Sermon, All Saints Day, Sunday November 4, 2018, St Petri
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’
37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.
‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’
40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth round his face.
Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
Dear saints of God, on this All Saints day, again we gather with Jesus in the Spirit’s power to remember and give thanks for those who have left us for the glory that awaits all who put their trust in Jesus.
It seems that we have been in a bit of season of sending off the saints this last few weeks with several funerals requiring our attention. With funerals comes grief and loss. All Saints Day aims to help us in our grief and loss. So it is timely today.
We remember those who have departed in faith and their witness to what it is to live this life in the undeserved, unearned favour and acceptance of the God of life and death.
We know that none of those we remember today are saints or “holy ones” because they were particularly well behaved or super intelligent or hard working or anything else. They were holy ones because the Holy One chose them, loved them, gave his life for them and empowered them by his Sprit in baptism. Saints are saints because they are made that way by Jesus, not because they earnt the title.
They act like “saints’ because they were made saints by Jesus’ strong word – the word that called dead man Lazarus out of the darkness into light and life.
We remember them all because they are worth remembering. And this is because they are witnesses. Their lives were a witness to God’s grace. They, in their own way showed us what it looks and feels like to actually live as human beings within the love and acceptance of God. Their lives were a living witness to grace and how He shapes and changes us all the time.
In one way those we remember today are “martyrs”. Not in the sense that they were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum or killed in a mass shooting in Arica because they were Christians, but because in their lives they did the same things as any martyr– they ‘bore witness” to Jesus. That is what the word “martyr” (marturew) means – to bear witness to someone or thing. We remember the holy ones of God in glory who bore witness to Jesus’ grace in real human life and we were privileged to see and hear that grace in their life.
The people we loved and remember today probably did not have that ‘high calling”, of ‘martyrdom’; of giving up their life in extreme circumstances for their confession of Jesus as Lord.
There have probably been millions of baptised Christian people who have given that kind of ultimate witness. We know of some of them. A very famous martyr is a guy named Polycarp. The account of Polycarp gets me every time….
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and an early church leader whose life ended when he refused to betray his Lord. Asked one last time to disavow his Christ, the old man replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”
Here is his martyr’s prayer, as recorded by the ancient historian Eusebius.
“Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of You, I bless You that You have counted me worthy of this day and hour, that I might be in the number of the martyrs. Among these may I be received before You today in a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You have beforehand prepared and revealed. Wherefore I also praise You also for everything; I bless You; I glorify You, through the eternal High Priest Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through whom, with Him, in the Holy Spirit, be glory unto You both now and for the ages to come. Amen.” Eusebius adds: “When he had offered up his amen and had finished his prayer, the firemen lit the fire.”
Polycarp knew the Apostle John personally. John witnessed what Jesus could do for people personally. He says,
“We declare to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our own hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and bear witness to it….so that you may have fellowship with us…our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1John 1:1-3).
John witnessed the raising of Lazarus, of which we hear today. Surely John would have told and retold the account of that incredible day when Jesus raised a man who had been dead for four days.
Without any magic words or hokus pokus of a Halloween spell, the simple but deafeningly powerful word is spoken by the King of kings – “Come out! Come out of your death you dead person. Arise, O sleeper, from the dead!”
A man in a mummy cloth shuffles out unable to see through the cloths wrapped around his head! No more smell of death here – just the sweet taste of life!
It is not so difficult now to see how an old Christian man named Polycarp, at the age of at least 86, just one generation after this event, could resist the call from the world to give up his faith in the resurrection of Jesus at threat of death and instead, respond to the call of Jesus and give up his life, when the “firemen lit the fire”.
We feel the flames of cultural change firing up and we feel the threat to our life in God’s grace more pointedly even here in the Barossa. We wonder about injustice or violence that occurs in other places and may come our way in some shape or form in days to come. But as we hear Jesus weep and then call a name and by that power raise that dead man, we trust that in the threats and the flame there is faith and life and hope beyond any threat, any death, any injustice.
Bearing witness to the grace of Jesus is simply put really. In the pressured moment of threat from all that threatens the good news of Jesus present with you, you could say what Polycarp said; “With my life have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I speak evil of my King who saved me?”
“How can I speak evil of the King who saved me?”. “How can I stay silent or not respond in the same love as the King who saved me?”. “How can we as a church ever be comfortable with ourselves in apathy or indifference, and not ‘press on toward the goal’ of our faith in Jesus?”.
Remember these holy ones made holy by the blood of the Lamb. Remember the martyrs like Polycarp. In the face of your own death, your own trouble, your own weaknesses, speak along with them about the Lord Jesus: “The Lord has done me no wrong so far, how could I deny him?”
Actually, Jesus has been martyred for you. The One who raises the dead man became a dead mean and then was raised to life to triumphed over death for all of us. He now lives to tell the world this story. So do you.
Until our second death and resurrection to life with Jesus, we speak well of him for how he speaks well to us and keeps raising us from the dead; already once in Baptism and one day again forever at the final resurrection.
In the fire, the fear or the threat, speak well of him.
There is a song of the saints of God,
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
In church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I am made one too.
Lyrics: Lesbia Scott, Melody: J.H. Hopkins., The 1940’s Hymnal #243