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Wednesday, November 09 2011

Matthew 5:1-12

          “In 1809, the evening broadcasts would have concentrated on Austria – not Britain or America.  [In 1809] The attention of the entire world was on Napoleon as he swept across helpless hamlets like a fire across a Kansas wheat field.  Nothing else was half as significant on the international scene….From Trafalgar to Waterloo his name was a synonym for superiority.

          “During that time of invasions and battles, babies were being born in Britain and America.  But who was interested in babies and bottles, cradles and cribs while history was being made?  What could possibly be more important in 1809 than the fall of Austria?  Who cared about English-born infants that year when Europe was in the limelight?

          “Somebody should have.  A veritable host of thinkers and statesmen drew their first breath in 1809.

·        William Gladstone, Britain’s future Prime Minister, was born in Liverpool.

·        Alfred Tennyson began his life Lincolnshire.

·        Oliver Wendell Holmes cried out in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

·        Edgar Alan Poe, a few miles away in Boston, started his brief and tragic life.

·        A physician named Darwin and his wife called their infant son Charles.

·        And a rugged cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, was filled with the infant screams of a newborn boy named Abraham Lincoln.

          “Only a handful of history buffs today could name even one Austrian campaign.  [I know I can’t.]  But who can measure the impact of those other lives?  What appeared to be super-significant to the world has proven to be no more exciting than a Sunday afternoon yawn.  What seemed to be totally insignificant was, in fact, the genesis of an era.

          I want you to know that those words are not mine.  They belong to a man by the name of Chuck Swindoll.  He’s talking about people of influence.  And I can’t think of a better day than today for us to do the same thing.  You see, today is the day that we celebrate – every year in the life of the church we celebrate this day – a day we call All Saints Day.  Now the actual date is November 1st, but today is close enough.  So what I want to do today is to talk about people of influence.  The folks I’m thinking about are not political or military leaders, but people of influence in the church.  People of influence in our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Otherwise known as “the saints.”

          Now I like preaching on All Saints Day.  I like it because it gives me a chance to talk about – well – about saints.  And to talk a little bit about who or what a saint is, and what they are not.

          Now, we tend to think of saints as super Christians from the past.  Names like St. Teresa.  St. Francis.  St. Anne.  St. Peter and St. Paul.  You know those names.  Sometimes churches are named after them, and in some churches they have been elevated to a special status.  Statues have been made of these men and women.  You can find them in the corners of some of the great cathedrals of the world.

          And let’s be clear about it.  They were – and they are – men and women of influence.  Men and women of faith.  They are remembered precisely for the things they said or did or wrote because of their faith in – and devotion to – Jesus Christ.

          But let me remind you that saints are not just super Christians from the past And I say that because it is my firm conviction that everyone who names the name of Jesus – in other words – anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ – is also a saint.

          That certainly is the understanding of St. Paul – the writer of so many letters that are found in the Bible.  In quite a number of his letters to various churches, he uses the word “saint” to refer to all of the people who were a part of the church to which he was writing.  Everyone!  No one was excluded from the title. 

          Let me give you just one example.  There are quite a few others, but this one will do.  It is from the book of Ephesians – right at the very beginning – where he introduces himself and his audience – first chapter – first verse. 

          “Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.”  Over and over again in his letters, Paul uses the word “saint” to describe the Christians to whom he is writing.

          Folks!  Saints are all around you!  Don’t look now, but you’re sitting next to one.  Or in front of one.  Or behind one. Yeah.  Yeah, that husband of yours ladies – he’s a saint.  Especially if he has learned to say those two little words, “Yes, Dear.”  And gentlemen – we know our wives are saints, don’t we!  Of course, you are not a saint because you might be a great husband or a great wife.  No!  You are a saint for no other reason than that God declares you to be a saint – through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who forgives all your sins.

          If you are a believer – a disciple of Jesus Christ – you are a saint!

          And saints are people of influence.  Now, you might not have your name in lights.  Most likely no one’s going to make a statue to remember you by.  You might never make it into the history books.  But you –dear saint – you are a person of influence.  And because you are a person of influence – you make a difference.

          Just like the folks who have made a difference in your lives.  Now when I think about that, of course there are my mother and my father – and my grandparents.  They were all influential in my faith development. 

          But there is another class of people who were people of influence too!  And the names that come to mind for me are Harry and Winny Proefrock. Marge Eustice.  Loren DeVantier, Gary DeVantier and Norm DeVantier.  Ummm – in the town of Bergholz where I went to church – everyone was related.  And then there was Albert Milleville and Helen Milleville.  Yeah – they were my grandfather’s cousins.  I told you we were all related.  And Helen now at age 101 – I guess you could say is one of my “old” Sunday School teachers. 

          There is a part of them in me.  There is a part of them standing up in front of you right now!  Why?  Because they were people of influence – people who made a difference in my life.  Saints.  They taught me about Jesus.

          So who are the people of influence in your life?  Who taught you about Jesus?  Who read to you the stories and the teachings from this wonderful book that we call the Bible?  They are our pastors, our teachers, our mothers, our fathers.  Perhaps a close friend.  And can you name one person – one living, breathing saint – who is helping you grow in faith today?  In fact, I hope you can name more than one!

          Now listen.  You don’t have to be a Sunday School teacher in order to be a person of influence.  But nevertheless – you are a person of influence.  So who are you influencing?  Who are you discipling?  You cannot not be a person of influence!  Why?  Because you are a saint!

          Let me share with you a story.  Most of you know the name “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.  One morning in 1888, he awoke to read his name in the obituary.  Alfred’s brother had died, but a reporter had erroneously reported the death of the wrong brother.  He had reported that Alfred, ‘the dynamite king, the weapon maker, the great industrialist who had made a fortune from explosives’ had died.  The obituary gave people the impression thatNobel had been a merchant of death, and that that would be how he would be remembered.

          “As he read that obituary, he resolved to make clear the true meaning and purpose of his life – which had actually been to break down the barriers that separated people and ideas. 

          “His last will and testament became the expression of his life’s ideals – the thing that he is remembered most for – the establishment of the Nobel Prize – given to those who have done the most for the cause of world peace.”

          Folks, on this All Saints Day, we remember those brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on before us.  People of influence.  People whose legacies made a difference in our lives.  But what about you and me?  If you were to awaken tomorrow morning and find your obituary in the newspaper, what would it say?  How will you be remembered?  What will you be remembered for?  Will they say that you were a disciple of Jesus Christ?  A beloved saint?  A brother – a sister – in Christ?

          The Book of Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Those who have gone before us – and those who are with us still.  People of influence.  And people of influence make a difference.  People like you and me – disciples of Jesus Christ – who are indeed – the saints of God.


[i] C.R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, quoted in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, pp.297-298.

[ii] N. Halasz, quoted by R.Raines, Creative Brooding, paraphrased from The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, pp.300-301.

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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