Grace Lutheran Church • 6931 Edinger Ave • Huntington Beach, CA • 92647 • (714) 899-1700

One in the Spirit – God In Us Pt. 9

Philippians 2:1-5
Pastor Chris Tweitmann

After the macabre revelry of secular Halloween comes a sacred day in the history of the Church for acknowledging & honoring the dead in decidedly different way. (SLIDE #1)

I am speaking of the observance of All Saints Day,
typically celebrated during the 1st Sunday of November.

In the early years of Christianity,
it was customary for a faith community to gather
at the gravesite of a departed brother or sister on the anniversary of his or her death
in order to commemorate the life & faith of that person who now was with the Lord.

Over the centuries, this practice of individual communities
became refocused to a single day of observance for the whole Body of Christ
to remember all the faithfully departed for the previous year.

Hence, the creation of the tradition of All Saints Sunday
practiced by thousands of congregations all over the world today.

(SLIDE #2) For many Christians, especially those raised or influenced by
the Catholic or Orthodox traditions, the word “saint” immediately calls to mind
a special sort of a follower of Jesus – a disciple who is a cut above the rest,
a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness
or likeness or closeness to God, someone who has proven themselves to be so holy,
he or she has been canonized by a religious authority.

This, however, is not the biblical use of the term, “saint.” (SLIDE #3)

Biblically, “saint” is not a designation reserved for a select few
but a broader and evolving term used to describe ALL followers of Jesus.

For example, Paul in the opening to his letter to the Philippian church writes: (SLIDE #4)

“To all God’s saints (holy people) in Christ Jesus at Philippi,
together with the overseers and deacons:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul writes this way again in his first letter to the Corinthians: (SLIDE #5)
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of
our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…”

Whether it’s the Philippians or the Corinthians, Paul is not writing to perfect people
– followers of Jesus who’ve got it all together, believers who don’t have any rough edges
that still need to be smoothed out in their walk of faith.

Both of these communities had their share of problems as well as areas
in which they were learning, growing, and maturing in their relationship with Christ.

And yet Paul calls these people “saints” or “holy ones.” (SLIDE #6)
That’s what the word “saints” literally means “holy ones.”

But what is meant by “holy”?

To be “holy,” in biblical thinking, means “belonging to God”
– set apart by our belonging to the Lord.

When we speak of holy days, holy places, holy things, holy people
–all these things are holy, because they have been set apart
from ordinary use to belong to God alone.

Saints, then, are those who have been set apart by God in order to belong to God.

(SLIDE #7) Everyone who has discovered, who has answered,
who lives out of the grace of God through Jesus Christ is a saint.

Being a saint doesn’t mean we’ve arrived but rather we are on our way.
To be a saint is not to be holier than thou but to be made whole.

(SLIDE #8) To be a saint is to be a work in progress
– a sinner who has been both redeemed and reconciled
through the Cross and the Resurrection & who is becoming a new creation in Christ.

Listen to Paul’s word in the 2nd chapter of his letter to the Philippians (SLIDES #9 – 10)

Hopefully, we were reading and listening carefully to what Paul’s word here.

It is not that we – on our own – can earn or achieve the mindset of Christ
– to think and to speak, to act and to live like Jesus. (SLIDE #11)

Rather, in the same way we are forgiven, cleansed, and saved by the grace of God
it is in spite of our human limitations and flaws that we are empowered & transformed into our best selves – from sinners into saints – by the unconditional love of God
in Christ expressed through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. (SLIDE #12)

It is not our faithfulness to God that makes us worthy to be called “saints,”
it is God’s faithfulness towards us through the work of the Holy Spirit
in and through us that not only makes it possible for us to be a saint
but also ensures each of us will become a saint – all we created to be in Christ.

Again, if we were reading and listening carefully to Paul here,
it is this work of the Holy Spirit, breathed upon the Church at Pentecost,
that unities us together as His Body in the world. (SLIDE #13)

All Saints Day annually reminds us of our connectedness in Christ
– that we are one in the Spirit throughout all space and time
– held together throughout the ages of the past
and across the globe of this present world.

All Saints Day is about giving thanks
for the outpouring, the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit, (SLIDE #14)
that makes us one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church
– “the communion of saints” as immortalized in the words of the Apostles Creed.

Today is not about diverting our gaze from the Lord
and worshipping individual Christians. (SLIDE #15)

Today is about remembering and recognizing
– celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming the lives of
ordinary men and women, over the centuries & across the miles of Christian witness.

First, let us remember our unity through the Spirit
with those who have gone before us – those who have on to glory in Christ.

Let us call to mind those whose faithful witness to Jesus and His Kingdom
impacted our lives and made this world a better place. (SLIDE #16)

Take a moment and reflect upon those who served for you
through the example of lives as a mentor or a role model for what it means,
what it looks like to daily follow and to regular depend on Christ.

Those who, through how they talked and they walked,
had the word of God on their lips, the Spirit of God in their hearts,
and thus, always pointed to the hope of Christ at work in them.

Let us not romanticize our memory of them. They were not perfect people.

We dishonor the witness of their lives – of the One for whom they lived
if we idealize them to be something they were not.

The author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews writes
to a small band of new Christians who were suffering persecution
and feeling isolated in their struggles.

In the 11th chapter of this letter,
he points a litany of Old Testament saints from Abraham to Rahab
who were able to face every manner of challenge and hardship,
who eventually flourished because they “lived by faith.”

There is a tendency for us to romanticize and idealize these saints and therefore
to miss the point the writer of this letter to the Hebrews is trying to make.

If we examine carefully the list of saints provided in Hebrews 11,
these aren’t exactly pillars of perfection or moral superiority.

From Abraham to Samson, from Rahab to David, they were liars and murderers, prostitutes and adulterers. They had real and serious flaws.

But they were also faith-filled people whom God upheld and worked upon
despite their many mistakes and shortcomings.

The work of the Spirit in them proven to be greater than the spirit of the world and transformed their lives for the better leading them home to their eternal rest in Christ.

Like the cast of characters listed in Hebrews 11, those saints who have gone before us, the ones we remember today, they didn’t necessarily start well, but they ended well.

(SLIDE #17) They were not perfect, but they always looked to the One who is perfect in Christ.

We need not rewrite their stories.
It is important we remember them as flawed – as works in progress like the rest of us.

What we must recall is how we witnessed the Holy Spirit
at work in and through them. (SLIDE #18)

What we celebrate is how we saw God’s grace and love through the Spirit
transform their lives over time – refining and shaping them
despite their flaws, their struggles, and their doubts along the way.

These saints we remember today were not holier than thou,
but they were brilliant – brilliantly illuminating the light of Jesus
that shone through their emerging, developing, and maturing selves in Christ
who now shine like stars for all eternity.

Today we remember those who have gone before us may not be with us in body
but they are with us in the Spirit.

For there is a spiritual connection between those in Heaven and here on Earth.

Thanks to our unity through the Holy Spirit,
ours is an unbreakable bond with them and they with us.

Though they are absent from our sight, the legacy of their lives lingers in our memory.

More than this, through the Spirit, they remain with us
– beyond the veil of this mortal life – gathered together before the throne of God
(SLIDE #19) as what Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses.

The victory Christ has won for us in which we live by faith, they know by sight.

All those saints we remember but do not see on this day,
remain with us in the Spirit — encouraging and cheering us on
as we carry on hoping, praying, and looking towards a new heaven and a new earth.

There is much strength to be found in this.

But then again, All Saints Day is more than just a remembrance of the dearly departed.

(SLIDE #20) Today is also about recognizing our unity through the Spirit with those
across the miles, all around the world and on the other side of the globe.

The Bible also calls to acknowledge “a great cloud of witnesses”
made up of men and women of faith who surround us and walk with us in this faith
– in the midst of other cultures, traditions, and tongues,
reaching all the way to the ends of the earth. (SLIDE #21)

All Saints Day reorients us to perceive the Body of Christ, as far more diverse than our local church, tribe, denomination, network, or geographical region.

The Spirit blows wherever the Spirit pleases.

The Spirit also works in ways and means that our different than
how we see things or how we do it.

Today is a day for being inspired, informed, and emboldened our witness
to the truth and power of the Gospel through how others not like us
distinctively and creatively reflect the presence of Christ
through what they say and do in their particular context.

At the same time, today is also a day to recognize in the midst of all the diversity
within the Body of Christ, the Spirit holds us together through our unity in singularly pointing to Jesus and revealing the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.

I’d like to give us glimpse of this kind of unity in the Spirit by sharing briefly about
my recent visit to our mission partners, Lee, Katie, and Jesse Humerian in the Ukraine.

(SLIDE #22) Josiah Venture – seeking to reach the next generation for Christ
in the former, Soviet occupied countries of Eastern Europe. UKRAINE.

Specifically, partnering with local churches in these countries
and helping them build relationships of discipleship with students and their families.

Accomplishing this by becoming a part of a local church
– worshipping and serving in that community – and by fostering different experiences through which to build bridges between the local church and the community.

(SLIDE #23) One example, EXIT TOUR.
Week-long immersion in local high schools. Different school each day.
Assembly or concert. Interactive lectures. Closing concert.
Exit Club – fun, games, singing and sharing. Repeat.
Pointing to community wide concert on Friday.
And then follow-up, become a part of the community afterwards.

(SLIDE #24) Prior to my arrival:
Permission and coordination for each school.
Training of team – including leaders (mostly students)
from a local church in that community.
Preparing a series of lectures: Teenage Brain, Bullying, Mindsets.

(SLIDES #25 – #39) Typical Day:

Early morning: Pick up the team. Grab the trailer. Unload and set up. Prep.

Opening Assembly. Greet and mix with the students.
Photos. Conversations. Instagram.

Interactive lectures. Conversations. Photos.

Closing Assembly. Recap. Invite to Exit Club. Celebrate.

Tear down. Eat lunch. Brief break. Set up for Exit Club. Walk students to venue.

Games. Just Dance. Personal sharing. Singing. Mingle. Dinner and debrief. Pray.

5 am – 9:30 pm: Adult leaders, students, artists.
Lifting, loading, or installing equipment. Conversing, encouraging, and leading.

Allow me to introduce you to some saints… (SLIDES #40 – #45)

Lee, Katie, & Jesse: Incredible, complementary team. Mentoring. (Fusion, English club)
Driving. Balancing. Little things to support the team. Delegating.

(SLIDE #46) Happi: London hip hop artist. Heart for the Lord. Love for students.
Origins of his name. Autographs. Selfies. Sharing his testimony.

(SLIDE #47) DJ Jules: London. Not just along for the ride. Set up. Tear down.
Engaging students – games. Joyous and generous heart for the Lord.

(SLIDE #48) Nadya: Balancing a family, leader in her local church (Fusion), core EXIT Team,
interpreter, ambassador to the schools, and constantly engaging students.

(SLIDE #49) Alex: Core EXIT Team, atheist who came to Christ thru Nadya’s church (Fusion),
Amazing leader – rallies and encourages student team, Lee’s right hand,
Will do whatever is needed, constantly engaging students.

(SLIDE #50) Irena (Irah): Core Team, administrator, Katie’s right hand, liaison with school
Key translator – for Lee and artists, ensuring behind the scenes is covered so everything is focused forward, constantly engaging students.

(SLIDE #51) Petra: Slovakia, mid 20s, full of energy, love, and encouragement, lecturer,
Dove right in and was constantly engaging students – all in a second language.
What is she like back home?

(SLIDE #52) Moriah: Intern, mid 20’s, done in Nov. Considering JV. Heart for Africa.
Lecturer/writer. Does anything and everything needed.
Constantly engaging students.

(SLIDE #53) Irrina: Young Life, HS, Emerging leader, Always present, Always smiling.
Always engaging students. Rep of a handful of other student leaders. Russian.

(SLIDE #54) Unity in the Spirit – like family
– no matter how long you’d been a part of the team.
Deep, spiritual bond of friendship.

Unity in the Spirit – Christlike – compassionate, encouraging, sacrificial love and grace.

It was not a perfect week.
No Youth Leader from local church.
Broken arm. Kid throwing up. Administrative resistance and mix-ups.
Half of local church student leaders gone for a conference.

But there was no blaming. No quitting. No despair.
Bold courage in embracing whatever and wherever the Lord called them.

Not a perfect week. We were not perfect.
But we were made perfect in how we were able to love
the students, administrators, and each other.

Unity in the Spirit – Despite various differences between us
– those of nationality, of language, of ethnicity and culture,
we were one in the universal translation of the love,
grace, and truth of the Word and the Spirit.

I was encouraged to have experienced the movement and power of the Holy Spirit
in all of these things advancing the Kingdom – often in ways that were unplanned and unanticipated but exactly as was needed in moments of weakness and challenge.

(SLIDE #55) We remember the saints who have gone before us,
we recognize the saints who are with us even though we are miles apart,
for two reasons:

First, to never forget we are not alone. The Spirit is not only with me but with US.

Sometimes we get tunnel vision. Sometimes we have blind spots.
To witness the Holy Spirit in each other.
To see Jesus at work in and through our collective obedience and witness.

We are in this – the Spirit is at work in us – together.
We are not the hand, not the foot, not just one denomination,
not just one expression – but together the Body of Christ in the world.

You are a part of this – of JV, of EXIT, of what God is doing in the Ukraine
– through me, through Lee, Katie and Jesse, through the unity of the Holy Spirit.

You were there. We are with them now. They are with us in this work of the Kingdom.

(SLIE #56) Second, perhaps more importantly, the celebration of All Saints Day
invites us to consider how the Holy Spirit is working in us
– how we are becoming saints – living witnesses
to the love of Jesus and bearers of the light of Christ.

Following Jesus, being filled with the Spirit,
isn’t about remaining a spectator, an observer of the Kingdom of God.

All Saints Day reorients us of the beauty and the brevity of this life
even as it reminds us, even though we’re only here for a while,
we have been invited to be a part of the work of reconciliation and restoration
Christ is doing through His Spirit.

We have been forgiven, we have been saved, we are called,
we are empowered, we are equipped to become saints
– ambassadors of the Kingdom, fishers of people, relational bridge builders to Christ.

(SLIDE #57)
Who are we mentoring? What is our legacy? Are we looking more and more like Jesus?
Or has nothing changed – are we still reflecting our old, tired, broken selves before Christ?

Are we living like the saints we are becoming
or are we living like the sinners we once were but no longer have to be?

Are you waiting for sainthood on the other side of the grave or are you claiming
and existing out of your identity – the new creation you are in Christ – now?

We don’t have to be flawless or pretend to be better than we are
to answer the call to live holy lives in an often, unholy world.

All we need to do is to be open, willing, and responsive conduits of the Holy Spirit
– embodying the word of God, reflecting the love of Christ, and stretching out
with the grace and truth of the Gospel through one, simple but gracious, ordinary
but sacred, bold but humble act of mercy, gesture of compassion, offer of hospitality, and pursuit of justice at a time.

Only God can create saints out of sinners. Everything we need
to become saints comes from our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Halloween is over. We’ve turned back the clocks and winter is knocking at the door.

Today is All Saints’ Day,
a day when the dead are remembered not out of a place of fear but of faith.

A day when those who have gone before us are not envisioned as wandering ghosts haunting this world but as a great cloud of witnesses encouraging us
in our pilgrimage towards the world to come.

Today we recognize our unity as the Body in the Christ – that we are one in the Spirit – that we are united with all the saints of the Church – not just those who have gone on to glory but those who are scattered around the world across the barriers of nationality, language, ethnicity, and culture.

By the grace of God, we are all saints in the making. God is knitting His children together, like a multi-colored tapestry, like a spiritual web, into one, holy and sacred communion bound and filled with the Spirit of Jesus.

We are all bound together through the same Lord and Savior.
We are one in the Spirit, the communion of saints
— a community set apart for God, which transcends space, time, and even death itself. Amen.