First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:20-36
Sermon: “Saintly Living”
In his writings to the church at Ephesus, Paul uses a word that resonates with this special day we celebrate today – that word is Inheritance. Now as we know, an inheritance is something that becomes ours, that belonged to those who came before us. In the worldly sense, It might be any number of things: Property, wealth in the form of a bank balance or investments, it might be a business or a house. Biologically, we inherit many things – some good, some not so good from our parents and their parents before them – our genetics, our skin color, our stature, our susceptibility to disease and to an extent our personality. Our inheritance Socially is also very important. The advantages and privileges and inputs we receive (or fail to receive) can have an enormous impact on the trajectory of our life. It has a large effect on how we do in school, the values with which we are raised, who our friends are and even our social status. Whether we want to admit it or not, our worldly inheritance is critical to who we are. Its impact is very real. We are the product of those that came before us.
Paul writes to say that spiritually it is the same. What good news it is to hear what we have received as followers of Jesus Christ. We hear that God has plans and a purpose for us. We hear that God has destined us to be the Spiritual heirs of the riches of Grace that is ours through faith in God’s Son Jesus. Through Jesus, we have been redeemed, adopted and made God’s very own – heirs in fact. Furthermore, God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us – guiding us to the glorious hope that is our inheritance as children of God. Paul’s prayer for that congregation and by extension to us – down through the ages through all those Saints that have believed the same Good News, is wonderful to hear. Paul gives thanks and prays that we might Have a Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation so that we too might know and fully realize what a wonderful inheritance we are called to accept.
Paul goes on to express his profound faith that God is more than able to do exactly what God wills and prays that we will know it too. Paul prays that we will know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” That’s quite a mouthful, and it leaves no room for doubt. What God purposes to do will come about. No power on this earth or in heaven above can stop it. Nations and empires may come and go as Daniel saw, but the plan of God remains firm. That is a wonderful inheritance and a glorious hope indeed.
That is the goal towards which we are called and it is glorious. Yet we live in a world where those things, though already present are not yet fully realized. In the meantime, God has chosen to work in the world through his Saints. Not the Stained glass kind – the flesh and blood kind. God worked through our Spiritual forebears and continues to work through us. Not one of those “Saints” was perfect save Jesus Christ alone. As
Joy J Moore writes: “The church has always been a ragtag group of misfits who hold to the confidence that the God who raised Jesus from the dead has immeasurable power “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.” I think we can fit under that definition too.
If you are sitting there being slightly uncomfortable with the thought of being a Saint, just remember that the righteousness we have is not our own, rather we have been bought with a price – redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our journey to sanctification is not our achievement either. Rather it is the work of the Holy Spirit whom Paul assures us is (Ephesians 1:14 NLT)”…God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.” This is our inheritance from our Lord and our Redeemer, transmitted to us through the word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and the dedication of all those other saints who came before us.
The Hymns this morning carry a rich message of grace and inheritance. Our first hymn – “For All the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest” is a hymn of praise to God to those that came before us – some long ago, others in an unbroken chain of faithfulness leading to our own lives. The third verse acknowledges that we are still works in progress. We sing first of the current struggles before turning our eyes in hope and faith to God’s final victory where we all will be together in the Presence of God and all of creation will be fresh and new and perfect. Our Hymnal has shortened the original poem somewhat, let me read you the last half of the full version.
4 O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
5 And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
6 The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warrior cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
7 But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
8 From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
This is a special day in the church year. On it, we remember those who have gone before us, giving thanks to God for their lives. Each year, we add the names of those who have died the past year, giving thanks to God for them as well. It is good to remember and to give thanks for the grace of God that showed through their living. Each of us has our own list. Those people who in ways both great and small have contributed to the person we are to day. As I traced back some of the key waypoints in my faith journey this week I once again marveled at the gifts I have been given by scores and scores of people. Let me share just a few with you, perhaps you have had similar points in your life – add your own names and give thanks as well.
Some of the Saints in my life, many of whom have passed, some still living:
My Grandmother who taught me to love hymns and the importance of hospitality.
Vivian Stallard who taught me to accept a gift graciously and to give the gift of time.
The teachers at 1st Lutheran School who taught me the stories of the Bible.
Leslie Rardin who taught me to sing on pitch and love the music of the church
Ben Edwards who taught my confirmation class and taught me that Sunday school meant so much more than Scissors and glue.
Lilian McReynolds who first called me to help teach 3rd grade as a junior in High school – I’ve been a teacher ever since!
My Grandfather Bill who taught me to teach adults and how to research and prepare.
Don Gibson, director of the United Christian Campus Fellowship, who rescued a certain young Pharisee in OU and taught me to think critically about my faith and take Jesus at his word.
Kenneth Gates who taught me the majesty and meaning of worship and liturgy and unfortunately how it is possible to be technically correct and yet practically in terrible error.
Pastors Ed Hart and Ed Light who first trusted me with a youth group and taught the value of humor and faith.
Doug Thatcher who first knew I would someday wind up behind a pulpit and taught me its OK to be vulnerable in ministry. I didn’t have to have all the answers.
There are many many more – some in this room today. Those who poured their life into mine so that I might pour mine into others still. This is the earthly role of those called to be the saints of God. I give thanks to God for each and every one.
So then, if we too then are declared by God to be Saints and are those who seek to follow Jesus in this world in grateful response to the grace with which we have been gifted, how are we to live? In the verses of Romans 12, Paul lays it out in a very challenging statement. (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV) “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This is Saintly living.