All Saints B Sermon Notes (2018)

SERMON NOTES — November 4, 2018


What is like the Book of Revelation today? The Harry Potter saga. Our family are huge fans, and this remarkable series is seemingly becoming more prophetic each year as we witness the rise of the kind of authoritarian tribalism represented by Lord Voldemort. We need courage to stand against it like Harry and his friends!

That’s what I think All Saints Sunday is really about — gaining courage from the saints who have gone before us, so that we can stand against the forces of tribalism in our time. And there is a scene in Harry Potter where Harry does just that, gains courage for his nonviolent, self-sacrificing resistance to Voldemort. [Set-up and read the ‘All Saints Day Scene’ from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pages 698-700.]

Before giving other examples of All Saints courage in the face of evil (the powers of tribalism), let’s step back for a moment for the bigger picture of how we experience in our lives the saints who have gone before us.

A crucial verse for me in shaping my experience of the saints in my life is from that well-loved funeral passage — John 14:2: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

  • In John’s Gospel, the “Father’s house,” the temple, is being replaced by Jesus and his followers. God’s presence in this world is no longer in a certain place. When Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman in John 4, he tells her that worshiping God is no longer a matter of going to certain holy places designated by our tribes.
  • The “many dwelling places” are us! God comes to abide in us, not in human-made temples.
  • Jesus prepares the way by going to the cross in order to break down our tribalistic ways of determining God’s house. The Father’s house has become the human family. It’s about spiritual indwelling, “abiding.”
  • In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is especially present in the least of the human family, the most vulnerable. We see in the cross that God’s presence dwells in the most unexpected places — in the most unexpected people.

And coming to abide in me along with God’s presence is the “Communion of Saints.” My father and mother, with their unconditional love for me, continue to be present with me, as God’s spirit abides in me. The unconditional love they had for me in this world continues to give me comfort and strength. Their loving presence abides in me.

So two more examples of courage through the presence of the saints. Last week: the tragic murder of eleven people at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh breaking as I participated in an event remembering the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor martyred by the Nazis. As we seek courage to stand against the rise of tribalism and authoritarianism of our time, manifested in such horrific anti-Semitism, past saints stand with us to give us guidance and courage — such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This week we vote, and in her speech this week, Oprah Winfrey basically invoked the Communion of Saints:

  • Otis Moss, Sr., who walked 18 miles for the right to vote
  • Maya Angelou, who said, “I walk into the poll as one and stand as ten thousand.”
  • Winfrey: “I’m here today because of the men and because of the women who were lynched, who were humiliated, who were discriminated against, who were suppressed, who were repressed, and oppressed for the right for the equality at the polls. And I want you to know that their blood has seeped into my DNA, and I refuse to let their sacrifices be in vane.”

Vote this week! Prayerfully vote for candidates who will help us stand against rising tribalism — and standing with the many saints before us who have struggled to make all of us equal in the voting booths.

Paul Nuechterlein

Lutheran Church of the Savior, Kalamazoo, MI

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