Reverend Philip Stringer
1 John 3:1-3
LET US PRAY: Speak to us, O Lord, with your Word that inspires the saints, that our words and deeds may be gathered with those who forever sing your praise. AMEN
All Saints Sunday. It is a day of remembrance for us. But it is also a day of anticipation. It is a day when we are reminded that there is a promise made to us, that we stand within a great multitude from every nation and tongue -- that speaks with one voice in shouts of praise. This is a day for remembering who we are as the new creation of God. It is a day to remember that we are people of a promise -- a promise made to us in the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” The beatitudes speak to us of future promises under present sufferings . . . “Blessed are the meek, for they WILL inherit the earth.”
Except in two instances where Jesus does not speak about the future, but the present. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.”
When Jesus speaks about the kingdom, he talks about now. Jesus did not come for our future. He came to transform our present into something that is just as at home in the future as it is now.
Those who live under these promises of today and tomorrow are saints. They are those set free. Free from fearing what the world will do to them today -- and free from fearing what sin and darkness will do to them tomorrow. Free, therefore, to turn their attention away from such matters, and toward the work that God invites them to share in -- the work of building relationships, and healing divisions.
One common quality among saints is that their attention is not on themselves. It is on God. It is on others. Think of any saint from the history of the church. Think of any person that you recall from your own lives whom you admired as an example of faith. What you will notice in common with all of them is that they were not self-absorbed. They dedicated their lives to the betterment of others. No one can do this unless they are at peace. And peace comes from God. It is no accident, of course, that we pray for this peace to fall upon us in our worship several times, saying, “the peace of the Lord be with you. And also with you.” It is the only peace that can transform our lives.
Specifically, it is the peace that is rooted in the relationship established in our baptism. For in baptism, we are made children of God. “See what love the Father has given us,” writes John, “that we should be called children of God”; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children NOW . . .”
What John speaks of that the world cannot understand is a life lived by love rather than force. A life centered on giving rather than taking. A life lived focusing on others rather than oneself. The world cannot understand a heart at peace. And no wonder. Even we who have received the promise struggle with our faith in it.
The church has a calendar of commemorations, by which the church remembers people throughout history who serve as especially impactful examples of how the power of God’s peace works through those who have faith to transform the world around them. Their date on the calendar coincides with the date upon which their earthly work was completed and they entered the Church Triumphant (that is church speak for the date of their death). This week there are three whom we remember. I’d like to share some of their stories with you. And as we consider the witness of their lives, my hope is that the Holy Spirit will stir our hearts and speak to us, that we may be encouraged in our lives as saints relying upon the promises of Christ.
On November 7, the church remembers John Christian Frederick Heyer.
In 1817, John Christian Frederick Heyer was sent by the Lutherans in Pennsylvania as a missionary to Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. By the time he returned (23 years later) in 1840, he had explored the chief parts of the Mississippi Valley, having traveled thousands of miles and identifying at least 50 locations for missionaries to work among the Native Americans and settlers.
In 1841, “Father” Heyer was asked to go as a missionary overseas. He accepted, but when he learned that he was to be supported by an interdenominational society, he refused the appointment. Heyer felt that American Lutherans, who had always relied upon European Churches and other denominations in America, needed to take responsibility for their own missionary enterprises abroad.
He immediately appealed to the Pennsylvania Synod, telling them, “YOU send me. YOU invest yourselves in foreign missions. Do not rely upon other churches to do this important work.” He put forward $1,000 of his own money (the equivalent of $35,000 today!) and said -- this I will give for constructing a mission -- you decide where it will be and YOU pay for my travel and support.”
The synod was hesitant when Father Heyer spoke -- it did not have the money to support a missionary -- but stirred by the Holy Spirit, the congregations rose to the occasion, so that even Father Heyer’s offer of $1,000 was not needed. In October of 1841, Heyer departed for Madras, India, and arrived there in the spring of 1842. Thus, he became the first American missionary in a foreign field sent by American Lutherans.
“Father” Heyer remained in India for fourteen years and returned home at the age of 65 -- but not to rest. Immediately he was called upon to go to the mission field of Minnesota. For the next ten years he worked there, organizing the German Synod of Minnesota, and establishing Christian Education as a part of congregational life.
Support of the missions that Heyer had established in India, faltered following divisions that occurred in American congregations after the Civil War. Preoccupied with their own issues of whether or not they would associate with other Lutherans on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, the resources for India dried to a trickle. Without support from the American congregations, the missions could not maintain themselves, and a decision was made in 1866 to transfer their care to the Church of England.
It was Heyer who again called them to not abandon the ministry to others because they were distracted by themselves. In 1869, the elderly Heyer addressed the hushed audience of the Pennsylvania Ministerium. Here is a portion of that speech:
“I appeal to you, the ministerium of Pennsylvania, to intervene and prevent the transfer of the Rajahmundry station to the Church Missionary Society of the Anglicans. YOU, as the ministerium under whose auspices I was sent out to India in 1842, SHOULD AGAIN ASSUME THE RESPONSIBILITY OF SUPPORTING SOME FOREIGN MISSIONARIES. It is not TOO late. If this venerable body consents, I shall plead with the General Synod’s Board to rescind its decision to abandon Rajahmundry; and I shall communicate with the Church Missionary Society in England to reconsider the grounds on which it would be accepting this station. More than that, Brethren. Although I am nearly seventy-seven now, I am willing to go to India myself and reorganize that work! Twelve thousand miles lie between us and our objective. But let not distance alarm us. If there is someone else who would be more capable of restoring order in our Rajahmundry station, may he be sent forth by this Ministerium. But if not, then, Brethren, I repeat, I am ready to go.”
Events moved quickly, and in August of 1869 at age 77, Heyer -- described as “rugged and mentally alert,” was sent out to India again. After restoring order to the station in less than two years, Heyer returned to the United States, where he died in retirement two years later -- November 7, 1873 -- at the age of 81.
Because of the tenacity to which he held American Lutherans to their calling in Christ to proclaim the gospel to all the world, the church grew strong in its commitments. By 1885, there were more than 11,000 communing Christians in the Rajamundry station that they had earlier planned to close. These people worshipped in 335 congregations with 152 schools and a newly opened college. By 1910, their numbers had swelled to 50,000 Christians, and a hospital was added to their ministry.
Next Saturday, the church remembers Martin, Bishop of Tours. He is also known as “Martin the Merciful.” He was born in Hungary in the early fourth century. As a teenager, Martin served as a Roman soldier in Gaul. He was not a Christian. On a winter day, he saw a beggar who was nearly naked, shivering in the snow. Martin took his sword and cut his military cloak in two, giving half to the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the divided cloak.
Martin was baptized, became a monk and eventually Bishop of Tours. The church in those days was executing heretics, and Martin worked tirelessly to protect those that he could.
He died on November 11, in the year 397. (incidentally, Martin Luther — who was born on November 10, 1483 — was named after him).
Also on November 11, the church remembers Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, who was born in Copenhagen in 1813. He is remembered as one of the great theologians and philosophers of the church. His writings focused primarily on the importance of love as motivator in action. He believed that the Lutherans of his day were lazy. In a nutshell, since Lutherans know that they are saved by grace and not by their works, they stopped doing the works! Lutheran Christianity was the official religion of Denmark. One was born a Lutheran and baptism was compulsory. The result was a country filled with people who were nominally “Christian,” but most of them didn’t really know what that meant.
Kierkegaard said that people should take personal responsibility for their faith. He was a harsh critic of the church, saying that it was a mere instrument of the government and should be disbanded.
Because of his work to shake awake the Christians of his day, Kierkegaard is remembered on the day of his death on November 11, 1855
Three saints among the billions.
John Christian Frederick Heyer.
Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours.
Soren Aabye Kierkegaard.
When Christians live by faith, they model faith for the sake of the world, and they lift up the kingdom of God. You know such saints in your own lives -- you are called to follow in their footsteps so as to encourage others in their faith as well. Heyer would not allow the people around him to divorce their hearts from the wellbeing of others.
Martin of Tours fought to defend and protect the enemies of the church.
Kierkegaard became a pariah to the church because he loved the people in it so much.
And their message to us today -- on All Saints Sunday -- is that we too must live as DELIBERATE Christians. And by that, I mean people who deliberately live their lives based upon faith in the promises made to us by Jesus -- the promises of today and tomorrow in the beatitudes.
And now, may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, that your light may shine in the world, and give glory to God.