Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
THE HOLY ONES OF THE MOST HIGH
SHALL RECEIVE THE KINGDOM
AND POSSESS THE KINGDOM FOREVER—
FOREVER AND EVER.
GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON
AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT AS IN THE BEGINNING,
IS NOW AND WILL BE FOREVER. AMEN.
All Saints’ Sunday has often been a difficult time for me. One of the hardest worship services I ever sat through was at Augustana Lutheran Church , Chicago , on All Saints’ in 1984. Like most congregations, Augustana read the list of those who had died during the previous year. Our son Andrew had died that year, but we were not members of the congregation and so his name was not listed. No one knew about it—it was a private grief we had and we did not expect anyone to say his name but still it hurt. As all those names were read, I thought of him. I still do. Now he would have been a man of 24 instead of a little baby of 17 months. I miss that man I never got to know.
Many of you are carrying your griefs too. Last Sunday in the paper we read the story of Rod and Anna Gillilan’s son John. I knew some of the story but it meant much to read about him and the story of Mayor Jim Torrey’s son, Tim. Young, athletic, men who would have been middle-aged now but never reached that. As someone told me when our son died, “You will never get over it. Your life will be busy and filled with other things, but you will never get over the one who died.” And I’m glad—all of you who have lost loved ones are glad that you carry around that grief and those memories; you would never want to forget that love and loved one.
There are people from Central who I have gotten to know who I miss. This year’s names included Tryg Vik and David Leppaluoto , Chuck Ferguson. I miss them. I miss Ancil Berg and Lillian Berg and Joe Kelsey. I miss Arlene Haugen and Laurie Haugen. I just don’t have someone keeping me on the straight and narrow all the while praying for me—that was Arlene. I miss Les Brownson , Wally Swanson and Barb Zank . Stephen Ministry never seems the same without her. I really miss Pastor Earl Anderson. I would like to tell him that I am feeling like a Northwesterner now. He became a good friend. Their names were not read today and so many other names that you hold dear. But we know them and love them and God has not forgotten them. Our texts and songs voice the Christian hope that the people of God, the holy ones, the saints, are sharing the victory crown of Christ and waiting for us to join them in heavenly glory.
St Paul talks about the sting of death and it does have a sting. Annie Dillard, the American author, once described grief as holding one end of a string with the other person gone. It feels like that. This is a day to grieve and remember. It is All Saints’, the day set aside to thank God, not for the famous people, the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Peter and Paul and Mary; Francis of Assisi—they have their own days–but for those believers whose names we may not all recognize, whose faith is known to God. They believed the promises of God and are now with their heavenly Father. It is for us to remember them, those no longer with us, whose faces we no longer see, whose laughter we no longer hear, whose gifts we no longer enjoy.
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In our text for this morning, Daniel sees a vision in the night, “in his head,” as the text puts it. It is a terrifying vision of four beasts which rise out of a great sea. Daniel was frightened and troubled by the vision and asked an angel attendant what it meant. He was told that the four beasts were four kings, four kingdoms which would arise. The beasts—a lion, bear, leopard and a monster with ten horns and a little horn—would represent, so scholars tell us, the kingdoms which oppressed the Jewish people during the centuries before Christ: the Babylonian Empire, the Empire of the Medes, the Persians, and finally the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors down to King Antiochus Epiphanes who profaned God’s Temple in Jerusalem by the abomination of putting a pig in it to be worshipped. God’s people would suffer under these beasts, but God would prevail.
We live a long time after these empires have crumbled into dust. Others have risen and fallen with horrible regularity. The people of God have been oppressed over and over again. But it is not only through the persecution of Caesar that we suffer, we are assailed by the beasts of cancer and Alzheimer’s, brain tumors and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, autism and AIDS. It was a beast which took the life of David Leppaluoto this year—in the vigor of life while he was driving home; it is a beast which takes the mind of people before their body—some of you are facing that. It is a beast that is a little death when someone loses a job or interviews and hopes for that position and does not get it. It is a beast that comes into a marriage relationship ands destroys it; a beast that turns people to drink and drugs. We are assailed by death and little deaths, monsters which rob us of life and joy and happiness.
But God has the last word. It is the message of the angel to Daniel in his fear and trembling. This life will not be easy. It will be a struggle and we will be defeated as often as we overcome. One thing we Americans have learned over the past thirty years is that progress is not inevitable and sometimes what seems like progress really isn’t.
If any of you have visited Disneyland or Disney World, you probably visited the Carousel of Progress which Walt Disney built for the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Its theme was how far we have come since the beginning of the last century with the main idea that life just keeps getting better and better. Some things have gotten better, but not everything. We have gotten fatter and so have our children. They will not make as much money as we have and have to pay the bills we have run up. They will not live as long as we will. Awe thought we had cleaned up the Willamette River and now it is polluted again. The salmon have not returned. Our cars and tires may last longer but we have much more traffic and worse roads. Is this progress?
We have cured diseases but others are coming back with a vengeance. We have staph resistant infections: MRSA, the super bug that has Oregon State University on edge right now. In our schools, test scores were higher back when I took the ACT and SAT than they are today. The newspaper said one in ten high schools in this country is a drop-out factory. In religion, faith is under attack. It seems to me that all religions are approved except Christianity. Observant Jews may also feel under attack. Muslims, who want to live out their religion in peace, may feel the same. Anyone who takes God’s Word seriously is in trouble. Richard Dawkins calls those who deny religious truth and the existence of God, the ” Brights ;” the rest of us he calls “religious idiots.” There are fundamentalist atheists just as well as there are fundamentalist Muslims or Christians and many of us regular believers feel sidelined or maligned.
There is no inevitability to progress, my friends. In fact the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation talk about the end-times as periods of tribulation and suffering. The people of God have always been tested and we should expect that. As Luther and Calvin said, suffering is a mark of the true Church. When we find favor before others, it likely means we are not being true to our God. When we are persecuted for holding fast to God and God’s Word, it proves our faith. But we are also assured of God’s presence with us in suffering, of God’s power in spite of our human weakness, of God’s victory in Christ. The angel tells Daniel that the holy ones, the saints of the Most High, shall receive God’s kingdom and possess that kingdom forever. In fact in the Aramaic original of this text, the same phrase, “forever” is repeated three times. Forever, forever, forever. When the beasts are destroyed and the earthly kingdoms fall, God’s kingdom is ours forever. When death strikes or we lose our job or our spouse leaves us or our children reject us or society ridicules us, we are reminded that God is for us and nothing in this world or the next can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. Forever.
Today we remember those who are gone from us but not from God. We affirm that in Christ there is victory over the grave. Death still has its sting, but Christ is risen and we too shall arise. We will see our loved ones and rejoice with them. Forever. Those who believe in Jesus though they die, yet shall they live. Those who believe in Christ really never die. The holy ones, the saints, of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and forever. Amen.
Copyright 2007, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.