SCRIPTURES – 1 John 3:1-3; Rev. 7:9-17; Matt. 5:1-12
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” (1 John 1:1-2)
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. This is a day of triumph and victory! It is a day of triumph and victory for those who have died in Christ, but also for us who live in Christ now. It is a blessed day for God’s poor children, meek and mourning and thirsting. We triumph in Christ! But, that triumph is given through suffering and loss.
This is so important for us to realize, to hold onto and allow to mold and shape our lives. For, we live in a day when suffering and loss are seen only as evils to be avoided and death is seen as a victory if it is chosen and embraced on your own terms.
Perhaps you’ve read the story of or seen the moving video of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old woman who has terminal brain cancer. Her situation is very tragic, and our hearts go out to her. She and her husband decided to move to Oregon, where she will be able to legally obtain and take drugs that will end her life before her suffering and debilitation become too difficult. Many support her decision.
Ruling over death by choosing how and when you will die, and so dying on your own terms, seems like a courageous triumphing over suffering and loss. But, is it?
Loved ones will still suffer the pain of grief and loss. Death will not be cheated.
As assisted suicide is embraced society suffers, for life is cheapened. Life is redefined according to its perceived value and productivity, and so lives from the youngest to the oldest are increasingly threatened. What about the baby in the womb diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, or with some disease that will bring suffering years later? What about the elderly?
But, worst of all, when a person chooses death on his own terms by committing suicide, he suffers. His eternal life in heaven is threatened, and is perhaps lost.
You see, your life is not your own, to do with as you please. John comforts us when he says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” How blessed we are, for the holy and eternal God who is awesome in might is our Father! In Jesus He has taken us as His children! Yes, this is comforting, for it assures us that God knows us, loves us, and will care for us. But, this comfort also challenges. You are children, not independent adults. You are under your Father’s care, but this is only as you are under His rule and authority. He is not just the Lord who gave you life; He is also the Father who by His Word directs your life. He seeks to shape your life and so bless you and others. As the eternal Father He will do this until your life’s end. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that it is lowly and dependent children – the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and those persecuted for trusting in Jesus – whom the heavenly Father blesses, and not the independent.
When you ignore or reject what God says and take control yourself, deciding what you will do and whether or not you will accept suffering, you do not gain the good end that God intends with every suffering. It is for good reason that a child is not given control. There is much a child does not know or understand, and so a child who makes his own decisions and choices is often hurt. Loving parents exercise control and make decisions for their child, or guide their child in doing so, that their child might be helped and blessed. God is the most loving and good Father, and as He guides your life He will bring about blessing, no matter how grave the suffering.
This hope was recently expressed very well by Maggie Karner, the wife of the Pastor of our church in Bristol, CT, Immanuel Lutheran, and the director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries. Maggie has the same terminal brain cancer that Brittany Maynard has. In The Federalist, a web magazine, Maggie wrote:
“When I was a young mother, my father had a traumatic accident that severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the neck down. The last five months of my father’s life, which he lived as a paraplegic, were filled with utter helplessness. He wasn’t productive in any meaningful way. He couldn’t even shave his own face. Would [Brittany] Maynard find my dad’s life useless? I didn’t. My siblings and I soaked up our father’s presence, realizing that caring for the needy person we loved so dearly showed each of us some unexpected things about ourselves. As writer Cheryl Magness says, caregivers get a chance to grow in compassion, responsibility, and selflessness as they care for those in need.
This will serve me now as I face my own debilitating mortality. Death sucks. And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.
This is what we have to hold onto as children of God who endure and face suffering. God is not just our Ruler. He is our Father who loves us. And, He is our Father in heaven who rules over all things for our good. His purpose for our lives – ultimate good and blessing for us and, through us, for others – will not be frustrated or prevented as we trust in and follow Him!
This is our comfort and joy on this All Saints’ celebration. God’s Word declares, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” In this hope we name four today:
Eva, from our congregation;
Susan Green, the daughter of Mary Sexton, a homebound member of our congregation. Susan, a devout Christian, died 2 years ago, but her mother asked me to name her today when I told her of today’s celebration.
Bob Shonholz, who was a member here and then went into the Ministry from this congregation; and
James Keurulainen, who served this congregation as District President, and also by teaching and mentoring me on my vicarage.
They each endured tragic deaths: Susan after suffering several years with cancer; Eva after suffering a debilitating stroke; Bob after suffering a heart attack while preparing to leave the hospital; and Jim from a heart attack after years of poor health. Each now lives in the presence of our heavenly Father and awaits that glorious day when Christ appears and they shall be resurrected and be like Him. They have triumphed and been given the victory! This victory is ours also, in God our Father and through our Savior Jesus Christ. With this hope we purify ourselves!