Message by Pastor Pokora – November 1, All Saints Day

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Times marches on.  Last Tuesday evening the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the concluding game of the World Series. Ho Hum. I am sure the series was exciting for Los Angeles and Tampa Bay residents. But maybe not so much here in Iowa.

This year’s World Series hardly compares to the excitement generated by the Chicago Cubs four years ago, when the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in the 10th inning of the seventh game. The Cubs finally won baseball’s championship after 108 winless years.

I went to bed that evening with the Cubs ahead five to one, expecting Aroldis Chapman to handle any batter the Cleveland team might send to the plate, but obviously I was wrong. 

After midnight the phone rang twice at our home. The next morning my wife discovered our son, Jon, and his sister, Sarah, both called to tell us the Cubs won. They surprised me.

Story after story appeared in the newspapers, describing the emotional reaction people had to a Cub’s victory.  A picture showed Harry Caray’s grave with baskets of green apples piled near his tombstone, recalling Caray once said, “Sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.” Another story told about a man who drove from North Carolina to Indiana to listen to game seven at his father’s grave who died in 1980.

The blue and white “W” flags hung everywhere. Fans wore their Cubs jerseys and spoke reverently about keeping the faith. It’s most peculiar. Deceased fans were remembered. Present team members, such as Ben Zobrist, Dave Ross, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant were hailed as heroes. Past players like Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux recalled.

The response to the Cubs victory brings to mind the Christian celebration of All Saints Day. Our championship victory is the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Our symbol is not the W, but the cross. We have disciples, instead of fans. Today we remember Christians both past and present who kept the faith and inspire us.

The Christian observance of All Saints day, of course, goes well beyond the celebration of an athletic event, like the World series or yesterday’s Iowa game. Taken together we learn the importance of memory, the commitment to common values and the celebration of achievement.

Our celebration of All Saints’ Day stems from the belief that a powerful spiritual bond exists between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), and the living (the “Church militant”). In Lutheran theology, All Saints Day revolves around “giving God thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints”, including those who died as heroes of the faith, those who died in the faith and all who live in the faith today.  As such, individuals throughout the Church Catholic are honored, such as the Apostle Paul, Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther, in addition to those who have personally led one to faith in Jesus, such as one’s family members.

Our Gospel for this Sunday from Luke gives definition to our understanding to what it means to be a Saint and celebrate All Saints Sunday within the church. Luke offers us his version of the beatitudes. Jesus looks upon his disciples and says: “Blessed are you who are poor for your is the kingdom of God.” He then adds, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. And finally, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

The key word here for us is blessed. Some versions of the Bible translate the word as happiness, but happiness may mean many things. Scripture helps us understand how Jesus uses the word. The most important aspect of being blessed implies we have a spiritual bond or relationship with God.

Jesus says those who are poor, hungry or weep or are hated, reviled, or defamed will be called blessed. Obviously, no one is happy to be poor, hungry, or weeping. The same may be said for being hated, reviled, or defamed.  To be blessed means to love and trust in the power and grace of God, knowing he will keep his promise to raise us up from our time of want. Jesus says, “For rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely you reward is great in heaven.” God brings the hope of redemption to those who trust in him. Jesus wastes no time denouncing those who exult in their wealth at the expense of the poor. He says woe to them.

Finally, Jesus lays out clearly what he expects of his disciples. He says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Last Friday I attended a luncheon meeting, when a good friend came and sat with me at my table. He turned and asked how I thought the election would turn out. My response to his question is that our nation must live by the beatitudes. Love our enemies. Do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us. These are theme that have not been heard in the election campaign. My advice to this friend is vote the beatitudes.

Recently I read a biography of Ulysses Grant and recall the chapter on Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. When Lee met with Grant a question loomed in the air. The question dealt with terms of surrender. A great war had torn our nation apart. Seven hundred and twenty thousand men died fighting. It was a great disaster and many wanted retribution. Grant set the tone for surrender by encouraging the soldiers to return to their homes and shops and begin the process of rebuilding their lives and community. He spoke not of retribution, but of re-creating unity in the republic. We need individuals, like Grant, today who place an emphasis on reconciliation and not division. That attitude defines for Christians what it means to be a saint.

Four years ago, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Chicago to celebrate the World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs. Today Christians gather in their churches to remember All Saints Sunday. We are not fans of Jesus, but his disciples. A game is won on the playing field by a team. The fans cheer the team on. In the church it is different. In the church, we are the team and God achieves his victory is through each of us.

I am sure many prayers were offered for both teams in the world series. I hope, as disciples, we pray for the saints of God. Together we are the community of saints. Every day we are challenged to live the beatitudes in a world that knows not Christ nor his way. Go from this church with the knowledge you are God’s Saint. Recall you have been blessed for a ministry and mission of reconciliation that leads to the redemption of humanity and this world through the power and grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.