All Saint’s Day
November 1, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
All Saint’s Day. One of my favorites. Next to Easter I look forward to it the very most. The hymns. The Scripture. The names. Some of the best people that God ever made were named today. You got to think about a mom or dad, a grandma or grandpa or one of our fellow members.
I had on my calendar that my dear friend, Amy Powell, was going to be 50 this year – on a Sunday – November 15. I was going to embarrass her in front of all the 10:30 people. But her name was on the list that I read. Amy Powell, Marie Mills, Helen Hartman, Robert Rodefeld, Rich Bress and then we added Ann Clausen just this week.
Good people. But everyone of them was flawed. I worked with a guy at another church who told me that if I was the one to do his funeral he had one thing that I needed to say to everyone attending. He told me, “Tell them that I was a sinner.” “Tell them I needed Jesus.” I was told this joke some time ago – At the funeral of her husband the widow was listening to the preacher go on and on about how her husband was amazing at this and that and was such an example to us all. Perplexed by what she heard, this widow leaned over to her son and said, “Could you please go and check to see if that is really your dad who is in the casket.”
Flawed. Not just those before us. Those around us. And us. At the end of June the Wall Street Journal published an article by Cardinal Timothy Dolan who is the archbishop of New York. He wrote the article when the world was set on tearing down and defacing statues and portraits of anyone who was flawed. Names of sinners were removed from institutions and public places. We call this our “cancel culture.”
Dolan in his article wrote, “Years ago I was dedicating a new parish to St. Peter. A woman wrote to protest: ‘Why would you name a Church after such a coward, a sinner who denied even knowing the Lord when Jesus needed him the most, at the hour of His arrest and crucifixion?’ Knowing her and what parish she was from, I wrote back, ‘But you’re a proud parishioner of St. Mary Magdalene Church. She was not a paragon of virtue for a chunk of her life. Yet, by God’s grace, she became a radiant, inspirational saint. If we can’t name churches after sinners, the only titles we’d have left would be Jesus and His Mother.’” (Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2020) (Dolan is a Archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church and sees Mary as sinless, but I, as a Lutheran, see her as one flawed, in need of grace, just like us).
Today, the best day, All Saint’s Day, is a day for the flawed. Dolan’s article is titled, “Even the Bible is Full of Flawed Characters.” I chose the reading from Hebrews 11 for today. It is the chapter about the heroes of faith. It talks about Abraham and Moses. Later in the chapter it says about some of these heroes, “Some faced jeers and flogging, while others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword…the world was not worthy of them.” (Hebrews 11:36-37a, 28a) But not all the saints were perfect. Here’s three that made that list in Hebrews who had a few stains on their heart:
Rahab. “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Hebrews 11:31) If someone is being white-washed and made a model of virtue, would you even mention her notorious vocation? “The prostitute Rahab…” I find it amazing when the family tree of Jesus is given in Matthew 1 that Rahab is mentioned!! “Jesus, is it true, that your great, great, great, great (and many more greats) was a lady of the night?” That is not something you want published. Flawed.
David. Now there’s a hero!! David versus Goliath. The little kid against the giant and he had a line that we should all put to memory. Before he slings the stone he says, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (I Samuel 17:47) But you know more about David than that, right? Do you remember his lust and his conniving and his deception? Do you remember Bathsheba, and the adultery, and Uriah, and the lies, and then his massacre? David. Flawed.
Samson. He marries an unbeliever from the enemy of Israel, even though his parents insisted that he reconsider his choice. The Bible them tells of other women that he slept with even though he was married. (You’ll find his life spoken of in Judges 13-16.) But the Bible puts him in Hebrews 11, the heroes of faith.
There are times when people who are outside of the church look at people in the church in one of two ways, both of them on the extremes. Some see you and I as hypocrites. They see us as dishonest in how we present ourselves. They think we are phonies, liars to the core. On the other extreme some look at church people as rule- followers, truly folks who are better than them morally and someone that they could never quite become.
I don’t think that either extreme is correct. Like Rahab and David and Samson we are flawed. We are numbered among the saints of God not because of us and what we do or even what we don’t do, but only because of Jesus. Saints – you and I, are flawed. And we are broken. But we’re repentant. And we are made whole.
David, in his psalms, tells about how pained he was by his flaws – his sins, his evil, his destruction of the lives of those who trusted him. He knew how flawed he was and it was a miserable existence to have. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4) It is a terrible thing to run away from God and to lack the honesty to confess our sins to self and to Him. It is foolish to cover our eyes and fail to know how much we need Him.
Do you know where flawed people must go? They must seek God. They have a broken heart. They ask God to give them a new beginning. Flawed people repent of sin and believe in God’s reception of them and their brokenness.
Here is David and his words:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:8-10)
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:7)
In this chapter about heroes it says of them, “Whose weakness was turned to strength.” (Hebrews 11:34c) Rahab. David. Samson. Me!! You!! How did our weakness become strength? God took hold of us. He takes flawed people and restores them by forgiveness, He counts them holy – saints. Listen to what God says of us:
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:1, 2b)
How did this happen? How did those flawed people get into the chapter about the heroes of faith? How do we get our names into the book of life? Did you hear it earlier today? “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)
Do we need to rewrite history? As Cardinal Dolan reminded us, “Even the Bible is Full of Flawed Characters.” Sinners are sinners. They’re flawed. And so are we. But Jesus receives sinners and declares them His saints. That is why today is the best day. Jesus makes us His. Amen!!