All Saints Day

Preacher: Nathan Hosler Scripture: Revelation 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

If you open it, you see. If you don’t open it, you don’t see it. The development of toddler language, reasoning, and observation is endlessly fascinating as well as regularly humorous.

If you open it, you see. If you don’t open it, you don’t see it. It is said with a type of poetic cadence and colloquial blurring of the syllables. “You do not see it” shifts to “You don’t see it.” Which shifts to “yadon’ see it.”

The epistle of 1 John has some similar constructions:

If you have the Son, you have life. If you don’t have the Son, you don’t have life.

If you abide in love, you abide in God. If you don’t abide in love, you don’t abide in God.

The author of 1 John is not seeking to imbue fear but to establish and maintain the connection between how we live our lives in the way of Jesus and abiding in God. Scholars posit that the writer was responding to teachers who claimed a “higher” spirituality which discounted Jesus. By gaining this higher understanding they could dispense with the bothersome and less enlightened way and life of Jesus.

Though the writer’s words are strong they also assert, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)

 Church tradition at an early date attributed this to the Apostle John—disciple of Jesus—Eusebius (a fourth century church historian) quoting Irenaeus, who lived from 130-200, and was a bishop of Lyons, saying that John was a leading church figure in Asia Minor. Irenaeus said he had this confirmed by Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna). When young, Polycarp had been taught by John, disciple of Jesus.  However, authorship is somewhat complicated by Eusebius also referencing 2 different leaders named John (Burge, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments, 588, 595)

Today is All Saints Day—marking, honoring, expressing gratitude for, and learning from those who have abided in God. In 1 John we read of the love of God and knowing God and purifying ourselves just as God is pure. I invite us to remember those Saints we have known and know. How have they lived the Gospel exceptionally? How do their lives demonstrate a purity of motive and purpose and love? In 1 John we read:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

I recently finished the 3 volume, “The Seven Story Mountain,” by Thomas Merton. The “three volumes” became a bit of a joke. The book is not actually that long, but old paperback that occasionally and unexpectedly broke into pieces while reading. It tells the story of Merton’s entering into a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. The 7 Story Mountain refers to the 7 levels of Purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy and most of the book is about his life which is consumed by many things other than God before entering the monastery. He writes,

“The Monastery is a school—a school in which we learn from God how to be happy. Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love. What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God. What we have to learn is love. The healing and the learning are the same thing, for at the very core of our existence we are constituted in God’s likeness by our freedom, and the exercise of that freedom is nothing else but the exercise of disinterested love—the love of God for his own sake, because he is God. The beginning of love is truth, and before he will give us his love, God must cleanse our souls of the lies that are in them. And the most effective way of detaching from ourselves as we have made ourselves by sin, in order that we may love him reflected in our souls as he has re-made them by his love.” (Merton, 372).

Like the beginning of many church observances, the exact beginning of All Saints Day is not entirely clear. It seems to have begun as a remembrance of Martyrs and then expanded to include all that had “attained heaven.” Also, where there are officially recognized Saints in certain Christian traditions, this is a time to remember those who are not designated as such or perhaps not even known. Some early observances or proto-observances began not on November 1st but in May.

 “A feast of all martyrs was kept on May 13 in the Eastern church according to Ephraem Syrus (died c. 373), which may have determined the choice of May 13 by Pope Boniface IV when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome as a church in honour of the Blessed Virgin and all martyrs in 609. The first evidence for the November 1 date of celebration and of the broadening of the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs occurred during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731–741), who dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s, Rome, on November 1 in honour of all saints. In 800 All Saints’ Day was kept by Alcuin [an Anglo-Saxon scholar and cleric] from  on November 1, and it also appeared in a 9th-century English calendar on that day. In 837 Pope Gregory IV ordered its general observance. In medieval England the festival was known as All Hallows, and its eve is still known as Halloween. “

Even apart from the development of official church traditions and calendar we can see the beginnings of recognition and thanksgiving for lives which had been lived in the light of God. In Revelation 7:9-17 we read:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,”

In the book of Hebrews 12 there is the great cloud of witness,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[b] the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Rather than figure out how to live abstract ideals all on our own, we can see what the Gospel looks like lived out in real life. This doesn’t mean that those we observe were somehow without flaw or that we can simply say the hero-saint is clearly beyond us. These are our extended community of discernment which help us to understand what following Jesus, being Gospel infused, Spirit led, or more fully God abiding means.

I will read the beatitudes again and invite us to reflect on people with us or no longer with us who embody these. I’ve asked several of you to come prepared to share. And I will invite others to share when they have finished. May we thank God for the witness of these lives and be strengthened to learn from them and follow Jesus—abide in God—more fully.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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