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Sermon for All Saints’ Day (observed)

1 John 3:1-3 (All Saints’ Day—Observed)

“The Communion of Saints”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

November 5, 2017

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson for the Festival of All Saints’ recorded in 1 John 3:

1See what kind of love the Father has given to us so that we should be called children of God, and we are. On account of this, the world does not know us because it did not know Him. 2Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. We know that whenever He should appear, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is. 3And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies Himself, just as He is pure.

 

          All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1st and again today in the Divine Service, commemorates all the people of God of in Christ—all saints—living and dead, who make up the mystical body of Christ, the Church. All Saints’ Day is, in effect, a festival of the Church. In the Apostles’ Creed, the holy Christian Church is called “the communion of saints.” On this All Saints’ Sunday, we spend time with the Word of God considering who the Church is—what we were, what we are, and what we will be as the communion of saints.

          In the Large Catechism, Pastor Luther explains further about who the Church is. He wrote, “I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ [Ephesians 1:22]. This group is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with many different gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms [Ephesians 4:5–8, 11]. I am also a part and member of this same group, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses [Romans 8:17]. I am brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Spirit through having heard and continuing to hear God’s Word [Galatians 3:1–2], which is the beginning of entering it. In the past, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing about God and about Christ [Romans 3:10–12]. So, until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit abides with the holy congregation or Christendom [John 14:17]. Through this congregation He brings us to Christ and He teaches and preaches to us the Word [John 14:26]. By the Word He works and promotes sanctification, causing this congregation daily to grow and to become strong in the faith and its fruit, which He produces [Galatians 5].”[1]

           Luther reminds us of our past, what we were before we were a part of the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. “We were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing about God and about Christ,” he says. To support this statement, Luther cites Romans 3:10-18. This is what you and I were, “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

          This was you and me and all people—lost and condemned creatures—with the weight of our sins crushing us, the guilt of our consciences consuming and destroying us, and the wrath and punishment of God ready to befall us. We were under the domain of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures from the moment we were conceived and born. John writes a few verses after our Epistle lesson, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. For the devil has been sinning from the beginning. . . . It is evident . . . who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:8, 10). As people who are conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil, we would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.

          “See what kind of love the Father has given to us so that we should be called children of God, and we are.” God acted on behalf of us lost and condemned creatures in order to save us from Satan, sin, and death. We read in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5 ESV). By nature, we were not God’s children. We were children of the devil. “We are, as it were, taken away from our evil ‘biological parents’ and given by adoption to be children of God. This happened as the true Son of God (Son, not by adoption, but because He is ‘the only-begotten Son,’ ‘begotten of His Father before all worlds,’ [as we confess in the Nicene Creed]) took our place ‘under Law,’ . . . As a result, God has given us the ‘Spirit of His Son’ into our hearts, enabling us to call God . . . Father. We are now God’s children by adoption, loved and protected by our Father.”[2]

          As Paul says in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 ESV). Jesus, the One-of-a-Kind Son of God gave up His life into death on a cross so that He might redeem us lost and condemned creatures. He purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Your sins and mine are forgiven. Jesus Christ has purified us with His blood. There is no sin that is not forgiven in those who are cleansed and washed in the blood of the Lamb.

By the working of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, you and I have been gifted the new life of righteousness and faith in Jesus, God’s Son, our Savior and our Brother. We are heirs with Christ of all that belongs to Him and to our Father in heaven—righteousness, holiness, and eternal life in body and soul in the resurrection. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we too shall be raised from death to live and to reign with Him in glory.

So what God the Father calls us to be, we are. By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, He calls us His children. In Baptism, God has given to us both new life and a new identity as the people of God in Christ, His beloved sons and daughters. In Baptism, you have been given a new name, the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the very name of God whose children you now are. Because you are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, you are now His saints.

“Saint” simply means “holy one.” And that is who you are now by faith in Christ. Your sins are forgiven. You are cleansed by Jesus’ blood. You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ given to you at your baptism. So God declares you righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ who has made you holy through the Spirit whom He has poured into your hearts. It is you, holy people, saints, believers in Jesus who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ and who serve God with holy living who make up the Church. You, along with all believers in Jesus on earth and all believers in Christ who are in heaven with him, make up the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

You, the Church, the communion of saints, are God’s children now. And what will you be in the future when the Lord Jesus comes again in glory and creates a new heaven and a new earth for His saints? You will be the children of God then too! Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “At that time there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people [1 Corinthians 13:10]. We will be full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body [1 Corinthians 15:43, 53].”[3]

When Jesus comes again and raises His Church from the dead and gives to His whole Church resurrection life forever, we will be like Him—like a beloved child of God that we already are in Christ. As God’s beloved, we are and will be forever alongside our brother, the Son of God, children of the heavenly Father. Because we know that ours will be the privilege of seeing in the “not yet” what sons and daughters alone are privileged to see, we know that like Him we will be, because only those who are like Jesus may see such things. Then, the saints of the Lord will truly see what we, together with Jesus, really are![4]

By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you have been made children of God. You have been purified by the blood of Christ to be the Lord’s holy people, His saints. Through the Holy Scriptures, you know Jesus as your Brother and the Son that He is so that you can confidently know yourselves as the children He has caused you to become. So live in a blessed and assured hope as the Church, the Communion of Saints, that on the day of Christ’s return, you will not just know who you are, but will also see who you are in all of your fullness and glory in the face of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.[5] Amen.

           

 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 404–405.

[2] Jacob A.O. Preus, Just Words (St. Louis: Concordia, 2000), 125.

[3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 405.

[4] Bruce G. Schuchard, 1 -3 John, Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 322.

[5] Bruce G. Schuchard, 1 -3 John, Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2012), 323.


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