“Thanking God for All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 3, 2019

“Thanking God for All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

Last week we celebrated Reformation Day. We remembered how Martin Luther broke with the Roman Catholic Church by saying that we are saved by grace through faith, faith in Christ, and not in the slightest measure by our works. This is the eternal gospel that Luther proclaimed loud and clear. And this doctrine of justification is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the article on which the church stands or falls. Sad to say, Rome has never corrected her errors on this most important teaching. And so this is still the underlying issue that divides Lutherans and Roman Catholics to this day.

At the same time, though, some people think that being Lutheran means that we must avoid anything they regard as “too Catholic.” For example, making the sign of the cross or chanting the liturgy or going to private confession–they think that we must not do these things or else we are being “Romish.”

Well, then, what do we do with a day like today? Because today we’re observing All Saints’ Day. Now what in the world is All Saints’ Day doing on a Lutheran church calendar? I thought “saints” were strictly for the Catholics. What do Lutherans have to do with saints?

What we do with them is to thank God for them. And praise God with them. And so our theme this morning: “Thanking God for All the Saints.”


Published in: on November 3, 2019 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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“A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 4, 2018

“A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about “the caravan.” I’m referring of course to the migrant caravan working its way up through Mexico, heading for the border with the U.S.A. These are not U.S. citizens. Now many of them may be seeking a better life here in America and have good intentions. But there could also be MS-13 gang members, criminals, drug dealers, terrorists, and others who do not want to enter legally, mixed in the crowd. Therefore, immigration officials and Homeland Security would have to screen these people before they let them in. And with such a huge number of them, it may not be manageable.

So the question is: What will happen to the people in the caravan when they get there? Some think we should just let them in. Others say we cannot just let people waltz right in. If they want to enter, they will need to get in line, wait to be processed, and then, if they qualify, they can enter, legally. We’ll see what happens.

Now today, dear friends, I want to talk to you about another caravan. This too is a large group of people all traveling together, all heading in the same direction. And guess what? You are part of this caravan! Yes, you, if you are a believer in Christ and a member of his church. A great caravan–“a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” We are all moving together, heading for a better country. And when we get there, we will not be stopped. Rather, we will be gladly welcomed in. For you and I are already citizens of that homeland. We already have security clearance. Right now, we’re just passing through, heading on our way there. Thus our theme on this All Saints’ Day: “A Caravan of Pilgrims–with Homeland Security!”


Published in: on November 3, 2018 at 12:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Who Are These, Clothed in White Robes?” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 5, 2017

“Who Are These, Clothed in White Robes?” (Revelation 7:9-17)

Today, on this first Sunday in November, we observe All Saints’ Day. On All Saints’ Day, we rejoice that we are part of that great communion of saints that is the church of Christ, both the church on earth and the church in heaven. All the saints, all those made holy by the blood of Christ. Saints, holy ones, set apart to belong to God alone. All saints, all of us who have been baptized into Christ and clothed with his righteousness.

On All Saints’ Day we commemorate the faithful departed, those saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord and joined the Church Triumphant. In particular, we remember the faithful departed from our own midst who have died in the last twelve months. This year we remember our dear friends Homer and Dorothy Rouggly and Bob and Dottie Worsham. What a thing it is with each of these two long-married couples that the wife should go first and then the husband just a few months later: Dorothy in May and then Homer in August, Dottie in June and then Bob in October. I think maybe the Lord was being merciful to those poor husbands who were left without their dear partner in life.

This is a special All Saints’ Day for me personally, as this year the first Sunday in November falls on November 5. For it was on November 5, 1995, All Saints’ Day 22 years ago, that my daughter Anna was baptized on the eighth day of her life, one week after she was born, and it just so happened to be my mother’s 80th birthday, what turned out to be her last birthday on earth. What a memorable All Saints’ Day that was!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today I want to tell you that there is a strong connection between a person’s baptism into the new life in Christ and the sure hope of the resurrection unto the eternal life we have in Christ. We see this connection reflected in the white gown of a child’s baptism and the white funeral pall that often is placed on a Christian’s casket. We see it in the white liturgical color of the paraments for All Saints’ Day.


Published in: on November 4, 2017 at 11:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Greatest Victory Celebration” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 6, 2016

“The Greatest Victory Celebration” (Revelation 7:9-17)

On Wednesday night, late on Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. As I was sitting there watching it on TV, as soon as the ball went into Anthony Rizzo’s glove for the last out, I let out a shout and threw my hands into the air and was utterly excited and ecstatic. For a lifelong Cubs fan from the north side of Chicago, this was quite a moment. After decades of following my team and suffering disappointment after disappointment, and even in this series, being down three games to one, and even in Game Seven, losing the lead late and thinking this is just going to be another in a long line of disappointments–no, this time, finally, things turned out all right. We won. I couldn’t believe it. Finally, we won.

The next day, on Thursday, on the internet, I saw videos of other lifelong Cubs fans and their reactions at the moment the Cubs won the World Series. I saw people jumping up and down, shouting, screaming, in sheer excitement and joy. I saw grown men falling on the floor and weeping, grown men crying tears of joy, tears of relief. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” they would say.

And then I tried to understand all this. Why these strong emotional reactions? It was more than just a sports team winning a championship. It was more than that, it ran much deeper. It was the stored-up, pent-up emotion of 108 years of waiting. It was people thinking of their parents and grandparents who didn’t live to see this day–the generations of Cubs fans who passed down the faith to their children, as it were. And it was the unbelievable surprise that for once, finally, it turned out OK, all right. You see, being a Cubs fan you always expect, and you always prepare yourself for, something to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. You get real close, and then something goes wrong. And that looked like it was happening again Wednesday night. But then–but then it turned out OK. Something went right for a change. It was like a great weight was lifted from your shoulders. And a great wait, w-a-i-t, a really long time of waiting, was over. The weight was lifted, the wait was over, it’s time to celebrate.


Published in: on November 5, 2016 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Church Militant, Church Triumphant: All Saints” (Revelation 7:2-17)

All Saints’ Day
Sunday, November 1, 2015

“Church Militant, Church Triumphant: All Saints” (Revelation 7:2-17)

Today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day on the church-year calendar. This is a day for remembering our departed fellow Christians–those saints of old, as well as those from our own past–who have fallen asleep in Jesus and who now rest from their labors. Today we give thanks to God for keeping them in the faith; we are encouraged by the example of their perseverance amid affliction; and we rejoice and are filled with hope as we look forward to the glory that awaits us all. All Saints’ Day serves all of these purposes.

The glory that awaits us. One of the readings assigned for this day, appropriately enough, gives us a glimpse of that glory. It’s the reading from Revelation 7, a picture of the saints in glory: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” etc. That’s what we just sang about in the hymn: “Behold a host, arrayed in white.”

But notice, our reading today from Revelation 7 actually comes in two parts. The picture of the saints in glory, verses 9-17, is part two, if you will. The first part, verses 2-8, presents a different-looking picture. There we see the 144,000, arranged in twelve tribes of 12,000 each, and they are sealed with the seal of living God before great harm is unleashed on the earth. This is quite a different scene from the one that follows.

And there’s a reason for that. In verses 2-8, St. John is given a picture of the church on earth, as it is now, organized for battle and under the protection of God. This is what we call the church militant, the church still fighting the good fight of the faith. But then in verses 9-17, John is given a picture of the church in heaven, as it will be, no longer fighting, no longer suffering, but at peace and at rest in the presence of the Lord. This is what we call the church triumphant. And I want to tell you today, both pictures give us great comfort and great hope, for now and for what lies ahead. And so our theme this morning: “Church Militant, Church Triumphant: All Saints.”


Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Who We Are and What We Will Be” (1 John 3:1-3)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 3, 2013

“Who We Are and What We Will Be” (1 John 3:1-3)

Today as we observe All Saints’ Day, we look back and remember with thanksgiving the saints who have gone before us, who now rest from their labors and are with the Lord. We look around us, and even though we cannot see them, we know that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses to the faith, all of us united in the one great communion of saints, the whole church on earth and in heaven. And we look ahead, we look forward with hopefulness to the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns and raises our bodies and restores his creation to a glory that we cannot even imagine.

And so there is this “now but not yet” aspect to our readings on this day–and really, throughout the month of November, as we come toward the close of the church year. In November our thoughts turn to the last things, to the end times, to this earth as we know it coming to a close and Christ coming again to bring in the everlasting age to come. And in the midst of this, our forward look gives us hope–and calls us to holiness–even now.

This “now and not yet” dual emphasis is perfectly encapsulated in one of our readings for today, the Epistle from 1 John 3. Listen, for example, to this verse: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” And so our theme this morning: “Who We Are and What We Will Be.”


Published in: on November 2, 2013 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Revelation 7:2-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 4, 2012

“The Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (Revelation 7:2-17)

I’m sure you’ve all heard the old spiritual, “When the Saints Go Marching in.” The chorus goes like this:

Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Oh, when the saints go marching in,
Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marching in!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be in that number! On second thought, I think I do know about you, and I know that you want to be included in that number also. For that great multitude of the saints who go marching into God’s eternal kingdom of glory–that’s the only place anyone in their right mind would ever want to be when that day comes. But that will happen only if we are numbered with those saints. And that means we need to be, to borrow a line from another song, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”

“The Saints: Signed, Sealed, Delivered”–this is our theme today on this All Saints’ Day. What is this “All Saints’ Day,” anyway? Why do we observe it? And what do we mean by “saints”? And then, “What are you talking about, pastor, ‘signed, sealed, delivered’? What are we, a bunch of UPS packages?” Well, let’s get at this, shall we?


Published in: on November 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Blessed Are the Hungry and Thirsty” (Matthew 5:1-12)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 6, 2011

“Blessed Are the Hungry and Thirsty” (Matthew 5:1-12)

Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Yes? Good. That’s a good place to be. Blessed, in fact. That’s what Jesus says in our Gospel for today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And so our theme this morning: “Blessed Are the Hungry and Thirsty.”


Published in: on November 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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