St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of All Saints
November 3, 2019
“And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”
GOD looks down from heaven and sees His Church, His Saints here on earth. Where are they? Who are they? Which, among all the Christian denominations, the many movements and fractured fellowships is His True Church? If God were to go to church one Sunday, where would He choose to go?
President Abraham Lincoln was asked one day if he didn’t naturally think that God was on the side of the Union in the Civil War. He answered, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right.” When it comes to sects and divisions within Christianity, the look and feel of one or another may be very different, the message may have odd and peculiar sounds, but if the people are really on God’s side, and follow Him faithfully, can we say we are any better than they? Isn’t that question better left to our Lord? He is always right.
Many silly things have been said about who goes to heaven and why. The common idea of balancing our sins against all our virtuous deeds is worst among them. Let’s see if we can find some truth about that question this morning, for the Feast of All Saints should be our own feast day, ours and all who arrive in God’s eternal home.
A saint isn’t a famous holy person with a red-letter day on the calendar. A saint is anyone who winds up in Heaven with God forever.
What is the evidence of a true saint? St. John brought word from heaven that people who belong to God are marked with a seal on their foreheads. This may be symbolic, as much of Revelation seems to be, but we find this seal mentioned elsewhere. Jesus used the term the day in Capernaum when some of the 5,000 He had miraculously fed came to seek further signs of Him. He said, “You should be seeking me… for that which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give you: He is the one God the Father has sealed.” John 6:26-27 He said the Father had sealed Him. And this seal, He explained, is given to all they who eat of the food He gives us, His Body and Blood.
St. Paul wrote to Ephesus, “You heard and believed the message of truth, the Good News that he has saved you. In him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit He promised. This Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we will receive our inheritance. We have this guarantee until we are set free to belong to him.” Eph 1:12-14 Believing in Christ, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the promise given, and is the guarantee of our inheritance until we own our eternal home.
Anyone who has purchased real estate knows what is called ‘earnest money.’ You make a bid on property, and with your offer you give a check for five thousand dollars to show you will stand by it. If your bid is accepted, the seller keeps the check as part of the down payment. If it’s rejected, he returns it to you. Your earnest money remains in his hand to insure your promise to buy.
In a similar way, God wants us in His possession. He pays the price in the Blood of His Son. “We are bought with a price,” 1 Cor 6:20 Paul says. The reconveyance will be our resurrection and relocation to heaven, but that’s later. God’s Holy Spirit is deposited inside of us now as God’s earnest money or the guarantee of His promise to claim us forever. The final transaction comes later, when we die or He returns, but now we have the seal of the Spirit. And we are sealed.
St. Paul also warns us not to “give God’s Holy Spirit reason to be upset with you. He has put his seal on you for the day you will be set free from the world of sin.” Eph 4:30 A promise by God does not bind God absolutely, if we continue to sin against the Presence of His Spirit in us. If we reject His offer again and again, the deal is off. His Spirit returns to Him. You don’t ever want this deal to fall through. King David sang, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me!” Psalm 51
St. Paul speaks of the seal again. “God … has put his seal of ownership on us and has given us the Spirit as his guarantee.” 2 Cor 1:22 Then he writes Timothy that: “God’s people have a solid foundation. These words are engraved on it: ‘The Lord knows those who belong to him…’” 2 Tim 2:19-21
God knows the ones that are His. We may attempt to draw a line around the true church, the real saints on earth, but God shakes His head at our efforts to do His job. When a famous evangelist says God can’t hear the prayers of a non-Christian, or that Catholics aren’t Christians, it grieves the Spirit. What makes us such experts?
What is the seal and what does it mean? A seal is usually a mark of ownership or authenticity. A king sets his seal on a document, the imprint of his ring in hot wax guarantees its readers: “this is from me.” The royal ring of the Father has been given to His Son, Jesus, who seals those who live in Him, members of His Body, He calls His Church. The sole expert on who that is can only be Jesus. The earnest, the seal of your relationship with Him, is the Holy Spirit indwelling you. How do you know the Holy Spirit resides in you?
In the vision of Saint John, God had sealed the saints for their safety. There were 144,000 out of the tribes of Israel, and an unnumbered multitude of every nation, race, language, ethnicity and human families all standing before God in white robes. They shouted their praises, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever.” The evidence of the seal of the Holy Spirit is the outpouring of worship toward God and His Son. What must never be lost is worship.
John is told who the white robed millions are. They came out of tribulation, and their clothes are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb. They forever serve God before His throne, and Christ feeds them and leads them to living water. God Himself will wipe the tears from their eyes. They have mourned on earth, but in heaven they are comforted. Here we meet those spoken of in the Beatitudes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Mt 5
This assurance of blessing overturns and conquers the evil of all suffering and loss, not by denying it or defining it away, not by symptomatic relief or pain meds, but by going through the hardships to a blessed state and giving the pain a meaning.
And there is where we find another mark of the saints. They go through things that are hard to bear. Poverty of spirit—meaning the humility of knowing I am quite puny and have little to offer God; Mourning—a proper sorrow for my sins and the sins of my fellow man; Meekness—submitting my will to every command of God and His appointed authorities; and Hunger for Righteousness—my desperate need to see God’s will followed, both in my life and in lives around me: this low road begins the walk of the true saint.
Then this saint will receive the new heaven and new earth, to be fed by the Hand of God, and have all tears wiped away. Start at this low place and you will arrive up there. Start anywhere else—in a pulpit, or executive office, or stadium, or mission house, or at home—and you will still have to go through the path of the poor, mourning, meek and hungry. It’s God’s way. It’s His seal.
You have undoubtedly prayed for God to forgive your sins, that He might save you and give you His kingdom, that He would accept you into His Church, and for multiple graces of patience, faith, love, holiness, joy, wisdom, and hope. Have you asked God to make you a saint? Saint is from Latin, Sanctus, which means holy or consecrated. It implies someone cut out of the rest of humanity and set aside for God only.
The story of a saint may never be told, except on high, but each is important to God that they joined their lives to His Story, the only real adventure. A saint is part of His Story, a character whose part is written by God Himself, and no one is a minor actor in this great drama.
Every saint’s life counts greatly. We have days for the Apostles, the four Gospel writers, martyrs and doctors of the faith and Mary the Virgin Mother of God. We remember them because their lives inspire us, ennoble us: their lives are evidence that God intervenes in human history, one person at a time, and to Him goes the glory of every saint.
May God get the glory for the life you are leading, or rather, the life through which you are being led. May your pages add wonderfully to His Story, even if only He knows how. And may you be sealed by the Holy Spirit, as an earnest of the coming day of redemption where the Blood of the Lamb already poured out brings all gracious souls from this world into that World without End.
Pray for the seal on your soul, that God will look down and among the many He calls His true and only Church, He sees you here, shining, doing His will, making your life count, and looking toward that glorious day, “that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee.”