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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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We Are the Saints

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-17

 

All Saints Day is a day of many emotions. We may feel triumphant joy as we sing “For All the Saints” and celebrate the victory these loved ones who are now in the presence of God. We feel sadness as we grieve their loss, as we are reminded once again that these people who we have loved are no longer part of our daily lives in the way they once were. We have curiosity about what heaven is like for them and what it will be like for us. It is a day for laughter and tears, hope and wonder.

 

John, the writer of the book of Relation, was given something many of us wish we could have – a chance to peak behind that great curtain that separates this life from the next. He shares what he saw in one of our readings for today. As he describes scene in the heavenly throne room, there is a great multitude of people from every nation on earth. That’s encouraging! It’s good to know that heaven isn’t just reserved for a few select people. We can all be grateful that many people from all the nations of the earth are now together in heaven. Maybe there’s hope for us!

 

What are they doing in heaven? Are they sitting on clouds playing harps? No, that’s not what John describes. But he does describe a scene of worship where God the Father is seated on the throne and Jesus, the Lamb of God, is seated by his right hand. Angeles are also present, and everyone is worshipping God.

 

In this scene they are also tending to the needs of those who have experienced a great ordeal on earth. What might that ordeal have been? The answers are likely as many as the people who make up this multitude.

 

As we think about the saints of Immanuel who are new arrivals to the heavenly throne room over the past year, all of them experienced hardship and pain. All of them have gone through ordeals of one kind or another and all have also experienced blessing and joy.

 

We remember Pat Blomquist. When Pat was at the tender age of 3 years old her mother died. At that time, she and her brother Ronnie went to live with their grandparents. A few years later the grandfather died and then their father was killed in a car accident. Pat and Ronnie were orphaned and raised by their widowed grandmother during the depression.

 

Tough times! Food was scarce. Money was tight. Both kids went to work at young ages to help supplement the family income. But God provided for them. God instilled in them an ethic of frugality and a deep faith. As God faithfully cared for them and provided for them, Pat learned to trust God. In some ways being orphaned is quite an ordeal, but when God is with you through it, it’s not so bad.

 

The trust in God only grew throughout Pat’s life. In her later years her prayer was that she would die in her sleep. This is a prayer that God answered last November 20. Pat’s son, Dale, went to pick her up for church on Sunday morning and found she had died in her sleep sometime during the night. On her bedside table was her daily devotional, open to November 19. Pat was faithful to the end and God faithfully blessed her. She is now one of that great multitude around the heavenly throne.

 

As we think about the saints of Immanuel, we remember Richard Peterson. Like Pat, he experienced the death of a parent at a young age. Richard’s father died when Richard was a still a boy. His older brothers were off serving our country in World War ll. So his father’s death left Richard to run the family farm.  

 

At age 14 he had to drop out of school to take on adult responsibilities. For some this would be a great ordeal. But farming was in Richard’s blood. He loved it. He had a strong work ethic. His hard work as a young man helped his whole family make it through this very tough time.

 

He went on to marry Audrey, his sweetheart from confirmation class. They lived a good life on the farm, raised four sons, were active at Immanuel. Ordeal, yes, but also a good life. Richard and Audrey are now together wearing white robes in that heavenly throne room.

 

So what about those white robes? Our scripture tells us those who have gone through the ordeal have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. How does that work? It can be hard wearing all white. It seems that white clothes just attract dirt. When you need to roll up your sleeves and get dirty with the messiness of life, how do you do that wearing a white robe?

 

Jesus’ blood purifies. Jesus’ blood cleanses us from sin, making us white as snow. That cleansing power cleanses everything about us. No one gets through this life unsullied. All of us bear the stains of sin and the messiness of life. As we are washed in Jesus’ blood, everything about us is cleaned to be as white as snow.

 

As we think about the other Almelund Saints, wearing robes of white, Chestine Carlsted comes to mind. Chestine is another one who experienced life’s ordeals – the death of her first-born child at 9 months old, and later the death of her beloved sister, Sylvia,                   and Sylvia’s husband, Ken, in a terrible car accident. Those kinds of losses could make a person bitter. But not Chestine. She prayed for God’s help through these ordeals, and took comfort in God’s love. She raised Nancy, Sylvia’s daughter, and she kept the faith. She was a person of prayer who regularly prayed to God and listened for God’s answers. She led the prayer chain ministry at Immanuel for 14 years.

 

Yes, it is relatively easy to envision Chestine in one of those heavenly white robes. But what about David Johnson? David had a touch of the dickens in him! Early on in my time here as pastor I heard of David’s daredevil stunt, piloting a private plane under the St. Croix bridge – a stunt that cost him his pilot’s license. David was spunky! Yet David was also a man of faith. David lived his faith in his faithful work as County Assessor, in his faithful role as husband, father and grandfather, and as active member of Immanuel. That faithfulness didn’t keep his robe clean. Like all of us, David depends on the blood of the Lamb to wash him clean as snow.

 

As we think about spunky, we come to Annette Sedlund. Quick witted. Outspoken. Bright. I miss our Annette. She had such a passion for working through puzzles of every kind – be it crossword puzzles or jigsaw puzzles (jigsaw puzzle champion that she was). The puzzles that I was so grateful for her to solve were the genealogy puzzles that came to us as people from far and near sought information on loved ones buried in our cemetery.

 

Another member of the Sedlund family is also among this year’s Almelund Saints, Annette’s nephew, Lee Sedlund. I didn’t get to know Lee very well, but I appreciate his reputation as an honest businessman. He owned and operated the hardware store, first here in Almelund and later in Lindstrom. He had a keen mechanical sense and knew how to fix things. Many people appreciated his fix-it skills which he graciously shared.

 

Of all the Almelund Saints who we remember here this morning, as we think of those who have come through the great ordeal, Marcee Johnson comes to mind. No parent wants to bury their child. Most parents would eagerly trade places and go first. But Marcee buried all three of her sons. What a heartache! What a tough thing for a parent to live through – raising three sons with degenerative muscular conditions, watching them suffer and die young. Marcee came through this great ordeal with grace and faith.

 

Her husband, Herman, struggled to come to church. It brought back too many painful memories. For a number of years Marcee’s involvement with church was through our service groups, helping out for funerals and other special events. When Herman died, Marcee returned to worshipping regularly. She was one of the first ones to arrive each Sunday morning, saving a spot for Roy and Donna and Winton. She joyfully helped with quilting and always had a smile.

 

Marcee’s story reminds us that many people struggle with their own private ordeals. We should never judge. If we walk while in someone else’s shoes we may come to have a much greater empathy for the struggles they suffer in silence.

 

The good news for All Saints Day is that Jesus walks with us through each of our ordeals. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus guides us from this life to the next. This world is filled with pain and suffering. In this life we struggle with sin and death. But all of our Almelund Saints are now in the place where there is not more sickness or crying, no more sin or dying.

 

It may seem a little odd thinking of the people we have remembered here today as “saints.” We know their faults as well as their gifts. But it is saints just like these who gave us a start in this world. It is saints just like these who brought us to church and to the baptismal font. It is saints just like these who nurtured us in faith by sharing God’s story. It is saints like these throughout the ages who now make up that Great Cloud of Witnesses.

 

When we gather for Holy Communion in just a few minutes we gather as part of that Great Cloud of Witnesses. We gather with the saints from all ages past, present, and future as we join together in that holy feast. We gather as saints, not to celebrate how good or holy we are, but to receive forgiveness that leads to eternal life.

 

As Christians, we are saints because we are named and claimed by God as his beloved children at the time of our baptism.  As Christians, we are saints because we are forgiven sinners.  As Christians, we know that the one who redeemed us from our sin, who paid the price of our sin, is Jesus.

 

On this All Saints Day, our claim to sainthood is that that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Our sins are forgiven through Jesus. On this All Saints Day our hope of being reunited with loved ones who have gone before us lies in the hope of eternal life secured for us and for them by Jesus. On this All Saints Day we can rejoice in knowing that death does not have the final word; God does! And our God is the God of Life! On this All Saints Day we gather to celebrate our place as Children of God.

 

We are the Saints; We are the Children.

We’ve been redeemed; We’ve bene forgiven.

We are the sons and the daughters of our God!

 

Amen!