Saints Be Praised
Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 7:9–7:17
A Sermon delivered at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
On The Day of All Saints (ALL-SAINTS – 2014)
By the Rev. Dr. B. F. Nass, Pastor Emeritus
Dear Saints of the Lord, members of St. John’s and welcome guests:
I consider myself fortunate in that my early childhood home was one in which profanity had no place. It simply was not tolerated from parents or children. I hope all of your homes are providing for and enforcing that same standard by example. I fear that, as our lack of language skills in descriptive vocabulary continues to decrease, that standard is and will be more and more difficult to maintain. Given the chatter in the workplace, the sports field, the internet, the media, and this week again even from some of our governmental agencies, there are often more bleeps than actual meaningful words that struggle to communicate events and ideas.
However, it is not my intention on this day of All Saints to issue a diatribe against the use of profanity either in our caustic or casual conversation, so back to my opening statement about no profanity in my home life. Curiously, there evolved a substitute vocabulary of nicer words to replace the vulgar ones. For example, “Drat” was the word one used when the hammer hit the thumb instead of the nail. “O shaw!” was an exclamation used when things didn’t turn out the way one had hoped. And what I am finally getting down to is that when something unexpectedly wonderful and surprisingly positive occurred – something almost short of a miracle – the expression of profound amazement often (as one clasped hands to one’s cheeks) was, “Well, saints be praised!!!”
I haven’t heard that expression for a long time. But somehow it popped up out of my long term memory file -- which is something that happens more and more as people grow older -- when I read the Scripture lessons assigned for this day that encourage us to hold up, remember, and emulate the Saints. Perhaps when you heard them read your reaction might have been something like, Well, saints be praised!!!!” But saying it is one thing; living it is another. That’s what we need to talk about today.
Probably the first thing we need to do is define not what, but who is a saint. I suspect if you asked the average person on the street that question, many wouldn’t have a clue. Or you might get a response like, “Saints are holier-than-thou people who lived long ago and were probably killed because of what they believed.” Those of a certain denominational persuasion might tell you that saints are people who lived holy lives, were recognized by the church and community, performed at least one witnessed miracle, have gone through the long process called ‘beatification,’ and finally are listed in the registry of recognized saints who can assist in answering one’s prayers and who watch over certain aspects of our lives..
Our scripture lessons today cut through all that gobble-de-goop with a definition that encompasses all those heavenly hosts the Seer saw in our first lesson who “looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” Saints are certainly all those who have (in the words of St. Paul) “fought the good fight, finished the course,” and have received that victorious crown of righteousness which will never be taken from them. Though they now have a spiritual body, there are probably quite a few familiar faces of friends and family members you would recognize if you were that Seer in our First Lesson. Today as part of our worship we name those who have died over the past year and present past names in the Book of Remembrance in prayerful recognition. May those saints be praised!
But there are more saints to be praised in addition to those just around heaven’s throne. Some of them are right here in this sanctuary. Look to your right; look to your left. Look at those in front of and behind you. Look at yourself in the mirror because you are one of them. Now you are probably saying, “Wait a minute, pastor, you can’t pin that “saint” label on me yet. If you really knew me, you would know I’m no saint. You would be more accurate and I would feel more comfortable if you’d just slap me on the back and say, “How ya doing, you old sinner you.” Besides, being called a saint requires of me a lifestyle I am not able to fulfill.” And you know you are right on all human counts.
But “Saints be praised!!!” our gracious God has added another dimension to the definition of sainthood. John hit the nail on the head in the opening line of our second reading: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Not because of anything we deserved, but what God in Christ’s death and resurrection has made us. He changed our identity when we shed the profane of this world’s sin in our baptismal death, only to rise with Christ to a brand new life that has set us apart for a special purpose. While we are still sinners, in Christ Jesus we are holy. May we as saints praise this recreation as we strive to become what God has made us.
But sainthood is not all praise and glory. Yes, we got trouble….trouble right here in sainthood city and it rhymes with “P” and it stands for …..persecution. “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you,” John adds in our Epistle and Jesus echoes the same warning in today’s Gospel Reading,
A couple years ago my daughter and I went skydiving. But before we were allowed to jump from 14,000 feet, we first had to sign a six page disclaimer. The reason it was six pages long is because the top half of all six pages contained in huge bold type these words, “You could die doing this.” Be aware, aspiring saints, you could die doing this or at least suffer hardship and persecution. Our hearts and prayers go out to those saints today in primarily Muslim countries who are being killed because of their Christian faith or having their property being taken away by members of “that noble religion,” as they flee for sanctuary to friendlier climes. Even in our own country we find a growing intolerance, if not an overt hostility and denial of freedoms towards people of faith. There is a growing chorus of those who are not saying “Well, saints be praised!!” but make a joke out of our Christian faith and a mockery out of Christ-like living.
Rather than fear or faint, we hear and heed our Savior’s advice: Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. In a hate-filled world, as God’s saints let us demonstrate instead our love to one another and to all so that today, the day of all saints until that final day, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we join in the praise and the praising and proliferation of God’s saints.