The other day I was visiting a congregation member and we started talking about our families and lives. Our conversation quickly turned towards how the people in our lives, both alive and passed away, have had an impact on our faith. Sometimes these people were intentionally trying to impact our faith. Others impacted our faith without evening knowing it. However, we also conversed about how our ancestors affected our faith. For me, it was my ancestor who came from Germany and in the early 1800’s settled in Central Illinois. These ancestors would eventually donate the land that my home congregation resides on and were charter members of that congregation. My ancestors probably would never have imagined that their family would come and foster their faith in that congregation for many generations. Our ancestors are indeed important people to us.
Later that day, I was taking a stroll through the cemetery at Jerusalem. The cemetery there has graves dating all the way back to colonial times and up through the present. As I was walking, I started to reflect again on the people of our past and our ancestors. I started to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in that moment and realized that I was grateful for these people. I realized that our ancestors and the people of the past have led us to where we are today as individuals and as a society. These people may not have always done good things. However, we as people have learned from their successes and their failures, from their sins. So, I want to say that I am grateful for those who have come before me. I am grateful for the people of past generations. I am grateful for our ancestors. I am grateful for the people who have been a part of our lives but are now with the Father. God, we give you thanks and praise for all these saints. We give you thank O’ Lord for things that these people have taught us. It is indeed important for us to reflect on the lives and the faiths of these people.
In the Lutheran tradition, we have a history of reflecting on the lives and faith of those of the past. Lutherans recognize, remember, and celebrate the lives of saints. We give thanks to God for those people throughout history and in our lives today who are faithful – yet not perfect – witnesses of God’s love and presence in the world. We relate to their human weaknesses and imperfections while at the same time find inspiration and guidance for our lives and faith through their example. Lutherans do not pray to or with saints, since we believe that Christ alone is our advocate and mediator and that God hears and attends to our every prayer. However, we pray that God may lead us to be faithful witnesses like these saints. In the Lutheran tradition, we believe that all people are at the same time saints and sinners.
Thus, it is important to reflect on the lives of all people, not just those saints from the early Church. So, as we continue throughout the month of October, I invite you all to give thanks for all the saints, and I invite you all to reflect on their lives of faith. However, most importantly, let us give thanks for Jesus and may we live a life of Christ like all the saints that came before us; for it is written “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NRSV).
Peace and Blessings, Pastor Ethan Doan