Sunday, November 4, 2012

Holy Ones Are Hearing Ones

All Saints Day [Observed]
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
November 4, 2012
Perhaps it’s ironic that All Saints Day always follows Reformation Day. Reformation Day reminds us we’re always in need of reformation. We are sinners who wake every day to the need of dying and rising to new life. That’s what our God does, He reforms us. He continually refashions us, recreates us, renews us. What He does is He makes us saints. Saints are holy ones. And there’s the irony. We are made holy by the perfect sacrifice of Christ, His blood shed for our very imperfect and very unholy lives. By His blood we are declared righteous and holy.

The irony, and even tension, is found in the fact that He declares us holy even as we live in this fallen world. We are surrounded by evil, by tragedy and suffering, by sin in the world and within ourselves. And let’s not forget the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. We are holy ones who are in constant need of being forgiven and reformed. It’s not as though we go back and forth. At one moment we’re in the grace of God and fully redeemed, in the next we lapse and are outside of the grace of God and in need once again to be converted. The mystery of this has been described as being saints and sinners simultaneously. At the same time we are holy ones, pure and in the grace of God as we stand before Him on account of His Son even as we are still wrapped up in our sinful flesh, the Old Adam which is constantly rebelling against God’s grace and sinning against Him.

Do you sin? Yes, daily. You are in a constant state of being a sinner. You are by nature sinful and unclean. In His grace and mercy, God does not count this against you. He looks at you and does not see one who is stained and unclean but one who is holy and pure and righteous. How is this so? It is because when He looks at you He sees His Son. He sees you robed in the righteousness of His holy, pure, unstained Son. You are a saint and a sinner. Simultaneously.

On All Saints Day this is the central thought. If you were to go away from here with the notion that as long as you are seeking to improve then you’re being a good saint, you would miss the entire point of what it means to be a saint. Not that you shouldn’t seek to improve. That should go without saying. But that you do doesn’t make you a saint. You are a holy one of God because of Christ and what He has done for you, not what you continue to do.

In fact, the whole notion of trying to suppress your sinful nature goes against this fact of God declaring you a saint. Your sinful nature doesn’t need to be suppressed, it needs to be slain! Drown that sucker! That’s what repentance and daily dying and rising are all about. That’s why each day you arise to the knowledge and joy that you are Baptized. Begin the day making the sign of the cross on your forehead and your heart in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. This sign points you to your Baptism. The sign of the cross points you to what happened in Baptism. You were slain, crucified, drowned. Your sinful flesh was joined with Christ in His death and you were then raised to new life, joined with Christ in His resurrection.

This is each day. Each day you die and rise. Each day you wake as a sinner who needs to be slain. Each day you are raised to new life in remembering your Baptism, that instance when you were made a holy one, a saint.

The Old Testament reading today talks of impressing the Word of God upon our children and ourselves. His Words are varied, of Law and Gospel. We talk of them while we’re on the way, we write them on the doorposts of our homes, we make them a part of us, of our daily lives. This doesn’t begin at the moment our children are able to understand and comprehend rational and logical thought. It begins from Baptism. We Baptize them and then nurture and sustain them by the Word of God.

And do you know what happens when we do this? Something amazing. Something we might never expect if we look at things the way we often do. Something we would never fully appreciate if we were to determine how these things ought to work. It’s so amazing that we often miss it because when we look for amazing things from God we too often think in terms of spectacle.

What happens is that they hear. This is the amazing work of God. They hear. Now parents do well to note a difference between hearing and listening. Our kids can hear the words we say but too often don’t listen. Too often we adults fall into the same trap. We hear what we want to hear from others instead of actually listening to them. There is a lot of wisdom in this and we would do well to take this to heart.

But this is not what we’re talking about here. Note well that in the Old Testament reading it does not say, “Listen, O Israel.” The word is very specifically ‘hear’. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is the amazing work of God. If God were going to tell us how to become saints He would have said, “Listen up people!” Moses would have said to the people, “Listen, O Israel!” But he didn’t. He said ‘hear’. The work of listening is our work. As stated before, we are wise to listen. To pay attention. To take to heart what is being said. But when it comes to being a saint, don’t try to make it happen. Don’t rely on your work of listening or improving or whatever other bright idea you have.


That’s how saints are made. By hearing. Paul said it in Romans, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” He didn’t say ‘listening’. He didn’t say by doing something. He said by ‘hearing’. This is amazing. It is the amazing work of God. He is saving you, making you holy, producing faith in you by what He does. Namely, speaking it into you. This is exactly what happened in your Baptism. As the water was poured on you the words of Christ were spoken. And something amazing happened. You heard. You were saved by hearing. You were declared a saint of God, a holy one, because those words penetrated your eardrums and went straight to your heart.

Holy ones are hearing ones.

When the scribe in today’s Gospel reading asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was Jesus didn’t jump straight to the part about loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and the part about loving your neighbor as yourself. If He had, well, it would have been meet, right, and salutary being as He’s God. But amazingly, He didn’t. He was asked to quote a commandment. The greatest commandment. What He gave was a statement of how you are made a saint: hear. Jesus quoted the words of the Old Testament reading, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Jump straight to the commandment if you wish; talk all you want about loving God; loving Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your strength, and with all your mind; talk about how you must listen to Him; about how you must follow Him; how you must serve Him. But if you do before you have heard you have done it in vain. Holy ones are hearing ones. You are made a saint by hearing and you live by faith. That means you live as a saint by hearing. Hearing the Word. Listening to it, yes, of course. There’s no point in hearing the Word of God if you’re not going to pay attention. If you find your mind drifting you might need a kick-start and get focused back on the task of listening, taking to heart, engaging with the Word. But this is not at the heart of being a holy one.

Hearing is. Hearing ones are the ones who are holy. The saints are the ones who hear. In other words, the saints are the ones who stand in the presence of God not of their own worthiness or on account of something they have accomplished. No, they stand before God as holy solely because they stand under the mercy. They have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. They stand as holy ones because God spoke this holiness, this righteousness, this forgiveness, this salvation, into them. Holy ones are hearing ones.

This can be seen by the way God works. What do we believe happens when we partake of the body and blood of our Lord in His Holy Supper? We believe He forgives us. Does He do so on the basis of what we do? On the contrary, it is on the basis of His Word being spoken, just as it was in our Baptism. It’s exactly the same thing. It’s the Gospel that saves us, makes us saints. In Baptism it’s water that’s connected with this Word of the Gospel, in the Lord’s Supper it’s bread and wine that’s connected with the Word of the Gospel. That is what you hear. He speaks, you hear. He speaks into you, you are the passive receiver of His amazing work of salvation, of making you a saint.

Hearing ones recognize that they are holy ones. They recognize they are holy by grace, as a gift, purely by the mercy of their Lord, that they are, simply, hearing ones. They recognize the joy to hear their Lord. They rejoice in the many opportunities their Lord gives them to make known to others the salvation they have received by hearing. They give thanks their Lord calls them into a fallen world where they can serve others and where others too have the opportunity to hear and be saved.

They recognize, by grace, that they are saints in exactly the same way as the saints who have gone before them are, by grace. By hearing. The saints in heaven have gone before us and await as we do the glorious day when Christ will come again to call us to join with them in the everlasting Banquet in which we will hear our Lord speak to us and lavish His love and grace on us.

In the meantime we hear here on earth. We gather around this altar hearing our Lord say to us, Take, eat, this is My body; take, drink, this is My blood. We gather around the altar at this rail. When you look at it you see that it forms a half circle because there’s the wall that prevents it from continuing on to form a full circle. And yet, because we are those who are hearing ones we recognize that this isn’t simply a feature of the church’s architecture but rather of a visual sign of what is happening at this altar. What is happening is that the holy ones of God here on earth are gathering with the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven to hear and receive from their Lord. We kneel at this half of the circle knowing that the part that is unseen is occupied by the saints who have gone before us, holy ones. Holy ones as we are. Hearing ones now and always. Amen.


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