Guest Pastor James Krikava preached this sermon on the Festival of All Saints 11/1/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: AllSaints Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Festival of All Saints, click here.
Sermon for All Saints, 2020 FLC
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Word of God appointed for All Saints Day moves the Church from Reformation to Restoration and Life Together in the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints.
In Christ Jesus, the Blessed One, who makes us Blessed before God, and therefore His saints, dear fellow redeemed:
In the third Article of the the Apostles’ Creed, we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” And that’s it. Frankly, the early Church had a hard time wrapping her head around the third person of the Godhead, namely, God, the Holy Spirit. We’re reminded of that incident in the Acts of the Apostles where “Paul… found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 19:1-2). They certainly didn’t understand Holy Baptism. Perhaps they had been in some way baptized into John instead of into the name of the Triune God. We know that some of John’s disciples were not keen on his pointing away from himself to Christ, much less His Holy Spirit being poured out on them. At the very least, they were confused. So, Paul baptized them into the name of Jesus.
At least, with the first Article of the Creed, we confess “maker of heaven and earth” … “And of all things visible and invisible.” And in the second Article on God, the Son, the ancient Creeds give us a lot more: “the only-begotten of the Father before the world began, not created but always existing as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, one with the Father, sharing in the creation of all things; who was conceived and incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered for us and for our salvation, crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell to proclaim his victory won on the cross, and then, as it is written, rose again the third day to proclaim it to the world. And with His resurrection He now sits at God’s right hand as not just true God from eternity, but now also a true man, and our redeemer. It is this man, who bought us back from sin, death and the power of the devil, who will return to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” He is our God!
But the Holy Spirit? The “final” version of the Nicene Creed elaborates only a little more. It calls the Holy Spirit “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” even as Jesus called “the Helper … the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26). And of that same Holy Spirit, Jesus also said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is a free Spirit, as we sing in Psalm 51, “Uphold me with Your free Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is free like the wind. But because He is both of the Father and the Son (Matthew 10:20, Romans 8:10-11, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 3:14-16, Romans 8:9, Galatians 4:6, Philippians 1:19, 1 Peter 1:11) that wind, you might say, has been harnessed or directed. It is aimed at you and me by the Son, whom the Father has given as proceeding from Him. As St. Peter says, “Jesus, being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:33)
It is impossible to plumb the depths of the inner relation of the Holy Spirit to the other two persons of the Trinity. It was just as convoluted for the ancient Christians as it is for us today. It certainly inspired awe, so that the Church could not but confess that the Holy Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”
But this is also why the early creeds could be so succinct in their confession: “I believe in the Holy Spirit” … period. And then they just move on: “The Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” None of this is about WHO the Holy Spirit is. Rather it is about WHAT the Holy Spirit does.
Today is All Saints Day, not Pentecost. But the two are closely linked. For it is the very work of the Holy Spirit, sent by God, through Jesus Christ, that creates the Communion of Saints and drives our confession:
I believe in the Holy Christian Church:
The Assembly of All Saints
What is the Holy Christian Church? First and foremost it is inseparably connected to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is created by God, the Holy Spirit; it is sustained by the Holy Spirit; it is brought to fruition by the Holy Spirit. This is what our Church confesses concerning it: “It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel… It is as Paul says in Ephesians 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” .
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Here we want to highlight a couple things. The Holy Christian Church is not a kind of invisible idea or completely unseen reality. It comes into being and can be seen and identified, though hidden behind a mask, as it were. But, if the Holy Christian Church is the assembly of all believers, all saints, how can it be seen and identified since faith rests in the heart, known only to God?
Sure, we confess our faith and say we are Christians. And yes, we try to be the “blessed” saints whom Jesus calls blessed in the Beatitudes from our Gospel: “poor in spirit… those who mourn… meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… merciful… pure in heart… peace-makers… persecuted for righteousness’ sake… reviled and… slandered… falsely for (Jesus’) sake.” Matthew 5
But how well do you measure up to all of this? Who wouldn’t rather be rich in spirit, successful, not mournful, with a gospel of prosperity to support you? Who wouldn’t rather be one of the beautiful people with fame and wealth, because meekness and humility are for losers? As for righteousness, isn’t unrighteous living more fun? And who wants to be persecuted, hated, and slandered for taking a moral stand or a hard and fast doctrinal position? How will that make you exceedingly glad? Can’t we have “the reward in heaven” without all this?
And so you must ask: am I really one of those blessed saints? Have I lived up to sainthood? Has anyone? And if not, how can the Holy Christian Church be seen and identified if the lives of her members can be seen as hypocritical? Or even worse?
That’s just it. The Holy Christian Church cannot be identified by the outward lives of her members, even though they may try ever so hard to live up to their high calling. No, the Holy Christian Church is not seen by what her members do. Rather it becomes visible by what God, the Holy Spirit, does in and for her members. And what is that? You learned in your Catechism on the work of the Holy Spirit, that it is He who creates and sustains your very faith in “the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.” How? “In this Christian Church He (the Holy Spirit) daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. And on the last day He will raise up me and all the dead and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.” (SC III:3rd Art.)
So, secondly, how does the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgive you? Let’s return to the ancient creeds:
1. The Holy Spirit, like a wind, originating from the Father but directed through the Son, blows from heaven to earth and through the world. He caused the very word of God to be written. St. Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). St. Peter adds, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The Scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets are no worldly wisdom’s lore. They ARE the Word of God. They don’t just contain it or symbolize it, requiring a Christian’s pious mind to determine what is and what isn’t God’s Word. No! It is! So, we say, “This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!”
2. There is “one baptism for the forgiveness of sin.” Baptism really washes away your sins, for the Word of the Holy Spirit is in and with that water by the command of Christ.
3. There is “the forgiveness of sins.” Part of God’s word is law and part of it is Gospel. The Law brings us to our knees in shame and remorse over our sins before the holiness of God. And the Gospel proclaims to the repentant heart, “Son, daughter, I forgive you your sins in the name and by the authority of Christ, who instituted both the preaching office and the word of absolution or forgiveness, which flows from the Office Christ himself instituted when He breathed the Holy Spirit on His apostles and said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” and if not then they are not. (John 20)
4. There is also “the communion of saints.” In the holy sacrament of the altar the very words of Christ are breathed upon and spoken over bread and wine, so that they become His very body and blood in our midst, “given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (1 Corinthians 11). This is the very body of Christ, which was given into death on the cross for you. This is the very blood of Christ, which was shed on the cross for you. In this Supper you receive into your body and soul the very medicine of immortality, as the ancients called it. You are healed. Christ’s righteousness, his purity, his sinlessness is upon you, around you and in you.
In Him you are the blessed “poor in spirit,” and yours shall be the Kingdom of Heaven. You are “those who mourn,” and you shall be comforted; “the meek,” and you shall inherit the earth; “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and you shall be filled; “the merciful,” and you shall obtain mercy; “the pure in heart,” and you shall see God; “the peace-makers,” and you shall be called sons of God; “persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and you shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Not because you have accomplished it by your effort, but because Christ has done it for you. So, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”
In “the assembly of saints … among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII), there the Holy Christian Church is heard and seen. However, where the preaching of the Gospel is absent or replaced by pious moralizing, or where Christ’s forgiveness is conditioned on human merit for salvation, there the Church goes silent and unseen. Where the sacrament is falsified by changing the meaning of the words from real body and blood to mere symbolic nostalgic remembrance, there the Church becomes truly invisible, even if the pews are full with standing room only.
Therefore, you saints by faith alone in Christ must remain vigilant. The Word of the Gospel is always under attack. And the Sacraments are assaulted daily by those who would even call themselves the true believers and assembly of saints. Do not believe it. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). In fact, this is the very reason we exist as the Lutheran Church. For her doctrine and confession are founded upon the Word of God alone. This is what makes it the Holy Christian Church. This is why we press on with her mission to preach the Gospel to all nations. This is why she would rather suffer persecution and even death rather than give up a single breath, which the Holy Spirit breathes into her.
For where Christ’s Gospel and Sacraments, breathed out by the Holy Spirit, hold sway, we know that the Holy Christian Church is there, loud and clear. And there Christians will be found. God has promised it through His Word, and His Word cannot lie. And God declared through His prophet: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout …so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
When you have been thus planted, watered, brought forth, and sprouted by the “Gospel preached in its purity and the holy sacraments administered according to the Gospel,” then you too will join that heavenly band in St. John’s vision: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Receive the Apostolic Benediction:
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Amen.