All Saint’s Remembrance  — November 1, 2015

Text — Revelation 7:9-17 Theme — “Already, Not Yet”

The book of Revelation was written at a time when believers in Jesus Christ were being actively persecuted for their faith. When we read and study the book today we must do so in that same light, as a book giving strength, encouragement and hope to anyone who might well have to suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ regardless of whether that suffering comes from the devil, man, the fallen world, God’s curse on sin or our own destructive choices. The hope and resolve to endure is found in the victorious Christ and His promises of faithfulness and in our faithfulness to Him. The theme verse of Revelation is clear and repeated with regularity, “Be faithful unto death and you will receive the crown of life!”

On this All Saints Day, I want to talk a bit about faithfulness from two perspectives, that of the saints above and that of the saints below.

The text from Revelation speaks of faithfulness from the view of the saints above, the home of the blessed dead, the end goal of our faith, our crown, God’s heaven.

There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” . . . “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; . . . Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This is a wonderful description of the life that awaits the faithful follower of Christ. It doesn’t describe a beautiful place as much as the glorious relationship along with the most satisfying rescue from a most difficult life journey. The saints are gathered in the presence of holy God because of the redemptive work of Jesus. They had been washed in the blood of the lamb. The gift of forgiveness of sins had brought them to their eternal bliss along with their faithfulness — “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” While on earth they endured all that the Devil, death, hell, the world, their flesh and the powers of evil could throw at them by the sufficient grace of God, the Lordship of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The hope of an eternity with no more wants, struggles or tears in the presence of God had aided their day to day struggle to overcome. Revelation was written so that the saints below would know that because Christ lived in them they likewise could see themselves who were “not yet” in heaven physically “already” there among the hosts in heaven. That vision, that hope was intended to inspire faithfulness among them including us.

What does it mean to be faithful? Today’s Epistle Lesson speaks to that.

[1 John 3:1] How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. [3] Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

God’s lavish love makes us children. A child genuinely loved is protected, nourished, cared for, shaped, challenged, given opportunity, disciplined, trusted, etc. A parent imagines possibilities for his/her child that the child never would. This is beyond true for God who is all knowing and all powerful. God has demonstrated that love through the life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of His Son, our brother Jesus. “We shall be like him!” is the Father’s promise in both heaven His righteousness. The hope in the “not yet” in the what we will be inspires us in the “already”, the here and now to be “pure” like Jesus as we live each day. What does it mean to be “pure?”

When we read the next couple of verses that becomes clear. John continues: “In Christ there is no sin. He appeared so that He might take away our sins. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. He who does what is right is righteous just as He is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil.”

I would challenge you to understand faithfulness in terms of being pure. That may be a new concept for you. I suspect most us when talk about faithfulness or consider words like “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” to mean, “I’ve been a good church member, read my Bible, tried to live the best I could, etc.” I don’t think we’ve understood it to mean, “I am going to live a pure life as close to Jesus’ own as I can by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit guiding me.” Hence we have a lot of Christians running around with what I refer to as faith and love “blind spots.”  By that I mean areas of sin, stubbornness, rebellion, confusion, etc. that are not marks of holiness, faithfulness or purity. For example a Christian who regularly uses God’s name in vain or other course language; or a two believers who refuse to attend the same service because of a dispute; or church going brothers suing each other over their mothers meager estate; or elders getting drunk; or  a Christian politician voting funding authorizing abortions; or a long time Sunday School teacher gossiping about other women in the church; or a pastor ordering his sons to rough up a boy he felt acted inappropriately to his daughter. Will these be among the saints who will be gathered above, who will be called faithful, who will receive the crown of life?

I can only speak of what the Word says. The rest is up to God and you. True saints live in an “already, not yet” tension. We believe that we will be in the throne room of God because Christ has earned us a place in that glorious multitude. We also know that life is tough and that there are many forces trying to keep us from that goal. We also know that faithfulness is the path that we are called to walked here in time and that it is a path we don’t have to forge but one that Christ has prepared for us and that He walks with us providing every resource that we need including Word and Sacrament and the saints above and those below. He expects us walk in purity because that is what love and faith produce. The good news is that even when we fail the faithful Jesus does not abandon us and run but calls us to repentance and renewed lives of purity.

He was just a little fellow. His mother died when he was just a child. His father, in trying to be both mom and dad, had planned a picnic. The boy had never been on a picnic, so they made their plans, fixed the lunch, and packed the car. Then it was time to go to bed, for the picnic was the next day. He just couldn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned, but the excitement got to him. Finally, he got out of bed, ran into the room where his father had already fallen asleep, and shook him. His father woke up and saw his son. He said to him, “What are you doing up?” “What’s the matter?” The boy said, “I can’t sleep.” The father asked, “Why can’t you sleep?” In answering the boy said, “Daddy, I’m excited about tomorrow.” His father replied, “Well, Son, I’m sure you are, and it’s going to be a great day, but it won’t be great if we don’t get some sleep. So why don’t you just run down the hall, get back in bed, and get a good night’s rest.” So the boy trudged off down the hall to his room and got to bed. Before long, sleep came–to the father, that is. It wasn’t long thereafter that the little boy was back pushing and shoving his father, and his father opened his eyes. Harsh words almost blurted out until he saw the expression on the boy’s face. The father asked, “What’s the matter now?” The boy said, “Daddy, I just want to thank you for tomorrow.”

All Saints is mostly about tomorrow, about the “not yet” that God has prepared for us. It should generate hope in us and a spirit of thankfulness that will translates into faithfulness in the “already,” in the day to day routines, struggles, opportunities, challenges and responsibilities we face so that we might not only envision ourselves in that heavenly multitude but one day actually be a participant in it.

 

1 John 3:1-3

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. [3] Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

 

Rev. 7:9-17

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. [10] And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” [11] All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!” [13] Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?” [14] I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. [15] Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. [16] Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. [17] For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Matthew 5:1-12

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, [2] and he began to teach them, saying: [3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [4] Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. [5] Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. [6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. [7] Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. [8] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. [9] Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. [10] Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [11] “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. [12] Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.