Rev. Peg Bowman talks about remembering the saints - not just extraordinary people, but regular people who love God. The scripture readings describe the blessings and rewards of the saints who have suffered in this life.
Rev. Bowman then shares about some reformers from Christian history who wanted to bring God's love and truth to the people, often risking their lives to translate the Bible and teach that salvation is through grace alone by faith alone. Their work and sacrifices allowed ordinary Christians direct access to God's word. The sermon concludes with Rev. Bowman saying we too are saints in progress, and we can honor those who have gone before us by making a fresh commitment to our relationship with God.
Well today we observe All Saints Day which is usually November 1st but this is the closest Sunday we have to it so today we will be remembering the saints of the church and in a little bit we'll be doing that right here, those in our congregation who have passed on to glory in this past year. And they will join millions of other believers from down through the centuries who have loved Jesus and worshipped God. I'd like to start today by taking a quick look at what our scripture readings today have to say about saints and then I'd like to share the stories of a few saints who have influenced who we are as United Methodists. When we talk about saints we're not talking about people who are any different from you or me.
Saints eat meals, three meals a day and they put their pants legs on one leg at a time just like everybody else and if a particular saint stands out in our minds or in our memories it's usually because either God has called them to a special task or because they love God so passionately that it's contagious. But let's take a look at today's scriptures real briefly. In Psalm 34 we hear the voice of David who at this point is not yet king of Israel. David wrote this psalm when he was a young man making a quick exit out of Jerusalem because King Saul was trying to kill him.
Long story. But David ran for safety to the king of Gath, the same king who David had defeated on the day he killed Goliath. And David was afraid of the king of Gath and so he was afraid that the king might still be ticked off about that particular battle. So David pretended to be crazy so the king would leave him alone.
And it worked. The king of Gath said to his advisors, don't I have enough crazy people around here already? And kicked David out. So David ended up living in a cave nearby and his friends and his relatives met him there to help out and to keep him company. And so in this psalm David is reflecting on this whole experience and on God and he says, I will bless the Lord at all times.
His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Now David could have griped at God about how mean Saul was and how unfair it was that he had to leave his home and become a refugee in another country. But David sees the turn of events as bringing about his freedom and his safety and he says, I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. David does not say that David delivered him from all his enemies, although that did happen eventually.
But he says that God delivered him from his fears. With God, David was fearless. David said, oh, I fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those of you who fear him have no want. God is always there when one of God's own is in need.
So that's David. And our reading from Revelation, the apostle John is describing the throne room in heaven and all the saints, all the saints are gathered around God's throne, praising God and worshiping God. Have you ever had an experience similar to this? Like a really, really big worship service, like over a thousand people or more singing God's praises. You might have maybe seen that at a large conference or for those of us of a certain age, maybe a Billy Graham crusade, you just have thousands of people singing.
There is nothing like the feeling of a few thousand people singing God's praise all at once. And that's just a shadow of what it will be like in God's kingdom gathered around God's throne. The apostle John is told, these are the saints who have come out of the great ordeal. They are before the throne of God and worship him day and night.
And God will guide them to the springs of the water of life. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. This is what God's saints have to look forward to. Just a tiny glimpse of it.
And then in Matthew, we hear the very familiar words of the Beatitudes. Now it may seem like a kind of a stretch to find a connection between this passage and All Saints Day, but I think I found one. I've heard the Beatitudes taught or preached in the past as things that we need to shoot for. We need to be attitudes, right? Be poor in spirit, be meek, be merciful, as if we should try to develop these things in ourselves.
But I don't think that's what Jesus is saying. The words rather mean, if you are poor in spirit, you are blessed. If you are grieving, comfort is on your way. If you can't wait to see God's justice, if you can't wait to see the world put right, you will be satisfied.
You get the idea. All the blessings named in the Beatitudes belong to God's saints because we belong to God. Jesus is describing the blessings and rewards of God's saints, especially those of us who have suffered in this life. One commentator said it this way.
He said, Jesus paints an utterly counterintuitive picture of blessedness, looking around the world both then and now, it's easy to conclude that the blessed are the rich, happy, strong, satisfied, ruthless, deceptive, aggressive, safe, and well-liked. And yet here's Jesus saying that despite appearances, the truly blessed are actually the poor, the grieving, the gentle, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, and the reviled. As God's saints, we are not alone. The writers of all of these words have gone before us and have given us a glimpse of what lies ahead in the great company of all of God's faithful people.
It's as if the saints are saying to us, God's grace was sufficient for me, and it will be enough for you too. As scenes like this that inspired the words of that ancient hymn, oh, blessed communion, fellowship divine. We feebly struggle, they in glory shine. But all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Hallelujah, hallelujah. Which brings me to a few of the stories of some of the saints in Christian history that I wanted to remember with you today. These men and women were reformers, and I've been reading a lot about them recently because this past Sunday was Reformation Sunday. That was the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg and basically started the Protestant Reformation.
Luther was one of many of God's saints who risked their lives to bring the love of God and the truth of God's word to the people of God. And Luther's one of the people I want to talk about, but I'd like to take the saints in chronological order here. So I'm going to back up about 100 years before Luther was born and start today with a saint by the name of Jan Hus, and I'm going to spell that so you can kind of picture it in your mind, J-A-N-H-U-S, Jan Hus. He lived from 1369 to 1414.
He was a Catholic priest and a professor at the University of Prague, which is today in the Czech Republic. And even though he came before Luther, he taught many of the same things that Luther taught. Like Luther, Hus never wanted to start a whole different church. He wanted to reform the church that existed.
But also like Luther, his followers discovered that this was impossible. And for this reason, Hus is considered the founder of both the Brethren Church and the Moravian Church, both churches without which our United Methodist Church today would not exist as it is today. The Brethren, at least some of them anyway, merged with the Methodist Church back in 1968 to create the United Methodist Church, and of course the Moravians, that's where John Wesley, our founder, felt his heart strangely warmed and was inspired to become a reformer himself. So without Jan Hus and his ministry in Prague, we would not be sitting here today, most likely.
Some of the things that Hus taught became foundational for all the reformers, and they would first off, the belief that God's people should receive communion in both kinds. Back in those days, and actually still today, in many of the churches, the Catholic Church only gives bread during communion, not wine. And both Hus and Martin Luther taught that people should receive both bread and wine. So that was one.
Second thing he taught was that worship services should be in the language of the people. Back then they were in Latin, and most people didn't speak Latin. He said that churches and church officials should not seek to be wealthy. He said that people and God have a direct relationship.
There is no need for a priest or a minister to be a go-between between God and the people. Anybody can talk to God directly. And he said that Jesus is the head of the church, not the Pope. You can imagine that last one did not go over well in Rome.
And so Jan Hus was excommunicated by the Pope, but he appealed to a higher authority, namely Jesus. And that was a bold move. That was kind of like Luther doing his theses on the door. That was a bold move.
And so the people of Prague backed him up. They agreed with Hus, and they ignored the Pope's excommunication, and they allowed him to continue preaching and teaching. A little while later, Hus spoke out against indulgences, which was the same thing that Luther was protesting. And at that point, the Pope had had enough.
It's one thing to appeal to Jesus. It's another thing to cut off the flow of money to the Vatican. The Pope called a council to look into Hus's actions, guaranteeing him safe passage, which was ignored. And Hus was burned at the stake in 1414.
A statue of him and a memorial to his life still stands today in the Old Town Square in Prague. So today in an era of fake news, one of the things I like to do is to listen to original sources. I like to dig back and say, what did that person actually say? So here's a couple of things that Jan Hus actually said. He said, it's better to die well than to live badly.
That's bold. He said, faithful Christian, seek the truth, listen to the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, tell the truth, defend the truth even to death. That's Jan Hus. The second saint I'd like to point out is John Wycliffe.
He is a friend of Hus's. I don't know if they ever met, but they wrote to each other. They were both professors. So they shared ideas back and forth by mail.
At one point, both of them were writing books of the same title in different cities at the same time. The book was called Of the Church. And in these books, they both said that the church does not primarily consist of the clergy, but of the people. And like Jan Hus, John Wycliffe was a Catholic priest and a professor.
He taught at Oxford. And Wycliffe and a few of his colleagues risked their lives to translate the Bible into English, which at that time was a capital crime. All of us owe them a huge debt for their sacrifices. Because of what they did, we can read God's word in our language.
Wycliffe taught his students that scripture is the only reliable guide to truth about God, that people should trust the Bible more than the teachings of popes or clergy. Amen. There is no scriptural foundation for having popes. He said that clergy and church leaders should not have privileged status.
And he said that there is an invisible church of the elect that is different from the visible church on earth. In other words, not every person in church is necessarily a Christian, including members of the clergy, and not every Christian is necessarily in church. You can imagine Rome was not thrilled with these teachings. Wycliffe, however, died of a stroke before he could be excommunicated.
But after he died, he was declared a heretic and his body was dug up and burned. Go figure. Here's a few things that Wycliffe said. Here's some quotations.
He said, trust wholly in Christ. Rely altogether on his sufferings. Beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness. Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation.
He said, holy scripture is the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform. And he said, I believe that in the end, truth will conquer. And then last but certainly not least, I want to remember that Saint Martin Luther, 1483 to 1546, the founder of the Lutheran Church, who again, never wanted to start a separate church. Luther was both a monk and a priest, and he loved the church very much.
When he made a pilgrimage to Rome and saw the splendor of the palaces where the Pope and the Archbishops were living, he became disillusioned, not about the faith, but about the church hierarchy. I mean, think about this, just as one example, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo did, that's the one, the famous painting where God and Adam are touching fingers, very beautiful, beautiful chapel. That was built and finished just 10 years before Martin Luther was born. It was still brand new when he visited.
And as beautiful as it is, and I would never, ever regret that it exists, Luther knew how it had been paid for, largely by selling indulgences to the poor. Indulgences were payments back then made to the church by people who were promised God's mercy for themselves or for a loved one when they died. The church at that time taught that the souls of the dead passed through a place called purgatory on their way to heaven. And purgatory was basically like a refinery for the soul, a place where all the imperfections and flaws were burned out on the way to heaven.
And for a price, the length of time spent in that furnace could be shortened if you bought some indulgences. Luther taught that people are not saved by financial transactions. He said we are saved by God's grace alone through faith alone. And he also taught that scripture is all we need to teach us about salvation.
So he became known for this saying, sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, that is grace alone by faith alone through scripture alone. The Bible, not the Pope, is the final authority. Martin Luther was excommunicated in 1521, but he was never martyred. He was protected by some very wealthy and powerful friends.
For a while, he was actually living in a castle, translating the Bible into German. And then later on, he got married to a former nun, and they had six kids. Here's a few things that Martin Luther had to say. To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.
He said the Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes. And he said that our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. So these are just three of the saints who gave their time and their skill and sometimes their lives to pass the faith on to us in our own language. And as for us today, we also count among the saints.
We are, in a way, saints in progress. I think maybe the best way to celebrate All Saints Day is by making a fresh commitment to that relationship to God and a fresh commitment to prayer. And of course, especially, as we will be doing in a few moments, remembering those who have gone before us into God's glory and giving thanks for their lives. Amen.
Bye. Thank you. Thank you.