Sunday, November 7, 2004

All Saints Sunday
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.

When adults go to Disney World and see Mickey Mouse for the first time, we know that beneath the make-up and costume there is an adult human being just pretending to be Mickey. When children have the same experience, they truly believe they are meeting a being whose name is Mickey Mouse. To them, Mickey exists as they know him twenty-four hours a day just like all the other people they know.

The same is true of other characters, and at times this can be quite frightening for children. Some children do not like clowns. The strange make-up, extraordinarily large appendages and other unusual characteristics are so weird that they are afraid. A time eventually comes when the child can recognize the difference between the real world and make-believe, and then they see the characters in a whole new light.

When the characters are so outrageous as a clown or Mickey Mouse, it is easier to differentiate between real and make-believe, but some adults continue to have trouble when the actor is portraying a more realistic character. I imagine it must get somewhat frustrating to have fans approach constantly with questions about life that are related only to the image seen on the screen. Matt LeBlanc is not real to many people. He is Joey and always will be. Adam West was never able to get away from the Batman character he played so well. He did not work after leaving that show because everyone knew him only as Batman.

My daughter is playing a fairy in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play put on by her high school theater department. This experience has turned our world upside down for a brief period of time. She is constantly at school for rehearsal or set production. The late nights have made it difficult for her to do her homework. Through it all, however, it has been a great experience for her.

Sometimes the world in which we live seems to be turned upside down. The things that should be called good are considered bad and vice versa. It is even more difficult for those who are still living in the world without faith. They see suffering and can not understand how there could be a loving God. To them, sin and death are proof that there could be no such thing as God. Things that are beyond understanding bring terror rather than hope. There is no peace.

Perhaps they see the world as Daniel saw his vision. We have all had strange dreams at night, dreams filled with images we can not fully understand. Daniel was troubled by the visions he had, these four awesome creatures were not like anything he knew. One was a lion with wings that turned into a man, another was a ferocious bear, the third was a winged leopard with four heads and the last was something with iron teeth and ten horns. These beasts were given unique behaviors that would play out in the fulfillment of the prophecy.

No wonder Daniel was disturbed in his spirit. What we do not read in today’s passage is that Daniel also was given a peak at the coming Messiah. “I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.” This Son of Man was given power and authority over the world.

Daniel was frightened by the vision, but he approached an angel and asked him the true meaning of all that he saw. People have been trying to interpret the prophetic images of Daniel for millennia, most often bringing terror to the hearts of their listeners because of what they see in those images described by Daniel. They see the collapse of future nations, including perhaps our own, but they do not recognize the hope that is found in these words.

The angel answered Daniel, “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.”

The world in which we live is indeed topsy-turvy, because all the earth has been tainted by the sin of men. Adam and Eve turned away from God in the Garden of Eden, in search of power and glory for themselves. They wanted control, so they believed the word of the adversary rather than the word of God. Now, when we look at this world, we see things that are frightening because we know that they can bring an end to the peace which we so long to have. Yet, we have not had peace since the day we were cast out of the Garden.

Since that day, we have looked at the world from the wrong perspective. That which is good is seen as bad and that which is bad is seen as good. We are upside down, so when we read the scriptures it is so hard for us to see the truth of it from our perspective. It is hard to believe.

However, Christ came and died so that we might believe and see the world from a whole new point of view. In Christ we are given Jesus-colored glasses, not to be fooled by what the world wants us to see, but rather to see the world as God sees it. Those whose blindness has been cured through faith in Christ will inherit the world as God created it to be – a kingdom that lasts forever in which He is the King that receives all the glory, worship and praise.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we once again see Jesus turning the world upside down so that the disciples might see it as God sees it. He calls those blessed that seem cursed and points out the woes that we would want to have. Poverty, loneliness, criticism and humiliation are all things we would prefer to avoid. How could Jesus think these are good? Wealth, satisfaction, laughter and approval are all things we seek. How could these be bad?

Then Jesus tells the disciples to love their enemies and do good to them. This goes against everything we think in this world because we are certain that if we appear weak we will accomplish nothing. We want to hold the power by the wielding a sword. The Psalm for today even references such a hope for the saints. “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand; To execute vengeance upon the nations, And punishments upon the peoples; To bind their kings with chains, And their nobles with fetters of iron; To execute upon them the judgment written: This honor have all his saints. Praise ye Jehovah.”

Yet, for those of us who live under the New Covenant, in a faith that has turned our understanding upside down, the idea of a God who would have us do vengeance on our enemies with a sword is not the God we know through Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to mercy and compassion, not violence.

However, the reference to a double-edged sword need not be one of steel. There is a sword even greater that we are called to use – the Word of God. What greater vengeance could we meet out to our enemies then to give them the Word of God so that they might believe and become our brother? It is much better to wield a sword that will save a life than one that will take it.

Unfortunately, a great many people over the millennia have suffered under the hands of those who prefer to wield the swords that kill. The martyrs died as they stood firm in their faith, never giving in to the ways of the world for the sake of a life that would eventually end anyway. Instead, they believed in Jesus and suffered death which led to the eternal life that is our true hope.

Today we remember the saints, those who have entered the Church Triumphant through death of the flesh. As we recall their stories – whether they are the saints who have been memorialized all over the world or those whom are closest to our hearts – we see men and women who lived out their faith in a world that did not recognize the goodness that had come into their presence. It is hard to see goodness in the midst of turmoil and difficulty that often surrounded those who lived by faith. Many were martyred because they stood firmly for God under severe persecution. Others were hidden from view by sheer ordinariness.

Looking at a saint from the perspective of faith means seeing that which is inside – the abiding Word which is Christ dwelling in the heart of those who believe. Many saints live holy and upright lives – Sister Teresa comes to mind. We all know people who lived the godly life in our presence, for whom we are thankful. They are the men and women who shared the Gospel of Jesus with us, with many. They are the ones who made a real difference in the world, who brought light and hope to those who are weak, hungry, sad, humiliated and lonely.

But saints are not just those who have died in Christ, but also those who live in Christ. We are blessed even in this world when we live in the hope of the Kingdom that has come even when we suffer the difficulties of the flesh. Each of us is called by Jesus to live the life of a saint. We may not suffer the persecution that the martyrs faced in days gone by, but even if we do we can live those days with the hope of the true life that awaits us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul writes about the living saints in today’s passage from Ephesians. He tells us that those who have heard the word of truth and believed are among the many who will inherit this kingdom which God has promised. The hope for which we live is not a utopia where everything is wonderful. This world is upside down and we do not see things in truth. We see with a skewed perception, our eyes blurred by the sin that became a part of us in the Garden. But in Christ we are given an understanding and those Jesus-colored glasses that help us to see the reality.

In Him we look at the world in a whole new way, knowing that death is a part of the existence we have in the flesh, but it is just the beginning of a life that will last forever. If we look at the life we have been given from that perspective, we live in thanksgiving and praise to God no matter what we face.

Here, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see the fulfillment of the promise in Daniel. “And what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”

The Messiah has come, and His name is Jesus. In faith we can live in the hope of what will is and what will be according to His promises. As we praise God for this great gift, let us also wield the sword that will not bring death to our enemies, but will bring life so that they too might join the great company of saints on earth and in heaven singing thanksgiving for eternity. “Praise ye Jehovah. Sing unto Jehovah a new song, And his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise his name in the dance: Let them sing praises unto him with timbrel and harp.”

In that hope we can live right side up in this upside down world, by the power of His Spirit following the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. “But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

And so, on this All Saints Day, let us give thanks to God for all the saints, those past and present, and remember them with joyfulness and hope. As Paul writes, “For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which is among you, and the love which ye show toward all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” Thanks be to God.

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