This week in St. Arbuck’s Chapel, I will give you three dots, so to speak, and then I will connect them.
Dot #1 – On October 31, we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther, the Augustinian monk who inaugurated what ultimately became known as the Protestant Reformation.
Dot #2 – November 1 is All Saints’ Day! What in the world does that mean for congregations that are not Roman Catholic?
Dot #3 – all of Christianity, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox believe in the doctrine called the “communion of saints.” What exactly does that mean when it is professed in the Apostles’ Creed?
Connecting the dots
Martin Luther’s Scrupulosity
Martin Luther had an obsession with his own sinfulness. He was completely overcome with his own guilt and shame at not being perfect. Martin would score high as a one on the Enneagram. His fear was failure. He aim was perfection. For every 1, deep inside, there is a river of rage at how no one and no thing is perfect. It led Martin and it leads us to a life of frustration. Martin was known for his sin of scrupulosity. That is, he would go to his confessor (the priest to whom he confessed his sin) and the things he would confess were so minor the confessor finally said to him in frustration, “Martin, your sin is scrupulosity! You make scruples out of nothing!”
It was a turning point for Martin because he knew he could not escape the power of sin. He completely resonated with St. Paul’s diagnosis that “no one is righteous, not even one…” and “I do the very things I hate….” Fortunately, Martin not only found St. Paul’s diagnosis to be accurate but equally important he found St. Paul’s prognosis to be liberating. “We are saved by grace through faith, not by works, lest any person should boast.”
Grace and Sainthood
To be clear, Martin was not protesting the Roman Catholic Church, which he dearly loved. He was protesting the sale of indulgences that would free souls from purgatory. The primary reason he found the sale of indulgences to be repugnant was that it was contrary to the notion of salvation by grace through faith/trust. And, according to St. Paul, anyone who accepts the gift of God’s grace through faith/trust is a saint and sinner at the same time. We are a saint in that we are redeemed as a free gift. We are a sinner in that we journey toward wholeness but no one, this side of heaven, ever reaches perfection. So, All Saints’ Day is a reminder of the gift we have freely received in Christ. It is to be a day of celebration!
All Saints’ Day
Finally, on All Saints’ Day, we remember those who have gone before us, who now live and reign with Jesus in the place not made with human hands but eternal in the heavens. We are also encouraged and surrounded by the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) – the communion of saints – who are in heaven to pray for us, encourage us, and remind us that the veil between heaven and earth is extremely thin.
When my mother died, a pastor said to me, “Your mother will remind you often that all is well for her.” She went on to say, “I would not be surprised if your mother leaves you pennies just to remind you.” I can honestly tell you, almost every day, I find a penny on the ground. Some days, I find a dime and that tells me I am covered for 10 days! Call it what you may, I believe. I am convinced that God is ultimate mystery and to believe in God is to believe in mystery.
I have heard so many stories over the years about mysterious ways the friends above and the friends below are interacting, I have no doubt the image St. Paul uses is true…the saints on high are in the “grandstand” cheering us on and encouraging us. The saints have passed the baton on to us because it is our turn to run the race with perseverance – which means to never give up! Because God never gives up on us – neither do they – and neither should we give up on each other. That’s what we are celebrating today!