We know nothing about the shape of true life; we belong to the Triune God who has shown us the shape of that life, brought it to fullness in those saints who have gone before us, and even now is transforming us into that fullness on our path of faith here.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
All Saints Sunday A
texts: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s OK to admit we don’t know everything.
In fact, it’s the path to wisdom. Today we approach that holy ground wherein there is much we do not know. Hebrews tells us “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) That is this day.
Those who have died who are not with us, there is much we don’t know about their life now. Those who are beginning their journey of faith, there is much we don’t know about their path to come. Those of us between these two places, there is much we don’t know about how to find life that really is life, much we don’t know about our path.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It’s not what we know. It’s a question of who does know.
Thank goodness for John of Patmos.
An elder at the throne of the Lamb in John’s vision asks him, “who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” John’s answer: “Sir, you are the one that knows.”
This is good biblical advice: when asked a question by God or God’s messenger, the right answer is usually, “You know, not I.” Ezekiel, in the valley of dry bones, answers “Can these bones live?” with, “O LORD God, you know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)
There is deep wisdom knowing what we do not know; even more wisdom in knowing who actually does know.
“See what love the Father has given us,” says 1 John, “that we should be called children of God.”
This day we celebrate all saints, all the children of God. We remember with grief and joy admixed those dear to us who have gone through the ordeal of death; we rejoice to see three new siblings brought into Christ’s family in the healing waters of baptism; we listen deeply for what it means for each of us to be likewise children of God.
The truth is, we don’t know what it means, not fully. We have absolute clarity that we are loved by the Father, we are blessed children of God, washed in baptism’s water. We know we are growing into that identity, that “child of God” will have a fuller, richer meaning the deeper we live into this abundant life. Genevieve, Lenore, and John will discover this, too, as they begin their faith journey today. Those older and wiser among us know more than most, as they have been growing into this identity for longer. But there is still much we do not know.
“Sir, you are the one that knows.” This is our place of faith, where we, too, stand and trust.
Because today we know this much: our Lord Jesus knows the path to true life.
These nine blessings on the mountain, given to these new, learning disciples, are quite different from the ten commandments Moses brought down from the mountain. Those commandments provided the outer boundaries of community life and behavior in God’s family. Now Jesus calls his disciples, calls us, up the mountain ourselves, and gives a new wisdom. He shows what the heart of faith looks like lived, what real life in God is. The center of life, not the outer boundaries.
We don’t know the path to abundant, full life. But Jesus does.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed,” 1 John says.
But we know enough, we know where we are headed, and who we will look like, he says. Because we have seen this from our Lord who knows, and we trust him.
It is a blessed life, children of God, to be poor in spirit, he says. To know our weakness, our lack, means knowing we have room for the Spirit of God to fill our hearts. This is the kingdom of heaven, to be filled not with our ego, our spirit, but to be an open vessel for the transforming love of the Spirit of God to overflow in us.
It is a blessed life, children of God, to mourn, he says. To see all the pain and grief of this world, with eyes open to truth and hearts open to the sadness, knowing this isn’t what God intends. Then we can hear the comfort that God has taken all that pain inside, even death, transforming it into resurrection life for all.
It is a blessed life, children of God, to be gentle, considerate, humble, what we translate “meek”, he says. The blessed truth that we aren’t the most important thing opens us to see the beauty and grace in others. Knowing we aren’t in control opens us to see the whole world as God’s, and so belonging to everyone.
It is a blessed life, children of God, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to make peace, even to be taken advantage of and hurt for following the path of love. Because in these places which the world sees as loss you are able to find and be filled with the blessing of the grace of God you could not see otherwise.
This is what our Lord knows, for he lived it. Now he shows us.
We may not yet know this. But those saints we recall today do now.
God didn’t speak to John in Revelation here, it was an elder, one who had died and now worshipped around the throne. So it is with all those we name silently and aloud today, those whose presence still comforts us, those whose lives modeled and taught us when they lived among us. They now worship the Lamb in full knowledge of what it is to be children of God.
We say these blessed saints join us in our worship, gathering around our Eucharistic table with us as we eat and drink. It’s the other way around. We join their never-ending worship when we gather here. We borrow their hymns, join their song. We gather around the Lord’s Table, not as if this is the fullness, but a foretaste of the feast to come. They know what we are still learning.
This is the joy of our journey of faith.
In this place, past, present, and future are joined in the life of the Triune God who knows, who eagerly desires that we also learn as we journey.
We who still walk by faith don’t know much, but we know these things:
We know are following our Lord Christ who knows the fullness of this path of abundant life, who has shown us what it looks like today in these words, and who, in his death and resurrection has empowered us to walk it, if we dare trust him.
We know we are walking this path together, so we can help each other live this life Jesus shows us, from the newest children washed in the font to the oldest and wisest among us, if we dare let others into our hearts so they can help us walk it.
And we know we are walking surrounded by those who have gone before, the cloud of witnesses who have gone through the ordeal of death and now know the fullness of this life of grace in Christ, those whose worship we join, if we dare open our eyes of faith to see them and listen to their wisdom.
There is much we do not know. But we are in the hands of the One Who Knows, the Triune God, the One in whom are all things. So together we walk with all these saints, not knowing where we go, but only that God’s love is supporting us, God’s hand leading us.
And that’s enough, for now, until we, too, fully see the abundance of God’s life ourselves.
In the name of Jesus. Amen