All Saints Sunday C

Like last week, I'll be doing the special festival rather than the lectionary readings. The difference being that All Saints actually has three different sets of readings for the three years of the lectionary. At some point I'll have to get to the particular lectionary week.

Get ready for all the Election coverage! Although probably not the election you're thinking of...

Ephesians 1:11-23

"11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will..."

- Ephesians 1:11 (NRSV)

Verse 11 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article 11: Election, Affirmative Thesis 14 (Ep 11.15). This final thesis is a reminder that election to salvation is done by God's will and should be presented and taught in a way that avoids fatalism in both extremes of working for righteousness or ignoring the call to faithful living. The goal in seeking this clarity is to make sure that God is given the honor God is due for salvation.

Verse 11 is also quoted twice in the Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election. In the first citation (SD 11.30), verse 11 is paired with verse 13 below and Romans 8:25 to describe those preordained to salvation as "those who hear the gospel, believe in Christ, pray, give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort in their crosses." The second citation (SD 11.87) emphasizes that election and salvation are God's will, and that when election is taught accordingly, God is rightly honored.

"13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;  14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory."

- Ephesians 1:13-14 (NRSV)

Verses 13 and 14 are listed in two strings of biblical citations in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.12) that as biblical passage that are given to us "to point us to the Word" and "to strengthen our faith and assure us of our salvation" as we think about election and what it means.

As mentioned above, verse 13 also appears shortly after this (SD 11.30) with verse 11.

Verses 15 and following are also cited in the same section as verses 13 and 14 (SD 11.12) in another string of biblical citations that remind us that on the topic of election scripture also serves "to encourage godliness."

"17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,"

- Ephesians 1:17-18 (NRSV)

Verses 17 and 18 are cited with several other Pauline prayers in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (AC 2.15) The argument being made is that we need prayer, like the saints before us prayed and as Paul prays in these verses, for God's grace. The prayers of others in the Bible "have been recorded that we should, above all, thank God from the bottom of our herats that [God] has liberated us from the darkness of our ignorance and from the prison of sin and death through [the] Son and that [God] has given us new birth and enlightened us through baptism and the Holy Spirit" (SD 2.15).

"20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come."

- Ephesians 1:20-21

Verses 20-21 are twice cited by an editorial insert in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ. First (SD 8.12), these verses are used in the seventh point of explanation about the Lutheran teaching about Jesus to show that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, is elevated to the right hand of the Father. Second (SD 8.51), these verses are used to show that Jesus' human nature has indeed has "received, alongside of an in addition to its natural, essential characteristics (which always remain), special, high, great, supernatural, incomprehensible, indescribable heavenly prerogatives and privileges in majesty, glory, power, and might over all things" (SD 8.51, parenthesis in original).

"22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,  23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

- Ephesians 1:22-23

Verses 22-23 are quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles 7 and 8 (AP 7-8.5) to show that it is the presence of the Spirit of Jesus that identifies who is in the church, not the institutional rules or those in whom the Spirit does not live.

Verse 22 is cited in a foot note to Smalcald Articles, Part Two, Fourth Article (SA 2.4.1, n. 52) to show that Jesus is the head of the church, not the pope.

Verse 22 is also cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (8.55) in a long string of scriptural citations to show that divine characteristics are imparted to the human nature of Jesus.

Luke 6:20-31

"23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."

- Luke 6:23

Verse 23 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.356) as an example of the Roman argument that eternal life is a reward for good works. This was being done, Melanchthon argues, while ignoring scriptural language of eternal life as a gift. Such an approach strips God of power and reduces eternal life to a commodity.

TheoThru

Being preordained for election to salvation that gives eternal life cannot be reduced to a merely transactional relationship--people being given what they are owed by God for their good works--without removing detracting from God's glory in giving salvation freely, as a gift, apart from our works. It is tempting whenever we remember those who have died to try and comfort ourselves by remembering their good works. This is a problematic approach. There are many who have died who never had a chance to do good works or whose good works will never be known to be remembered--stillborn children, those without freedom to choose, those unable to choose.

On All Saints, remember well the challenge of the Lutheran approach: single predestination. God knows who will be in heaven and works all things to bring them to salvation while at the same time God wants all people to be saved. We are encouraged to do good works which grow from faith, not to prove we are saved or to earn our salvation, but because God has saved us and our neighbor in need needs our good work. And yet we are still wholly sinners, incapable of doing good works, and incapable of pleasing God. We can do nothing that is pleasing to God, but as we are possessed by the Holy Spirit, we will be filled with faith and produce good works.

Such intentional ambiguity call us to realistic faithfulness, giving honor to God in all things as is rightly due. Salvation is a free gift of God, so we need not worry if God's promise applies to us. And God calls us through our neighbor in need so that our faith might produce the fruit of good works for their sake.

  • How do we keep from falling into the trap of doing Jesus' job, both as judge and as the way to salvation?
  • How do we remember the saints who have gone before us and who are among us that the world has forgotten?