All Saints Day Sermon
November 7, 2004
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear
as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river,
was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its
fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the
nations. And there shall be
no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and
His servants shall serve Him. They
shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.
There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the
sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and
ever. Then he said to me,
ďThese words are faithful and true.Ē
And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His
servants the things which must shortly take place.
ďBehold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words
of the prophecy of this book.Ē Revelation 22:1-7
God made Adam and Eve, He planted a garden called Eden and He gave them
this garden as their home. A
river flowed through the Garden of Eden.
In this garden were many beautiful trees.
Two in particular are mentioned: the tree of life and the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil. God
commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam disobeyed. After
Adam disobeyed, God cursed the ground on account of Adam. No more would Adam or his descendents be lords over Godís
creation as in the beginning. The
labor that had brought pure joy would now be painful toil. While God had made man, both male and female, in His own
image as the crown of creation, now the creation God put under their
authority would be at odds with them.
Thorns, thistles, pain, and finally death would combine to speak
to fallen humanityís conscience the judgment of their holy God.
God concluded His curse on Adam with these words: ďIn the sweat
of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out
of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.Ē
After expelling Adam and Eve
from Paradise, God sent angels with flaming swords to guard the way to
the tree of life. They had
forfeited life. In defying
God who is the source of life, they had embraced death.
They had rejected the blessing in favor of the curse.
The nature of Godís good creation had changed. It was not Godís fault.
It was Adamís fault. It
was our fault. For we were
there and we joined in Adamís sin of defiant rebellion against Godís
authority. We brought the
curse upon ourselves and we embrace death and we call for Godís curse
every time we sin against Him.
is responsible for the curse of sin?
Two answers can be given. All
sinners are responsible. God
is responsible. All sinners
are responsible because there would be no curse unless there were sin.
God is responsible because the curse is His divine response to
sin. God does not ignore
sin. He curses those who
commit it. His law speaks
His curse against sin. In
Deuteronomy chapter 27 we read ďcursed is the oneĒ at least a dozen
times before a description of an offense against Godís law for which
one should be cursed. At
the end of every curse we read, ďAnd all the people shall say,
curse of humanity on account of our sin is seen most clearly in the
death of everyone born into this world.
As God said to Adam, ďfor dust you are, and to dust you shall
return.Ē The primary
purpose of Godís law is to curse those who disobey it.
As St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:10, ďFor as many as are of
the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ĎCursed
is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the
book of the law, to do them.íĒ
Strife, conflict, war, judgment, and death have been features of
human life from the fall of Adam. The
law of God puts voice to the curse that anyone with eyes can see.
We live and we die under the curse and we need to be delivered
from it. St. Paul writes in
Galatians 3:13, ďChrist has redeemed us from the curse of the law,
having become a curse for us (for it is written, ĎCursed is everyone
who hangs on a tree.íĒ)
Christ was cursed for us.
He became the Lamb of God and He took away the sin of the world
by bearing the curse of the sin of the world.
In our text for today we see Jesus pictured as the Lamb who
shares with His Father the throne of God in heaven.
But thatís heaven, not earth.
We live here on earth. Look
around you. What do you
see? Do you see the curse
removed? Do you see the
restoration of innocence? No,
you see a world under the curse of God.
You can ignore it. Deny
it. Rail against it.
You canít change it. Try
to stop death. It canít
be done. And so the curse descends upon one generation after another.
The angels guard the way to the tree of life and wonít let you
eat. And so you must die.
The reality of the curse is seen
not only in Godís law that pronounces it upon us and death that serves
as the final exclamation point of Godís law.
The curse is seen in how we curse and judge and condemn one
another. Have you ever met
a truly nonjudgmental person? We
stand in judgment of others because we are under judgment ourselves.
There is a myth that Christians are judgmental while those who
reject the Christian faith are tolerant and nonjudgmental.
This is not true. Consider,
for instance, a series of letters that appeared in the Grand Forks
Herald last Friday. Iím
sure that those who wrote them would think of themselves as
nonjudgmental and tolerant. They
were upset by the fact that 73% of the voters in North Dakota voted in
favor of Measure One, which defines marriage as the legal union between
a man and a woman, excluding any other domestic union.
The letter writers described the majority of North Dakota voters
who want to defend traditional marriage as a bunch of hateful bigots.
Why? Those under the
curse can only curse. They
cannot bless. Those under judgment can only judge. Those who reject Christ and His Church are judged to judge
and cursed to curse because thatís all they know how to do.
Those who reject Godís word do not thereby become tolerant and
nonjudgmental. In fact,
those who deny Godís word have made themselves judge over God and thus
judge over Godís people. The
most vicious bigotry is directed against the Church and Christians.
Christians are despised, judged,
and cursed. Jesus says it
is a blessing. Christians
arenít like other people. Oh,
they look much the same. They
appear to suffer from the same curse because they get sick, they suffer
pain, and they all die. To their shame they also engage in the same kind of cursing
and judging that feature the lives of unbelievers.
But Christians are blessed, not cursed.
They are blessed in Christ who bore the curse. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood
of the Lamb. In the flood
of Jesus blood they are cleansed from guilt and blame.
The curse exists only as an empty shell of a curse.
They work, get tired, lose heart, and die.
But they do not lose faith because God keeps them in the true
faith by means of His holy word and sacraments.
You canít see the saintsí
holiness by looking at the saints.
You must look beyond the saints to see what makes them holy.
You must look to Christ and see His holiness.
This is the holiness that makes the Communion of Saints a
communion of saints.
All Saints Day is a day to thank
God for the saints who have gone before.
We thank God not only for those especially valiant Christians who
confessed the truth in the face of persecution and death, but we thank
God especially for those dear Christians who were Godís instruments in
bringing us to the font and from the font to the services of Godís
house. We thank God for
passing the faith on from generation to generation.
We thank God for this, as we must sorrow in helplessness as we
watch those nearest and dearest to us die.
But as we watch what appears to be the evidence of Godís curse,
God opens to us a window into heaven that gives us the right perspective
on our lives here below.
at this picture of heaven! The
pure river is the water of life. Even
as the water of holy baptism washed us clean of sins here below, the
water of life flows into eternity, a pure, crystal clear, source of
innocence and joy forever! The
water flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
The Father offered His Son as the Lamb to take away our sin, and
there in heaven we see what innocence is truly like.
We are invited to eat from the tree that was denied to us, the
tree of life, the tree that gives you eternal life.
Its leaves bring healing. There
in heaven, the curse is gone. It
is no more. We worship God
in a purity that has reached perfection.
We see God as He is, and we arenít afraid.
We look at the beauty of His holiness and because we are
confirmed in holiness and purged of all sin we see Godís face and
rejoice in what we see. Even
as we received the sign of the cross on our foreheads in Holy Baptism,
we remain identified by the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit throughout all eternity.
The night of sin and death are removed forever.
The curse was removed from us here on this earth, but the
residual effects of the curse hounded us throughout life.
Now we reign with God and the Lamb forever and ever.
this come to be? Just as
surely as Godís words are faithful and true.
When will this come to be? Jesus
promises, ďBehold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the
words of the prophecy of this book.Ē
In a sense this is true right now.
We are bound by time. God
is not. We struggle here
below against our own sins. We judge and curse and criticize and condemn as if we are
living under judgment and know no way out.
But our struggle brings us back to the font where we were washed
in the blood of the Lamb and to the altar when we eat and drink the
heavenly food that heals us and brings us eternal life.
We rest secure in the Lamb who was crucified for us, and thereby
removed the curse from us. Blessed
in Him, we bless each other. We
live, not under Godís curse, but with our Christian hope fixed on the
heaven described in the word of prophecy recorded in the Revelation of
St. John. These words are faithful and true.
is how we can confess these words.
They are true. The
curse you see in fruitless toil and senseless death is only what your
eyes can see. The truth of Christís crucifixion and resurrection cannot
be seen, but it is the final truth, the final ďAmen.Ē We confess this truth, preach it, bring it to all the world,
stand on it, live in it, and die trusting in this truth.
There is no more curse. In
Christ all judgment is met and no condemnation remains.
We can bless God and one another with pure hearts.
The river that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb has
purified our consciences. The
curse is gone. We are ready
for glory. Even so, Come
Lord Jesus, come quickly.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus