1 John 3:1-3 – All Saints Sunday
To hear the words of our reading from Revelation this morning is to hear words of great hope and anticipation. To hear the words of the faithful standing around the throne and singing praises to the Lamb is perhaps the most comforting Scripture reading that we hear outside of Easter Sunday; along with the most joyful hymns that we sing outside of Easter Sunday as well.
And yet, there is a small detail about today that many of us assume, and yet do not want to admit; one that rears its head each time we gather to celebrate All Saints Day.
For so often on All Saints Day, we focus only on those who are with the Lord, those who have died in the faith. And when that is our focus, then the only way that All Saints Day relates to us, is that for those who make the confession that Jesus is Lord, one day you to will be with the Lord.
And we are left with the impression that All Saints Day is on the one hand all about the faithful who are no longer with us, and on the other hand about what we one day will also receive by virtue of our Baptism into Christ; and as for the here and now of daily living, there is not much there for us outside of hope.
That is how we often view All Saints Day, and in one sense, that is not all bad. Today is about the hope that fills us. Today is about looking forward to the day when we are standing around the throne, when we are singing praises to the Lamb, when we are reunited with those who have gone before us. In a world that is filled with hopelessness and despair, today is a bright shining light that tells us that one day, we will be with the Lord in Paradise.
For that is what the Christian life is all about: hope. The hope of eternal life. The hope of what is to come. The hope of being numbered with the saints in a great white robed army.
And not just a hope of what might be, but a sure and certain hope of what will be.
But to stop there would leave out a significant part of what All Saints Day is. For All Saints Day is about that future hope of what is to come, but it is also about living here as children of God in the midst of the darkness and despair of this world.
And make no mistake about it, the world today is one of darkness and despair. The opposite of a Saint is a sinner, and this world is very much filled with sinners.
Well do we know the sinner side of this equation. This is the side that rears its ugly head from the time we get up, until the time we go to bed. To hear the Ten Commandment, to confess at the start of the service that we are poor, miserable sinners, who have sinned in thought, word, and deed, to daily ask God to forgive you all of your sins, there is no question here about whether you are a saint or a sinner, for you are most definitely, a sinner.
You know this and you accept it. You still live in this world, and not yet in the splendors of Paradise, for you are a sinner. By the curse of original sin, and the sins that you commit daily in thought, word, and deed, you have fallen short of the glory of God.
But you are baptized.
For by His innocent suffering and death, Christ Jesus won you back from the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy and precious blood; then upon returning to the right hand of the throne of God, Christ has opened unto you the gates of Paradise so that you might dwell with Him for eternity.
Thus making you saints today, right now. By your Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, you are a saint, fully redeemed from the powers of sin, death and hell by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary.
You are still a sinner who lives in a world under the curse of sin; but you are also a saint, one who has been baptized, redeemed from the curse by Jesus blood and righteousness.
Picture that: you are a saint; a living saint to be sure. You stand in line with Abraham and Moses; with Peter, James and John; with Paul; with Luther; with friends and family who once sat in these very pews; with people you have never even met before. You are one of them. You all bear the same mark of the cross, marking you as children of God.
But now comes the hard part: what does it mean to be a saint? How are you a saint in a world where you are also a sinner?
First and foremost, to be a saint means to be baptized. It means to confess the creed; it means to pray, praise and give thanks.
But how does that show itself in daily life?
The key here is found in what you do.
For the sinner, the emphasis is always on what you should not do. You should not covet. You should not steal. You should not disrespect those in authority. You should not murder. You should not misuse the name of the Lord your God. You should not despise the Word of the Lord.
You know that you have sinned when you are reminded about what you should not do. For that is the effect of sin: you have done wrong, so in order to prevent further wrong, you create a rule that will prevent you from doing wrong again. That rule starts with the words: ‘Do not’. The idea is great, and yet the Law creates more sin than it prevents.
But what about being a saint? How is that different from being a sinner?
To be a saint is not about what you should not do, but instead is about what you get to do.
Consider that in the meanings for the Ten Commandments, each contains not only what we are not to do, but also what we get to do.
You get to use the Lord’s name to pray, praise and give thanks.
You get to serve and obey, love and cherish those who are over you.
You get to help and support your neighbor in every physical need.
You get to hold the Word of God sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Husbands and wives get to love and honor each other.
You get to help your neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income.
You get to encourage your neighbor’s workers to stay and do their duty.
To the sinner, the word is spoken only as to what you are not to do. To the saint, the word is spoken of what you get to do.
And what do you get to do most of all?
You get to hear the promises of Christ, that though you now walk this sinful world, striving to do the Lord’s will, yet constantly realizing the depth of your sinful nature; there is the promise of life everlasting for you and all believers.
Today, and every day, you stand before God as a sinner living in a fallen world, but you also stand as a saint, redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
Our reading from Revelation is not just a picture of a far off future date that you anticipate happening; our reading from Revelation is a current picture; for standing around the throne are not just those friends and family who have gone before us, but standing around the throne is you as well, singing praises to the Lamb.
Here is His throne: it is the altar of our Lord, where He awaits you in the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. He has come here to meet you. He has come here to dwell among you.
For you are His saints, His chosen people, whom He has called to be His own. This is not just a picture of the future, it is a picture of today.