All Saints Sunday—Sermon
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a blessing going through the civic rituals of childhood. Yes we know all about the importance of education that takes place in the class room, all those i’s dotted, knowing what the capital of Iowa is, and learning to share toys, crayons, and friends. But there is also a whole other set of life lessons that are taught outside of the walls of the school. Those learned at the expense of soccer and for the purpose of today’s sermon little league mothers everywhere. Where else can one learn how properly to take being hit by a flying baseball than at little league? Thanks to Tom Hanks we all know that there is no crying in baseball, but say that to someone who’s just been hit by one. It takes a lot of little league scars to make that a reality. On the diamond, one learns the skills of hand-eye coordination trying to connect bat with ball or with that hot grounder down the third base-line. On the diamond, one learns to develop the proper disposition to winning in life and also how to lose with grace. On the diamond, one learns many skills that are needed for daily life as adults. Because even though we’ve hung up our cleats and lost our gloves to the past, we know there is no end to life’s baseballs being hit at us every day.
Of course the other thing that one learns, on the diamond, and on the football field, the soccer pitch, the basketball court and others, is spoken from the lips of little league coaches everywhere, “There is no I, in Team.” Buried in the intentions of all those coaches, whether the kids themselves grasp it or not, is the reality that the game isn’t about one person. Looking at professional sports today it looks like some need to go back to little league and relearn that little life lesson. Baseball, football, soccer, basketball and the rest are not reduced to the skills of a solitary individual. Even though some players may think so, at the end of the day it’s not about you (singlar). It’s not even about me. It’s about we. A life lesson that not only applies to the world, but to us today who gather in these walls. It is after all, ALL Saints‘ Sunday.
There is much in modern incarnations of various sorts protestantism that have done what much of our little league coaches urged against, reducing the reality of faith down to an individualism, a Me-and-Jesus only sort of relationship. Much of what passes for Christian music and theology today is riddled and laced with this individualism which is foreign to the Scriptures. Personal faith is indeed vital and necessary, but it never comes at the expense of separation from others. That notion is a rather anti-biblical model of the Christian faith and gravely in err. For as I have been known to say, there is no such thing as a Lone-Ranger Christian. For the Holy Spirit did not fall only upon one of the apostles. Nor did Christ call ONLY Peter or ONLY John to follow Him. He called the other 10 as well.
Going back even further into the Scriptures, our Lord raised up individual prophets certainly, but their work was always to call Israel (the whole people of God) to repent and turn back to God. Certainly He raised up Moses, but not to lead only himself or his brother, but again Israel (His entire people) out of Egypt into the freedom of the promised Land. Before that He made His covenant with Abraham and His wife with the blessing not of a solitary decedent, but a nation. The only real biblical encounter of a me-God relationship takes place in the Garden with Adam. But we know how long that lasts in the garden, right women? We can’t find our socks by ourselves, we never would have made it long alone if God had not given man, a beloved helper. We see rather quickly how God’s work has always been creating and forging a community, from the Family to ancient Israel and now in these last 2000 years, the Church. That One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic body that we confess being a part of each and every week.
This Christian Church, this Communion of Saints of which our Lord Jesus promises not even the gates of hell cannot prevail against is indeed what we commemorate, celebrate, and give thanks to God for this All Saints’ Sunday. We give thanks and praise to God that in His goodness and mercy we do not have to walk this life alone, that we do not have to walk the life of faith alone. But rather through the gift of Holy Baptism we are united across the dimensions of time and space to fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. That even here and now we do not walk as individuals, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are united together as a Body. Where together we can bear each others burdens and feel the stings of life’s baseballs hurled at us together. Where we can share each others joys, pray for one another, and enjoy the splendor of God’s mercy together. On this Festival Day, we confess and rejoice in that little truth of little league; it’s not about I or Me, but thanks be to God it is about Him and His work PRO NOBIS. FOR US. In Jesus Christ bonds are forged and united that not even sin or death can destroy, because they are forged and made by His own body and blood, His death and resurrection. They are eternal and filled with the power and strength of heaven.
It is that reality which we participate in each and every Sunday as we gather around the Table and Altar of our Lord. In the Holy Sacrament heaven and earth unite around the Body and Blood of Christ. Saints and angels sing together as our Lord enters into our midst to give us the true Bread of Life, His flesh and blood. It is what we proclaim and confess architecturally as we gather only on one side of the table. If it this was a normal dinner at our home we would never seat people on only one side of the table, but at Holy Communion we do. Why is that? Because though we cannot see them, we believe that the other side of the table is occupied by the saints and angels who have gone before us. Indeed at the Meal, the vision of Revelation and that of Hebrews is lived, experienced, and proclaimed. For united around Jesus Christ the Pure and Spotless Lamb of God, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we living saints, made clean by Water and the Word who continue to labor in our earthly pilgrimage and those Saints who have received their reward and who now leap, sing and shout for joy in heaven. In Christ we are forever united to one another and to the whole of heaven.
It is most fitting then that we have this feast day, this reminder to each of us today as we part our physical company with the Vietnamese community that has blessed and enriched us here at Reformation by the witness of their own faith. It is not a unity in physical buildings that makes us the Church, the body of Christ, but it is that faith. The faith of the Church the faith into which we are baptized and forgiven by God. Jesus Christ is the source of our fellowship and our unity. And that bond which we only saw visibly start about 4 years ago, began longer ago than that. And that bond does not end today, it only changes for the time being. For in Christ we are still brother and sister. In Him even though we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper in different places, we are still united in the One meal, the One body and blood of Christ. Though we will hear the Word of God proclaimed in different places, we are still united in the same proclamation of the One Church of Christ, together with all the saints, angels, and archangels, the good news of Jesus Christ and the glory of His Kingdom. We are forever and always united in the One hope that is ours of eternal life and victory over the grave in the glory, beauty, and splendor of Jesus Christ. For Him and for all of you, for Bishop Tran and the Vietnamese community, today we together say, “Thanks be to God!!”