Nov. 1, 2020 (All Saints Day and Confirmation Sunday)

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 7: 9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Psalm 34: 1-10, 22

1I will bless the Lord at all times; the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth.
2I will glory in the Lord; let the lowly hear and rejoice. 

3Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; let us exalt God’s name  together.
4I sought the Lord, who answered me and delivered me from all my terrors.

5Look upon the Lord and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.
6I called in my affliction, and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my  troubles. 

7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear the Lord and delivers them.
8Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God!

9Fear the Lord, you saints of the Lord, for those who fear the Lord lack nothing.
10The lions are in want and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

22O Lord, you redeem the life of your servants, and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.

Matthew 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Faith Statement by Kevin Mills (Confirmation Sunday)

Over my years in confirmation, I went through the biggest changes in my life. I’m not talking about puberty, I mean that I’ve learned so many things pertaining to my life, which have helped me grow as a Friend, a Lutheran, and a member of this society. most of which about myself, my faith, and the world around me.

I’m sure all of you know, but dramas a real thing that happens in middle school, and especially in high school. When it comes up, drama is typically very stressful and often results in negative effects such as friends growing apart. But sometimes, that drama creates great learning opportunities to improve yourself. I’m the past year alone, I’ve said and done so many things that had negative impacts on me and the ones I care about. But if it weren’t for these experiences, I never would have learned the effects that my actions had on my friends and family.

As I learned these lessons, the stories from confirmation began to mean more and more to me. One story that I specifically remember studying multiple times was the story of the Prodigal son. The first time through, I remember not understanding the father’s choices and took the side of the older brother. But the second time through, I understood that the father had forgiven his son and loved both him and his brother the same. This taught me that you can forgive anyone for anything. But the third time through is what made this my favorite of Christ’s parables. What sunk in was the beginning and middle of the story. I believe that the father knew what the son would do with the money, and in turn, let him spend it all to teach him many lessons. But the ending also teaches the older brother some life lessons, as he seems to need to learn how to forgive as his father did. This is just one of the many parables I studied in confirmation that affected my life in a positive way. 

The lessons that we are taught by the bible are meant to make us servants of God. But what is a servant of God? I believe it means to treat others with kindness and try to be a light in their world that brings them up rather than a shadow that brings them down. A realization I’ve made throughout these years has been that kindness is contagious. Think about it, when you’re in a bad mood, are you generally very kind? No, you’re not. Treating someone badly will likely cause that person to treat others badly, and the chain continues spreading like a virus. (Covid joke)

The time I spent in confirmation helped me towards becoming a better person in general. I learned many lessons that will contribute to my success in being one of God’s own servants.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Today is all about saints and blessings, and perhaps how those two fit together. I believe the scripture passages both from Matthew and Revelation are protest passages. That is, they show us that the way things are is clearly not what God envisions. This is why we still pray, “Your kingdom come.” 

We acknowledge in that prayer that the “kingdom of heaven” is not yet a reality on earth. And yet today, All Saints Day, we recognize people who died who the church holds up as exemplars, those individuals who continue to give us glimpses of the kingdom of heaven or reign of God—people like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Teresa. We also recognize that all of us who strive to bring in the kingdom are in fact called saints.

One of the many things we celebrate today is the gift of baptism, the sacrament of Water and the Word, in which we are united with Christ’s death and resurrection.  We drown, we are washed clean, and we are given a new name, Child of God.  God shows know partiality.  Because of Jesus Christ God’s love and grace are free gifts.  But once we are united with Christ, once we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, it is quite a journey. Kevin, who will soon affirm the promises made at his baptism, named that this journey is one of learning, discovery, and regular transformation. The living word of God which he has encountered has transformed his thoughts and actions already.

In our reading from Matthew, we see what behavior got Jesus’ followers into such trouble. They were “merciful” and “peacemakers,” seeking reconciliation rather than revenge on someone who wronged them. They were “pure in heart,” and as Jesus defines purity, that meant doing things — like eating with any who would break bread with you — bound to render them impure in others’ eyes. Jesus gathers in all of these people who are completely bereft and without honor in their culture’s eyes.

Jesus gives them blessing, or honor. In front of all the crowds, Jesus ascribes honor to them, declaring that these are the people whom the God of Israel honors. Their human families may have disowned them, but they are children of the God who created the universe, to whom all honor belongs.

What does God require of us? Not sacrifices of blood, not impressive buildings, not achievement or respectability: just justice, and mercy, and humility. Sounds simple but living into that way of life has costs. 

What would it mean if we honored those whom God honors? What would happen if we stopped playing all of our culture’s games for status and power and privilege? What would it cost us if we lived more deeply into justice, and mercy, and humility? And more importantly, what blessings await us on that journey? 

What threads together the Beatitudes and our passage from Revelation are the threads of vision and protest. They both portray God’s vision for the world and speak to God’s solidarity with the marginalized, those crushed by the power of empire. Both passages should surprise us, the first with who God chooses to bless or honor, the second with how precisely God shows up.

The best way to understand Revelation’s message is to place ourselves alongside its earliest readers. Revelation was written to comfort beleaguered churches struggling under Roman imperial violence and power. The author, John, lived in exile on the Island of Patmos, off the coast of modern-day Turkey. Patmos was a place of banishment used by Rome.  

John himself writes of past and expected persecution of Christians who refused to worship the Roman Emperor. John writes that Rome is not the great eternal power it claims to be. John writes an apocalypse. In Greek, Apo means “from” and kalypsis means “covering” or “curtain.” John’s apocalypse pulls the curtain from the Roman Empire. It shows that Rome must not be worshiped.

John writes because he has been given his message directly from God; the message may or may not contain predictions. It is a revelation from God, from the Lord, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus of the Christian community. John prophesies to the Christian communities to remain faithful to the risen Lord, to remain faithful even in their time of crisis under the rule of Rome. The saints whose stories we still tell today were exemplars in this faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus.

No other apocalypse ever pictures the divine hero as a Lamb. Revelation is unique among apocalyptic writings in this image. A lamb is weak and helpless. The depiction of Jesus as a Lamb shows him in the most vulnerable way possible. And John depicts Jesus as a victim who is slaughtered but standing. He is crucified but raised to life. He has conquered death but not in any Roman way.

The Lamb of Revelation became the victor not by militaristic power and slaughter but rather by being slaughtered. From beginning to end, Revelation’s vision of the Lamb teaches that God’s power is made manifest in weakness.  This Lamb theology is the whole message of Revelation. Evil is defeated not by overwhelming force or violence but by the Lamb’s suffering and love on the cross.  The victim becomes the victor. John of Patmos reveals what Barbara Rossing calls “Lamb Power.”

John takes his time revealing this Lamb Power. In Chapter Six, the first six seals are opened in rapid succession. This unleashes the four deadly horses and other symbols of Rome’s terrible oppression. We expect that the seventh seal will continue the rhythm of horror.  Instead, the letter reveals an amazing surprise.  

In place of the seventh seal we get a beautiful vision of white-robed martyrs from all “nations, tribes, peoples, and languages.” They are waving palm branches and singing before the throne of God and the Lamb. Then we arrive at a wonderful paradox. The Lamb himself becomes their shepherd, leading people to God’s shelter and to springs of the water of life.  

Today’s reading presents the church after the battle. Those who have conquered are dressed in the white robes of the victors; martyrdom is seen only from its heavenward side. We must cautiously remember that they have “won” only from the heavenly perspective of the Lamb’s redefinition of winning; on earth they have been killed.

John’s paradoxes keep coming.  The robes of the martyrs are white not with liquid bleach but because they are washed in the blood of the lamb.  Their own death is not an accomplishment of which they can boast. They don’t earn their victor’s robes with their own courage and determination. Their death becomes one with the Lamb’s death. John lets us see the suffering love of the One who dies for others enthroned. The Lamb rules at the heart of the universe.

There is amazing hope here. We are reminded that at those moments when judgment threatens most to overpower us the Lamb breaks into our world with God’s unexpected grace and love. Throughout all of Revelation, such songs and declarations of salvation break out in heaven—often at some of the most difficult moments, sustaining our faith on earth.    

What does any of this have to do with All Saints Sunday?  I’m sure this text is included today at least partially because of the image of God wiping away every tear from their eyes, a comforting image for all of us who have lost loved ones this year or in years past.

I think there is more to it.  Today our readings and liturgy call us to remember those who have died in Christ. The Christian community speaks honestly about human frailty and mortality. We don’t dismiss these realities.  At the same time, we confess every Sunday our faith in the risen Lord, in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. While we face death with fear, the liturgy calls us to hear the Lord’s promise that he is with us in life and in death. In that strange and wonderful reversal, the Lamb is our shepherd—with us in life and in death.

Prayers of Intercession

Longing for Christ’s reign to come among us, we pray for the outpouring of God’s power on the church, the world, and all in need. Please respond to “Hear us, O God” with “Your mercy is great.”

A brief silence.

Lord of all the saints, we praise you for evangelists and martyrs whose sacrifices witness to your gospel across time and space. Inspire us by their courage to carry our faith to new people and places around us. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every place, the universe proclaims your greatness from generation to generation. Bless the work of naturalists, conservationists, and park rangers who train our attention to the wonders of the world you have made. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every nation, you crafted the universe as a divine tapestry in which the well-being of the entire cosmos is forever intertwined. In this election season, give us hearts and minds focused on nurturing all that you have made. Forgive us when we are unjust or accept unjust behavior in our leaders. Remind us of your call to not withdraw from the world, but to be in the world as your very own broken and beloved people. Ignite in us a passion for the welfare of those who are most vulnerable, and empower us to lead with a love that reflects your love revealed in Jesus Christ our Savior. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every blessing, your Son’s blessing came to those living with poverty, grief, hunger, thirst, and persecution. Shape our vision of the saints to match his own. Awaken in us your call to serve all who suffer. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every venture, anoint us with the missionary spirit of the early church. Empower testimony from new communities of faith to shape a diverse witness to your saving power. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of every time, countless are the multitudes you have called by name and gathered to yourself. Comfort us as we grieve those who have died in the past year:  All those in our world who have died from COVID-19, Howard Winwood, George Pascua, Ron King, Margaret Peerson, Chuck Knipple, Ashley Fisherman, John VanEvery, Robert MacDonald, Allyn Topp, and Robert Torrey. In faith, may we join with them in ceaseless praise. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Lord of new beginnings, we give thanks for those baptized since the last All Saints Sunday, the new saints: Olivia, Michael, Sophia, and James Duarte. Bless them in their life in Christ. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

Receive our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, until that day when you gather all creation around your throne where you will reign forever and ever. Amen.

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