Vision and Endurance – An All Saints Meditation


Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

All Saints on the Christian calendar is a “High Holy Day”. In Roman Catholicism it has a very clear purpose – the remembering of All Saints which are those who have official church recognition. In Lutheranism, or Protestantism in general, it sometimes seems to be a day looking for a firm meaning. Some Lutherans just bring over the Roman Catholic idea which they are free to do following the Augsburg Confession article 21. Some, perhaps most, let it pass without mention other than singing the Hymn For All the Saints, which is one of the strongest in the book. As such it can be a gauzy day sometimes bordering on ancestor worship. My take has been to turn All Saints into a festival of the church akin in Pentecost with a slightly different focus. Pentecost tends to focus on the Work of the Holy Spirit which often turns to missions. All Saints turns more to the result of those missions – the life of the body of the church. The hymns hold before us mostly the vision of either the church at rest (those who have died) or the church triumphant (the New Jerusalem). The missing element is often the church militant i.e. us. So that is what I try to do with All Saints, remind or meditate on the now and the not yet of the life of the church. Now we are the Children of God. But the fullness of the Kingdom is not yet made manifest. Not even for the Church at rest who continue to ask “How Long?” (Rev 6:10). The goal is to see the unity of the church in Jesus Christ.

This sermon, because it is John I grumble, flips the normal outline. Paul and Lutherans are much more comfortable experiencing our fallen nature and sin and looking to Christ as our savior. A progression of law to gospel. John holds a vision before our eyes. We are now the children of God. Any troubles we have, the existential problems that cause Paul and Luther anguish, are mere trifles to John and that vision. He doesn’t deny them, but each time turns our eyes back to the prize which is God. That is what this sermon attempts to do. And that view might actually make more sense for a day when you are admitting new kids to the sacrament. With Paul or Luther, once you find a solution to the existential problem, the pressure can be off so to speak. (Insert joke about confirmation and bats.) With John we are never at the manifestation of the vision in this life. We experience the now and the net yet of the Christian life more fully. The joy which is now ours and the pain of it not yet being completed.

So, I’ll admit this is dense, but I also think it is worth of listen or a read. The saintly calling of vision and endurance in the midst of the great multitude.

Witness of the Spirit

Full Text

The core metaphor of the gospel in the text for the day (Rom 8:12-17) was adoption. We have been adopted and made heirs of God. And that is important. We sang Children of the Heavenly Father as the opening and the hymns carried that message throughout the service. But, that doesn’t seem to me to be Paul’s main point in the text. In Romans 7, which we looked at the last two weeks, especially last week, Paul is meditating on the role of the law in the Christian’s life. And he ends on a depressing note. I serve the law in my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. In and through the law itself I have no ability to keep it. The law is weak. What then is the answer to the law?

The answer is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has placed his Spirit in us which wars against the sin in our body. The power of the Spirit gives us the ability to strive after the law. It is not to our credit. We are debtors to the Spirit. But, all who are led by the Spirit are children of God and put to death the deeds of the body, and they will live. But even though we are debtors, we are debtors as a child is a debtor to a Father. It is written off the moment of the expenditure.

Using real old words, we mortify the flesh. We do that through the Spirit. And if you are wondering about that Spirit, Paul points at four ways we can observe it. Read the sermon to find out…

Serving Two Masters, or the Case of the Missing Moral Leadership

This article from the WSJ is not surprising but eye opening. The jumping off point is President Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama and the Chinese response.

But China’s angry response to the news that Mr. Obama will meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader tomorrow in Washington goes straight to the point. “If the U.S. leader chooses this period to meet the Dalai Lama, that would damage trust and cooperation between our two countries,” said Zhu Weiqun, a Chinese Communist Party official at a Feb. 2 press conference. “And how would that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?”

The background is that the US owes China a bucket-truck full of money, and China is one of the few places that has the ability to buy more of our nation’s debt. As a nation we like to support things such as religious freedom and self determination, we also like to spend more than we make. When confronted with the choice of reduced spending, or quietude on freedoms, which path does the nation choose?

The Bible and specifically the Gospel of Luke is pretty clear both what it would expect Caesar to do, and what Jesus asks us to do. Luke 16:10-13 – you can’t serve two masters. Luke 22:24-27 – gentiles and great men lord it over their people.

The lord was a patron – “the friend of the people” – and his clients were obliged to him. In the west, under the teachings of the church, that kind of vassalage, while not going away, had to be hidden. Read the quote from the Chinese official again. That kind of vassalage is coming back. He is shockingly blunt – a patron state telling a client state to look where its bread is buttered.

The message of freedom in Jesus is that we have no real Patron but the Father in heaven. Instead of serving the things of this world – serve God first. Serve the God who came to serve us. Serve the God who adopted us into his family. In the church we are all heirs and children of God. That is a much different status than a client. It recognizes the true differences between creator and creature.

You can’t serve two masters. Either it’s the hierarchy of Caesar and money or it’s the household of God. We owe Caesar and money respect, but they should not be our master. We should also not be surprised when the American Ceasar chooses to protect client relationships. If I were the Dalai Lama, I would not expect more White House visits.