We tried something new at St. Peter Lutheran Church this year, and rather than celebrate Confirmation on Reformation Sunday, we bumped Confirmation back a week to combine it with All Saints Sunday. This let us focus more on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
Since we had Confirmation at only one service this week, I had two separate sermons, so, similar to last year, this is a mashup of both. This week’s texts are 1 John 3:1-3 & Matthew 5:1-12. Here’s the sermon mashup:
Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
I want to begin by showing you a movie clip. This is from the beginning of the movie, The Terminal. The background is that this guy, Mr. Navorski, has just landed in New York, flying in from the nation of Krakozhia. In this scene, he’s been pulled out of the passport control line into a security office.
Mr. Navorski cannot continue into the United States, but he also cannot return home. He’s in limbo, stuck between two worlds with one foot in each. Like a refugee, he’s caught between cultures, unable to speak the language, not truly here or there.
You and I are in a similar place as Christians. We are God’s children now, living in the world God created, the world God loves, but the world is corrupted by sin. We know how the story ends; we know Christ has been raised from the dead, yet we’re still caught in the grasp of sin. We’re living in the in-between.
All Saints Day is about claiming our citizenship with God. It’s about recognizing the promise that God has claimed us in baptism as children of God.
The first verse of the reading we just heard from First John 3 puts simply. Read it with me – the first sentence from the First John reading, the top of the last page of the bulletin – “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
I think we can go our entire lives learning what that means, grasping this concept that we are children of God. This world is filled with so much junk, with wars and rumors of wars, with fighting between people, dysfunctional families, tragedies, that it is often hard to see God at work.
People are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, people are reviled and persecuted, and people are in mourning and poor in spirit, and all the other stuff Jesus lists in the Beatitudes from Matthew.
And yet, in the midst of all that junk, all that sadness, Jesus declares that the very same people who mourn are also blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The meek are blessed to inherit the earth. God’s kingdom is promised to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We stand on this side of the line, but we can see across to the other side. In Christ, we are all made saints, yet at the same time, we remain sinners.
In a few minutes, we will light candles in memory of everyone in our congregation who has died within this last year. This is also an opportunity to remember those people in your own life who have died. I’ve been struggling this week to figure out what tone this service should have. On the one hand, it’s a sad weekend. It’s hard to look around and see empty seats where a year ago there were people sitting. There’s a lot of grief as we remember friends and relatives who have died.
On the other hand, even as it’s a day of mourning and remembrance, All Saints’ Day is a joyous day, a celebration. For those special, well-known saints who have their own church commemoration day, we commemorate them not on their birthday like you might think, but on date of their death. If you look at a liturgical calendar, saints are commemorated on the date of their death, because it’s their birthday to eternal life. For instance, December 20th is the commemoration of Katherina von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife, because she died in a carriage accident on December 20, 1552.
Those who have died in Christ no longer need to wait in between two worlds. They are fully with Jesus. Of course, we who are still here on earth need faith to believe. We know we are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. We have hope; we can see through the eyes of faith, but only dimly. We don’t quite understand yet. We are children of God, but all of us are still learning how to live that out.
We have this idea sometimes that “saints” are super-Christians, people who have it all figured out, people who have overcome all their doubts, who totally trust God, who give away their entire lives, maybe people like Mother Teresa. While that kind of person certainly qualifies as a saint, it’s not because of what they’ve done or how well they believe.
To be a saint simply means to be one of God’s children, to be claimed by God. Saints are made by God’s grace, not by their accomplishments.
It is appropriate to celebrate confirmation today, because All Saints Day is about recognizing that in baptism, we have been claimed as God’s children.
You are children of God. All of you. You are a child of God.
That doesn’t mean you’re perfect, or you don’t have doubts, because at the same time all of us are saints, we’re also all sinners. We’re never going to get it quite right in this life. That’s ok.
Because God has claimed you, because Jesus has died and been raised for you, you are a saint. “We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
In a sense, the two years of confirmation you’ve gone through are all about this promise. Hopefully, over the last two years, you’ve been able to understand more about the love the Father has given us, and you’ve been able to think about what it means to be called children of God, because that is what you are.
Of course, you don’t have it all figured out yet. That’s good! Today is a celebration of how far you’ve come, but what we’re celebrating today is graduation into something, not graduation from something. You’re moving into a new role as an adult member in the church, affirming your intention to continue in the covenant your parents made with God at your baptism.
We as the congregation are confirming you as part of this body. Now you get to keep learning, keep helping in worship, keep living out your Christian faith. We’re celebrating an entrance, not a graduation. Confirmation is welcoming you into life as a saint, an ordinary person claimed by an extraordinary God.
Aubrie and Madie, you both chose as your confirmation verse Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” What a great promise! Today, as we remember those saints who have died, we remember that this promise remains true even in death. Nothing can keep God from being with us, not even death itself.
As you said in your faith statement, Aubrie, no matter what you are facing, you’re never alone. Madie, you talked about God always being there to listen to you, to guide you, and to answer your prayers. In so many ways, the Christian life is about learning how true that is.
Brooke, you chose Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” David, your verse has a similar idea, Matthew 17:20, about faith the size of a mustard seed being enough to move a mountain. That word “faith” really means trust, trusting God is who God says God is, trusting that God is faithful. Our strength as Christians comes from God, not from ourselves.
As you said in your statement, David, God is always trying to help us learn more about who he is. And when we learn who God is, when we learn about God’s love, we learn who we are. We are adopted sons and daughters of the King. We are children of God.
Throughout your life, the world will try to make you question that. Turn on the TV and just look at all the advertisements for things you can buy to make yourself better, to fix your brokenness, to take care of whatever problem you have. If you’re old, you can get skin-care products to look younger; if you’re young, you can get them to look older. You can get a nicer car to impress your neighbors; you can get a new phone so you’ll be more popular.
Whatever it is you’re lacking, surely there’s something you can buy to fix it. And of course, you’re lacking something. That’s the real message we get over and over. You’re not good enough. The love God has given you might be nice, but it’s not enough. That’s the lie the enemy keeps telling us. That’s the world’s message.
God’s message is the opposite. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. As you wrote, Brooke, the Lord is greater than whatever giants we face. God sees you as a beloved child. God’s love is enough. God’s love is greater than the lies of the world.
Sydney, your verse from Isaiah 61:3 also lifts up the promise of God’s love. Speaking to God’s chosen, beloved people, Isaiah declares that instead of ashes and mourning, the Lord will give a crown of beauty and joyous blessing. That’s both for the future, a promise of eternal life to cling to in times of tragedy and death, and for the present. God’s love sustains us in our everyday lives, giving us hope and purpose, something to live for.
Layne, you picked one of my favorite verses, John 21:25, where at the end of all the stories he’s told about Jesus, John says basically, “That’s all I have room to write.” We don’t get to know the entire story, and sometimes that’s hard when we want to know exactly what God is doing.
But the beauty of that verse is the promise the story isn’t over. God isn’t done with you, or me, or any of us, or the world. God is still at work. You wrote that you picked that verse because life is about filling in more of the story, as many books as possible. Look for where God is involved in all of your stories.
Finally, Kedric, your verse summarizes the whole promise of faith. John 3:16 condenses the entire story of God’s love for the world into just a few words. God loved the world – the whole world, in all of its brokenness and tragedy and sin – enough to do something about it, to personally come and experience death to break its power and give us eternal life.
Like you wrote about, that promise is what sets us free. We don’t need to worry about what happens when we die. We don’t need to fear for those who have died, because we have this incredible promise of hope in Jesus Christ. On a day when we remember those who have died, we mourn, but we also celebrate, because we have the promise of eternal life.
As you affirm your baptisms and claim this promise of faith as adults in the church, remember that you are God’s child. Right now – not once you die, not once you buy enough stuff, not once you get your act together, right now.
The promise is for all of you. You are children of God, and that is enough.