We Gather to Rejoice

Sunday, November 5, 2017 – All Saint’s Day
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 5:1-12

When you’re deep in sorrow, when you’re filled with grief, when you feel lost, when nothing seems to be going the way you had hoped – do you break out in song? Do you start rejoicing? Do you start worshipping God? Most of the time those are not the first things we do. Yet, so many songs and great pieces of literature have been written in such times as these out of the depths of human tragedy and emotion. Music can speak to the soul, heal the soul, in a way that words often can’t.  The song, “Shall We Gather at the River,” is just such an example.

It’s been said that this song was composed by Robert Lowry late one afternoon in 1864, in the midst of the civil war. It is said that while Lowry was resting from being drained from the heat, he began to have visions of the river flowing from Christ’s throne found in Rev. 22:1. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Lowry began to wonder why so many composers had focused on the river of death, and not of the crystal clear waters coming from the river of life. He asked himself, “Shall we be among the privileged few who stand before the throne singing the praises of the savior?”…”Yes, we’ll gather.” After coming to this conclusion, Lowry was so struck by the thought that he immediately awoke and went over to his pump organ and began composing the piece right away. Lowry found strength and hope in God’s word, and so can we.

Today, on this All Saints Sunday, we too gather in the midst of turmoil. It may not be a civil war, but we too are at a crossroads, a transition. As I preach my last sermon here as pastor of this congregation, I – and many of us here – are filled with a sense of grief. This was not what we had planned. Yet, even in the midst of uncertainty we can rejoice knowing that as the author of 1 John says, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” While we may not see into the future, God always sees far more than we can see. God has more things in store for each one of us than we can possibly imagine. God will guide us to springs of the water of life. And so we gather, to thank God for our ministry together, and for the ministry that will continue – both near and far.

We gather with all the saints – past, present, and future – around God’s throne to worship and praise God. Through the waters of baptism we are all connected through time and space with Christ who is the living water. We praise God and give thanks even if we are suffering, even if we are unsure of the future, even if we are grieving – because through Christ the kingdom of God has come near to us. Through Christ, the author of 1 John assures us. “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” That is what it means to be a saint of God – not just someone who does extraordinary things – but a child of God. Because of this, Jesus calls us blessed. He says that we who are poor in spirit, who are meek, who are merciful, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers – we are all blessed. And that translates to being filled with a joy and happiness that can only be found through living in the kingdom of heaven. And these promises are for us now. Jesus did not tell us that we would be blessed or filled with joy in the future, but that we already are. He said, “Blessed are you.” We don’t have to wait for God’s blessing. God pours out his grace on us and makes us saints – children of God. We are blessed to be a blessing.

So today we gather, to remember our past and rejoice in the future. We gather to worship with all the saints day and night. We gather, as the psalmist says to “Bless the Lord at all times.” We bless the Lord by letting Christ’s love and grace shine through us. We bless the Lord by sharing Christ’s compassion and mercy.  We bless the Lord by being a blessing to others. I give thanks to God for the privilege of serving as your pastor these past three years, and I will continue to pray for all you dear saints of God.

Let us pray, Eternal God, you call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with courage not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.