Sunday, November 7, 2010

“Being a Saint in the Church”

Ephesians 1:11–23
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Luke 6:20-31
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

A Message from the Pastor
It was not easy to prepare for the message today for two reasons. First of all, there are some “cradle Lutherans” here today that have no problem recognizing All Saints Sunday and what it means. It happens every year, the first Sunday after All Saints Day, which is always on November 1. However, there could be some who are worshipping who are not used to a liturgical service. They could have picked up today’s bulletin, saw that it was All Saints Sunday, and wondered what the heck this was all about. Well, we do celebrate and commemorate those who have gone before us. However, we also acknowledge that we are saints. Yes, we are sinners. That’s why we make confession at the beginning of every worship service. But we are saints. Martin Luther said that we are saints and sinners at the same time. Well, what is a saint all about?

The other challenge was the readings for today. How do those readings connect with being a saint? The first one, from Daniel, is prophetic. There are some people who believe that this reading prophesizes the end of the world in the near future. The second reading, from Ephesians, is a glorious description of God’s relationship to us and ours to God through Jesus Christ. However, the Ephesians text is not the easiest to read. The author writes as if it’s a stream of consciousness. Then we have the Gospel of Luke, and what do we hear? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” How does that connect with being a saint?

Let me begin by reading from the Letter to the Ephesians as written by Eugene Peterson, in The Message.
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the over-all purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the Saints (these are believers who are alive), I couldn’t stop thanking God for you – every time I prayed. I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank, I ask – ask the God of our Master Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, [the) eyes [of your heart] focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for [Saints], oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. (Folks, that’s us. We are the church.) The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

We are the church. We are the body of Christ. Yes, we are sinners. That’s why we confess our sinfulness every time we worship. However we are also saints. We are at the center of God’s world, through Christ. This world is on the edge of God’s world, the one to which we belong; although I’m sure it doesn’t always feel like that. You see, we have been marked with the cross of Christ forever, since we are signed, sealed, and delivered through the Holy Spirit. What has happened to us, through Christ, doesn’t wash off. We are marked forever as a saint.

Well, if we are saints then what is all this about in the gospel when Jesus says the poor, hungry, and mournful are blessed. What connection does that make? Well, as we develop and maintain a more personal relationship with God, we begin to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. We begin to see how God might perceive God’s kingdom.

The word “poor” used by Jesus in this reading is the description of the poorest of the poor. If someone is poor but knows that there is someone poorer than him/her, then it isn’t her/him that Jesus is talking about. And why are they blessed? When you have nothing, when you are utterly empty, all you can depend upon is God. It is then that you might realize and experience God’s reign breaking through. And being poor brings on sorrow and hunger. God promises that such people will laugh and be filled. That’s what we begin to understand as saints. Unfortunately, in the world, we “automatically” think, when we see people who have material goods, who appear to be wealthy, and are in good spirits, that they are blessed. Not so, says Jesus. Jesus helps us to understand that God turns our perception of life upside down.

And with that understanding, Jesus continues to make everything “topsy turvey” from the world’s perspective. He says we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. What kind of silliness is that?

The world doesn’t think that way. Just think of this last election campaign. Did you ever hear about loving our enemies? Was it ever suggested that we do good to those who hurt us? Did we see anyone blessing those who curse them? Or did any candidate pray for those who abused them? That’s not the way the world operates.

However, as we become closer to God, through Christ, we begin to see how God’s world operates and how we are to become. Oh, yes, we are sinners. There’s no doubt about that. But, we are also saints.

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