All Saints Day - Observed, November 6, A + D 20111 John 3:1
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
Are we really? Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, the day each fall when we rejoice in the victory of the faithful who have gone before us, all the saints whose souls rest with Jesus, awaiting the final victory, the re-creation of all things, the Last Day when the dead in Christ shall rise and be reunited body and soul, and those who remain until the end will meet them in the air, in changed bodies, eternally healthy bodies, glorious bodies, to live in perfect joy and peace, forevermore. All Saints’ Day, a great day, filled with wonderful hymns, hymns of hope and promise, hymns which each year make me say, “We’ve got to sing these more often…”
But in the back of your mind, as in the back of mine, the question returns, even on All Saints Day: Are we really? Am I really one of the saints, one of the holy ones of God, destined for eternal peace and glory? Can we really call ourselves saints? Are we really children of God?
In part the question returns because so often in our lives we hear people call things by names that don’t really apply. Like when your daughter is infatuated with some ill-mannered punk. When you gently and respectfully and calmly question the wisdom of the relationship, she protests: “We’re in love!” You’ve been there, maybe you’ve even been that ill mannered punk. Regardless, you’re pretty sure what they have isn’t love, no matter what they call it.
Or in recent years, as our government has been discussing fining people who don’t buy health insurance. They won’t call it a tax, but it will reduce your bank account in just the same way, and the money goes to the government, so what should it be called? You can call a horse a duck all you want, but that won’t make it start laying eggs.
We know, all too well, that just because a person calls something a certain name, that doesn’t make it so. And so the question returns, “Are we really children of God?” “Can we look forward to rejoicing with all the saints?” Jesus’ words to us this morning certainly create some difficulties for us in this regard. Our Gospel is from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5, and in this section, called the Beatitudes, the Lord is describing His Church. So, His words should describe us, if we are truly children of God. And Jesus says blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers… Jesus describes His Church, and Satan whispers in our ear: “Well that can’t be you.”
The devil whispers, and our own conscience hears the words of Jesus, words about being meek, and pure in heart, about making peace and pursuing righteousness, and we must confess: we cannot call ourselves children of God. We cannot, for we do not begin to live up to Jesus’ standards in Matthew 5. We are proud, and boastful, we hunger more for food to fill our bellies than the goodness of God. The thoughts of our heart are not pure, in fact we are very thankful that no one can know the thoughts of our hearts, for they would be shocked and we would be shamed. But no one knows our hearts. No one, except God, of course.
Then there are those other beatitudes that Jesus lists. The blessings that we really don’ t want, blessings in poverty of spirit, blessings in mourning, blessings in persecution, blessings in being reviled by those around us, for the sake of Christ. We fail at the blessings that require some action on our part, like peacemaking and thirsting for righteousness, and we flee from the blessings that are passive, the blessings of suffering. Jesus tells us to rejoice and be glad, but we really don’t want any part of suffering for Christ. Jesus says we’ll be glad we did, but it is pretty hard to overcome the urge to avoid suffering, at whatever cost.
So as we ask the question, “Are we really children of God?,” we find little encouragement in what we see in our lives. We are in church this Sunday morning, but maybe we are not so different from many people who avoid the church altogether. Many of our neighbors avoid church altogether, because they don’t believe they could ever meet God’s standards. Like them, we too may find ourselves doubting that we could ever truly call ourselves Christians.
Thankfully, our identity as Christians, our status as children of God, does not depend on what we can achieve in our lives. Nor does it depend on what we call ourselves. Indeed, we would be fools to call ourselves Christians and stake our eternal future on our self-designation. We cannot call ourselves children of God.
But God can, and He has. Listen again to what the Apostle John says this morning: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Who calls us children of God? God does. The love He has given to us is His call. And His call means everything, because God works through His Word. When God speaks, things happen. So if God calls you His Child, you are. The Father has called us children of God, and so, we are children of God.
In our world, claims and names have to be proven and earned. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. With God it is different. Never forget that. It is the key to your assurance. Satan knows the world we live in, indeed, he rules the way of this world. Satan knows that we tend to doubt everything. But the Good News is that God has Satan on a leash, and try as he might, the devil cannot undo what God has said, for the Word of the Lord endures forever.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. God has called us, He has named us His children. God has acted. The same Word He used to create the heavens and the earth, the Word that is the seed the sower went out to sow, the sharp two-edged sword of the Holy Spirit, this is the Word God has used on you.
Are we really saints, holy ones of God? Well, God wants saints, He wants to have people, holy and righteous, with Him forever, to receive all His blessings and to enjoy the presence of His glory. Now God is not blind. When He looks at humanity, He does not find what He seeks. Our robes are not white, that is the garments we patch together with our works. God did not find the holy ones He desires among any of the children of Adam, and so He has made them.
God has made us saints by declaring us holy, for Jesus’ sake. In order to call you into a new existence, the Son of God became a man, Jesus came to the earth, to live and serve and carry our sins, our blemishes, our pride and selfishness. All these stains on our garments, Jesus came to wash clean, in the blood of His cross. And now, because He wants you for one of His holy ones, God calls you His child, He makes you holy by clothing you in the spotless robes of Christ.
You don’t deserve it. You haven’t earned it. Indeed, what you and I deserve is frightening to consider. But fear not, Justice has been served, by Jesus. Your sins are all paid for, in Him there is no punishment left. So God is free to call you His child by forgiving you all your sins and binding you to Jesus and calling you His child. And so He does, and so you are.
How can you know? Listen to God. He is the One who baptized you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. There His Name, His Holy Name, enveloped you. There He adopted you, there in your Baptism, God said “You are My child.” And in case you forget, God keeps speaking. He keeps wielding His two-edged sword, calling you back from sin, calling you back with forgiveness. Jesus is the one who taught us to pray, Father, forgive us our trespasses, and so He does. God does not want sin to have dominion over you, and so He stands ready, ready to wash your robes in the blood of the Lamb, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins, fed to you for the forgiveness of all your sins.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Rejoice and be glad, with all the Saints who from their labors rest, and with all the Saints who continue in the battle, with Jesus Christ at our side, Amen.