Immanuel Lutheran Church
                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Everyday Saints

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

November 4, 2018

John 11:20-44

 

What an emotional day this is! All Saints Day taps into the full range of emotions – from grief and sorrow to hope and joy. As we remember loved ones who have gone before us, it feels good to bring forth their memory. To remember them, to keep their memories alive. We feel good remembering special times together and thinking about those little things that are unique to them. At the same time, we miss them. It tugs at our heartstrings to know they are no longer with us. We can’t call them on the phone or share a meal with them. They won’t be at the Thanksgiving table with us or gathered around the Christmas tree. That leaves a hole in our hearts, a real sense of loss. 

 

Jesus knew the grief of losing a loved one. In our gospel lesson for today he was drawn to tears by the death of his good friend, Lazarus. I take comfort in knowing that Jesus wept. It gives a sense of validation to the tears that come to my eyes as feelings of loss take hold of me. The grief we feel over the death of a loved one is the price we pay for loving them. We miss them when they are gone. We know that life will not be the same without them. As loved ones leave this life, things change for us who remain behind. They will never be the same. There is nothing unfaithful about feeling grief over the loss of a loved one or expressing those feelings of grief. If it’s okay for Jesus to weep, it’s okay for us too.

 

We see the depth of feeling in the way Jesus responds to Mary and Martha. Mary’s grief is raw. She has just lost her brother and she blames Jesus for it. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary gives voice to feelings we’ve all experienced. If God is so loving and so powerful, why didn’t he keep my loved one alive? We long to know “Why?” Why did my loved one have to die? Why does anybody have to die? Couldn’t God find a better way? How can this loving God allow so much sadness in the world? How can this loving God, who has power over life and death, allow my loved one to die? Mary gave voice to all those feelings and yet she did so in faith, kneeling at Jesus feet.

 

Martha also expresses her grief, but she is the more practical one. Mary’s the emotional one, weeping at Jesus feet, Martha implores Jesus to do something about it. Like Mary, Martha says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then she goes on to say, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” She is begging for a miracle. She’s begging Jesus to bring her brother back to life. And then she says: “Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Martha’s confession of faith gives encouragement to all of us. We know Jesus has power over life and death. That is our source of hope, too.

 

Through his own tears, Jesus calls Lazarus back to life. “Lazarus come out!” he says. And the dead man walks out of the tomb. Just as the bonds of death will not be able to hold Jesus, neither can they hold Lazarus. In Lazarus we see that the hope of life after death is real. It is not some feel-good fairy tale. Jesus has the power to raise the dead. Not only can the Son of God be resurrected, but so can everyday people, like Lazarus, like you and me.

 

And when Lazarus comes wandering out, looking like a walking mummy all dressed up for Halloween, Jesus tells the people to unbind him. Jesus gives people a role in completing this miracle. They are to set Lazarus free to live in the world, unbound by the clutches of death. As Jesus gives people a role in restoring Lazarus to life, so too, he gives us a role in doing his life-giving work.

 

Lately, the forces for death have been powerfully at work in our world. We see this as a gunman, filled with hate, walked into a place of worship last weekend and opened fire, killing 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue. We see this as pipe bombs were mailed to more than a dozen prominent Democrats, intending to assassinate them or do them harm. We see this as the world faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War II – with millions of people displaced, on the move, seeking the basics of life – food, safety, shelter. God gives us a role to play in being his hands and feet in the world, working for love not hate, for courage not fear, for life not death.

 

The work of God’s everyday saints is not confined by stained glass windows. Yes, we worship and pray, we baptize and bury, we confirm and commune within this sacred space. But most of our life is lived outside these holy walls. Most of our life is lived in the world. And it is in the world that God’s love is most needed. It is in the world that the work of everyday saints gets done.

 

As we remember the everyday saints who have gone before, we recognize ways God used them to be forces for good in the world, to do his work of loving and caring for the neighbor.

 

Today we remember Saint Walden Johnson – a soft-spoken, gentle man who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Yet he is was a soldier on a ship in the English Channel at the end of World War II. He fought Hitler’s forces of hatred and bigotry that brought 6 million Jews to their death. Then he stayed in Germany for two years after the war, rebuilding the broken nation that had followed a dictator down the wrong path. We could use more people like Walden today as the forces of hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism are on the rise.

We remember Saint Kathy Strenke – who helped those struggling with addition to drugs and alcohol. Though she never battled addition in her own life, she had compassion for those who did. In her 25 years working at Hazelden she helped countless people find healing and hope as she spread messages of living one day at a time and trusting God for serenity and peace.

 

We remember Saint Donna Kaufmann – whose work through the county helped people who were struggling with their finances and whose green thumb coaxed flowers from the ground, along with vegetables and plants of all kinds.

 

We remember Saint Donna Johnson – who made people feel special as she remembered their birthdays and anniversaries with cards and good wishes, who faithfully watered the flowers on graves in the cemetery, and generously supported organizations that do good in the world.

 

We remember Saint Marguerite Sellman – who gracefully embodied the role of teacher, helping the children of Almelund learn their ABCs, helping the children of Immanuel learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves, and helping her own children grow into faithful, productive citizens.  

 

We remember Saint Vern Nordquist – who used his carpentry skills crafting cabinets                                        and all things wood. Like Jesus, this carpenter made the world a more beautiful place through careful skilled work of his hands.

 

We remember Saint Shirley Sevelin – who served as a nurse in the US Navy, caring for wounded soldiers, and later serving as a labor and delivery nurse welcoming countless babies into the world, including two of her own grandchildren.

 

We remember Saint Diane Stelton – Shannon Lindgren’s mom, who cared for hungry people by serving as the first director of the St. Croix Falls Food Shelf, growing it from a church basement operation to a thriving community food bank.  

 

We know them, not only for the great things they did but also for the roles they played in our lives as loving sisters and brothers, as faithful husbands and wives, as caring mothers and fathers, as beloved grandparents and great grandparents, and as dear friends. And because we know these people, we know that they were not perfect. Just as each had their own unique gifts, each had their own unique faults. Each of them was a sinner – a sinner God used to do his saintly work.

 

God regularly uses sinners to do his saintly work. That’s all God has to work with – sinners like these loved ones whose lives we celebrate today. That is, after all, what a saint is – a forgiven sinner loved by God. They were named and claimed by God                                                at the time of their baptism, and they lived their lives in faith. God works through ordinary people like these friends and relatives. God gives everyday people the privilege of being his hands and feet in the world. As God worked through each of these everyday saints, so too, he works through you and me. We are his saints here and now. We are charged with doing God’s saintly work in this time and place.

 

“Who me?” you might ask, “Me, a saint?” Yes you! You are called to be a saint. You are called to be a force for good in the world. You are called to bring God’s love and healing to the broken people and places in your life. God has especially equipped you with just the skills and abilities you need to do the work God is calling you to do. Every place we notice a need for love and grace and healing God invites us to be his instruments, bringing his love to the world.

 

As we think about our role as everyday saints, there is a prayer that asks for God to give us all that we need to be his instruments of love and peace in the world. It is known the Prayer of St. Francis, which is printed in the bulletin insert. I invite you to pray it with me now.

                The Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

   where there is injury, pardon;

   where there is doubt, faith;

   where there is despair, hope;

   where there is darkness, light;

   where there is sadness, joy;

 

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

   to be consoled as to console;

   to be understood as to understand;

   to be loved as to love.

 

For it is in giving that we receive;

   it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

   and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen!

 

It has been said that “The way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” At times like this, when hatred is being voiced more loudly, the voices of love need to turn up the volume to be heard. In the bulletin insert you’ll find the address for the Tree of Life Synagogue. One way we can live out God’s call to love our neighbor and be God’s instruments of peace is to send a sympathy note to the folks at Tree of Life. 

 

There is a hurting world out there. We, as God’s everyday saints, have lots of work to do. May God support and sustain us in being his forces for good in the world. Amen.

 

How can you be an instrument of God’s peace?

 

Write a letter or send an email to members of              the Tree of Life Synagogue expressing your condolences, support, comfort, and care.

Letters could be very meaningful to the survivors, the community, and the families of those who were killed. It is a way of combating hate with love, and embodying God’s love in the world.

 

Tree of Life Congregation

5898 Wilkins Ave,

Pittsburgh, PA 15217

 

office@tolols.org

 

Blessings to you!