Sermon November 6th, 2022: "Today we mark All Saints day..."
Today we mark All Saints day - the day that the Church recognizes all those believers who have gone ahead of us, who have inspired us with their faith and have worked toward the kingdom of God. We also remember those we have personally lost this year and in years past.
In Lutheran practice we thank God for the lives of the faithful who have died but we do not pray for the dead because they are already in the hands of God.
The tradition of All Saints day goes back to the 4th century.
Our reading today from Ephesians is a letter and a sermon and a prayer addressed to all the saints. In New Testament language saints are the believers, those following Christ, those following the way. Saints are those who have said yes to God’s call and make up the body of the Church. In the New Testament saints is the most commonly used word for Christians. The literal translation is “Holy Ones”.
The letter to the Ephesians has traditionally been considered one of Paul’s letters. However, it is more likely that it was written by one of his followers or disciples in the late 1st century. It is a general sermon about the meaning of Christ and life in the Church that includes both Jews and Gentiles. It is also a prayer. We would call it intercessory prayer. The author of the letter prays for the Ephesians because of his awareness of their commitment to be faithful to God and to love the saints.
It appears from this letter that a desire to overcome divisions was vital to the author and probably a mandate of the early church. We are reminded once again that all are members of the body and that there are no distinctions. God’s kingdom is for both Jew and Gentile. The author of the text proposes that all who believe are brought into unity because of Christ.
Unity is a central theme. We are united across time and space. We are part of something larger than ourselves. Today on All Saints it is a good reminder that each Church is a small part of something so much bigger than itself. This can make us feel humble and comforted at the same time. We are not doing this on our own! We are not burdened by being on our own. Some days it might feel like this. The term I hear is that we are each in our own silos. So maybe we need to make a real effort not to be in these silos. But instead to remember that we are not alone on the peanut. We are part of the body of Christ. Part of something more cosmic.
The message of unity in the letter to the Ephesians was radical in its day. The author stressed that being Church means overcoming barriers. The message from Ephesians resonates with us today.
What barriers does the Church in 2022 face? What challenges to unity do we have?
We are well aware of many barriers: lack of volunteers, aging congregations, our secular & consumer driven society, financial concerns, ideological and theological differences. Sometimes our barriers are self imposed as we fail to welcome all to the table or we judge one another. The body of the Church seems like many bodies - not just one as we consider the number of Protestant denominations let alone our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers or the Orthodox!
But the writer of the letter to the Ephesians believed in unity. That overcoming divisions was vital to the way of Jesus and the kingdom of God that he proclaimed. It is an important thing for us to keep in mind. That overcoming barriers does matter and that even as it was the work and mandate of the early church it should be for us as well.
In the letter to the Ephesians the writer showed a strong belief that it was always God’s purpose and plan for all believers to be numbered among the saints. The people of Ephesus were commended for their faith and the love they demonstrated to one another. And then the prayer that they would receive spiritual wisdom and divine enlightenment because of a realization of the vast richness of God’s love for all of God’s people.
The writer of Ephesians prayed that the saints - the faithful would experience God’s love - not just learn about it.
This is my prayer today as well. That we present day saints will know the love of God - feel the love of God - grow in knowledge of the love of God. That we may be filled with the love of God. That, as verse 18 says “the eyes of your heart enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”