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Our reward is great in heaven

Matthew 5:1-5

Pastor David Ernst

All Saints Sunday
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

Play audio of this sermon

Sun, Nov 3, 2019 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. For us it is a continuation of Reformation Day which we celebrated last Sunday. How is Reformation Day continued on All Saints Day?

First, we must ask, who are the saints? In the answer to this question we will find the answers to many other questions. Example, why on the first two days of November do Venezuelans decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers? Also, why do many people in Venezuela await the declaration of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández as a saint by the Pope?

Our text for today is the part of the Sermon on the Mount called "The Beatitudes."

"Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice; for they will be blessed. Blessed are the merciful; for they will attain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they will be called sons of God. "

Finally, says our Lord, "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when for my sake they reproach and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you, lying . Rejoice and rejoice; for your reward is great in heaven; for thus they persecuted the prophets that were before you. "

The apostles and the ancient church also were persecuted. In the first three centuries of church history, Christians suffered persecution under the authority of the Roman Empire. Many of them died for the faith. They were killed for the confession of their faith. Each of you should think about that: What will be your response if someone tells you, deny Christ or die? Because in the whole world there is more persecution of Christians than ever. There have been more martyrs, that is, those who were killed for their faith, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than in the time of the Romans.

There was a great change in the fourth century after Christ. In the year 313 after Christ, Emperor Constantine by decree ended the persecution of Christians and by the end of the century, Christianity was the official religion of the empire. At that time in Syria the custom arose of dedicating a day to honor the martyrs, then was extended the honor to all who died as good witnesses of the faith.

Now, understand well, all the faithful are saints. A saint is a person consecrated to God as one who belongs to Him. The promise in baptism for all is equal, eternal life with Christ. But, there are saints who still live in this fallen world and others who are in the presence of the Lord. To honor those who have passed to glory is the purpose of All Saints' Day.

In the beginning, this day did not have a fixed date. Since the year 835 after Christ, the date has been the first day of November. In that year Pope Gregory decreed it for the western church, because at that time the bishop of Rome had already claimed primacy over the whole church and the churches of the West accepted it. Because of the focus on the destiny of souls after physical death, throughout the centuries, many customs and beliefs about what is beyond death were linked to All Saints Eve and the day after the first of November. Therefore, Venezuelans visit the graves on the first two days of November. In Mexico there is the Day of the Dead, when they build altars in front of the graves with offerings of food and drink to the dead. In the US, Halloween emerged, a night of costumes and tricks before All Saints' Day.

With the change of the fourth century, the church, as the official religion of the empire, grew in power and influence. With great power came much corruption in the church and the concept of saints and also penance was distorted.

True repentance is a change of mind. The penitent wants to leave his sinful life and make restitution for his sins, if possible. Like Zacchaeus, the tax collector, the Lord promised to reward all who stole four times. But, many times, it is not possible to change the past. However, the corrupt church took advantage of the true penitents. They were told that they could make restitution for their sins after baptism in purgatory, a state between this earthly life and the kingdom of heaven. But, for a donation to the church, the Pope can write an indulgence, a letter that says the church has cut the sentence to purgatory. This was a distortion of the Office of the Keys, the authority the Lord gave to his church to forgive or retain sins.In addition, it distorted the concept of saints in heaven. Only those declared holy by the church were surely in heaven. And because of its surplus of good works, the church could withdraw from the treasury of merits to apply the merits of the saints to souls in purgatory.

Therefore, in the sixteenth century, the church of Rome was selling indulgences to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, a building that exists today. It was built by the currency of those who were convinced to buy relief for their loved ones supposedly in purgatory. Many people were shocked at this business, including the Augustinian friar and professor at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther. Luther wrote 95 Theses, a list of questions about indulgences, penance and purgatory for academic debate. He nailed theses at the door of a church in Wittenberg, the university chapel, among other announcements and news from the community and the university.

Luther did it on October 31, 1517, on the eve of All Saints' Day. That church still exists too. I have not personally traveled to Germany, but a friend, Adrián Ventura, once pastor of the “Cristo Rey” Lutheran Church in Maturín and now a missionary pastor to Venezuelan refugees in Chile, posted photos of his trip on Facebook. Today, the doors of the church in Wittenberg are made of iron and inscribed with the 95 Theses. And the name of that church is the Church of All Saints. Not by chance we celebrate the Day of the Reformation one day before All Saints.

Of the 95 Theses, I want to highlight two. Number 36 says every Christian has the right to complete forgiveness of their sins and number 37 says every Christian has the right to all the benefits of the church and the promises of Christ for his baptism. The concepts of penance and purgatory that the Roman church teaches not according to the Holy Scriptures, but the Scriptures say they affirm Luther's thesis.

Also, the saints are not only those declared holy by the church, but all declared holy by the blood of Christ in baptism. All who died in the faith can enter into eternal joy immediately.

And the saints who are with God are not our intercessors. Thus says the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXI, on the invocation of the saints: “Our Confession approves to honor the saints. And indeed: This honor that deserves our probation has three aspects. The first is thanksgiving. We must thank God because he has shown us examples of his mercy, because he has told us that he wants to save men, and because he has given the church faithful teachers and other gifts. And all these gifts, as they are the greatest, we should praise them, and we should praise the saints themselves who used these gifts of faithfulness, just as Christ praises the servants who made good use of the talents received (Matthew 25:21 , 2. 3). The second aspect is the confirmation of our faith ... The third aspect of this honor is imitation, first of faith, and after the other virtues of the saints ... But even assuming that the saints pray a lot for the church , it does not follow that they should be invoked. ”

Then, in Article XXIV, about the Mass, the apology rejects the masses for the dead, but does not prohibit prayers for the dead. What kind of prayers for the dead? First, thanksgiving for your examples in faith. Also when we have doubts about their spiritual state at the time of their death, examples, children born dead or suicides. We can deliver the souls of all to the hands of just and merciful God.

As Luther explains in his exposition of the Our Father, God will do his will on earth as in heaven without our supplications. He also knows our needs without our requests. But, by our requests and thanksgiving, let us learn to trust in God's will for our lives.

Then, on this All Saints Day, we give thanks to those who have passed to glory and anticipate the day we meet with them forever. To live in this hope is to have the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

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