all saints sunday …

Daniel 7. 1-3, 15-18
Always assume gift!

I have to tell you … First time I looked at the reading for this morning, I was excited. I was more than excited. This is one of only three Sundays on which we read something from the book of Daniel. One of just three Sundays every three years. And I figured this was the perfect chance to to show off! You see, Daniel’s in a class of its own. Daniel, that is, the Revelation, and a few other odds and ends scattered throughout the newTestament. Apocalyptic literature, they called it. And it’s a genre, a type, of writing all its own. Full of visions and dreams. Extraördinary. Larger than life. It’s apocalyptic that serves as the bridge between the Old and the New. And I was all set. To amaze. To astound.

Well, after jotting down a few pages of notes, I realized it would take too much time to explain. Too much for a ten-minute sermon. So, I crumpled up the paper. Tossed it aside. And went back to the passage, again. This time, I started thinking not about Daniel-in-particular, but the bible-in-general. You see, most of what we get from scripture doesn’t come from chapter-and-verse. It comes from expectations, from assumptions we make.

It isn’t scripture that enlightens. It isn’t the bible that inspires. As much as it’s finding what we’re looking for! Seeing what we expect! Assume a god of hell-and-damnation, and you’ll smell the brimstone and feel the fire! Assume a god of wrath and retribution, and you’ll commiserate with that spider dangling over the pit of flame! Assume a god up high and far away and that’s exactly what god will be! Not because it’s scriptural, but because that’s what we expect! That’s what we’re taught, what we’re programmed to perceive! So …

I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night
the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,
and four great beasts came up out of the sea,
different from one another.

Truth is, the words mean different things to different people. To one, they offer promise; to another peril. To some threat; to others opportunity. It all depends on what they bring – what you bring – to the table … or rather, to the book. It isn’t the book that creates faith. It’s the assumptions! The expectations! My thoughts went back to something Luther wrote early on in his career. “A Brief Instruction,” he calls it. “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels.” (I’ve posted a link to it on our Facebook page … if you want to take a closer look!) “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels.”

From the title, it seems that Luther had in mind the first four books of the newTestament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. But what he writes applies to so much more than that. It applies to everything … in church and out! He could call it, “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in Sermons!” “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in Baptism!” “A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in Communion!” Confession and Forgiveness! Hymns! Prayers! pmStudies! amBlessings! His advice applies to anything! To everything!

And that what-to-look-for-and-expect? Before taking Jesus as example, you have to receive him as gift! Before you take Jesus as example, you must receive him as a gift! And by “receive him” I don’t mean actively grabbing onto him with both hands. I mean having him dropped right into our laps. Jesus isn’t, foremost and first, someone we’re meant to copy and imitate. Jesus is a gift! A gift from god! Unearned! Undeserved! Unconditional! Uninvited! Jesus is a savior! Not a set of commandments to hang on the wall; but a cross! A cross on which to stake our life!

It’s all pretty simple, actually. The reading from Daniel. All the i-dotting and t-crossing doesn’t really matter. Who those four kings are? What those four beasts represent? None of it is all that important. What matters is Jesus! What matters is that god loves! Loves us! Love all creation! Sure, we can read the words with fear and trepidation. We can understand them as ultimatum, as warning. Or we can see them and hear them and feel them for what they are … the love of god in Christ! We can see and hear and feel the charity! See and hear and feel the mercy! The grace!

If there is anything inerrant – inerrant and infallible – that is be it! Not the chapters! Not the verses! But the grace! The charity! The love! That’s what we believe in! That’s what we depend on! That’s what we live for! What we look for! What we expect! That’s what we assume! God loves! And that determines everything else! Even the meaning of seven little-used verses from a seldom read book. We believe it’s a gift! All of it! Start to finish! Beginning to end!

That’s what Luther means when he says, “I see Jesus in every chapter! In every verse!” For him, the whole book points to Christ! For him, every book within the book is a gospel! Because that’s what the good doctor looked for! That’s what he came to expect! When you come to a passage like this one. Confusing. Unclear. Look for the love! Not love of god. Or love of others. But look for god’s love! For each and every! For one and all! Assume Christ! Assume the cross! It’s not the bible that creates faith. The gospel does that. But it was faith that did create the bible.

Sure, this might have been a good time. To focus on the trivia, the minutiae. So, we could, finally, understand the vision. But you don’t need that. You already have what’s important to believe. You already have what’s necessary to be god’s own. You have gospel! You have goodNews! You have Christ! You already know what to look for! You already know what to expect! You have Christ! More importantly, Christ has you!

Midland Lutheran Church