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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

That Is An Excellent Excuse

2017-11-05 Mt 05 01-12 Better Than An Excellent Excuse


Revelation 7:9-17, Matthew 5:1-12


The Book of Revelation, chapter 14, verse 13 says, "And I heard a voice from heaven saying,

"Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord."

"Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them."

We read these words at the conclusion of just about every funeral.

This is the final Beatitude.

This is the final blessing.

This is what we say over the life of a person.

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

They rest from their labors, and their works follow them." Their works follow them.


What Beatitude, what benediction, what blessing – do you want to leave behind you?

Which of your works do you want to follow you?


On All Saints' Day, we think about these things.

Today, we pause to remember the saints in our lives, in our church's life.

We name those who have died in the past year.

Today, we pause for a few minutes to consider what follows us.

Is this our day, too?

What blessings, what deeds, what good works – do we leave behind?

What might cause others to say of us, "Blessed - blessed - are you" – both in your living, and in your dying?

What are – and what will be – the deeds that follow you?



Today we celebrate All Saints' Day.

We're a little late.

All Saints' Day was officially last Wednesday, November 1.

Did you know that?

Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers celebrated the day with a special Mass.



The website for Sacred Heart Cathedral has a wonderful write-up of the history of All Saints'.

In it, it says, "Generally, All Saints' Day is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation, meaning all Catholics are required to attend Mass on that day, unless they have an excellent excuse, such as serious illness."

We at Lake Hills celebrated last Wednesday with committee meetings and Choir rehearsal.

For Protestants, All Saints' is more of a working holiday.

For those of us of the Calvinist work ethic, our deeds do more than follow us.

They not only define us.

They can also pursue us.

Our deeds left undone haunt us.

They nag at us from the lower back of our heads.

"I feel like I'm forgetting to do something."

To rest from our labors is slothful.

Shame on you, sitting still out there.

We confess every Sunday that we have sinned, and that we have no excellent excuses.

We have no excuse at all.

But – like all Christians, Catholic, Presbyterian, we've got something far, far better.

Something far better – that God plans for the whole world.



Where are your feet?

Christians believe we stand with our feet firmly planted in two different worlds.

The boundary, the great wall, runs right through the middle.

One foot, we have placed squarely in this earthly life.

You are here.

The other foot, though, is over there.

It's across the border, placed totally in God's heavenly kingdom.

One foot in, one foot out.

This puts us precisely in-between.

We're part of Christ's resurrection life, his "already."

But we're also stuck, here, in the, "not yet."

Already AND not yet.

In God's eyes, we are 100% saints.

But in God's eyes, we are still 100% sinners.

We're all about half-baked.

God is not done with us.



This makes me wonder about something.

For hundreds of years, the church has celebrated All Saints' Day.

Why do the saints get all the good days?

When are we going to get an All Sinners' Day?

Seems like there ought to be a day to say to one another, "You know, that is an excellent excuse"

All sinners.


We might enjoy a day of dismissing each other's sin.

We might enjoy hearing the juicy stories and admiring the creative excuses.

But in such an arrangement, we wouldn't be forgiving each other's sin.

We'd be dismissing it.

Maybe even praising it.

At the end of the day, we'd just be ignoring it.

The saying goes, "If ignorance is bliss, why aren't more people happy?"

Why, indeed?

A fake blessing is no blessing.

Ignored sin is unforgiven sin.

And unforgiven sinners – are no saints.



I've done a lot of funerals.

But I have yet to do one where someone stands up and says,

"You know, he was really a pretty rotten person…

"But his excuses were outstanding."

While this may be true, that's not what a funeral is about.

We say another thing at nearly all our funerals.

We say, "His – or her – baptism is now complete in death."

I think that may be the most outstanding, the most wonderful thing we say.

Because this is the hope, this is the faith, this is the "something far, far better" that all Christians share.


"Their baptism is now complete in death."

Baptism is the sign and seal of God's forgiveness.

Baptism washes the sin clean.

In baptism, all our deeds – our works done and our work left undone –

in baptism, all the works of this sinful life, all the things done and all the things left undone –

float away.

Our excuses dissolve.

And in the completion of our baptism, Christ stoops to lift the foot planted in this world to guide it to a place beside the other,

across the boundary of this life,

so we can stand tall and rest assured.

All saint, 100%.

All saints.


Justified, sanctified, absolved of all our sinners' days.



As he started his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave blessings, pronounced Beatitudes on all the people.

Who were these people?

We don't know.

I'd guess they were, on the whole, just normal people, as normal as you and me.

"Normal" is a relative term.

Maybe they left some things behind to come hear Jesus.

Maybe they left some deeds undone, chores waiting for when they got back home, people to care for, work to do.

That's normal.

What we do know for sure about these average people who came to hear the excellent Jesus is that they were all sinners.

Every last one of them.

But they were also more than that.

Jesus knew they were more than that.

Maybe they didn't know they were more than that, not yet, but they were also all saints.

Every last one of them.



And I think whatever works they had done or not done, whatever burdens followed them, I think in that time they spent with Jesus, he gave them a taste of holy rest from their labors.

He gave them a life-cleansing blessing.

He gave them hope.

He gave them forgiveness.

Forgiveness begun and to be completed in his own death, and through his resurrection.


Whatever good works follow you, whatever deeds you leave behind after this life, the blessed work of Christ's forgiveness completes your journey.

Whether our saints stand with one foot in the here and now, or if they stand with both feet planted firmly in the hereafter, all the saints – All Saints – share the timeless mercy of Our Lord.



We thank the saints we've named today.

We thank God for them.

We thank the saints we've named in our memories and in our hearts.

We thank the saints sitting around us.

They may be sinners.

As we say in the South, "Bless their hearts."

But soon – and very soon – all that will be washed away.

Their baptisms will be complete.

They will be complete.



Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, 'Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?'

I said to him, 'Sir, you are the one that knows.'

Then he said to me, 'These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.


For this reason they are before the throne of God,

   and worship him day and night within his temple,

   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;

   the sun will not strike them,

   nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,

   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'


Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.'