Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
We Are God’s Children Now - November 1, 2015 - All Saints Day - Text: 1 John 3:1-3
Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. Now I know that All Saint’s Day is not that big a deal, not that big of a celebration for us in the Lutheran Church, but perhaps we should rethink this matter and make a bigger deal of this day, after all, our hope and future are not a hope and future for this world, but for the world to come. Our hope and confidence is that one day we will be saints in heaven and that one day may be sooner than we know and even sooner than we might expect.
And let me briefly remind you, in case you have forgotten, that by faith in Jesus, especially by faith given through His means of grace, either through His Word or at our own baptism, we are saints. Yes, while we are on this earth we will continue to be sinners as well, but we are saints and we will speak more on this again a little later.
In our first lesson appointed for reading on All Saint’s Day, we have John’s vision of our salvation. John describes what we call the number of completion, that is, all believers. John speaks of the 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel times the number of completion 1000. His lists of 12,000 from each tribe differs from the lists of the number in each tribe in the Old Testament because John’s listing is a symbolic listing of the tribes of the true Israel as described by Paul in Romans nine. The true Israel is the Israel of faith not DNA. Thus the total number of believers that will be in heaven is given in the number of 144,000, not a specific number, but a number of completion, all believers in Jesus.
John also tells us about the joy of all believers around the throne of the Lamb forever. There will be no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching heat. Instead, there will be springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Quite a comforting picture John paints for believers in Jesus.
In the Gospel lesson appointed for this day of celebration we have Jesus’ words of blessing and His Words of Gospel. We are described as blessed who recognize and acknowledge that we are poor in spirit so that we do hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, in other words, we are blessed who hunger and thirst after making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, every Sunday and every day. We are blessed because it is through these means that our Lord feeds us, comforts us, purifies us and gives us the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith and life. And this continues to be my concern for this congregation as well as our nation, that is that so many refuse these gifts on a weekly basis. God has so many gifts He wants to give and yet, every Sunday many people refuse those gifts by not being in worship. Let me encourage you, let me exhort you, ladies and gentlemen, come and be given the gifts and encourage and exhort your brothers and sisters who refuse the gifts to come and be given the gifts.
As Jesus says, again in our Gospel lesson, especially blessed are those who believe and are persecuted, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Although we may not suffer the persecution some of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in this world, I might suggest that we do suffer more subtle forms of persecution. The question is, do we stand up and confess our faith, or do we simply allow others to think as they will, even that we do not have faith?
In our text for this morning, John’s first letter, John helps us to understand what love is, what true love is, that is that true love begins with the Father’s Love, with God the Father’s love. True love is that God loves us first and He shows His love in the gift of His Son. We begin at verse one, “1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (v. 1-3).
Notice first and foremost that God is the prime mover. He first loved us, making us His children. And how does He make us His children? Every year on Good Friday we remember and we even celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life for ours on the cross. We give thanks for His suffering the punishment for our sins. And then, every year on the following Sunday, on Easter Sunday we celebrate His resurrection, the complete defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is how He purchased us, by paying the price for our sins. He makes us His children through means, namely through His means of grace. He makes us His children through His Word, which does what it says, in other words, when the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, says we have faith, that is exactly what we have, faith, given to us by God through the means of His Word. Another means the Lord uses to make us His children is Holy Baptism. As water and God’s name are put on us at Baptism, the Lord gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. These things come to us from outside of us and are given to us from outside of us. These are the Lord’s doing and the Lord’s giving. He makes us His children.
When Jesus came into the world, as we are reminded in the Gospel accounts, the world rejected Him. Jesus was not the Savior the people were looking for, at least not the Savior for which some were looking. Jesus was not a social/political savior. Jesus did not come to over throw the oppressors of the Children of Israel, at least not the oppressors they wanted overthrown. Jesus simply did not fit their definition of who the Savior was or what He should do.
The world rejected Jesus and as He makes us His children, we should expect nothing more or less from the world, in other words, we should expect that the world will reject us. As children of the Lord we do not speak the same language as the world, we do not have the same priorities as the world, we do not have the same outlook as the world. The world speaks of power, fame and fortune. The world speaks of the things of this world, that this is all there is. We speak of sin and forgiveness. We speak of absolutes, absolute truth and love. We speak of the transient nature of this world, that our lives in this world are fast and fleeting. And so, our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come.
John says we are not yet what we will be. John is speaking of our goal of sanctification, that is that, after being given faith by the Holy Spirit, through the outward means of grace, the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through us to make us more and more Christ-like. Of course, we understand that we will never be completely Christ-like, at least not on this side of heaven. But when we reach our eternal home of heaven, we will be made perfect again. So, we are no longer what we were before being given faith, that is we are no longer complete sinners, lost and condemned persons, but we are not yet all that we will be in heaven, complete and perfect saints.
What does this mean? First we are reminded that God is the prime mover. As John says elsewhere, we love because He first loved us. Here I like the image of the Sun and the moon. When we see the moon shining in the sky, we know we are seeing the reflection of the Sun, because the moon has no light of its own. Thus, when we love others and when we are loved by others, we know that we and they are merely reflecting the love of God to each other, because in and of ourselves, apart from God, we have no love of our own.
God first loves us and then God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. These are gifts from God. These are not gifts we take or get on our own, they are gifts from God. And these gifts He gives through means, namely through outward, external means of Grace, the Bible, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and confession and absolution. Just as we did not choose to be born into this world, but we were conceived by our parents and born into this world, so we do not choose to save ourselves, to get forgiveness for ourselves, these gifts are given from outside of us, namely our Lord has chosen us and gives us the gifts He has to give, forgiveness, faith and life and He delivers these gifts through the means of grace.
God first loves us, God gives us faith, forgiveness and life and then God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is our becoming more and more Christlike, but here again, this is not something we do in and of ourselves, this is God’s doing as well. God the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to always point to Christ, and that is why we do not hear or see much of Him, He is the one, working through the means of grace who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and we do them because He is working them in and through us.
And finally, God brings us into His kingdom. Notice how in all these instances it is God who is doing the doing. God does and we are done to. God gives and we are given to. God has His way with us and we are thankful. We know we get it right and we can have confidence only in this, that God always does it right, and gets it right. I may err, but God never errs. Thanks be to God.
As we celebrate All Saint’s day, then we celebrate the fact that we are saints. And we are reminded as Dr. Luther so well reminded us and as John reminds us, even though we are saints, we are and while we are on this earth we will also continue to be at the same times sinners. So we are saint/sinners. Our life on this earth is a life of sanctification in that our Lord continues to work on us through His means of grace to be strengthened in our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation. Certainly, while we are here on this earth, we will have times when we will fail. We will fall for temptation and we will sin, yet we are not to be discouraged because we are given forgiveness and the Holy Spirit continues working on us to be the people God would have us to be.
Our ultimate hope and certainty is indeed described in the Revelation of John that upon our passing from this earth, either through our own death or through the Lord’s return, we will be united with all the saints, all those who have gone on before us and all those who will go on after us so that we will all gather at the Lord’s throne to be feed and comforted, to give glory to the Lord, to live with Him forever in heaven. To Him alone be all glory. And we might well end by saying as John does, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” Amen.