(Before sunrise on November 6, 2016, five armed men broke into our home. Not only did they take anything of value that they could find, they attempted to humiliate and threaten us as an expression of hatred and contempt for our mission. They threatened me in particular with torture and death. Praise be to God that our lives were spared. We observed All Saints Day that afternoon, rather than in the morning. However, I preached substantially the same sermon that I did on November 1, 2015.)
Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. Who are the saints?
In a sense, this theme continues our celebration last Sunday when we remembered the Reformation in the sixteenth century. This Reformation began when the monk, priest and professor of theology, Dr. Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, against the errors of the church hierarchy in Rome. The date was October 31, 1517, when the truths of the Scriputres were reaffirmed: justification by faith alone: salvation by grace alone; and the sole authority of Scripture.
Not by chance did Luther decide to nail his theses to the church door on October 31. He did not rise that morning and think, What a beautiful day! Wukk go to church to post my theses on the door. At that time, the celebration of the Feast of All Saints began on the eve of October 31 and continued until November 2.
Let me talk about the history of All Saints Day. It originated in the fourth century after Christ. There was much persecution of Christians in the first three hundred years after Christ. Many Christians died for their faith at the hands of unbelievers. They sacrificed their lives as witnesses to the truth of the gospel of Christ as Lord and Savior. The empire said, Caesar is Lord, ie, a god to the masses. But the church said no, Christ is our Lord.
Everything changed rapidly in the Fourth Century, by the end of that century, Christianity was the religion of the empire. So, the church wanted to honor the martyrs of the first three hundred years, but they were too many martyrs to dedicate one day on the church calendar for each. Therefore, they dedicated a day to honor all the martyrs. The idea emerged in the part of the world we know today as Turkey and Syria and was disseminated throughout the Christian world.
In the beginning, the date of the Day of All Saints was the first Sunday after Pentecost and today the Greek Orthodox churches in eastern Europe and Asia celebrate it on this date. In the seventh century AD., Pope Boniface IV changed the date to November 1 for the Western Church. Because the Pope wanted a special occasion for the dedication of a temple in Rome. Venezuelan culture reflects this change because the first two days of November are the dates to decorate the tombs of the dear departed.
But like the churches in the East, our Lutheran church does not recognize the primacy of the pope. So why do we celebrate All Saints Day on November 1? First, because this is the date recognized in many parts of the Christian world. Second, and more important, October 31 is the date of Reformation Day for us. If Reformation Day is observed on Sunday, it should be the Sunday before October 31 in order to be allow for a similar celebration of All Saints the Sunday on or after November 1.
Luther decided to publish his thesis during the Feast of All Saints because the theses deal with the fate of human souls. Let's start with number 35:
They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
The Church of Rome at that time and still today says, well, Christ died for your sins and erased the guilt of original sin and actual sins past. But now, when you fall into sin, you must do penance or make restitution. If you cannot do penance in this life, you must stay in purgatory, a state between earthly life and eternal life in the presence of Christ, until you have done so. However, the pope has the authority to write a letter of forgiveness to cut your time in purgatory as a reward for a financial donation to the church.
Where is the gospel, then? The Bible teaches justification by faith in Christ. He has made restitution for all our sins in the past and the future. Because of Christ we have the right to full remission and to enter immediately into God's presence after physical death. The blood of Christ covers all our sins.
Luther also rejected the teaching of the Roman church about the saints. According to the Roman church saints are those who by their own merits have come out of purgatory and into the presence of God. We only know who is in the presence of God when someone prays to a person and a miracle happens, and the church declared the miracle valid and the person a saint. In this way Rome has declared John Paul II a saint.
Among us Lutherans we speak of the heroes of faith as saints, for example, St. Matthew, St. Paul, St. Luke or St. John. They are holy. We recognize them as models for us. We also speak of those who died in the faith as saints and honor them on this day. As our text for today says, the saints in heaven are they which came out ofthe great tribulation. What is the great tribulation? Life in this world, because in this life are sufferings, trials and difficulties. The saints in heaven have passed beyond all these things. As John says, now they do not hunger or thirst, or feel heat or pain. They live forever with Christ as the reward for their faith. They are at rest and peace with Christ.
Therefore, we honor, but not pray to or worship them. We have one Mediator between God and us in Christ and do not need another.
The Bible teaches us that all who believe in Jesus Christ are saints. What do we confess in the Apostles' Creed? We believe in the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. The holy Christian church is the same as the communion of saints. The church is all who have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in sincere faith receive the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper. They are the saints of God. The difference between the saints in heaven and us is they are at rest and we are in the fight against the world, sin and the devil.
St. John speaks in Revelation about persecution. Those wearing white robes are they which came out of the great tribulation. Also in our gospel for today (Matthew 5.1-12) The Lord speaks of persecution. This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, called the Beatitudes.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil for my sake. Rejoice and be glad; for your reward is great in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "
The beatitudes are not another table of the law. They speak of the destiny of the faithful. They do not say you must be peacemakers to become children of God. On the contrary, because we are children of God by the blood of Christ, we will be peacemakers. Because we show the love of God in our lives, not by our own strength, but by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. And above all, our destiny is to receive the joy of the Lord's presence in heaven.
Why persecution? In the world around us are unbelievers do not want to hear the gospel. They want to believe in their own righteousness, and do not want a Savior. Also in this world we fight against the devil, the spirit of evil and the enemy of God. He wants to denounce us as hypocrites and failures.
And we fight against our sinful nature, that does not die until physical death. In baptism we receive new spiritual life, so we are saints. But because of the old Adam, we are sinners too. On the day of our resurrection, the work of sanctification will be complete.
In the struggle it is our goal with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live as did the witnesses of Christ in heaven, to remain in the faith until the end. We hope to meet with the saints around the throne with angels and other heavenly beings in the worship of which our meetings around the Lord's table are weak reflections.
The peace that passes all understanding be with each of you forever. Amen.
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