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A Vision of the Saints

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Revelation 7:9-17 9 After 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. 10 They 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, 12 singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14 I 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." "A Vision of the Saints" This morning's New Testament passage from the Book of Revelation is that appointed for reading on All Saints Day. This year, as it happens, that day, the first of November, falls on a Sunday. For a change, we get to commemorate the saints on the very day marked out on the calendar. All Saints Day used to be a pretty big holiday, when I was growing up. My High School was a Catholic Boys school and they gave us the whole day off every year that November the first fell on a weekday. We were strongly encouraged to go to Mass that day, but this non-Catholic simply slept in late on the day after Halloween. I think it still is a pretty big deal in Catholic circles, because the whole notion of saints is a pretty big deal. Much less so for we descendants of the Protestant Reformation, the event which we just commemorated last Sunday. Still, I think we risk tossing the baby out with the bathwater if we completely disregard the idea of celebrating the contributions of the saints to the life and witness of the faith and the church over the generations. Perhaps one of the chief distinctions between the Roman Church's veneration of the Saints and our admiration of the saints lays in semantics. There is a precise, formal, often lengthy process for the Vatican to certify someone as having been a Saint. We don't have that problem. For most Non-Catholics I know, the use of the term saint is much wider and less specific in nature than that of our Catholic friends. For us, we may well be able to name a number of people we have known quite well and refer to each of them as a saint. For what we think of when we use the word is someone who has been a faithful witness, a charitable giver, a sacrificial servant. This may include such people as beloved grandparents or aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, friends and mentors. This is, I think, a less daunting sense of the word saint. It is attainable to "mere mortals". In fact, I would argue, these are just the sorts of folks who, in the scene from the world to come that we hear of in Revelation 7, comprise the throng that stand before the Lamb, waving their palm branches. What we know of them are not their deeds on earth, but simply their reliance on the saving power of Christ. This heavenly scene, which is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before his crucifixion, is beautiful to imagine. There, united as one, stand an innumerable multitude of people. They come from every nation, every people who have ever dwelt on earth. Whatever they don't share in common - language, color, gender, age - is now insignificant. All that distinguishes them now is the Lamb in whom they trust; the One in who's blood they have been washed clean of their sins and of their differences. And even more moving is that we can see ourselves as counted in that number. The "great cloud of witnesses" to which the author refers to in the book of Hebrews can include us. The faithful are recipients of God's gift of adoption through Christ both in this world and the next. In our Friday morning Men's Prayer Group and Bible Study, we've been using a commentary on Ephesians, recently written for folks who found themselves living in "scary times". That could well apply to any times, I suppose, but the author couches her points in the negative, saying that separated from Christ: - We are excluded from citizenship in the Kingdom of God We are foreigners We are without hope We are without God The opposite, applies, as well. In the positive, no longer separated from Christ, - We are citizens in the Kingdom of God We are not strangers We have hope We have God, for He has us. This runs quite parallel to the vision that is contained in Revelation, both here in chapter 7 and elsewhere in the final book of scripture. For those who have received the gift of Jesus, we are granted citizenship, now and forever, in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father, the One in whom alone there is hope and the One who calls His own unto Him forever. John the Seer paints a vivid portrait of what the life of the saints look like in the life to come. It is certainly a beautiful sight to imagine. But no less beautiful are the visions of what the life of the saints look like right in the midst of the life of the here and now. Oh, we may not call them saints, as such, but their works speak for themselves. Jesus did a pretty good job of pointing out such people for us when he delivered the Beatitudes, His "Sermon on the Mount". 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. Providentially, this is the appointed gospel lectionary reading for today, so I'm guessing that some respected theologians who put together that calendar of texts for worship had a similar thought in mind, that the word prophets in the final clause could just as easily mean saints. These categories of "blessed" people were active in the world in Jesus' time and they are just as much active in the world in our own day. The saints continue to walk among us - the "frontline" or the "essential" workers as they have become known in the media. The medical professionals who continue to alleviate pain and suffering, of bodies and of minds; the public safety professionals who continue to respond to emergencies large and small and meet people on some of the worst times in their lives; the folks who deliver all the stuff that we used to go get for ourselves - food, medicine, pet food; the grocery store clerks and stockers who continue to provide us the basics to eat, clean, and wash with...and so many others. And then there are those who continue to do the work of the church in these times - the delivering of relief supplies to survivors of natural disasters; the provision of personal protective equipment, electricity, and running water to some of the least of these here in the US; aid, encouragement and evangelism to those in need of clean clothes to wear; a safe, warm place to sleep and healthy meals for those looking for work and more long-term housing; these, too are believe are saints. But, you may be saying, I'm not doing any of those things..oh, but perhaps you are... The saints continue to walk among us - and they may even be us. We may not see it that way, but I'll bet others do: When we offer prayer and financial assistance to our ministry partners locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, we are empowering and equipping the saints for the work to which they have been called and we are also being faithful to the call that has been placed upon us, to aid as we are uniquely able to do so; When we contribute items to place in shoeboxes for distribution to children we don't know and we will never know; when we collect winter clothes for our neighbors who have need for them; when we provide meals for folks who are going through a rough patch; when we make a tangible offering to some frontline workers letting them know how much we truly appreciate their service... There are so many acts of evil and ugliness that are foremost on the news. There is so much vile language tossed about on social media. Yet, to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there are a multitude of saints, not just resting from their labors, but also actively at work in this world, bearing, in small of great deeds, witnessing to the truth of the gospel. So it is right and a good and joyful thing for us to pause on this day to consider the legacy and the ongoing work of the saints of the Lord - For all the saints who were and who art and who ever more shall be. And for that, we may truly say, thanks be to God. 2
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