Sunday, November 6, 2022
My father-in-law died in late 2018, and we are still trying to decide what to do with some of his stuff. You see, he was a professional jazz guitarist in the 1950s and ‘60s, and so his guitars and amps, while well-used, are pretty valuable because they are old and now rare. These instruments have sentimental value to us as a reminder of Dick Sheridan, but the truth is, they take up space, and no one in our family plays guitar, so especially my mother-in-law I think is coming to terms with the fact that maybe someone else could make better use of them and enjoy them. My father-in-law’s passing was the closest I’ve been as an adult to the overwhelming amount of details you have to think about and deal with as you are trying to grieve; there are the funeral and burial plans, the closets of clothes and other things to either save or give away, the tax implications and inheritance money to sort out with financial advisors and lawyers. There are the decisions you need to deal with right away, and the things that can wait, like what to do with 7 or 8 really nice, old guitars and amps. And thankfully in our family, we’ve been able to make these decisions without much argument or angst over who gets what or how things should be done.
Sadly, as a pastor, I’ve seen too many families’ grief exacerbated by difficult decisions that need to be made, yet everyone is NOT on the same page – sometimes fighting over stuff, or end of life decisions or funeral plans. So first of all, this is a public service announcement that it is never too early to get your affairs in order, have a will and a living will, and talk about these things with your family so they know your wishes. But what we inherit from those who go before us is much more than the stuff, the estate, of course. Our reading from Ephesians today talks a lot about our inheritance in Christ, including the riches we receive as we are counted among the saints. Ephesians isn’t talking about an amount of money, or who gets the beloved Christmas china. Our inheritance is much greater; an eternal gift that empowers us to give back, a blessing so that we can be a blessing, as we hear Jesus remind us that we are blessed in the gospel from Luke. Calling ourselves saints means that we are united with Christ as members of his body, and we get to share in the blessings and the gifts that Christ himself has.
Cool guitars and great memories of my father-in-law’s fantastic musicianship aside, on this and every All Saints Sunday, we can give thanks to God for the inheritance we have received from our loved ones who have gone before us, and I am not talking about the stuff. I married into the family and didn’t get to pick my father-in-law, but I got a good one! I treasure the memories and the stories I have of Dick. Today, we fondly recall quirky personalities, favorite sayings, stories about our loved ones that are shared around the dinner table over the holidays year after year, long after they are gone. We can remember character traits we’ve tried to embody ourselves that we learned from them – persistence, courage, a positive attitude, a sense of adventure, extravagant hospitality, a strong work ethic—or whatever else we deeply value and miss, no matter how long it’s been, about our loved ones who have died. Hopefully this day is a reminder to all of us that memorabilia is nice, but our memories and shared values endure and are what truly matter. Certainly as pastor to those we name aloud today who died since our last All Saints worship service, I treasure the memories and stories of those I have had the pleasure to know and love.
We hear Jesus bless us today in the famous Beatitudes in Luke, but the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians also blesses us. His begins his letter with this blessing. He calls all of us who believe saints. In our Lutheran understanding partly based on this passage, we ALL are made saints of God through our baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We don’t have to wait until we die, and we don’t have to perform miracles and or be particularly good people to earn the title of sainthood. There is no beatification process other than baptism for Lutherans. We are saints by our faith that Christ lives in and through us. Of course, we temper this belief that we are saints with the confession that we are also sinners, but this is very Lutheran, to state that two opposites can be true at the same time; we are sinner-saints, capable of doing both good and bad. Ultimately, we take on the name of Christ as our own as Christians to be a blessing and live out the inheritance we have received from Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
As a visible reminder that we are saints, from the beginning of our lives into life everlasting, we got to celebrate the baptism of Valentina Raye this morning! She can’t do much yet but smile to make us smile, but she is also a beautiful reminder as we come together to mourn and remember those who have died in this past year that on the other side of death is the promise of resurrection and new life. God has given us another new saint to form in the Christian faith this morning in Valentina. Paul reminds us of our inheritance in Christ that we share with Valentina and ALL the baptized in every time and place, we who are living and those who now are with the Lord in the heavenly places. The passage from Ephesians is a bit dense, so you may want to look back and re-read it. Take another look at what Paul tells us all of the things we receive from our inheritance in Christ! Through our faith in Christ we receive hope, redemption, salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, enlightenment, the riches of his glory, and the immeasurable greatness of his power. With our inheritance in Christ, we are given a purpose – to live for the praise of his glory. We are blessed to be a blessing, as Jesus tells us in the gospel.
When we gave Valentina her baptismal candle this morning, we said, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” This is the work of all the saints. Knowing what we’ve inherited from Christ, let’s share the hope, the wisdom, the purpose, the life that really is life with all we encounter, that they might see God’s glory and come to believe. As we light candles in memory of those who have died, we bring so many feelings of loss and sadness, but also hope for the life to come. Let our lights shine. Be a blessing. Amen.