St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
All Saints – November 7, 2021
“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.”
THE UNMISTAKABLE MARK OF AUTHENTICITY can be a mark we call a brand, label, or designer’s name. The symbol on my shirt displays the maker of clothes I wear. Your car’s logo on its trunk lid tells us the make. Walt Disney’s brush-like signature, the Nike swoosh, California’s grizzly bear, LA smog, gang colors, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the Swiss Army knife red cross, a diamond ring that says you’re married. We use such signs. We want to know who you are, and where you belong.
150 years ago, the only means of communication between people at a distance was by writing documents with pen and ink that were carried by couriers. In 1860, the Pony Express was the fastest connection between America’s East and West Coasts. It ran for only a year, its hard-riding horsemen covering the distance between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Folsom, California, in ten days. Within a decade, the iron horse replaced the ponies by rail. Back in 1845, President Polk’s letters took six months to arrive here. But either way, a president’s letter had to be verified when it arrived. Anything high officials send is important enough to need proof of authorship. For millennia that proof was a glob of hot wax over the flap, impressed with a carved symbol: a dragon with stars, a rampant lion, an eagle with arrows and scrolls. You knew by the seal who sent it. The addressee broke the seal and read.
Seals are found in St. John’s Apocalypse, what we call Revelation. A scroll contains God’s plan for the end of creation, but no one is worthy to break the seven seals that enclose it. The Lamb steps forward and opens the scroll. Holy angels seal the foreheads of God’s saints on earth before the great judgment. And yet another sign on people’s foreheads and their hands allows them to buy and sell, to eat and live. But that’s the seal of the beast. In the last days, a seal identifies you, whether you’ll suffer the pains of a dying earth or be found wearing white robes and singing God’s praises.
An angel “cried with a loud voice to 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… a great multitude, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, before the throne, and the Lamb, clothed with white robes, cried with a loud voice, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb… they came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst. The Lamb shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Rev 7
At the same time, giant locusts come to earth, instructed “that they should not hurt the grass, neither any green thing, any tree, but only men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads... that they should be tormented five months: the torment of a scorpion.” Rev 9:3-5
Can you say you are sealed? Which seal: the seal of the Lamb, or the beast? How do you know? and how can you become sealed for God? Do people care about these seals as much as they care about the labels on their clothing? If your friends can judge you for wearing Under Armor, Levi’s, or Adidas, isn’t it far more important to know you’re sealed for eternal life? Is this just fancy Bible talk?
Jesus watched people looking for the wrong seals and foolish signs. He fed 5,000 people with a few loaves, and people regarded it as a sign: thought He should be a king. Wrong sign. Not that kind of king. He had to straighten them out. He said, “Ye seek me, not because you knew the signs, but because ye ate bread, and were filled. Work for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father hath sealed… This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent… I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” John 6:26-35
God the Father sealed Jesus as Messiah. The Son was forever with the Father, united to Him, but the incarnate Son was sealed as a Jewish baby on the eighth day, through the seal of circumcision. His Name was given and sealed in the Covenant of Abraham, the seed who would bless all nations. Jesus was sealed again when John baptized Him in the Jordan, for as He rose up from the waters, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him, like a dove flying down, as the Father spoke His praises and commendations on His Son. “The Father hath sealed” Him indeed.
So how are we sealed? By Circumcision? Baptism? St. Paul speaks in several places about a seal. To Corinth he writes: “He that establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” 2 Cor 1:21-22 That earnest is the seal, the Spirit, capital S, God the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to Ephesus. “Ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Eph 1 “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.” Eph 4:30 And to Timothy, Paul writes: “The firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 2 Tim 2:19
The Seal is the Holy Spirit. We get His seal, His noble Person, in a number of ways, ways that can cause various denominations to squabble. No need. We don’t own a proprietary interest in the Spirit and dispense Him as we please or we believe. God is not decanted by our rituals. He has given us an earnest, a down payment, of His intentions and shown us the way we may depend on in most cases and for the average person.
Bring a person to the font, and with prayers and a confessed faith in Jesus the Savior, pour water over his or her head, and repeat what Jesus instructed: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” And one of the guaranteed effects is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter, on Pentecost, told an audience of three thousand, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38
A second sign of the Spirit seems to be beneficial. The simple baptism of St. Philip, a deacon, in Samaria didn’t render a significant change in those people. Apostles Peter and John came and laid hands on them all, praying over them and giving them the second seal of Confirmation.
Another seal is given to those who are ordained to holy orders, receiving gifts and graces for service through the Holy Ghost.
In all cases, His Spirit is the seal. We must have God’s Third Person in us to be marked for heavenly life.
Well, then what? Pentecostals may insist that we speak in tongues, or behave in new ways, moved by this other personage inside of us. Is that what sets the Christian apart from this world? It certainly will, for the world thinks that to be pretty strange. Silk suits, big hair and great sound systems may emulate a Spirit-filled life, but that misses the mark. So also may be the trappings of our religion: embroidered vestments, smells and bells, hushed tones and long words. The authentic path is not assured by a thick southern accent and a raggedy Bible either. How do we know where the Spirit resides?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn… Blessed are the meek... Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart... Blessed are the peacemakers... Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake…” Matt 5:3-12 Jesus said it any number of ways. We might miss it, for these are not the signs we seek for. Poverty of spirit, mournfulness, meekness, hunger and thirst: who wants to show these spiritual gifts to the world?
But God looks at the heart. We are poor, we should be sorrowful, we need to humble our hearts and obey. People in that state may fully receive the Holy Spirit and all His gifts, for they are ready to be used by God, and not just seeking to show off their label.
It’s the Feast of All Saints, an octave that started last Monday, a day in which not just Peter, Paul, John and Philip are recognized for their lasting and special relationship with Christ. Heaven will be full of saints, a multitude beyond count, and they will be unknown to the world, average Joes with kids and payments and weeds to pull and no-name jeans from Costco.
But the glory that shall be revealed in them, by the faith they hold at the core of who they are, will shine throughout all eternity. God sees it. It is His seal. Not just an action. Or a certificate. Not one event at which they committed their hearts. All these may celebrate it, but the seal is a Person, the Holy Spirit of our Everlasting God, and as He lives, He must live in you, or else you are not yet sealed. Be sure of this one.
This label is tucked way inside, invisible to human eyes. Pray for His full embrace. Pray for His complete indwelling. Do not forbid Him searching you out. Invite His participation in all you do. Live under His seal and live forever, dear saints.
For this is your day. This is All Saints Day, and we are sealed with the Spirit of God unto eternity. No labels, no logos, no slogans: but the seal of the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.