ALL SAINTS’ DAY – NOV. 5, 2017
BLESSED ARE YOU WITH ROBES WASHED WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting
Dear saints of God, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
After the sermon these words help us remember Gladys and Howard and Eunice and Russell. “In joyful expectation of the resurrection to life eternal, we remember before the Lord our departed family and friends who have gone before us in faith…” There are others you will know by name whose earthly life has run its course. The names I recall this year include my cousin Ethel – about 10 years my senior – killed last month when a teenager ran a red light – and my cousin Judy – about 15 years my senior – such a hardy laugh until cancer first attacked her throat years ago – and my cousin Orville about 25 years my senior who until near his death read the sermons posted on our website each week. “Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” While these three of my cousins were all buried from a Lutheran Church - only Christ will judge whether they - “…washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
We know of the world’s futile efforts to keep those who die connected to earthly life. Poems and funeral talk may speak of them being nearer than ever – watching over you and your activities here – ready to come if you beckon with a thought or a word. But the unique voice of your loved one is no longer heard here - their handshakes and hugs no longer felt. Their absence is real. God speaks a bit differently than our culture. We flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more (Psalm 103:15-16). “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
Unless we are alive on Judgment Day we will all experience death! You are steadily moving toward your grave! It is punishment for your sin! While popular pressure is strong to describe funerals as “celebrations of life” God allows you grief with no pretense. Jesus wept at his friend’s grave! Death hurts! Death is ugly! Death is an enemy! Death separates and we cannot undo the separation it causes here! But death is not the final act and God helps us know with joy and thanksgiving that even this last enemy is defeated! Those who die in Christ are not disconnected from the reality that is good and eternal.
“We feebly struggle!” Here there are tests to take and bills to pay and frustrations to face! Here we are embarrassed and we disappoint people. Here we hunger and thirst and shed tears and suffer sickness and struggle with sin! Here our consciences are assaulted by Satan. But not there! “They in glory shine!” They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. In purity of heart they cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” “Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Dear saints of God, your eyes cannot see this but your ears can! Listen to the voice of the Lamb! Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied. In the Gospel, this word “blessed” is always in relation to Jesus and the righteousness He gives. The “Blessings” the Holy Spirit caused St. Matthew to record are a portrait of Jesus and of you His Church - given faith by the Word of Jesus. He shares with you - who He is and what He has done! Therein you are blessed beyond all that you know!
These are not ethical or moral demands to earn the kingdom of the heavens. That is why the little note on the bottom back of your bulletin can be quite spiritually harmful. Jesus did not say – “Blessed are those who do not hide the reason for our hope” – or – “blessed are those who extend His kingdom” – or – “blessed are those who live in humbleness and righteousness no matter the risk or the cost.” These statements do not rightly reflect the rich gospel in Jesus’ blessings.
You see the poor in spirit are those who are given to – who wait on the poor man Jesus – for everything. God gives into empty hands! He is the rich one who made Himself poor for you! Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - hunger for Jesus - who hungered and thirsted after God’s plan of salvation. The mind of God is revealed so richly in these blessings – first in Jesus – and through His communion with you – also in you – His Church!
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. To be pure in heart is to have no reserve – no concerns for self and personal benefit – to have one’s total existence committed to God. Blessed are the pure in heart! Only Jesus qualifies and only Jesus sees God! Yet He now says – Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9). Your eyes cannot see Him but through your ears you do see Him in faith! Poor in spirit – seeking everything from Him – God sees purity of heart in you - a gift of your risen Lord! We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Your hope rested totally on Jesus is beautiful to God! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. To people who had not obvious reason for joy – Jesus proclaims – rejoice and be exceedingly glad! Why? On my account! The cause of it all is Jesus - the giver of it all! These blessings are filled with Jesus and given fully to those in Jesus. Even so - these blessings apply directly to you – for God baptized you into the death and resurrection of Christ and He is faithful to His promises.
Death went too far when it took hold of Jesus. Death lost its claim on humanity through the victory of the God/Man! By his death he defeated death! Now death is involved in the final answer to our final petition “Deliver us from evil.” What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul possessions and reputation and finally when our last hour comes grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer you ask Jesus for a blessed death. And so He gives into your empty hands – even death – leading your through that dark valley.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. In fact those who are poor in spirit and possessing the kingdom (that is Christians) are those who are coming out of the great tribulation! Jesus described a great tribulation immediately before His return (Matthew 24:21-30) and Revelation reveals that Satan will then be loosed for a short time (20:7). But in our text the verb is ongoing. That is to say “the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation” are constantly coming out. Christians are continually emerging from this valley of sorrow and adding to the countless host in heaven.
Those we name today and all who die in faith are in that throng and we are reminded that every Christian faces tribulation – even great tribulation. The word means being pressured or hemmed in and the fight can be fierce and the warfare long. Pressured by the turning of the calendar! Hemmed in by responsibilities and expectations more than you can meet! Pressured by the temptations and accusations of the devil! Hemmed in by those who speak falsely of you or revile you on account of Christ! Pressured by dark days of suffering or physical pain! Hemmed in by emotional struggle! Pressured by sickness! Hemmed in by death when its cords entangle you! We journey through much tribulation to a time and a place that St. John described this way, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
To see Him as He is – is the future of the 12 tribes of 12,000 described in Revelation. These twelve tribes are a new list – defined by the gospel - picturing the entire New Testament period. You are in that throng. Old Testament birth order is set aside as Judah (the fourth born) - is now listed first (the tribe from which the Messiah came)! The tribes of Dan and Ephraim (both tainted by idolatry and fallen in unbelief) are absent. The tribes of Levi and Joseph are added. This new listing witnesses the Church of all time cleansed from idolatry by the blood of the Lamb - sealed by the work of the Holy Spirit. A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. With eternal peace of conscience they rejoice in the salvation of God in Jesus Christ.
Beloved, poor in spirit, you are included in that throng by looking to Christ. See what kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are. “What kind” - expresses astonishment at something far, far beyond expectation. See what kind of love the Father has given us! That is, take note how wonderful and great is the love the Father has bestowed upon you! God loved you in such manner as to sacrifice the Holy Lamb of God (His beloved Son) to set you free from death and hell. God loved you in such a way as to make you His children! See what kind of love washes away your sin with the cleansing blood of Christ in the water of your baptism. See what kind of love the Father gives you as the living Christ bids you drink of that same cleansing blood.
On this Sunday of All Saints as on every Sunday your hope and your strength is in Him. He speaks clearly of the enemy of death. Although death is our supreme disgrace it is also now the means by which Christ conquered. Because of His forgiving and saving work He uses even death for you and speaks of it as “being gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8), “being taken from evil” (Isaiah 57:1), “departing in peace” (Luke 2:29) - departing to be with Christ (Phil 1:21-23). You are steadily moving toward your grave – and simultaneously toward the unspeakable joys of Christ’s nearer presence.
We read the names this morning trusting in the forgiveness won by the Lamb who was slain. Think of it! Rejoice in it! He who answered for their sins is their judge! What incredible grace! He who answered for your sins in your judge! What unspeakable mercy! In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. He gives you what is His! He cannot deny Himself or what is yours from Him!
See what kind of love the Father has given us! We too easily forget that our bodies are to be resurrected bodies! It can be no other way for you are the Bride of Christ – bone of His bones (now resurrected) – flesh of His flesh (now resurrected)! Beloved - Jesus gives you such high and holy hope! In due time the invisible things will become visible – His holy angels – the one holy communion of God’s faithful people of all times and places! Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
He sets you free from yourself! You are free to continue confessing Him before the world – as you do now in meeting with Him to receive His love! You are free to worship Him in the highest possible way – by seeking the forgiveness of sins from Him – release from real, ugly, stubborn, sin! You are free to follow the saints in virtuous and godly living – always poor in spirit (an undeserving sinful beggar before God) – always rich in forgiveness received (His holy one – without blemish even now – His saint)! You are free to love Him seeing what kind of love the Father is giving you! You are free to live and sing and wait for Jesus – the living Christ - who comes to wait on you! This is why we cry again today “Lift up your hearts!” “”We lift them up to the Lord!” “Hearts are brave again and arms are strong because His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
“Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” - “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
In His Name, Amen.
In peace let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
In thankful gratitude that God is our rock and fortress and that He gives us refuge in the cleansing blood of Christ; in petition for confident joy that the white robes of His righteousness fully covers the crimson multitude of our sins. Let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all who have been baptized in Christ’s death and resurrection, that they may die to sin and rise to newness of life and so pass with Him through the gate of death and the grave to their joyful resurrection, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all ministers of the Gospel also that they may proclaim Christ’s sacrifice and the joy of His resurrection for all who grieve their sin and mourn their dead; for the congregations committed to their care that they may live from the life-giving Gospel in joyful hope; For Pastor Larson and for Luther Memorial Chapel in all matters concerning Christ’s call for the preaching office here, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those who live in the darkness of unbelief, that God would send messengers of His Word to them, make new their hearts in faith, and add saints daily to those being saved, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all in authority over us and those who work to bring peace and justice – that God would supply them with His blessing that they may be inclined to do His will and walk according to His commandments, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those unemployed and underemployed and those seeking to employ that God would grant opportunity to work and just reward for labor given. For those who lives are torn by terrorist attacks, that the wounded receive help and healing and the grieving hear and be comforted by the gospel of Christ - let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For those who are sick – especially Lou in hospital care – and for Sherry and Gabriel in cancer treatment – and for Renee in recovery from brain trauma – and for Teresa afflicted with chronic pain – and for all we name in our hearts… - …that God’s great mercy may relieve and comfort each according to their need, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
For all who partake of Holy Communion that they receive this heavenly food in faith; that being nourished by the holy body and the holy blood of God’s Son - they be raised to immortality and incorruption to feast at His heavenly banquet in joyous communion with all those with Christ, let us pray to the Lord, Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.