Sunday, November 27, 2011

Evening Advent Service - November 27, 2011

Advent is about waiting.  Any child knows this perfectly well.  There are many adults who seem to think Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving, or in October for that matter.  But a child knows that this is not at all true.  They know because though the tree might be in the living room, with ornaments and lights, and though there might be cookies in the oven, and though there might be carols on the radio and all kinds of other things to throw them off the scent, there is a hard and fast rule that presents are not opened until Christmas arrives.  And so children wait and they wait,  and they wait.  Advent is about waiting.

Now there are different kinds of waiting.  The kind of waiting that I just described, children waiting to finally open presents, that is one kind of waiting.  It is hopeful anticipation.  The children don’t know what is under that tree, but they are pretty certain that whatever it is, it’s going to be good.

Waiting for our new baby Abigail to arrive has been like this for me.  I don’t know what she’s going to be like.  I don’t know if she’ll have blond hair or red hair or no hair.  I don’t know if she’ll be quiet and sweet or full of spit and vinegar.  I just don’t know.  But I do know that she’s going to be wonderful.  And so I wait in hopeful anticipation.

But there is a different kind of waiting.  And this other kind of waiting is not so nice.  It is called dread.  It is waiting with fear.  We might wait this way before having surgery.  Or this might be the kind of waiting we do before trying something new or dangerous.  This isn't the kind of waiting that we want to do, of course.   But it is part of our lives.  We all know what it means to wait with fear. 

As I said, Advent is about waiting.  But which kind?  Is it about waiting with fear?  Or is it about waiting with hopeful anticipation?  This is what I know.  God is holy and he demands that we be holy as well.  We are to do good without ceasing and flee from all evil.  We are to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and with all our strength and with all our mind.  And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Given this command, it makes sense for us to wait with fear, because we have sinned against God.  We have not done these things.  According to the law of justice, we should be condemned.  And so it makes sense to wait with fear for the judge to come and pass his sentence upon us.

But I am guessing that most of us gathered here tonight have not gathered in a spirit of fear.  Though we have all so clearly fallen short of God's glory, yet we gather tonight in hopeful anticipation, waiting for something good to happen.  Why is this?  It is because we know something.  We know that God promised us a savior.  We know that God sent his son to be with us.  We know that in baptism and Holy Communion he forgives our sins and gives us the promise of everlasting life.  It is because of these promises that we can wait with hopeful anticipation.  We wait these four weeks of Advent to celebrate the birth of our Lord.  And we wait our whole lives long for the judgment to come.  And we don’t know all of the details yet.  We don’t know all of the details, but we know that it’s going to be good.  

1st Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2011

This past summer, we celebrated the centennial of both Brunsville and Craig, one hundred years of history.  This celebration brought to the forefront something that we all know.  We have all kinds of stories that stretch back in time.  Some of us have families that were here from the start, back when farms were a little smaller, families a little bigger, winters a little colder.  And some of us have stories that have only come to these rolling hills in more recent times.  But the point is, we’ve got them.  We’ve got ancestors, those who have come before us. And when things are working as they should, these stories and these people help us to make sense of our lives right now.  They give us hope that adversity can be overcome, and they provide instruction for us so that we don’t have to learn the hard way, though some of us stubborn ones will insist on extra lessons. 

This idea of history is at the heart of our Old Testament lesson today.  Isaiah is a prophet who knows the history of his people.  He knows the stories; he knows the ancestors. And Isaiah is attempting to understand the situation of the people in his own time by looking at what happened to their ancestors.  He’s doing this because his people are in a tough spot. 

For one thing, Isaiah’s people were surrounded by enemies.  They had once been strong and independent, but now they had grown weak.  Some of them had already been dragged away into slavery.  More would follow.  Isaiah talks about Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed and becoming ruins.  So this is an exterior problem, a challenge that is coming from outside of themselves.  But that’s not the worst of it......

Because they also have interior problems.  They are neck-deep in sin.  Isaiah talks about how they have become unclean like dirty rags.  But what is worse, he talks about how no one is calling on God, no one is seeking him.  No one is repenting.  That’s a big problem.

So Isaiah is looking back at history to help his people.  And if we look at the chapter before our lesson, he starts mentioning names and events:  Abraham and Moses, going through the parted waters of the Red Sea, taking possession of the Promised Land.  Isaiah is looking back at the stories of his people.  He’s looking at those stories and he’s telling them to his people. 

You all know the story.  God chose a man named Abraham.  To Abraham he gave three promises: land, numerous descendants and the promise that through him and his descendants all the nations of the world would be blessed.  It took awhile for the descendants to begin arriving, but Isaac was born.  And then Jacob.  And then Jacob had twelve sons.  One of these sons, Joseph, became a very important man in Egypt and his father and brothers and all their children moved to Egypt where life became more prosperous for them while Joseph lived.  But in the generations following his death, prosperity turned into slavery.  These descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became slaves in the land of Egypt

The parallel that Isaiah see is this: for the people of his time, just like those people of old, prosperity has turned into slavery.  What was good has turned into bad.  And like the people of old, Isaiah’s people don’t seem to have the power to do anything about it.  So what is to be done?  Well what does the story say?

The Book of Exodus tells us that the slaves cried out for help and God heard them.  God sent them a deliverer whose name was Moses.  And God used Moses to lead his people through the Red Sea and out of slavery; he led them through the wilderness and brought them to the land that he had promised to Abraham.  So the lesson of history that Isaiah draws from this is that God is the one who has the power to save.  The slaves in Egypt cried out and God heard them and God saved them.

So what does Isaiah do?  He cries out the powerful words that began our service today, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence...... to make your name known to your adversaries, so that nations might tremble at your presence!  When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”

Here is what Isaiah is saying, “God, I know history.  I know what you have done.  I know that you have shown yourself to be powerful, mighty to save.  I know that you brought my ancestors out of Egypt. I know that you drowned the Egyptian chariots in the Red Sea.  I know that you brought my people into the Promised Land, overcoming every obstacle.  I know that you have been powerful on our behalf. 

Lord, rip the sky open and come down for us now.  Tear the clouds apart, come and help us now.  Send us a savior.”  Isaiah cries out on behalf of his people, “Send us a savior.”

Now all of what I have spoken of is history.  And today we know how God responded to Isaiah’s cry; and this response has become a part of history as well; it has become a story that we know very well.  God became human in the person of Jesus.  He tore open the heavens and came down.  He tore open the sky and came down and lived among us and died for us.  This is God’s response to Isaiah’s cry.  It is now a part of our history.

But this cannot remain history.  This saving act of God cannot stay in the past as a story of God’s goodness to other people, people of long ago.  It must not remain a dusty page in some old book.  Isaiah cried out to the God of history on behalf of his people, “Save us too!  Come to us in power like you came to our fathers and grandfathers......”  It wasn’t enough for Isaiah to know history.  He needed a savior.

Likewise for us.  It is good that we know the history of our people.  Our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt and they cried, “God save us!”  And he delivered them.  Our ancestor is Isaiah who cried out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down......”  And God became man and walked on earth.  It is good that we know this history, but it is not enough.  Because what we need is a savior. 

“Jesus, come to us like you came to the slaves in Egypt.  Answer us like you answered Isaiah.  Save us.  For in so many ways we are sorely afflicted.  We have fallen into slavery and sin of every sort and we cannot free ourselves.  Jesus, tear open the heavens and come down.”  This is the cry of Advent.  And the good news of Advent is this: Jesus is coming.  Jesus is coming.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve - November 23, 2011

O Lord our God, through all this year,
In Winter's chill and darkness drear,
In Springtime's rain and windy blow,
In Summer's heat as crops did grow,
In Autumn when the harvest came,
You are our God.  You stay the same.

The Winter wind, it froze our faces;
     Icy roads made our hearts race.
     Soil laid dormant under snow
     And darkened days drug on so slow.

     Yet you cheered us every morn.
     On Christmas day your son was born.
     With joyful alleluia greeting,
     In this season our God meeting.

Springtime wind, the constant blowing,
     Muddy fields and then seeds sowing,
     Rivers rising, then the flood,
     Newborn cattle chewing cud.

     In this life and chaos swelling,
     You, our Lord, were always dwelling.
     Raised victorious Easter morn,
     Thus your children are reborn.

Summer heat and dry conditions
     Aphids on destructive missions,
     Straight line winds that bent the crop,
     Cloudless skies without a drop,

     Yet through these you brought us through.
     Lacking rain, the corn still grew.
     Ever faithful you were there
     In pardoned sins and answered prayer.

Autumn came with combines churning
     Wayward sparks and fires burning.
     Yet we brought the harvest in
     And put it safely in the bin.

     Likewise, God, you gather us,
     Though we can be ornery cusses.
     So hallelujah, praises sing!
     Lift thanksgiving to our king!

O Lord our God, through all this year
You've been our hope and strength and cheer.
Your mercies given new each morn,
Baptismal pardon for newborns,
Assurance for our loved ones dying,
Comfort for us in our crying,
Lord your goodness has abounded.
Let Thanksgiving praise be sounded!


This sermon is based on events in our countryside this year.  All except for the newborn cattle chewing cud.  Apparently they drink milk.  ;-)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King Sunday - November 20, 2011

It’s really easy to listen to our gospel reading today and hear Jesus teaching about who gets into heaven and who doesn’t.  The scene is this: all the nations are gathered before the king for judgment.  He divides them into two groups: sheep and goats.  He speaks to the sheep and tells them that they have done well.  They gave him food and drink when he needed it; they welcomed him and clothed him.  They took care of him when he was sick and visited him in prison.  In short, they showed mercy and love to one who was in need of it.  These sheep express surprise because they were not aware that they had done any such thing.  The king replies, “When you did this for the least of these, you did it for me.”

And then the king addresses the goats.  He calls them to task for doing none of these acts of mercy.  They didn’t help him at all when he needed it.  When they express surprise at this he tells them, “Just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it for me.”  And they are sent away for punishment.

It is easy to hear the parable and come to this conclusion: “Those who do good deeds and are merciful towards the disadvantaged get in to heaven, those who are stingy and mean are kept out.”  It’s really easy to hear that.  Then, if we hear it that way, we might start thinking, “Are we sheep or are we goats?  How can we make sure to be in the right group?”  This is an unfortunate and, I believe false, interpretation of the gospel lesson.  Apart from being wrong, it can distract us from what the scripture is really trying to communicate to us.  So that is what I’d like to talk about today.  Just what does this parable mean?  And how does it apply to us?

First of all, and I can’t stress this enough, it is important to know the context.  Who is Jesus talking to?  Is he talking to a huge crowd?  Is he talking to foreigners who don’t believe in the God of Israel?  Is he talking to the Pharisees? 

No, he’s talking to his disciples.  Jesus is talking to the ones whom he has already chosen.  We can learn from this that the point of the parable is not to tell them what they need to do to get into heaven.  That horse is already out of the barn.  And if you don’t believe me you only have to look at the scripture itself to see that this is true.  In the parable, the first words out of the king’s mouth are this, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  The sheep aren’t entering in because of their deeds of mercy.  It is the opposite.  In some way, their deeds of mercy are the result of their having been chosen.  So this parable is aimed at those who are already presumed to be the sheep. 

So if he isn’t telling the parable in order to get them to make the right spiritual decision, why does he tell it?  What’s the point?  Again, this is where paying attention to context makes a huge difference.  I was trying to get a handle on the parable early this past week and so I backed up in Matthew all the way to chapter 21.  And I read the almost four chapters that come before our gospel lesson.  And lo and behold, things started to come into focus.

In chapter 21, Jesus enters into Jerusalem.  The crowds love him; they wave branches and cheer.  Jesus gets into the city, goes to the temple, and overturns the tables of the moneychangers.  In short, he causes a ruckus.  Then he leaves town for the day and spends the night in Bethany, which is a nearby village.  The next day, Jesus comes back.  And where does he go?  He goes to the temple.  While at the temple, and in front of his disciples, Jesus has a series of conversations with the priests, scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders of the people. 

Jesus and these leaders play a cat and mouse game.  They try to trick him into saying something that will get him into trouble.  He attacks their authority and shows them up in front of the people.

And then finally, after a chapter and a half of this high stakes, back and forth, verbal combat, Jesus turns to the crowds, which includes his disciples, and starts to talk to them about the religious leaders.  In the presence of everyone, he starts to pronounce a series of woes.  Here is one example, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth  So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy.”  He mercilessly condemns them for saying one thing and doing another.  He condemns them for caring more about all their rules and laws than they care for actual flesh and blood people.  Again, Jesus is doing this with his disciples close by, soaking up every word.

After he finishes his series of accusations, Jesus and his disciples start to leave the temple.  They bring up another subject.  He takes the opportunity to talk to them about the future.  He tells them parables about being prepared for this future, about staying ready.  And then finally, we arrive at our parable for today. 

This is what I believe to be happening here.  Jesus is preparing his disciples for the future, for the time after his death and resurrection.  In the confrontation at the temple, Jesus bluntly condemned the religious leaders for being hypocrites and for not caring about the people.  He is preparing his disciples to be a different kind of religious leader.

So with this parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus is saying, “Dearest disciples, do not be like them!  Do NOT be like them!  Those scribes and Pharisees, those old goats, they get all tangled in their rules and their rituals and this and that; and they forget all about loving people.  Do not be like them.  Instead of helping people and leading them, those old goats just burden them and make their lives miserable.  Do not be like them. 

No, because you are my chosen ones, you must be different.  You must be ones who help people.  You must go out of your way to serve those who are the lowliest.  You must feed the hungry one and give her water to drink.  You must help the sick and visit the prisoners.  That is your job.  As religious leaders, that is your job.  You must be leaders who serve. 

So then, this parable is not about how to get salvation.  It is about how to act because we have already been given salvation.  We are not to be like the scribes and Pharisees who burden people and hurt them.  We are not to get so caught up in our own lives that we fail to serve the one who is in need.  No, we are not to be like that because Jesus has chosen us to be his sheep.  He has chosen us to be the ones who help people.  To give them water, to visit them in the hospital and in jail, to clothe them.  In short, he has chosen us to show mercy and love to those who need it so desperately.  And so we must take this responsibility very seriously.  Not so that we will be chosen, but because we have been chosen.  Amen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost - November 13, 2011

We begin with a quotation:

“Even now I cannot understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this. I know that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open. And I'm pretty sure he was happy with his final resting place, because he was buried on the mountain. And that was against the law.” 

This past year, Faith and I saw a movie called The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman as Carter and Jack Nicholson as Edward.  The two men are both terminally ill with cancer.  Edward is a wealthy man and an atheist, and he determines that he is going to fit as much as he can into his remaining weeks.  And so he makes a bucket list, things to do before he kicks the bucket.  He invites Carter along, as the two had become friends while sharing a hospital room.  And so the two men start doing things like skydiving, racing classic cars around a racetrack, visiting the Pyramids and so on.  As their travels continue, it becomes more and more clear that Edward is vainly trying to give his life meaning with all of these fabulous activities.  Deep down, however, he is hurting because he has failed at what matters most to him: he has a broken relationship with his daughter.  Without setting this relationship right, the arrival of death will be bitter indeed.  But maybe, with enough courage and wisdom, Edward can set the relationship right so that he won’t have to die all alone.  And then maybe death won’t be so bad.  This is the message that the movie conveys.

The Bucket List is a very interesting movie because it looks at how we deal with the inevitable arrival of death.  The conclusion of the movie, which is captured by the quotation with which I began, suggests that one can win some kind of victory over death by the manner of living one’s life and also by the circumstances of one’s death.  Thus, according to the film, Edward wins a victory over death because he has reconciled with his daughter and so he doesn’t have to die alone. Take that, Death!  Edward also wins a victory over death by being buried on top of the mountain.  Death is the ultimate law, but Edward is able to break that law, just a little bit, by being buried where he was.  For it was illegal to be buried on the mountain.  Ha!  Take that, Death. 

This kind of thinking is very common.  We try to win small victories over death in all manner of ways.  By great athletic performances, for example.  Breaking an important record might be described like this, “Adrian Peterson has achieved football immortality.”  “People will always remember what happened here today.”  It isn’t uncommon to hear these kinds of things.  We want to be remembered, even after our death.  To be remembered is to win some small victory over that death.

We also try to win small victories over death by giving assurances to those who have died, “You will live forever in our memories.  We will never forget.”  In other words, we are denying to death a complete victory by treasuring memories. 

We try to win small victories over death by appreciating every moment of our lives, “Make every moment count” we say.  “Live like there is no tomorrow.”  Because maybe by living intensely and passionately in the present, we can make our life so big and so overflowing, that death will be unable to swallow it all up.

I am talking this morning about these things this morning, because humanity has struggled with them for a very long time.  In our Psalm for today, Psalm 90, we find the great prophet Moses struggling with these things.

He writes, “You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’  For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.  You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”

Life is like the grass which sprouts in the morning, but by evening it has been burned up by the sun and is dead.  Life is short.  Before we know it, life is drawing to a close and death draws near.  Nothing can be done to hold it back. 

Why is this so?  Moses knows.  Death, that terrible enemy of life, arrives as the result of sin.  Or to be more direct, death is the punishment for sin.  Moses writes, “For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.  You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins right in front of your face.”  Moses knows that God sees everything.  He sees it all.  He sees every shameful nook and cranny.  No sin escapes his knowledge. 

Moses knows this very well because he was the one who brought the Law down from the mountain.  He was the one who met God there and he brought down the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets.  He brought the Law to the people and told them to live by it.  And yet he knows full well that they cannot.  He knows that he cannot.  And he sees death approaching.  As they wander in the wilderness for those forty years, all of the people who left Egypt are dying.  All of them are dying and are replaced by new generations who will enter the promised land.  And he sees death coming for himself.  And he wonders what is to be done.  Is there some small victory that can be won over this dreaded enemy?

Moses, like us, seeks somehow to soften what he knows what must happen.  This is what he says, “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  “Lord, I know that we must die.  I know that this is the punishment for sin, but help us at least to make the most of the days that we have.  Teach us to take advantage of that time at least.  And let not the time be used for that which does not matter, but for something more important, for the pursuit of wisdom.”  You can see here that Moses thinks much like we think.  He knows that death is the end and seeks to gain some small victory over it.  “Lord, give us this small victory over death.  We know that it is coming.  We know that we will die because of our sin.  But give us this little victory to console us.”

I tell you this morning that this is what life is like under the Law.  We seek to wriggle away from inevitable death.  We try to win small victories.  We try to convince ourselves that death really isn’t that bad.  This is life under the Law.  When Edward was buried on the top of that mountain, he was not winning a victory over death or the Law; he was succumbing to them.  His life had been reduced to ash and was no more.  When we say that we will never forget, we may have good intentions, but we tell ourselves a lie.  We lie because our minds grow frail and though we would like to remember, so often we cannot.  And in any event, death will wipe away any such memories.  This is life under the Law.

In Psalm 90, there is no gospel.  There is no good news.  There is no promise.  There is no Jesus Christ.  There is no hope.  Death swallows everything because God has decreed that sin must be punished.

In just two weeks, the season of Advent will begin.  Advent, the time when we wait.  The time when we hope for a future.  Advent, the time when we ask God to send us a savior to rescue us from this law of sin and death.  Advent, the time when we yearn for the Word that is good news, the Word who gives forgiveness.  And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Saints Sunday - November 6, 2011

What is All Saints Day all about?  That’s the question I’ve been pondering for the last couple of days.  I’ve never really thought much about it, truth be told.  To me, All Saints Day is the Sunday when we honor those who have died in the faith, particularly during the past year.  We put their names in the bulletin.  Perhaps we read them out loud.  Maybe we light a candle for them.  We sing particular hymns.  More or less it is this, we take a moment to remember our dead.  That’s what All Saints Day has always been to me.

What is less clear to me is what this has to do with saints.  What are saints, exactly?  What I’ve always understood is that saints are one of two things.  The first possibility is this: saints are living people who are closer to perfect than most of us are.  So and so is a saint because she volunteers so much of her time.  Or this other fellow is a saint because he isn’t subject to the same sinful urges that the rest of us are.  He just always seems to do the right thing.  This understanding of saints thinks of them as a cut above the normal person, like Mother Theresa.

The other understanding of saint that I have is this:  A saint is a Christian who has died.  Most of us living folks aren’t very saintly.  There’s all kinds of evidence against us in our words and deeds.  We do things we shouldn’t and we don’t help out as much as we should.  We get angry and have mean thoughts.  And so on and so forth.  There’s all this evidence that we’re not saints.  But, and I’m just trying to put my finger on what it is that I’ve thought through the years, when we die and go to heaven, then things change.  All of that sinful stuff just drops off; it falls away and we’re left with just the good.  In any event, the dead no longer sin.  And so it seems like death makes Christians into saints.  That’s the second basic understanding that I’ve always had.

Now I want to make clear, especially for those who are taking sermon notes, that I’m not saying any of what I’ve said so far is true.  It’s just the way I’ve thought about things.  And maybe some of you have thought about it this way too.

So it seems to me that All Saints Day has more to do with this second understanding.  On this day, All Saints Sunday, we are honoring our dead.  We are remembering Christian brothers and sisters who have died.  They weren’t exactly saints when they were with us, but now that they have died we can think of them as saints because they have been transformed.  So All Saints Day is about honoring the dead, whom we can now call saints because they are no longer part of the nitty gritty business down here, where people just aren’t that holy.  This is more or less the way that I have understood the matter.

Upon some further thinking, though, I think that I may have gotten it wrong.  Well, not all of it.  For instance, I think that it is absolutely right that we should honor our dead and I think that it is absolutely right that we should think well of them.  But the major part of it I have gotten wrong.  Connecting sainthood to death, for instance.  This is wrong, because the Bible doesn’t talk like that at all.  I looked up the word “saints” in my Bible concordance and I started looking at each verse that used the word.  And what I found was very interesting.  Over and over and over again, the word “saints” refers to members of the church, followers of Jesus.  All of these people are very clearly living people, not dead ones.  The saints are members of the church who are alive and well, here on earth. 

The other point that is clear is that the people being called “saints” are not being called that because they are the cream of the crop, the very best.  The Apostle Paul talks about visiting the saints in one town or helping the saints in another.  Clearly he isn’t talking about going to some town, to which he’s never been, and visiting only the holiest people.  He wouldn’t have the foggiest idea who they were!  He’s just talking about visiting the people who follow Jesus, the Church. 

So when you put these two points together, what you’ve got is this: “saints” just refers to living folks who are followers of Jesus.  It doesn’t refer to dead Christians in particular, nor does it refer to people who are some kind of spiritual elite.  In other words, it refers to people like you and like me.

“That’s all well and good, Pastor, that’s very nice.  But what does that have to do with anything?  It’s not as if I’m going to go around telling people I’m a saint.  What’s the point?”  You are right to ask that question.  All by itself, this is pretty meaningless knowledge.  It does us no good.  And do you know why?  Because we think it’s just a label.  We think it’s just a fancy word that has been dumbed down so that it doesn’t mean anything at all.  Sure, we’re called saints, but no matter what you call us, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still the same old sinners.  What meaning does a first place ribbon have if everybody is given one?  If everybody got a Lombardi trophy after the football season, it wouldn’t mean much.  And so it is with the word “saint.”  If everybody’s a saint, then nobody’s a saint.  The word doesn’t mean anything anymore.  That’s what I’m tempted to think.

But that's not right.  In fact it's all wrong.  And maybe this is a simple point to make, but I want to make it because it is the gospel after all.

It isn't what we do that makes us right with God.  It isn't what we do that makes us righteous.  It isn't what we do that makes us saints.  If we look at ourselves and say, "Not saints," we're being very foolish indeed.  If we do that we have fallen into the trap of playing God.  At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s not our job.

Being God is God’s job.  He's the one who makes us right.  He’s the one who forgives our sins.  He's the one who makes us saints.  Our lesson from Revelation says this, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb."  He's the one who does it.  And if we can’t see it, that’s because we are the ones who are blind.  If you don’t look around you this morning and see a crowd of saints, it’s not because it isn’t true.  It’s because you’re trusting your own stinking eyes and not the Word of God.  It is God’s word which is true.  It is his word which is real.  

And so today, we honor the saints whom God has made this past year in baptism.  We honor the saints who have been affirmed in the faith just this past week.  And we honor the saints who have died.  They are all of them saints, along with us, for God has declared and made it so.  And thus it is so.  Thanks be to God alone.  Amen.