we ought to prepare now that His coming as Savior was not in glory but in humility. He didn’t come in a castle but a stable. Not much changed thirty years later when He entered into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Not much has changed even two thousand years later. He still loves to come to us. And He still comes in humility. He comes to us in the water and the Word. He comes to us in the bread and the wine. In the lowly words spoken by a preacher. In the simple words on the pages of the Bible. Why we start here is because that entrance into Jerusalem by Jesus really says it all. He came in a lowly way to die a lowly death.

He did this to raise us to the highest heaven. To the heights of His eternal glory. And if we are tempted to seek glory apart from the humble coming of our Lord in a manger, a donkey, and a cross, then we ought to be reminded that our Lord can cause even the stones to cry out His praises. If we can be replaced with stones we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. What we ought to do is simply see ourselves in light of the cross. Our lives are bound up in the cross. That’s why we start here and why we continue through the Church Year and our lives in looking to the cross and living because of the cross.

The Lord who had need of a donkey to usher Him to the cross has need of water that washes away your sins in Baptism, ushering you into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord who had need of a donkey to carry Him to the place where He would sacrifice His body and shed His blood for the sins of the world has need of bread and wine that carries Him into your mouth for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. The King who came in the name of the Lord on Palm Sunday is the King who comes in your Baptism and His Holy Supper to bring you peace in heaven and glory in the highest.

Why we start here is because it’s where our focus always is and where we always end up. Look to the cross and there you will see your salvation. He brings it to you in His Word and Sacraments and will bring you into it in glory when He returns in glory on the Last Day. Now is a prelude, then will be the beginning for you of eternity. Amen.


First Sunday in Advent

The Church Year begins ahead of the calendar year. It’s out of sync with the rest of the world, much like the Church itself is out of sync with the rest of the world. That’s what I love about the Church Year. That’s what I love about the Church. It’s counter-cultural in that respect. The Church Year doesn’t seek to conform to what is being observed or celebrated in society. It seeks to focus on Christ and Him crucified. The Church Year follows the life of our Lord. It is only in His life that we have life. At least eternal life. Ultimately, that is what matters.

Not that this life is not important. It is vitally important. Otherwise, why has God placed us here on this earth to live? He has given us all things and we live our lives in light of the place He has prepared for us from eternity. As Christians we don’t live with our head in the clouds. We live with an eye toward eternity but our existence is very real, very here and now. God doesn’t expect us to reach up toward Him, He comes down to us.

Advent begins the Church Year with this focus. “Advent” is from the Latin for “coming.” Advent is all about our Lord coming to us. The Church Year is all about His coming to us. This is the very heart of Christianity. Our Lord came at Bethlehem, He will come again in glory on the Last Day. In Advent we meditate on our waiting for that Day. We are reminded that each day of our lives is lived knowing that we cannot reach up to Him but He comes to us in His Gospel. He comes to us in Baptism. He comes to us in the proclamation of His Word and the pronouncement of His Absolution. And He comes to us in His Holy Supper.

I can’t think of a better way to begin the new year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where Thanksgiving Fits In

Day of Thanksgiving [Observed]
November 25, 2009
1 Timothy 2:1-4

Where does thanksgiving fit into your life?

Every year we celebrate national holidays. On the Fourth of July we commemorate the freedom we have in this country. That doesn’t mean it’s the only time we recognize or are grateful for our freedom. The other holidays we celebrate also are not the only time we recognize what we’re celebrating. That should certainly be the case with Thanksgiving. If that’s the only day we actually gave thanks, we would be truly ungrateful people.

As a church we have more to celebrate than a national holiday of Thanksgiving. Having been inspired by the Holy Spirit Paul spells out where thanksgiving fits into our lives as Christians. It fits in in everything. Our prayers are to consist of “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.” These supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings are to be made for all people. We are to pray on behalf of others, for their needs.

The first three words Paul uses are along the lines of what we usually think of when we think of prayer: asking God to help us and others in their needs. We have a lot of them, maybe that’s why Paul is emphasizing the point. We have a lot of needs, so Paul uses three different words for this kind of praying.

But there’s another kind, and that’s what he gets at in his fourth word: thanksgivings. Thanking God is to go right along with praying for the needs of others. We are to pray for all people, including our leaders, and we are to give thanks in all things for others, including our leaders.

Why? So “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” There is a method to the madness, so to speak. In other words, there’s a reason we pray. God knows what we need. He knows what we need better than we know what we need. And God blesses us and all people abundantly even without our prayers. But we pray for others so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t pray, I tend to get pretty ungrateful. It’s amazing how saying a simple “Thank you” to someone can help you recognize how grateful you are that others help you out. When you don’t say “Thank you” to others you easily take others and their help for granted. It’s the same with God. When we give thanks to Him we realize more and more what a blessing it is that He helps us in our needs and that without His provisions through our leaders there is a far greater chance of us not having a peaceful and quiet life.

I love the way Paul goes on to speak about this: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” Paul can’t help but speak of the salvation of God. It is always in light of God saving us that Paul exhorts his brothers and sisters in Christ to live in the way God desires them to live. This goes for prayer, too. When we pray, it is in the light of the salvation of God in His Son Jesus Christ that we pray—that we offer up supplications on behalf of others, that we offer our thanks to God for, well, everything.

This is indeed good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. And if we’re still not convinced of why we ought to be thankful, Paul has an answer for that: our God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Why do we pray for all people? Why do we give thanks in all things? Because God desires that all people be saved. Because He desires that all come to the knowledge of truth. We give thanks in all things because our minds and hearts and desires begin to reflect the heart of God. His salvation. His love. His grace. His mercy. His passion for the people He created. The people His Son Jesus Christ died for. The people He offers His full and free salvation to. The salvation we have received in Baptism. That we partake of often in the Holy Supper of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This is where thanksgiving fits in. In the love of Christ for the world. In Him giving to us in a personal real tangible way in His Supper where He breaks bread and gives thanks, where He pours out for us His lifeblood, given for us to drink, His body for us to eat.

We know what our needs are, do we see that we need to give thanks in all things? There is so much to be thankful for! We can’t quite see it all now, but in heaven we will see in the fullness of glory all God has given to us. Then there will be no question of thanksgiving. It will be as natural as it is now for us to pray for our needs. We give thanks that He helps us in our needs until that day He brings us to heaven where we will have none. Amen.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Vigil at the End of Time

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2009
Mark 13:24-37

The Vigil begins now. There is no waiting to begin it. There is waiting involved, that’s what a vigil involves. But there’s no putting it off. Vigilance is called for not at some point in the future. Our Lord calls us to be vigilant now. What He says to us He says to all: Stay awake. The vigil is the people of God being vigilant. We know what will happen we just don’t know when. Our Lord lays it all out for us, He just doesn’t tell us when it will all come about. That’s why we’re in the Vigil. The Holy Christian Church is the Church of the End Time Vigil. It is the Church of Vigilance.

This is in direct contrast to most people’s day to day existence. Most people are too caught up in the things of the world to be vigilant. They’re just trying to make it through the day. They’re not necessarily even caught up in evil things; much of the time it’s ordinary things they need to concern themselves with to live. It’s hard to take fifteen minutes out of your day to be vigilant, reading and meditating on the Word of God. Or to wake up fifteen minutes earlier to begin the day in the Word of God and prayer when there are so many pressing things that need to be done. Or to spend the last fifteen minutes of your day in quietness with God’s Word when you’re so exhausted you can barely stay awake any longer. Or you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing with all the things left undone and all the worries about tomorrow.

I think that by nature we are not only sinful and unclean, we are not vigilant. We hear the words of Christ in the Gospel reading and have a hard time relating that stuff to what’s going on in our lives. While there’s much here that’s difficult to understand He boils it down to one simple thing: Stay awake. Be alert. Be vigilant. Be on your guard. We don’t know when the end of time will be but we know we are at the end of time. We don’t know when our Lord will return in glory but we know He will. And we must be ready.

So often we don’t even think of the end of time. Jesus’ description of His return in glory is strange to our ears. All the talk about tribulation, the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens shaken. I don’t know if there are any scenes in the new end-of-the-world movie 2012 that are on the scale of what Jesus describes here, but what He describes is disaster of epic proportions. But in the midst of that disaster of the fallen world is glory. The “Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Every eye will see Him. All will know. If they don’t know now, or refuse to listen now, they will know without a doubt then. And our Lord will be coming in glory for the purpose of sending out the angels and gathering “His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

You don’t know when this will happen. But you know it will. Mark Twain can joke all he wants about death and taxes being the certainties of life, but there is only seriousness here on the part of Jesus of what is certain. This life will come to an end as we know it. Your life on this earth will come to an end either through your death or Christ returning in glory to take you to heaven. When you know that you are armed and you can be vigilant. If you choose to ignore it you do so at your eternal peril.

Most everyone can look around themselves and see from the trees the changes of the seasons. Even in Southern California we get a sense of that. Jesus uses a fig tree as an example: “as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.” The point is simple: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates.” Since the signs are taking place, since we’re at the end of time, we must be vigilant, we must be on guard.

The way Jesus talks it seems as if everything He is saying is imminent. When we hear it all two thousand years later it doesn’t come across with the same force as it did when Jesus spoke it back then. When Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” it seems that He meant that it would all come about in their lifetime. The most natural reading of Jesus’ statement would appear to be that He’s referring to those people He was talking to, that it would all come about in their lifetime. A sensible reading would appear to be that Jesus is referring to that generation in the future, the one who will witness all of these things, will not pass away until they all take place.

But the fact is those people listening to Jesus at that time were every bit as much in the End Times as we are today. They were to be as vigilant as we are. The natural reading of the generation Jesus was speaking to may not seem to make sense, it may even seem flat out wrong since the end of the world did not come in their lifetime. Unless—one looks at the cross and views everything else through it as the lens through which to see and understand everything else. The things Jesus has described have taken place in the Great Day of the Lord of Good Friday. The apocalyptic signs described by Jesus and elsewhere in Scripture were present on that day Jesus suffered on the cross. The glory of the Lord was revealed in that suffering and death of the Savior of the world. Salvation was secured for the world on that day and there is no greater glory than that. Christ’s return in glory, while beyond compare, will be more along the lines of icing on the cake in light of the incomparable glory of God’s salvation for the world in His Son on the cross. The generation Jesus was speaking to witnessed that.

It is through this event of history that we should understand what Jesus means when He says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” The world did not come to an end the day Christ died, but when it does, we know His Word will remain because He remains our Savior who will have come again to take us home to heaven.

He is the Lord Almighty, but we must always remember that He is the Lord who suffered in our place. He is the Lord and yet did not consider it below Himself to become a man as you and I are humans. How else could He say what He says that “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus is true God. He does know all things. And yet He is also true man and chose to not make full use of His divine glory and power as a man. He is perfectly at ease in His manhood that He doesn’t have a clue when He will return in glory. He truly became one with us in our humanity, and we do not need to worry about what we don’t know, when our Lord Himself is content in His humanity of not knowing when. What we know is what He knows, that it will happen. Our Heavenly Father knows when and we’ll leave it up to Him.

What do we need to concern ourselves with? The Vigil at the end of time. The Vigil that begins now. The vigil that is what we keep until our Lord calls us home through death or His glorious Return on the Last Day. His words to us are as pertinent now as they were two thousand years ago. They are as relevant to our lives now as they will be throughout the rest of our days:

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.

The time is now, the vigil has begun and we are called upon to keep it. Live every day in the remembrance of your Baptism. Receive the Lord’s Supper often as the very food you need to for your body and soul to survive. Hear the Word of the Lord and rejoice in it for the refreshing of your soul. You don’t know when the end of time will come but you know that you are at the end of time. Your Lord has called you to eternal salvation and wants you to be with Him for all eternity. Amen.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Greatest Stewardship Sermon Ever Preached

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 15, 2009
Mark 13:1-13

The words Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel reading may seem to have nothing to do with stewardship. But they have everything to do with stewardship. What He speaks here isn’t the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached, but there is a greatest stewardship sermon ever preached. I’m sure you will agree with me that it’s not this one you’re hearing.

Jesus’ sermon here puts things into perspective for us. That’s what a good stewardship sermon does. That’s what every sermon should do. The disciples look at the temple and are focused on the building. Jesus’ focus is on the Church. He’s telling them that all they see will be no more at some point in time. When they want to know when this will be He re-focuses them on what’s important. See that you’re not led astray. There are so many things that can capture our attention. Many of them good things. But if those things are our focus then we miss Christ.

We have a beautiful building ourselves, even if somewhat modest. We’re grateful to have the sanctuary we have and the facilities we have at our church. But if our focus in our little congregation is not on Christ then it doesn’t really matter if we have a shack or a cathedral. This building will one day be destroyed but the Church will remain forever. It’s natural for us to focus on the building. The upkeep of it. The costs associated with it. Where the money will come from to keep the building and facilities maintained and the salaries paid.

Jesus’ perspective is much broader than that. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t concern Himself with money. After all, He gives us money, just as He gives us everything else. He gives us our minds, our abilities, resources, possessions. His perspective concerns all these things. He is concerned with our lives. How we spend our time. How we use our abilities. How use our possessions. And, as everyone expects to hear in a stewardship sermon, how we use our money.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus paints a bleak picture of what will happen. This is one reason this is such a good message for stewardship. With our concern for balancing the congregational budget and wondering where the money is going to come from, a pretty bleak picture can seem to be before us. If we even casually look at the picture Jesus paints in the Gospel reading we will readily see that His is a much bleaker situation than what we see before us in our congregation. And yet, the picture He paints in the Gospel reading is exactly that of our congregation, because we are part of the Body of Christ; we are members of the Holy Christian Church. What He describes is what is ahead for us as Christians and as a congregation that is part of the Holy Christian Church. Our small congregational budget is a drop in the bucket in light of the realities of the End Time tribulation we will face.

That’s all good and well, of course, but we still have a budget to balance and approve. On Saturday reality hits in what we will vote on in our Voters’ Meeting for the coming year in how our congregation will spend the money we have for the furthering of our congregation and its mission.

Since we’re going to get very specific at our meeting on Saturday, let’s get very specific here. Treat your money the way you ought to treat everything else in your life as a Christian. It’s all God’s. He owns everything, He’s given you what you have so that you may glorify Him with it and serve others with it. You do this with your time. All the time you have is God’s, you don’t get to keep some of it for yourself. Use it all to His glory. And even though some people think it’s not very spiritual or godly, yes, this means that when you’re watching the Charger game you are glorifying God. He has given you all things in His creation for you to enjoy. The problem isn’t with us enjoying His gifts, it’s with our sinful flesh wanting to use them in ways that are sinful. So if you put your sports, or whatever you enjoy doing, above your responsibilities as a father or child or employer, then you’re not using what God has given you to His glory.

This also is the case with your abilities. He’s given you talents. If you use them simply to gratify your sinful desires then you are taking what God gives you and treating them as if they’re purely for you and not in gratitude toward His love for you. There are many ways you can use your time and abilities to serve others. One of the things we do as a congregation is do things that we otherwise could not do on our own. Can you imagine what the Holy Christian Church would be like if every Christian tried to go it alone? In a Christian congregation you receive the help you need in hearing the Word of God, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and encouraging one another to live as God would have us live. Use a portion of your time in reading and studying the Word of God by yourself daily and weekly with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be here in God’s House to receive the Gospel and the strength you need in the Lord’s Supper.

This puts perspective on the one that’s often hard to talk about—money. Look at your money in the same way you look at your time and your talents. You don’t give some of it to God and the rest is all for you. It’s all His. The really weird thing about it is that He doesn’t need it. He owns everything. But then again, He doesn’t need your time and talents either. He gives us all of these things for our benefit. We use them for that and recognize also that we have it all from Him to serve others.

Maybe the reason we often have trouble as Christians when it comes to money is because time and our abilities are intangible. If a friend calls you up in the middle of the Charger game it might be easier to pull yourself away to help him than it would be to write a check off the top of your paycheck to the Church, because that hits you where it counts. In this age of DVRs it’s easy enough to record the game, but if I give a certain amount of money off the top to God, what will happen if I don’t have enough to pay the bills at the end of the month? What happens if there’s an unexpected emergency?

Perhaps the reason the Bible gives tithing as a guide for giving to God is because the pocketbook is what hits us the most. It’s the one we worry about. It’s the one we want to hold on to the most. We often readily give of our time and abilities, but want to use our money for our own enjoyment. But the beauty of God’s guide in tithing is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, greedy or content, good with money or don’t have a clue about finances. Tithing isn’t based on how much you have, how much you think you need, or what you know. It’s based simply on a percentage. That percentage, ten, is a guide in order to help you understand whose money it is you’re dealing with. Since it’s all God’s and He has all things and therefore doesn’t need anything from you, the percentage you give to God is to help you see that everything you have and everything you do is from Him and for Him.

If you’re not giving ten percent there’s no better time to work toward that than now. Making the jump from two percent to ten may be a shock. But God is patient. Working toward it over a period of years is far better than giving a paltry sum to God and thinking that all the rest is yours. If you’re giving ten percent you’re in a great position to realize that God gives you what you truly need, that you have nothing without Him. That, as Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than receive,” moving beyond ten percent will bring you to the realization that God is in the business of blessing us and blessing us abundantly.

When it comes to our congregation and we ask the question, Where is the money going to come from? well, the answer is, of course, God. And the way He gives that money is by giving it to us and we giving a portion back to Him. Being a congregation is tough. Being a Christian is tough—giving of your time, your abilities, your money. It may be tough for you to add some time to your schedule to serve those who are in need. Percentage giving may not be easy for you—working toward ten percent if you’re not there and working beyond it if you’re already there. But in the midst of the bleak picture Jesus paints He gives hope: the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Jesus’ sermon in the Gospel reading is not a stewardship sermon, per se. But it is the same thing He always does, and that is preach the Gospel. And when Jesus preaches the Gospel, He preaches Himself. When all else fails, you still have Jesus. When everything around you crumbles, the cross of Christ remains. When the world is going to hell, and for that matter, hating you because you cling to Christ, you still have Christ and His salvation. That’s why He preaches Himself in this sermon as He always preaches Himself. The sermon Jesus preaches in today’s Gospel reading is not the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached. Historians could search every sermon ever preached by anyone, including Jesus, and wouldn’t be able to say, “There it is, the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached!”

But the greatest stewardship sermon ever preached exists. It is, in fact, alive and well. It is, in fact, constantly being preached. It is nothing other than the Gospel. It is Jesus Christ Himself, who He is and what He has done for the salvation of the world. It is His life, suffering, death, and resurrection for the sin of the world. It is our Lord and Savior working actively in His Holy Christian Church and in our lives in and through Baptism, preaching and Absolution, and His Holy Supper.

In a few moments we’ll be coming to the altar to give our commitment forms and offerings. Even a few moments later we’ll be coming to the altar again, this time to receive. It is only by the mercy of Christ, His life and death and resurrection, His giving of His body and blood for our forgiveness that we have anything and can do anything and give anything. Stewardship is really that simple: Christ living and working in your life to bring you eternal life so that you may rejoice in Him and serve Him. Amen.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Are the Saints?

All Saints’ Day
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
November 1, 2009
Matthew 5:1-12

In the 1960s Roger Moore played the secret agent style character Simon Templar in the TV show, The Saint. The introductory scenes would often end with someone referring to the Saint as “the famous Simon Templar,” at which point an animated halo would appear above his head at which point he would look at the camera or directly at the halo.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy to spot the saints of the world? Often in Christian artwork of the past certain people would be pictured with a halo over their head, as a visual way to say, Here’s a saint, give the honor that’s due him or her.

But we all know it’s not that easy. Some people you can tell easily that they’re no saint; look no further than infamous tyrants like Hitler or Hussein. Some people in your life may seem just as evil to you because you know their hideous actions or their dark secrets.

But if you look around at your fellow Christians you will see a lot of nice people. A lot of people that may as well have halos over their heads. But you don’t know their deep dark secrets, do you? You don’t see the way they treat their family members at home, do you? You don’t see them sneaking supplies from their work, do you? You don’t know what they’re really looking at when they’re on the internet, do you? You don’t see inside their minds and hear the thoughts they’re thinking as they talk to their neighbors and look down on them, do you?

If people did have halos over their head so that you could tell they were a saint, what would happen when you discovered their dark secrets, when you ended up on the receiving end of their unconscionable behavior? You would not see a saint but a hypocrite. You would think the halo needs to be replaced with horns. There’s a difference between the way we see people in real life and they way we see them in artwork.

Who are the saints anyway? Can we know who is a saint and who is not? God knows what is in everyone’s heart, we cannot. What we do know about everyone is that they are sinners. Every person born in history except Christ is a sinner. This makes it all the more dramatic that we have a festival in the Church Year called All Saints’ Day. Were these saints of old somehow more religious than the rest of us ordinary Christians? Were they more saintly? We know they didn’t go around with halos on their heads, but there are a lot of Christians throughout history we don’t honor as great saints of the faith because they were simply ordinary Christians like you and me. Most of them we don’t know because their lives weren’t recorded in history.

But we can easily name off many of the great saints of old because we know their stories well, Abraham, David, Elijah, Hannah, Peter, John, Mary, Paul, Augustine, Luther. Men and women God used to do mighty things for His great plan of salvation. We rightfully honor them because God has called upon us to honor those in authority over us and they were great leaders in the faith. We give thanks to God for them because He used them to give us examples of living in the faith.

There’s another reason we can also be grateful for and give glory to God. And that is that He used them. Specifically, He used people like us. Most of these people weren’t great people. Most of them weren’t already powerful or well-known people. Many of them were ordinary people like you and me. But even more to the point, every one of them were like you and me in that they were sinners. There were no halos over their heads by any worthiness of themselves.

All Saints’ Day isn’t a celebration only of the saints of the past. It is a celebration of all the saints. Those of the past and those of the present and those of the future. This is a celebration not of people who are really good people but of sinners who have been declared holy by God Almighty because of the righteousness of Christ. Jesus alone you can look at and see no hypocrisy or unworthiness or sin. Every saint, from the greatest to the least is blessed purely by God’s grace and mercy. That’s why each Beatitude starts off the way it does: “Blessed are those…” You are a saint not because you’re good or worthy, but because you are blessed. You are made a saint by God because He pours out His blessing upon you.

The word saint means “holy one.” There is one who is holy and that is God. How we are made holy is that God makes us holy, accounting the righteousness, the holiness, of Christ to us so that we actually stand before Him as ones who are holy, saints. This is the way it has always been done by God, with Abraham and David, Mary and Peter, and Augustine and Luther. And you and me.

Who are the saints? They are the ones who waited for the blessings of God and even now rejoice in them in their fullness in eternal glory. They are the ones who even now are waiting for the blessings of God in their fullness and trust that they will rejoice in them in eternal glory with all the saints of heaven. When Jesus says to us, “Blessed are you,” He is speaking that blessing as a fact. You are blessed. Even now you have the Kingdom. And even now you wait in this lifetime. You trust in your Savior for the comfort you will receive. You wait for the inheritance given you of the eternal Promised Land. You know you will receive righteousness in all its fullness even as you hunger and thirst for it in this lifetime. You humbly await that Judgment Day when you will deserve nothing but damnation from God but will receive mercy. You will see God face to face in eternity. You are called a son, a daughter of God by your Heavenly Father. You may rejoice and be glad even when you are trampled on for walking in the way of Christ.

Jesus speaks His Beatitudes to His holy people, His saints. Lutherans like to refer to Christians as saints and sinners simultaneously. In Christ there is not any sin or unrighteousness in us. We are saints in every sense of that word, we are holy. At the same time, we are wrapped up in this sinful flesh while we remain on this earth and so are completely sinful—there is not anything good within us in God’s holy sight. How is it that we are saints and sinners simultaneously? That we don’t fluctuate back and forth between the one and the other, that we’re not half saint, half sinner? That the eternal condemnation we deserve is exactly that, what we deserve and the salvation we have received is exactly that, purely what we have received?

The answer must always go back to Christ. He is man and God simultaneously. Fully God and fully man. God became flesh for sinners. Jesus was condemned in our place so that we may receive salvation. The sinless for the sinner. The eternal righteousness given to the unrighteous. The eternal Lamb of God slain so that sinners may be saints.

This is who you are. This is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes. Blessed are you. And it is so. In need of comfort? Come to His Table where He gives you the Kingdom. Hunger and thirst for righteousness? Partake of His Holy Meal, which is nothing less than His holy Body and Blood, given and shed for you, for you to eat and drink, for you to be satisfied, sustained; blessed in Him forever. Amen.