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Remembering Our Saints, November 5, 2023

1 Thessalonians 13-18. How many of you are saints?  Raise your hand…

          And, How many sinners?  Same sign, raise your hand. [3 times the hands were raised for being a “sinner,” over the “saints.”]

          After this message, I hope you realize that, as Christians with our faith in Jesus Christ, we are all saints; AND because we are humans, we are all sinners. 

          Let us pray…

          Yes!!  Today is All Saints’ Sunday where we recognize and remember the folks in the faith that have gone to heaven before us.  We are not just talking about the list of Roman Catholic Saints who have gone through a process toward sainthood.  We are talking about anyone who has believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior while on this earth.

                    The Apostle Paul began many of his letters with these words: “to the saints in Ephesus”, “to the saints in Philippi”.  His point was that we are all saints by virtue of our baptism into Christ by the Holy Spirit; we are saved by God’s grace through faith.  We are not saints because we are without sin; for THE ONLY ONE who walked this earth was without sin, Jesus the Christ. 

                    Martin Luther said we are at the same time saint and sinner.  We are sinners by virtue of our thoughts and behavior, living in the fallen image of Adam, but made holy, by virtue of our “in Christ” position by faith.

                    In Colossians 2:13-14 the Bible says, “Through our faith in Jesus Christ we are saints; we are pronounced holy by God because Jesus has taken away our sins by nailing them to his cross.”  

                    Please hear today’s scripture 1Thessalonicans 4:13-18, this time from the Message translation: “And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer.  First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word.  Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.”

          Verse 15 and following, “And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind.  In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us.  The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder!  God’s trumpet blast!  He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first.  Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master.  Oh, we’ll be walking on air!  And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master.    So, reassure one another with these words.”

          This is the scripture that folks point to when they are talking about the Rapture.  I read in the Bible that when we die here on earth and have faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we will be immediately present with Jesus.

          In Christ, through baptism, through Communion, the Last Supper, by the power of the Holy Spirit, GOD draws us to his Mercy and Grace, just as he did in the life of Peter, Paul, and others. 

                    It is Jesus who calls us by the gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and sanctifies us as His holy and purified people. 

          It is Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, who has borne our grief and carried our sorrows and died for our sins.

                    Please hear the Message translation of a powerful scripture from Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1, “Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?  It means we'd better get on with it.  Strip down, start running - and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.”

                    Wow!  The author of Hebrews is really challenging us to look to the folks, the great cloud of witnesses, who went before us, the ones on whose shoulders we stand, and know that they are cheering us on. 

          Yes, the Bible is pretty clear: our ancestors can see us and what we do.  I believe that we can really get help with our endurance by trying to honor the saints who have gone to heaven before us. 

                    Endurance is all of those folks right here in our congregation, but also those in assisted living places, nursing homes and even some folks in prison.  

                    The writer of Hebrews said, “Strip down, start running - and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.”  Much of the writing of the time talked about running the race that is set before us.  We’ve got to get rid of everything that would slow us down; and Start running.  Some of us are thinking about running; in the future!!  It’s time to start running, Right NOW!! 

                    Now verse 2 from the Message, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in.  Study how he did it.”  My friends, Jesus never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever.  And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.”

                    To follow Jesus, we need to KEEP OUR FOCUS ON JESUS!!  That is the way to know the right direction; KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON JESUS!  Study how He did it by reading His Word in the Bible every day.  Bible commentators tell us that the Greek word for “keep your eyes on,” is better translated, LOOK AWAY TO JESUS,

          look away from everyone else and everything else.  

          KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON JESUS!  Yes, Jesus is fully God, but He is also fully human.  He walked our walk, He knew what it meant to be hungry, He knew what it felt like to be dead tired, He knew how it felt to lose loved ones, and He knew what it was like to be full of joy. 

                    Our identity, origin, purpose, and destiny are revealed in Jesus and Jesus gave us Holy Communion.  

          Holy Communion is a means of divine grace flowing from the unfathomable love of God to the faithful; and the Holy Communion serves as an agency of cleansing of our sins; if we repent of our sins, we will receive forgiveness. 

          Christ is surely and really present in the Communion, meeting us there and making us one. 

                    Today we celebrate all of our ancestors, family members, and friends who have died on this earth and gone to heaven before us.  They are now part of the great cloud of witnesses. 

                    When I was in seminary at St. Paul School of Theology,

          we were required to either go on a mission or spend a week at a monastery.  Since I had been on several Volunteers in Mission teams, I went with 9 women seminary students for a week and stayed with the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. 

          We were to sign up for Sister. Agnes to give us a massage.  My turn came at the end of our stay.  I walked into Sister Agnes’ office and she told me to go into the massage room and take off my shirt and wrap a sheet around myself.  There were Gregorian chants on the boom box and she had a type of incense burning for aroma therapy. 

          She had me lay down and proceeded to give me a great massage.  After a little while, in my mind, I heard God saying to me, “You were strong in High School, but wait until you have the Holy Spirit working in you, Then you will be Truly Strong.”

                    Sister Agnes told me to roll over on my back and asked for my hand.  I was still puzzling on this connection to God, as Sister Agnes started to massage my hand.  Then I sensed the presence of my Grandma Kraus; Anna Hommert Kraus, my dad’s mom.  She died back in the 70’s and went to be with Jesus; I sensed Grandma Kraus laying her hand on my hand and blessing my ministry.  I was totally overwhelmed. 

          Friends, I believe we are connected to those we have died and gone to heaven.  Some of you have had children die, or grandchildren; or a spouse or sibling.  I can’t imagine how hard that must be.  But I also know that we can stay connected to our loved ones spiritually.

          Please hear how Henri Nouwen spoke about this connection, in a devotion entitled, “Remembering the Dead.”  Nouwen wrote,

          “To remember my mother does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone on her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her.” 

          “No.  It means making her a participant in God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light.

          In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother.  Yet, by letting her go I did not lose her.  Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever.  In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed is becoming a part of my very being.”

          Henri J. M. Nouwen

                    Our ancestors and other loved ones are alive for eternity AND WE WILL JOIN THEM.

                    And now we prepare ourselves for the sacred time of naming our loved ones followed by Holy Communion celebrating the home going of our loved ones; communion with God and communion with all our loved ones. 

                    It is important to think about those who have gone before us.  But there are other witnesses.  Think about it; all those who see how we live right now, those in the sanctuary right now, those who see us at work, those who see us in the store, at the restaurant; THEY are also witnesses to how we follow Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

                    God has given us heaven.  It is a free gift.  It is a sure reality.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly he who believes in me has eternal life.”  The journey begins here at the baptismal font. 

                    The writer of Hebrews in the same chapter 12 verse 12, tells his original readers and us now, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” 

                    Or the Doug Kraus translation, “Hang in there, folks!”  Keep up the good work!  Don’t give up!  Go hiking on the straight path with Jesus.  Display your faith with ENDURANCE!    And be made whole while you’re at it!!”

                    Let us pray…As we prepare our hearts and minds for Holy Communion.

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