“Saints are Close, but How Close is too Close?” Sermon 11.04.2012

John 11:32-44 • November 4, 2012

Click here to hear an audio recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

We celebrated a very important holiday in our life together as followers of the risen savior Jesus Christ this past week. I’m guessing a lot of us missed it because of the flurry of activity that surrounds Halloween. I missed it for many years too.

I’m talking about All Saints Day which was this past Thursday. In case you haven’t already noticed, it’s the focus of our worship together this weekend as well. I was drawn to spend a lot more time in prayer this past Thursday than I typically do in a day. Prayer for brothers and sisters in Christ whose funerals I have presided at this past year, many whom we lift up through prayer and special candles on the altar this weekend. Prayer for family and friends that I love deeply, but often fail to spend nearly enough time with. Prayer for you, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue to discover ways in which God is making us holy and calling us in service as saints in this world. Prayer for the dozens of organizations and hundreds of people who use our facilities each week or simply stop by Good Shepherd to spend a little time in prayer before heading back out into the world.

All Saints Day is important to our life in Christ because it connects us together as brothers and sisters in ways that many of us don’t think about too much as we walk, or maybe the better term here is run, through life. The saints of God are not just people who have died. And funerals and All Saints Day worship services are not the only time when we should remember saints, or give thanks for their presence in our lives, or remember that you and I in fact are saints too!

The 11th and 12th chapters of John are kind of a crossroads in the life and ministry of Jesus. This is the turning point in John’s gospel where Jesus makes his final move toward Jerusalem, coming to the village of Bethany to care for one of his dear friends, Lazarus who has been dead for four days by the time Jesus gets there. With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we come face to face with one of the most dramatic signs of Jesus’ power in the gospels – his power over death itself.

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is an announcement that Jesus is Lord – of life and death. And if Jesus can breathe life back into a man who has been dead for four days, then there’s no stopping him from breathing life into you and me for the sake of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, alive in our world today. Breathing life into you and me and setting us apart as holy, as saints of God, for God’s work to bless and serve the world.

That’s not an easy aspect of Christian faith to get our heads or hearts around. That we are holy or that we are saints of God.

As I attended the ordination of a friend of mine a few years ago I had an experience that helped me better understand this part of our life in Christ. It took place at Saint Joseph Lutheran Church in Rosholt, South Dakota. It’s the church she grew up in. It’s a little country church in the middle of corn fields that was built in 1890. There’s a picture of it in your bulletin today or on the screen.

As I walked through the cemetery of this little church, which is immediately outside the front doors of the sanctuary, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the thousands of saints of God who have walked on this holy ground, who have worshiped in this holy place, and the hundreds of saints who are buried in this sacred soil. When you worship at a place like St. Joseph, you only need to look out the windows of the sanctuary to better understand what it means to be part of the communion of saints or the body of Christ. One can’t help but have a profound sense that I am, a saint of God. Standing on holy ground.

There is no cemetery directly outside the sanctuary doors of Good Shepherd, at least not that we know about. But saints of God, do you believe that the place you are sitting in right now is a holy place? Or when you get home today, do you believe that God is with you and present where you live? Or how about the holy place that you know as the grocery store? Do you believe that your hands and feet and every word that comes out of your mouth is part of the body of Christ and is holy? That your very being, is a holy place?

The Bible calls things holy that have been set apart for God’s work. Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are holy. You are saints that have been set apart in your baptism and called to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work in this world. In our gospel reading today, Jesus does what is considered to be one of his most significant miracles. Note that he doesn’t let everyone stand around and gawk in awe at what they’ve just witnessed. Actually, he instructs and expects them to participate in and I’d argue, to actually complete the miracle. Jesus says to “Unbind him, and let him go.” I don’t believe that the miracle is complete until Lazarus has been removed of everything that has bound him up in death, and Jesus instructs those who are gathered around Lazarus to do just that.

As Professor David Lose said this week, “It is Jesus who has the power to heal, to feed, to restore, to bring to life, to redeem. At the same time, he seeks to involve us in these actions and, indeed, perhaps expects us to complete them.”

A major portion of the United States experienced unprecedented destruction this past week in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Saints of God, you unbind the death of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction and help bring about Jesus’ healing miracle of restoration and new life through your prayer, by listening to one another’s concern for those in need, and offering yourself financially to organizations like Lutheran Disaster Response and the Red Cross who will provide healing care directly.

Holy saints of God at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, you need to know that you help complete miracles in the name of Jesus every day. They may not be on the level of raising people from the dead like our gospel story of Lazarus today, but they are just important to God’s work in the world.

Like the amazing gift of hospitality that you provided to hundreds of young families and their children at a Halloween Festival on Wednesday night.

Or helping unbind the death of poverty in our community through simple gifts of a few gallons of gas or a bag of groceries.

Or partnering with other congregations in our community this winter to provide a warm shelter for the homeless to sleep.

Or helping build homes for brothers and sisters in Christ of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana, El Salvador who have never lived in a home before with clean running water.

Or simply giving a friend a ride to work or school or a polling location to vote on Election Day.

Or on this All Saints Day weekend, remembering the many ways that we hold each other up during times of grief and death that come before our congregation.

You and I may not see these things as miraculous or holy, but I believe God does. Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you walk out the doors of this sanctuary today and enter a new week, I pray that you remember that every place is a holy place where God’s work to bless and serve the world can be and is being lived out through you. Amen.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

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