All Saints Sunday
(according to the preacher)
(according to the music director)
24th Sunday after Pentecost
(according to the secretary/liturgist)
Sunday, October 30, 2016
(according to everyone)
New Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, IL
The next couple of weeks are packed with momentous and exciting events. Tomorrow, the Lutheran church marks the 499th anniversary of the Reformation. The day after that, the global church marks All Saint’s Day, and the day after that, we celebrate the Day of the Dead. And next week, our country will hold a historic presidential election in which we will decide our leaders for the next four years or more. There’s a lot going on!
But I’d actually like to start off today talking about an upcoming day you probably didn’t expect to hear about from the pulpit: Halloween.
I loved Halloween as a kid. I loved the parties at school, and I loved getting to run wild all over my hometown asking my neighbors for candy. I mean, what’s not to love? But by far the best part of Halloween for me were the costumes. Every year, my mom would pull out her sewing machine and make the most amazing, elaborate costumes for my brother and sister and me. She was so creative and imaginative. She just had a way of making magic.
I really miss her around this time of year. She died, shortly before my ninth Halloween. And then there were no more costumes. I miss her sewing and her baking. I miss her laugh. I miss having her in my life. And I grieve her absence, thinking of all the things in my life that she hasn’t been there for, all the moments she’s missed: 23 more Halloweens, and so many other things.
I’m always thinking of her when All Saint’s Day rolls around, the day after Halloween. On this day, we are reminded of all those who have gone before us – all the greats of Christian history, of course – and also those who have been most dear to us. And on this day, we profess once again our hope in the promises that God has made, including the resurrection of the dead. Our scripture texts for today promise us that we shall “receive the kingdom and possess it forever and ever,” as an inheritance with Christ, that we will “exult in glory” and “sing for joy,” and that our God has the power to raise us up even from death.
But hope in these promises – especially in the promise of resurrection – can be a painful and elusive thing. I doubt that there is anyone here whose life hasn’t been touched by the death of someone they loved. Grief is a burden that weighs heavily on our hearts, and that can make it difficult to trust in God’s promise of a kingdom where the dead are raised and we receive life everlasting. It’s difficult to risk that hope, when disappointment might feel like losing our loved ones all over again. How can we trust in such a promise?
We are used to hearing promises we don’t necessarily believe. And these days especially, it seems like the air is full of promises. With the election just a little bit over a week away, it seems like some folks will say just about anything to get elected. Candidates for political office say they will create jobs, and improve education and infrastructure, and provide healthcare to all, and make us all safe and prosperous. But actually implementing these improvements often ends up being much more complex and difficult than candidates make it out to be, and so we have become used to being disappointed. We have become skeptical when we hear people making big promises. And no one makes bigger promises than God.
God’s campaign promises are larger than life – literally. Because God isn’t campaigning to govern a state or a country; God is campaigning to govern our hearts. God is campaigning to bring us all into God’s kingdom. And because we are, after all, God’s children, God knows what we need and what we hope for better than we do ourselves.
So how do we know that we can trust God’s promise?
Well, first of all, we have the biblical witness of God’s acts of power and love. These texts have been carefully written, compiled, and preserved over thousands of years of human history. We have stories of God bringing life to barren places, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and leading oppressed people out of slavery. We have the greatest story of God coming to earth as a newborn child, working miracles of healing, and dying only to rise from the dead three days later in flesh and blood.
Secondly, we have the testimony of over 2,000 years of faithful witnesses, believers who staked their lives and their hopes on the promises of our God. From Moses to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to a German monk and his followers who shook things up in the Catholic church five centuries ago, we have been preceded by a long line of people who heard and experienced the wondrous deeds of our God and believed these things to be true. Many of our loved ones, who have now died, including my mom, are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. Their voices have added to the strength of the biblical witness as something we can trust.
But the most important reason we have to put our trust in God’s great promises about the kingdom is that they are promises worthy of our trust and our hope. Unlike human campaign slogans that promise incremental and limited change, God’s promises are extravagant promises that transcend even the boundaries of life and death. In God’s kingdom, the dead shall be raised. We shall receive everlasting life, and we shall inherit the kingdom with Christ. The lowly shall be lifted up and the mighty shall be brought low. The poor among us shall be blessed, the hungry be filled, and the despised shall find love.
And even those among us who have wealth and full bellies and good reputations have a place in this kingdom, beyond all the woe. We are called to use the gifts we have been given in service of the kingdom. Jesus urges us to do good for one another, to pray for others, to be generous in giving to others, and to do unto others as we would have them do to ourselves. All of us are called, not just to be co-inheritors of the kingdom, but co-creators, helping to bring God’s kingdom into this world little by little.
This has been the joyous task of the church for over 2,000 years: to set our hopes on the promised kingdom of God, and to live as if it already were so. As we do these things, we join our lives and our prayers with those of all the saints, including Martin Luther and the Reformers, and including those whom we have loved the most. We join them in singing the one unending hymn of praise to our God. It is our hope in God’s promises that unites us all, in life, and in death.