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All Saints A      
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church     
Lakeland, FL      
November 5, 2023                               

Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34
Matthew 5:1-12            

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

All Saints Sunday is one of my favorite in the liturgical calendar. It comes in the middle of autumn – a time when the harvest has been brought in in the rural parts of our country, a time when we are particularly mindful of being grateful for all that God has done in our lives. A time when leaves are changing on the trees. The days are shorter and the evening comes earlier. and we anticipate the quiet dormant season of winter. Here in Florida we must look carefully for these signs of seasonal change for they are subtle but are there nonetheless. 

In the midst of this, All Saints Sunday is a bright spot. Once again the Paschal Candle is lit – it’s been a long time since the Great Fifty days of Easter when it was lit every Sunday until Pentecost. The Paschal Candle is a strong clear symbol of Christ’s resurrection. We light it also for baptisms and funerals to remind us that in our baptisms we are united with him in his death and if baptized into his death we are also united with him in resurrection. That is our hope – a hope that many of our loved ones are experiencing even now. All Saints.

Today we will consider these words from the Book of the Revelation to John. Chapter 21:1-4. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples, 
and God himself will be with them and be their God; 
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

While the story of Elijah under the broom tree after he ran away from Queen Jezebel is my Old Testament favorite, these words from the Revelation are right up there among my New Testament favorites. But let’s talk a bit about this book of the Bible. It was written by a man named John, probably not the apostle John, very late in the first century, to Christians who lived in the Roman Empire. Worship of the emperor was part of social life, and many cities in Asia Minor had temples to the emperor as well as to other gods. People often participated in imperial worship because Rome provided new levels of prosperity and opportunities for social advancement. And people participated in imperial worship because it was a social duty.  Simply stated, it was something that a good citizen did. The ruling power, Rome, fostered false worship, engaged in violence against the Christian faithful, and was obsessed with wealth and materialism and status. The Revelation offers an alternative – faithfulness to Christ the Lamb seated on the throne in the center of the city of God, the new Jerusalem.

What is this New Jerusalem? It certainly is not found in a small country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is not a place certain. Instead, I would suggest that the New Jerusalem, the fulfillment of which we wait with bated breath, is a gathering of peoples, a community of which we are already a part by virtue of our baptisms. The new Jerusalem is the communion of saints  which we confess every Sunday in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. The new Jerusalem is God’s Holy Church into which we have been gathered from our everyday lives, perhaps from our aloneness. From the tasks and worries that burden us. The new Jerusalem is a holy city that comes down from God as a gift for God’s people. And it is here and it is now and it is us. Yes, we each and all of us together are part of the communion of saints. 

Hear this perfect definition of a saint – A saint is one through whom God shines. Think about that for a moment. Look at these beautiful stained glass windows, see the light that comes through – varied colors and images. We are that glass and God chooses to shine through us. This is the truth behind the saying of our Lutheran churches – God’s work. Our hands. As the gathered saints of God, God continues to act in and through us. We will soon sing the hymn, “For All the Saints who From Their Labors Rest.” And it is fitting that we do this today as we honor those who have entered into the church triumphant. Yet, we gathered here do not yet have the luxury of resting from our labors together as the Church.

As a community of the faithful, we gather together and we work together bearing the kingdom of God into our world, not to establish ourselves as a political and social power –  that is the antithesis of what Jesus taught.

Every time we remember and affirm our baptisms, as we will do in a few minutes when we observe the Rite of Confirmation as we will with Grace and James, we promise to live as a community of God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share at the Table. To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people following the example of Jesus and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. That is quite an undertaking, to be honest. Yet, we can do this – together. In fact, our ability to live into our baptismal covenants working together is part of God’s creating and sustaining action in the world.

And we can do this, not of our own strength or will, but because God is shining through us –we are saints. And the promise spoken in the Revelation is that God is making all things new. The promise is not that God will make all new things. No, God is taking what is – you and me – and is making us new. Ongoing action shaping and forming us as the New Jerusalem.

In the book of Hebrews, the 11th chapter, there is an amazing listing of the saints on whose shoulders the first generation of Christians stood – and for that matter, we do too. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, those marching around the walls of Jericho, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel, the prophets. And the list goes on to include so many more. We will hear their names in the Litany in a few minutes. And we ask that they will come and stand beside us as our journey continues.

And in the 12th chapter of Hebrews we hear this – Pastor Pam’s Revised Version:  since then we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses standing beside us, let us also lay aside every impediment, every hesitation, every second-guess, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, knowing that we will tire and strain, and let us look persistently to Jesus.

May it be so.  Thanks be to God.