All Saints Sunday
Grace and Peace, Bethany Lutheran, from God our Father, The Holy Spirit, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Heaven. Sounds. Awesome. Listen again to the words we heard from the prophet Isaiah, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
What a party! Not only is God going to put out the richest spread of food you’ve ever seen...but the wine! There’s going to be so much wine in heaven that prophet had to mention it twice! Isaiah even assures us that it’s going to be the good stuff! It will be the stuff that you can’t even afford!
And everybody is going to be there. A place was saved for you the day you were baptized. Yes, in your baptisms, the day you were first welcomed into the company of all the saints, this became your party. Those who have gone before us have already taken their seats, and as we celebrate those who have been baptized this past year, we know that a seat is waiting for them as well!
Heaven sounds awesome! What’s even better is that we heard that there will be no more tears. Did you hear that Cubs fans? No more tears! That must mean there’s a World Series Championship for the Cubs in heaven. (Hopefully before then…)
No more tears. We heard it twice in our readings this morning. Isaiah says, “Then the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” And from Revelation we heard, “And God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
On All Saints Sunday, as I read these texts today that talk about this new heaven and new earth - this vision God has for the world, where the party food is top notch and the good wine keeps coming - what I see is hope and the expectation that what is coming next is going to be better than any of us could possibly imagine!
Which is why I found our Gospel story so odd today. It’s the story of Lazarus - the brother of Mary and Martha, and a close friend of Jesus. We hear earlier in the chapter that Lazarus had fallen ill, and so Mary sends a messenger to Jesus, telling him to hurry up. Mary knows Jesus can save her brother.
But Jesus is delayed and by the time he arrives, Lazarus had been dead for four days. That’s where we pick up the story today. Lazarus has been wrapped in a shroud, and laid in a tomb to find his final rest. And Jesus arrives on scene too late.
When Mary hears that Jesus has finally arrived, she approaches him, and does exactly what you might expect. In her grief and through her tears, she falls at Jesus feet and cries out to him - almost accuses him - “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Words many of us have said before. God, why did you let them die?
And this is, I think, where the story takes an unexpected turn. Because when we lose loved ones, or when we see our friends lose people they love, our natural reaction is to comfort each other with words like, “He’s in a better place now.” Our natural instinct is to shy away from the raw grief and emotion because we don’t know how else to handle it.
Often the words we share to comfort one another sound more like “Don’t worry...Heaven is awesome. There’s going to be a big party, with all our favorite foods, and only the best wine, which will never run out, and so we don’t have to cry because God will wipe away every tear and everything is going to be okay.” That’s what it says in Isaiah. That’s what it says in Revelation. Right?
Jesus knows this better than anybody and so I expect him to reassure Mary - to tell her that everything is going to be okay, and that Lazarus is in a better place, and that we should be celebrating his life, not mourning his death …
Except that’s not what Jesus says. When Mary fell at Jesus feet, and when he saw her weeping, the story says Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And so they bring him to the body of Lazarus, and when he sees his friend lying there in the tomb, Jesus does the last thing we expect him to do.
He wept. I almost want to cry out to him, “Jesus, don’t you know? Don’t you know that every tear will be wiped away? Don’t you know about the feast God has prepared for Lazarus? Don’t you know that it’s all going to be okay? That he’s in a better place? That heaven is awesome? Don’t you know?”
In just a few short verses, we know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. Why does Jesus weep?
We have a tendency to skip to the end of the story, because the middle of it is often too hard to bear. We know that the saints we have lost have gone on to the feast. We know that they are in a better place. We know that heaven is… in a word...awesome.
But the lie that we tell ourselves, is that because we know this, we don’t need to cry. As if our loss isn’t real. As if our grief is misplaced. As if our tears are wasted.
And yet, Jesus wept. Even knowing of the resurrection, even knowing that he would raise Lazarus, he allowed himself to grieve the loss of his friend.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the character of God, whom you have come to worship today. God mourns with you and Jesus weeps with you as the Spirit wraps loving arms around you because our loss is real, because we should grieve for those we’ve lost, and because our tears are a testament to how much our loved ones are missed.
Even though we know that through the baptismal waters of grace, God will one day wipe away all tears, God still gives us the space to remember and to miss the people whom we have lost.
On All Saints Day, that is what we do.
And so may the memories or your saints honor their lives. May the celebration of the newly baptized bring you hope. And may God bring you all peace and comfort.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
In the gospel reading today, Jesus said to those who had believed in him, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." He went on to assure those believers that those who truly are his followers and disciples will live in Jesus Christ forever.
Forever? This world as we have come to know won’t be around forever. It will continue to change as the climate changes. But this truth that Jesus is talking about will never change. The truth that Jesus Christ is with us, and the truth that Jesus Christ has made us free.
Martin Luther was burdened with worry and wonder and wanted the truth that would lift the weight of his worry. He also wanted to share that truth to create a stronger and healthier church in the Word of God. Luther found his comfort in reading the letters and teaching of the Apostle Paul…readings and teachings that emphasized salvation by faith through grace alone.
Martin Luther's discovery of grace, God's love and forgiveness freely given to us, reinforced his belief in the promise of Christ's presence even in the darkest times of his life. As Martin Luther was inspired to share a new way of seeing Christ, he feared for his life as leaders of the church wanted to get rid of him. But, he did not fear for his soul. He did not fear for his very being. He came to know and embrace the freedom of trusting in Christ.
Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness is central to the teachings of our Lutheran faith. 16 confirmation students this afternoon will be affirming their baptisms. Each one of them was interviewed by Pastor Paul and asked “What does it mean to be Lutheran?” Also, Pastor Paul during the new member class this past week talked about what it means to be Lutheran.
I have to make a confession. I didn’t initially join the Lutheran church 18 years ago because it was Lutheran. In fact I knew very little about the Lutheran church.
This may come as a surprise to you but growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I didn’t hear a whole lot about Martin Luther. And, I was advice by my parents as a child not to talk about religion with others.
The reason my husband, Tom and I initially came to the Lutheran church was because we were invited by a friend. And, we joined the Lutheran Church because it felt like a good fit for us. But, in time as I learned about grace, unconditional love, and justification by faith it led me to engage and learn more and eventually become a leader in the Lutheran Church.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
I remember a specific day in my early days of being a Lutheran when the truth did make me free. When I heard and got a glimpse at a deeper level of God’s grace.
It was the year after my brother, Rich died. I was working as the Director of Youth and Family Ministry at First United Lutheran Church in Sheboygan. Someone in the staff remembered it was the 1st anniversary since my brother died and placed flowers on my desk.
I loved my brother and missed him but for some reason I didn’t cry a whole lot when he died. Maybe because I needed to survive and hold it together for my family, but on that day I unexpectedly lost control of my tears as I saw those flowers on my desk. I just couldn’t stop crying.
Then Pastor Gail guided me to her office and grabbed a Kleenex box. When I was ready to talk I confessed to Gail how much I missed my brother Rich and that I was concerned about my last conversation with him before he died. Rich’s body was full of cancer and depression in his last days of life and he ended up taking his life.
The priest at his graveside talked about God having a room for Rich…the paint just had not quite dried. But, my last conversation with Rich was his wonder if God could ever accept someone like him. Rich did not live a perfect. And, for much of Rich’s life he doubted there was God which left me with a worry about Rich’s life beyond this world.
In the darkness and sadness of my confession to Gail, she talked about God’s grace for all…even for Rich.
She said she couldn’t imagine the loving God she came to know not welcoming in Rich. She emphasized that Rich didn’t need to do anything. Christ was with him.
As she spoke the weight that I carried for that year began to lift and the truth of Christ freed me from my worry and doubt and gave me a new perspective of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.
We often talk about grace in the Lutheran church, but I have found that many of us do not fully understand or believe in God’s grace for us or others. This ends up being a burden and a worry that weighs us down and debilitates us from fully and freely living life here on earth.
The truth of Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness frees us and motivates us to live life to its fullest. We find hope, strength, and confidence from God's Word and from the visible presence of Christ made real to us in the waters of baptism and in the bread and wine of communion.
When we come to know and truly believe that Christ will never abandon us, we find peace because we have discovered what matters most. We come to the real meaning and impact of this Reformation Sunday which is in the freedom that believing in Christ gives us. You and I are made free through the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
May we discover and embrace the truth and inner peace of God’s grace.
May we be free to live life without the burden of worry and doubt.
And, may we know that Christ has made us free.
For this we say thanks be to God. Amen.
Grace and Peace, Bethany Lutheran, from God who provides in our prayer, Jesus the answer to our prayers, and the Holy Spirit, who listens on our behalf. Amen
Build us up, Lord! Build us up.
Our last building block for this series is prayer, but in a lot of ways, prayer is really the foundational building block of faith. Prayer is how we enter into a relationship with God, it’s how we talk with God and how God talks to us. But the truth is, we get really nervous about prayer.
We think we don’t know how. We think we need to say the proper, churchy sounding thing and as a consequence, we stop doing it. But if you want to know how to pray, just look at your kids. Kids are the best prayers, because they are the most honest. They tell God what they want, how they are thinking or what they are feeling, and they really have no shame about it.
At home, we have this book called “Children’s Letters to God.” and I wanted to read you a few of these.
Have you ever heard the expression “Dance like nobody's watching?” Kids pray like nobody’s watching, and I love it. As we get older, we get self conscious about praying. I know this from our church softball team. We pray before and after games, and nobody ever wants to do it! We don’t like to pray, particularly not in public! But you know what? We need to take a page from our kids playbook, and pray like nobody’s watching, like nobody is judging us for our prayers.
We need to tell God honestly what it is that we want and need. When you’re feeling grateful, be grateful. When you are feeling angry, be angry. God can handle it all. Yes, prayer is scary, but not for the reason you think. People get scared because they are worried about sounding foolish, but the real reason to be afraid is that when you pray, you have no idea what you are getting into. Let me repeat that, when you pray, you have NO IDEA what you are getting into.
This was particularly obvious today in our gospel story today. It comes from the book of Mark, and is about two of the disciples, James and John, approaching Jesus with a bold kind of prayer a petition. They don’t even ask, they tell him, “Teacher, we want you to do, for us, whatever we ask of you.”
They come to Jesus totally unashamed praying like nobody's watching. I actually admire them for that, even if their prayer is misguided. Jesus doesn’t scold them for this, he patiently asks, “Well, what is it that you want?” and they ask that when Jesus comes into his glory, that one might sit at his left, and the other at his right.
They have this vision of Jesus becoming a King. And like a King, Jesus will sit on a throne and on each side of that throne will be chairs for his most trusted advisors. They want to be at the highest places of honor. They want glory and fame and power. But the problem is, they have no idea what they getting into.
Jesus tells them as much, “You do not know what you are asking,” he says. But to know what Jesus is really talking about, we have to back up a few verses. Immediately before the story we heard today, Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem the city where Jesus is going to be crucified. It’s his last stop.
Jesus tells the disciples that the Son of Man is going to be handed over and killed before he’s raised from the dead three days later. The disciples still don’t get it. Even after Jesus’ warnings, they think that they are on the road to glory. And why wouldn’t they? Everybody is excited about Jesus. He is drawing huge crowds. Jerusalem is about to lay palm branches on the road in front of him as a welcome .... how could they possibly understand what was coming next?
Jesus was on the road that would lead to his death. But this was going to be a different kind of death, because through this death, God’s love for the world will be fully revealed. Through this death God’s Kingdom will break into the world. But this kingdom will be an altogether different kind of kingdom, and Jesus’ throne will be an altogether different kind of throne.
God’s Kingdom will be a Kingdom of servitude and love ... and the throne of God’s Kingdom, the throne of God’s kingdom will be the cross. The throne of God’s kingdom is the cross. There were, in fact, two people who ended up at the right and left hand of Jesus, and they turned out to be the criminals who were crucified next to him.
And so when James and John ask for one to sit at Jesus’ right, and the other at his left, what they don’t realize is that Jesus glory is the cross. (Long pause) Let me say again, when you pray, you have no idea what you are getting into. And though they don’t yet understand, Jesus says that they will.
They will drink from the same cup as him and be baptized with the same baptism. Jesus is transforming them through their prayer. He explains to them that the mark of his followers will not be power or fame or riches or glory, rather Jesus says, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first, must be slave of all.”
That is the life giving transformation that God makes in us, when we pray. Eventually, James and John understand, but only after the resurrection. Both spend the rest of their lives spreading the good news about Jesus. James even gave his own life for the sake of the gospel, after being executed for leading the church in Jerusalem.
James and John had no idea what they were getting into. And when we pray, we have no idea what we are getting into either. When you pray, you enter into a relationship with the living God. You might come to God asking for a genie lamp or a puppy, but you will walk away changed you will walk away a servant.
You will walk away from this encounter with the living God, learning how to be slave of all. And no, we won’t get everything we want through prayer it doesn’t work like that. But God is listening and so we pray like only God is watching, even though we have no idea what we are getting into.
Build us up, Lord! Build us up. Thanks be to God.