Sunday, 10 November 2019

All Saints- Psalm 149


Today we are celebrating the feast of All Saints, which was actually on November 1st. Most people don’t realize the connection between Halloween and All Saints Day. The old word for “All Saints Day” was “All Hallows Day”. … When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…”. If something is “hallowed” it is holy. The “hallows” are the “holy ones”. In Latin the word for ”holy” is “sanctus”, which is where we get the word “saint”. So, the saints are the holy ones, or the hallows. The night before “All Hallows Day” is “All Hallows Eve”, which gets transformed into “Halloween”.

As a culture we have pretty much lost the connection to All Saints, which is unfortunate because the saints are important for us to think about. … In one sense of the word, “saint” just means “Christian”, but saint soon came to mean more than that. The saints are those who have shown amazing holiness. They are those who we have no doubts about their friendship with God. We feel confident about their presence before God. … For that reason many Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians ask them to pray for them, just as you might ask your Christian friends to pray for you. They are still considered part of the church (even though they have died) and it is believed that they still pray for their Christian brothers and sisters here on earth. …

The saints are those that have shown incredible character and courage in the face of impossible odds. They are examples to us of what a close relationship with Jesus looks like. They are also an amazingly diverse group of people. They followed God’s call on their lives in very different ways. Some lived like hermits in the desert devoting their lives to prayer. Some, like Thomas Aquinas, dedicated their lives to scholarship and learning. Others, like Mother Theresa, dedicated their lives to serving the poor. Sometimes God used saints to bring healing and to show miracles. … The saints are remembered as people who God used in astonishing ways.

The saints are those who show us what is possible in a life lived with God. … The writer and pastor Frederick Buechner says, 
“Their sainthood consists less of what they have done than of what God has, for some reason, chosen to do through them”.
 God works through these people to give us a glimpse of heaven on earth. In them we see a love and peace and a courage that is beyond our understanding. The saints show us self-sacrifice as they pick up their cross and follow Jesus. …

The Psalm chosen for All Saints is Psalm 149. Bible scholars think is a hymn of preparation for God’s people going into battle. Which might seem to be a strange choice for a group of peaceful disciples of Jesus. Jesus showed that something important had changed regarding the kind of warfare they were to be involved in when Peter struck the servant of the high priest with a sword to defend Jesus, and Jesus responded, 
“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52).

The Psalm speaks about the “Assembly of the Godly” (149:1), the “children of Zion” (149:2). It says, “He adorns the humble with salvation” (149:4), “Let the Godly exult in glory” (149:5). But it also speaks about them having “two-edged swords in their hands” (149:5), “to bind their kings with chains” (149:8). … Holy War was not uncommon in the Old Testament, but Jesus dramatically shifted those assumptions about violence.

For the followers of Jesus there is a sense of battle. We are called to rescue people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. There is a battle we are called to fight, but it is not a physical battle. The Psalm mentions that the godly hold a two-edged sword, and the early Christians said 
“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
 St. Paul encourages us to 
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:10-17).
 Similarly, in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians he says, 
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4).
 Strongholds is sometimes a symbol of false arguments that someone might try to hide behind to avoid the truth.

The followers of Jesus are definitely called to participate in battle, but we have to put aside our usual images of battle- power works differently for the saints. The saints have been called into battle, but it is not an obvious battle. It is not a physical battle. The enemy is not other people, who are made in the image of God. The traditional enemies that the church speaks about are “the world, the flesh, and the devil”. By the “the world” they mean human systems that are organizing themselves to exploit the creatures of God. By “the flesh” they mean our own internal drive away from God- our inclination towards sin. And by “the devil” they mean the spiritual unseen personal powers that work against God and God’s creation. This battle is called Spiritual Warfare, and it is the work of the saints. Anything that threatens God’s plans for the world is the enemy, but that isn’t a human being. Humans are sometimes held captive by these enemies, and they might unwittingly help this enemy. But, human beings are not the enemies. The saints do battle in service to God and God’s creatures.

The battle plan doesn’t involve earthly weapons. The battle looks a lot more like what we hear described by Jesus in our Gospel, 
“I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:27-31).

The victory of the saints is to participate in the victory of Christ. … By the help of the Holy Spirit, they have not allowed themselves to be overcome by the evil systems of the world. They have stood apart, not willing to be mere cogs in a system of exploitation. … By the Holy Spirit, they have resisted the inner sinful desires that draw them away from God. By the authority of Christ, they have claimed victory over the dark unseen powers that whisper temptations into their hearts. … They have carried their cross and so they participate in Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s victory. AMEN

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