All Saints’ Day 2016
November 6, 2016
“More Than a List of Names”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson read earlier from Revelation chapter 7.
My dear friends,
One of the great traditions of the Church is to read the names of church members and loved ones who have been called to their eternal rest since the previous All Saints’ Day. When I first arrived at Good Shepherd in late summer 2014, my first All Saints’ Day, and to a certain extent even the second, was a challenging time because I didn’t know everyone so well. If you remember (I do), my first funeral at Good Shepherd was for Dorothy Berg. Dorothy was a faithful member known to just about everyone except me. I had met her late one Saturday night at the hospital (my 1st Saturday night here as the pastor), and shortly after that she was gone. Truth be told…as a pastor it is REALLY HARD to do funerals when you barely knew the person. But this year, and this All Saints’ Day, that’s not really an issue.
I have been here long enough that, for the list of names read today, these were people I KNEW. These were people that, for the most part, I had a chance to get to know well. They are people that, for me this year, are more than a list of names:
- Victor Mennicke. What can I say? Our founding pastor and good friend. When I first heard that the founding pastor was still a member of GSLCS, I had concerns. After I met him, the concerns were gone. Pastor Mennicke made my transition to Good Shepherd easier and a joy. He is still missed by so many of us.
- Richard “Dick” Kellerman. What a character! I once commented one how I accidently arrived at church an hour later than normal and the next week there was a gift-wrapped alarm clock waiting for me! Dick would often say that if he were here and Kay wasn’t she was “too hung over” to attend! Dick made us all smile, didn’t he?
- Carl Strussenberg. Carl was a shut-in who never regained his ability to talk well after a stroke. Our conversations were one sided. He loved to sit outside in the sun and that’s where I often found him.
- Dorothy Fromm. How I wish I had known her before Alzheimer’s took her down so much. To this day I still admire the effort of Dorothy’s husband Cliff to take care of her at home with such love and support. I only wish someday I can be half the husband that Cliff was.
- Catherine Wannamaker. What a story. Initially Catherine was a homebound member we couldn’t find; the trailer at her address was gone! When she got sick, her daughter contacted the church and I established a relationship with her during her final months in hospice. I found her to be a charming, intelligent, and gifted woman. I’m so glad that I met her and met with her before she passed.
- Paul Feucht. Paul is like so many “bit players” in our church life at Good Shepherd. Paul had been here, moved away, passed away, then his remains returned to be committed in the Memorial Flower Garden. Truth be told, I didn’t know him.
- George Freeman. Sadly, the same can be said for George. I still consider George and Marilyn a failure in my current ministry. The Freemans used to worship here when there were 2 services. They claimed that 9:15 is “too early” and every time I tried to meet with them they always said they would “see me in church,” which is “politeeze” for “don’t call us; we’ll call you.” Perhaps I should try harder to re-connect with Marilyn while I still can.
- Stephen Tabory. While I only twice visited George, that is NOT the case for Steve. I saw him every month. He got to know each other well. Like Dorothy Fromm, I wish I would have met him before he had his stroke. We have a picture of Steve from 2012 in the entryway and I had to do a triple-take because I never saw him stand up. In the end, Steve wanted to die and while it still pains us to have him gone, he now is at rest from his struggles.
- Everett Diefenbach. What a loving soul and kind spirit. Losing Everett was a stark reminder of how quickly life can change. One day you’re fine with a life of plans and commitments and then, next thing you know, all those plans we’ve made that we think are so important mean nothing. Everett was a good man, a loving father, and selfless gentleman.
The temptation is, of course, to see those 9 names as just a list of names; they were our friends and family. We are also tempted to think that that First Lesson as also just a list a names. Those 12 men are the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel and are remembered as the 12 tribes of Israel. Okay…144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000; a theologically significant number) symbolic, not literal, people sealed as the people of God. Does that mean anything especially when we are mindful of people we have loved and lost this past year? ABSOLUTELY! I’ll tell you why.
Because of what St. John saw from heaven…which is where the souls of those we’ve loved and lost are right now! And what did John see? “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were…saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”
Wow. Can you even begin to fathom that? We cannot…but our loved ones already do whether they passed in the last year or not. Their joy is complete. Their eternity has already started! How truly blessed they are! That fact is hard to remember because the pain of losing them is very real. St. Paul wrote that “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:56-58 ESV). Death stings; anyone who has lost a loved one knows exactly what that means. And for anyone who knows the sting of death, I want you to know, remember, and celebrate that today is about more than a list of names. Today is a celebration of the hope that is in us, and the hope that our loved ones lived and died in. That hope is the eternal life that is ours in, through, and because of Jesus Christ, who died to take away death’s permanent sting. His life sets us free for life in this world AND the world to come.
Today we remember more than a list of names. Today we remember and celebrate and hope in the reality of what our deceased loved ones already know. And what do they know? They know what you heard at the end of the First Lesson and what more can I add to it? “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9-17 ESV).
Truly…what more can I add other than to say thanks be to God!
And all God’s holy and redeemed people said Amen.