|Text: 1 Peter 1:3-5
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God's power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.
For a moment, I want you to think of things that at the time were very important to you but have long since gone or perhaps have been relegated to the garage along with all the other unused things that you have accumulated. Maybe it was an item that had given you a great deal of pleasure, perhaps something that you had taken you a long to save enough to buy it, or an item that someone had given to you and at the time it was just what you needed. At last week’s garage sale, there was a large number of items that were once important to people but had now become just another thing that needed to be disposed of.
At the end of 1974, I became the proud owner of Toyota Corona. In retrospect, it wasn’t anything out of the box, but it was my first new car. I carefully cleaned and cared for but it didn’t like the humid dampness of the Queensland summers and began to rust. Neither did it appreciate the kangaroo that decided to remodel the front of the car and caused extensive damage. The car was fixed but it was never the same. My pride and joy was soon demoted to a second car yard.
That’s the way it is with the things we own. They age, wear out, break down, rust or decay, become old-fashioned and out of date, are superseded by something better. Occasionally an old piece of furniture or an old car might be restored and it’s value renewed, but generally speaking, so many of the things we have owned over the years have been discarded. They weren’t made to last forever.
The same can be said about our bodies. I don’t need to go into detail because this is everyone’s experience and the older we get the more we realise that our bodies need to be repaired. They demand more and more attention by doctors, surgeons, chiropractors and the like. Like the things we own which grow old and break down, so also our bodies are growing older and break down more and more.
You only need to take a look at the long list of people on our prayer list in the bulletin this morning. Sickness, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, the need for surgery, poor eyesight and deafness, the effects of old age all remind us that our bodies are ageing and wearing out. The media almost constantly promotes fund rising appeals for research into childhood diseases. Even children as young as they are, suffer from breakdowns in their bodies.
What can we do about all this?
Will there come a day when all this disease and decay will stop?
Will there be a day when our own personal struggles will come to an end and we can enjoy life again?
What has happened to the joy of life that we once had?
It can’t be denied that sickness, especially long-term illness that causes us suffering day after day, as well as sudden illness that robs us of our work, and isolates us in hospital from our family and friends, is scaring and depressing. We are reminded that life is ever so frail and that we are all on a steady march toward death.
We live among people whose hope for the future consists of making life on this earth heavenly. That seems to go okay until something goes wrong. Then suddenly the heavenly life they have being trying to create falls apart. The Christian’s hope is different and far more certain. The Bible talks about hope like this, "Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear" (1 Peter 1:3,4 CEV). The Apostle Peter wrote those words to Christians who were suffering and needed encouragement. He reminds them that the life, death, resurrection and the promised return of Jesus is the beginning of genuine hope. The trials and suffering that are endured now will strengthen their faith in Jesus as the only source of comfort and encouragement. And even if it happens that our suffering in this life never ends, that we die as the result of some kind of illness or accident, we can be certain of the hope of eternal life in heaven. Then there will be no more suffering, or dying or grief. All of that will be finished with.
Page after page in the Bible contains stories of people who are suffering and in a great deal of pain. And the message that comes through, there is no true hope without God. The psalmist said, "I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender" (Psalm 62:5,6).
We need hope. We know that there are people in our community who
give up all hope. They can see nothing in their future and so end their lives.
Thank God that we don’t have to manufacture our own hope. God is a specialist
in hope. He sent his Son to reveal to us the heart of God and to remind us that
God never abandons his people.
He is ready to help at all times.
He is ready to give strength and courage when we need it.
He is ready to help us endure the frailty of our bodies and the pain and sickness that threaten its future.
He is ready to uphold our trust and faith in him as our loving Father.
He is ready to help us on that day when we must leave this life and walk with us through death to the future that is the hope of every Christian, namely, life forever in heaven.
This is the hope that is real and lasting. It’s the hope that needs to be shared with our fellow Australians because they are so caught up in the false hope that pleasures and a happiness that results from earthly things that they miss the true hope that God gives freely through his Son Jesus. God tells us that we were made for more than this short often troubled life here on this earth. He made us to be saints – people made holy through the clean and perfect through the cleansing blood of Jesus. He made us to have life that goes on forever.
And so today, we are here celebrating All Saints Day. Often when we think of saints we, we recall people whom we regard to be the "heavyweights" of the Christian faith – St Paul, St Peter, St Luke. These are the champions of Christianity who have been given the title of "saint". When thinking of saints we might even dare to include people who have not been given the title "saint", but whose Christian faith has been a shining example to the world – someone like Mother Teresa. Often when thinking about saints, there is usually one other qualification we seem to attach to our definition of what a saint is that they have already died and gone to heaven.
But the term "saint" is much broader than the superstars of the church who are shining examples of faith in Jesus. Paul often began his letters, "to the saints…", " to the saints at Ephesus", " to those called to be saints at Corinth" "to all the saints at Philippi" and if he was writing to us today he would say "To all the saints in Nambour…". He said this not because the people demonstrated particularly holy and godly lives (in fact, the first letter to the Corinthians indicates that the Christians there were involved in all kinds of corruption). He calls them "saints" because of what Jesus has done for them. Saints are forgiven sinners.
Another definition of what a saint goes like this. "Saints are different from people in the world, not because they do more, but because of whose they are, who they love, and what it is they strive to do." Saints are people who belong to God; who trust God when the going gets tough; whose sure and certain hope is life in heaven. Saints are very ordinary people like you and me. They aren’t exceptionally good people, but people who have been saved by Jesus and by their example inspire others to believe and follow Christ.
All Saints Day is also a time for remembering those saints who have left this life and are now enjoying eternal life. There are more than anyone can count, from every nation around the world, they may have been strangers in this life but in heaven, there are no strangers. They are beyond the cares and troubles of this life living happy eternal lives and singing God's praises.
Some of those saints in heaven were once members of this congregation – people like Melba, Alice and Gertie who left us this past year. Each of these people had their fair share of difficulties – the problems of old age and a body that was wearing out, sickness, and permanent disabilities but they never gave up on their faith in Jesus. Their hope was certain and sure. Beyond their dying, was a treasure stored up for them in heaven. Their example of faith and hope was an inspiration to all who knew them.
All Saints Day is a nudge in the ribs for us. When things get us down, when life is not easy, when sickness continually plagues us, when death is drawing closer, we are reminded today to look at the big picture. We are not alone. God has not abandoned us. Yes, we will be tested for a while but just as he was faithful to those who have gone before us, he is faithful to us. We hang on to the high hope that his love will not give up on us and that he will always be there to help us in our time of need. We have the high hope that one day we too will join the saints in eternity.
© Pastor Vince
4th November, 2001
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.