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Sermon: There Is Hope - It Is Promised

Baptism Sermon preached All Saints Sunday at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA on Nov. 4, 2012.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26); Year B (RCL): Isaiah 25:6-9; Ps. 24; Rev. 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

            I wonder how many of you read the inside cover of our Sunday bulletins to get the synopsis of the day’s lessons.  Today’s entry begins with: “The church’s celebration of all the saints centers on baptism.  It is in baptism that we have become members of the communion or fellowship of saints.  Therefore we will join in renewing our baptismal promises along with those being baptized today.” This morning, it is Sophia Helene Anderson who will be baptized.  Shortly, we will welcome her into the household of God, and she will become part of this church, as a new member of the Body of Christ, among the cloud of witnesses who are the saints of God.

            This All Saints’ Sunday, we will mark one to be full of Hope and Promise.

In our liturgical tradition, a day such as All Saints’ Day is steeped with real evangelical, scripturally-based meaning.  We emphasize that all believers are called to be saints.  We can, should, and do honor the memory of our church members and loved ones who have gone on before us, into that glorious cloud of witnesses.  We reaffirm that we as believers are united with them as well as the saints of all ages.

            SAINTS is a derivative of the Hebrew word, ‘ka-dosh,’ which means ‘holy,’ or of the Greek word ‘hagios,’ which is often used for ‘holy people.’  We might think of ‘holy people’ as being specially marked out as God’s people. 

Just as the people of Israel were marked as a nation set apart by God for the worship and service of God, those who comprise the church, in ages past, in this present time, and in the time yet to come, all those are saints also.  For we and they are set apart to God as God’s own people.

The church is seen as the new Israel, a new community separate from the world that surrounds it, that is dedicated to God.  Because God is holy, that is, because God is perfect in goodness and justice and love and purity, it is expected that God’s special people will pattern their lives accordingly.

So today is a day that trumpets both Hope and Promise.  Again from our bulletin synopsis, “The church’s teaching about the saints is not that they are a few exceptional Christians who were holy in themselves; instead, it is that no one can become holy without the indwelling of God’s Spirit.  The saints are all those who have received the Spirit of God, who leads them into holiness.  The festival of All Saints’ Day is the celebration of all baptized people, for we all have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

There is Hope – it is Promised.

In Isaiah, we hear about an occasion of the highest quality of feasting.  It is a real cause for celebration, for, in fact, it is the coronation of a king.  The Lord God of hosts is calling both Jew and Gentile, all the peoples of the earth, to his holy mountain to sup at his most welcoming banquet.  All are invited to his table.  The choicest pieces of anything available are put out to enjoy.  There are rich foods and well-aged wines.  But also the pall of anguish that has shrouded the people is being cast down and the veil of death is being lifted away.  All suffering shall cease, for that is the deepest, innermost part and desire of our God’s heart.  Even after the people’s rebelling against and impatience with the Lord, all of the people of God are wanted, claimed and redeemed.

There is Hope – it is Promised.

In the Revelation of John, history unfolds itself before John’s eyes.  In the twenty-first chapter, we get a sense of the golden age of God.  It is the expectation of a new cosmos which echoes what the great prophet proclaimed in Isaiah 65:17: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

Here, we understand ‘new’ as something that is radically different.  It is a radical renewal of the old creation.  The ‘new’ Jerusalem comes from heaven, that dwelling place of redeeming humanity with God, thus uniting heaven and earth.  The image we have is that of a bride, the church, being united with her bridegroom, who is Christ.

The renewal is something of and from the Creator.

There is Hope – it is Promised.

Using a background which is essentially Greek, one of the great contributors to the world’s philosophical thought was Plato’s doctrine of ideas or forms.  Plato taught that in the invisible world, there existed the perfect form or idea of everything that was upon the earth, and that all things on earth were imperfect copies of the heavenly realities.

The verses from Revelation are full of fulfillment language, announcing the entrance of the King of Glory.  This represents the new completion of God’s fulfilled design.  It is resplendent with marriage imagery and speaks of relationship.  This is the presence of God with God’s people.  Requiring both repentance and faith, all things are being made new by that which is First and Last, the beginning and the end.

There is Hope – it is Promised.

Finally, have you ever stopped to ponder that part of the Raising of Lazarus story where it says “Lord, there is a stench because he has been dead four days?”  Perhaps you considered the reality of death and decay where decomposition has its smell.  Maybe you contrasted the three days that Jesus lay in the tomb against the four days Lazarus had been dead.  I found it curious there is a Jewish belief that says the soul of the departed hovers around the body for three days, hoping to return.  But when decomposition sets in, the soul finally departs.

So what does it tell us about Lazarus?  He was really and truly dead.  Dead dead.  Stinking dead.  Yet when Jesus has the stone removed for the tomb, his prayer and what follows as an act of obedience become one.  That shout of life, “Lazarus, come out!” reminds us of how God would speak and something would happen.  The Hope is that when we die in Christ, we will still be called by Christ.  And the Promise is that when God calls our names, we will be raised to new life. 

Christians recognize with all people the inevitability of death, but Christians also affirm, that "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord."  (Rom 8:38-39)

There is Hope – it is Promised.

All Saints’ Day is a convenient occasion for autumnal baptism, for it then emphasizes the union of all who have been baptized with Christ and with one another in the communion of saints.  We believe the saints intercede on our behalf because of our union with them in the mystical Body of Christ.

Today we have great hopes for Sophia Helene Anderson as she is “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”  Today, she takes her place among the saints of God, with those who were before, are now, and always will be part of the Household of God.  I charge all of us who said, “We Will!” to be ready to share with Sophia the Hope that she has entered into and the Promise she has before her as a member of the Body of Christ. 

For there is Hope – it is Promised.