Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
[God] destined us for adoption as [God's] children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of [God's] will, to the praise of [God's] glorious grace that [God] freely bestowed on us in the Beloved...In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
Ephesians 1:5, 11-15
Thirty-five years ago, on June 6, 1966, the convention of the Western Canada Synod, meeting in Edmonton, took a break from their deliberations to gather here, at Our Saviour's, to attend a service in which I was ordained.
Dr. John Zimmerman presided, Pastor Louis Schoepp was Secretary of the Synod, and Pastor Alvin Querengesser was my sponsor. Dr. Otto Olson was there representing the Canada Section of the LCA.
Clergy by the dozen in their red stoles formed a procession.I remember how impressive and how intimidating it was. I remember wondering who was I that I should be given the privilege of belonging to an order that was two thousand years old?
While I felt honoured, I also felt inadequate. This seemed too serious a responsibility to be giving to someone as immature as I was. (I think I may not have been alone in that opinion!)
Now Olson, Zimmerman, Schoepp and Querengesser are dead, and my generation is more grey-haired than they were at that time. And yet, what they did then is having its effect to this day.The eloquence of Zimmerman and the gracious kindness of Olson became part of me because of my experience with them.
When we gather at the Lord's table, I know that they are here too. As are my grandmother, my parents, and every one of the saints of this church, who have been for me the body of Christ.What a gift it is to be baptized into such a community of people.
I was talking with one of my former seminary classmates Friday night in Saskatoon; Pastor Harold Hesje, director of the Lutheran Sunset Home Society, and he and I agreed that because of the church we have never been lonely, never alone.
When I was a student working summer jobs in strange towns, I could go to church on Sunday and become part of a community in one week!The times that I have felt lonely in this calling, have been times when I have distanced myself from people, and lost my vision of what it means to be God's people.
When I remember that we are all God's children together, the miserable and the likeable, the easy and the difficult, I am once again aware that I am surrounded by the community of God.
That's what I think of when I confess that I believe in the communion of saints.It's in the community of the church that I learned how to be a Christian.
I learned it by watching other Christians in action. I learned my personal faith from my parents and I learned to be the people of the church among the people of the church.
I used to belong to a group in Vancouver that went on spiritual retreats together and gathered a few Saturdays a year for prayer. We prayed for each other and we encouraged each other to pray.
On one retreat we were asked to trace back the significant points of our faith journey. In doing that, I realized how important the communion of saints had been in shaping my life.Dr. Julius Bergbusch, the President of the Western Canada Synod of the ULCA, (he was really a bishop, but we didn't want to use such a "catholic" word back then) was the guest speaker at a mission festival at St. Stephen's the summer that I was 9 years old.
My mom brought me over to introduce me and he patted me on the head and said, "Well, Raymond, maybe someday you'll be a pastor."
A few years after that, when I told my Grade Eight class in school that I was going into the RCMP one of the girls leaned over and said, "Why'd you say that?
You know you're going to be a pastor!" I didn't remember, but she reminded me about four years ago.In Camrose Lutheran College, my Chemistry professor, who had first been a seminary professor, set about coaching me on what to take in university so that I would have the right foundation for theological study.
In our little seminary in Saskatoon, our professors were not only teachers; they were our pastors, our friends and our mentors.I can never express enough gratitude for Walter Freitag and Harold Floreen, who not only taught me theology, but also taught me how to be a human being,
a husband and
The people of my first two parishes, Trinity and Holy Spirit, Edmonton, taught me how to be a pastor.
It wasn't always pleasant to hear what they said, but it was true and it has remained true these 35 years.One of the outstanding saints in my life was my confirmation pastor, Reinhold Krisch. His enthusiasm and cheerfulness gave me eyes to see that there is joy in the gospel, and he encouraged me to study and to see the ministry as an adventure. He was creative, sometimes mischievous, and happy.
Every one of us is a product of the communion of saints. We did not make Christians out of ourselves. Our faith is a gift that was passed onto us by others. We have been able to stay with the faith because we are surrounded and supported by other believers. The seed of one generation grows into the crop that the next gets to harvest.
There has never been a time when I did not know that I am held dear in the heart of God. There were times when I was tempted to doubt it, when people got hold of me who said that it was important that I received Jesus into my heart as my personal saviour or I would not be saved.
But I got better again when I relearned what today's second lesson tells us— it is not we who find God, rather God finds and adopts us. It is not God who is the orphan and needs to be adopted, it is we who are orphans whom Jesus brings home and asks God to make us part of the family. It is more important to know that God accepts me into God's heart!
Martin Luther used to use this example to explain God's grace:
It is as if on the day of our birth, a fond uncle opens a bank account in our name. Then, when we reach the age of adulthood, we discover that it has always been there for us, and it is ours to draw on.
God waits for us to grow up and discover that we are God's, and always have been.There are many exciting stories about people who made this discovery after they were adults, sometimes having grown up in other cultures and religions, often plagued by doubt and demands too hard to fulfil.
Then they discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ and their lives were transformed.
We like to tell those stories when we're promoting mission work. They are good stories and they are true. But the fact is that the most effective evangelists in the church are our families and our friends. The communion of saints.
You have no idea how important it is to me to be invited here so that I can tell you that.The communion of saints is more than just a family tree. It is also a living reality at the present time. It is a profoundly moving experience for me to move around this church, and hear, in different churches, week by week, the way we pray for each other.
I can hardly believe the numbers of prayers that are offered up for me and for the other bishops and pastors of this church. On my most egotistical days, when I think I'm something really special, I remind myself that if all those prayers stopped, I would go as flat as a cheap soccer ball.
Each one of us is cradled in the uplifted hands of the prayers of the communion of saints. When the pastor lifts his hands in the eucharistic prayer, he is holding up before God the community and its need to be fed the bread and wine of Christ's living body.And you are held up by the prayers of the rest of the church.
We are not just hundreds of isolated congregation out here on our own, but a community of communities; in your case, gathered into the synod of Alberta and the Territories and belonging to the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada. We bishops are, first and foremost, pastors to the pastors and congregations.
Our calling is to encourage and to support. We are to be reminders to the pastors and the churches that they are not alone and then to offer ourselves as expressions of God's love with whatever talents we possess.
The bishop's office is not so much a sign of authority, as it is a symbol of the presence of the church. It is so that when we are present, the congregation knows that it is the whole church that is present. We don't have very much authority, and what we have is regulated by the constitutions of this church.
What we do have is the command of the church, to help every corner of the church know that it belongs to somebody. I hope that is what you have experienced this morning.
You are served by a fine pastor whom I have known since he was a university student.
He needs your support, which he will take and return to you multiplied. He is also a scholar and capable theologian and can help you adapt your faith to the challenges of the times.
We have this legacy that we want to leave to future generations. That is, after all, what it really means to be a saint. You are the saints of God. Grace and peace to you all. Amen.
This sermon was prepared by Ray Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for All Saints' Sunday at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, Hay Lakes, Alberta: November 4 2001.
Return to the Bishop's page