In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ:
Maybe you’ve heard. On this, the first day of May, the feast day of Saint Philip and Saint James, someone is becoming a saint.
Today, someone is becoming a saint after a full-blown investigation and review. After a thorough examination and inspection of their life and words and writings. After all the qualifications for becoming a saint are documented and authenticated and certified by an official seal of approval.
Because, no one wants to be proclaimed a saint only to be later dropped from the official saint list - like poor Saint Christopher - I mean poor former Saint Christopher.
And so the pilgrimages have already begun to view the body of this newly-declared saint. His remains have been dug up and now on display, hundreds of thousands of people believing that if they just view this saint with their own eyes, or touch the hem of his burial cloth, they will receive some special merit before the Lord Almighty.
But where would God himself want our eyes and ears focused on this day? On Saint Philip or Saint James? On Saint Karol or Saint Joseph? Where does God himself want us to look to receive his blessing, his commendation, his approval?
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the 14th chapter:
[Jesus said,] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?" (John 14:1-9 ESV)
"Do this for me, God, and then I will be satisfied." When was the last time you prayed that prayer? "Just see me through this one time, and then I'll never complain to you again." "All I want is this one thing, and then I'll be in church every Sunday and give you 15% of everything I have and be nice to all those people I really can’t stand.”
“Show us the Father,” Philip requests. “Show us what Moses got to see. Show us what Isaiah got to see. Let us see God’s saving glory and then we will be content.”
Philip and James and John and Peter and Matthew and you and I all wanted one kind of glory, but heaven gave quite another. For, as Luther reminds us, if we start looking for God in his heavenly glory we will never find him. We must look for our Father in heaven — hidden in the revelation of the only One who has seen and has perfect fellowship with the Father: the only-begotten Son found in the Bethlehem manger, in the simple shop of a Nazareth carpenter, in the insignificant-looking Jesus who rides into Jerusalem upon all the glory of a donkey and dies a sinner’s death upon a cross.
Here we believe that God’s final Word in this world is to be found hidden in the Scriptures. Hidden in Baptism. Hidden in the Lord’s Supper to all but the eyes of faith.
And what Philip learned, in repentance and faith, is what we must also learn: our salvation has come in the person and work of Christ Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all things. In him all is finished. All is complete. All has been accomplished for us and for the world and sealed with God’s stamp of approval in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
But our old nature still keeps looking for other miracles and other manifestations and other ways it thinks God should be revealing himself to us. Mayan calendars and bleeding statues. Mysterious arrangements of ancient stone pillars and cryptic formations of lights from outer space.
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:8-9 ESV)
Today everyone wants a piece of the miraculous. Everyone hungers for some sudden epiphany from heaven. A divine experience. A close encounter of the heavenly kind.
But if any one should know that’s not the way it works in this life, it should be us here this morning. We know what happens when sinful people are placed in the presence of a holy and righteous God, the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. Why do you think there was a curtain a handbreadth’s thickness covering the Lord’s presence around the Holy of Holies?
We as fallen, sinful people don’t survive if put face-to-face before the Almighty in his glory. How do we know that? Take a look at Moses on Mount Sinai. Take a look at Isaiah, chapter 6.
Take a look at the cross. See and note well what happens when God’s justice is unleashed on the one who becomes sin for us and for the entire world.
It is not for the Father’s good, but for our good that God has come hidden and clothed and wrapped in human flesh, bearing the form of a servant, to give us the faith to believe that when we hear Christ, we hear the Father. When we are baptized into Christ, we are made children of the heavenly Father. When we commune with our Lord at his holy Table, we commune with all the saints in paradise and with the One who dwells in unapproachable glory and light.
But sadly there are those who seek a different place to look for God’s favor. In horoscopes, in fortune tellers, in following the fallen and deceptive desires of the human heart. And, yes, even in the empty comfort that our desires will be found if a saint in heaven prays and intercedes on our behalf.
That’s what God had to save Luther the schoolboy from as he called out in a lightening storm: “Saint Anne, save me and I will become a monk!”
That’s what God must save many from today. “Pray for me, Saint Francis, and rescue me and then I will be truly blessed!”
But before we get all self-righteous about what is happening in Vatican City today, let’s remember what’s happening today in many congregations who call themselves Christian. Last week everyone celebrated the resurrection of our Lord. This sanctuary and others like it were in “standing-room-only” mode.
And just a week later, much of Sunday morning has returned to the world’s old tune of “what I need to do to be holy.” “What I need to do to be blessed by God.” “Five steps to a worry-free life.” “Ten Stages to be Truly Blessed by God.” There may even be a few congregations where the topic of the sermon is: “How even you can be a great saint — if you are sincere enough, if you pray enough, if you only try hard enough to make God smile.”
Feast Days in the Christian Church are not the occasion to dig out a body or put a hand or tooth or piece of cloth on display that we might receive a special blessing by viewing it.
God through his holy Word couldn’t have made it any more clear. Worshipping remnants of those who are eternally with the Lord don’t get us any closer to heaven. And worshipping our own self-made merits and good works is just as bad.
They actually get in the way. They become a great distraction. They can quickly become a danger to our true faith in God’s peculiar way of graciously saving us - through his Son and his Son alone.
That’s what we hear at just about every funeral service here as the words of our Lord from John 14 are read:
Jesus said … , “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)
That’s what we need to hear this morning on the feast day of Saint Philip and Saint James. That’s what we need to hear this morning as Rome adds another name to it’s official list of saints.
We do not become a servant of God or worthy of veneration or blessed or saint or Christian by living a holy-enough life to be recognized by some special church “saint recognition” committee. Saints are not identified by evidence that their body didn’t smell bad or decay after death. Saints are not determined by whether or not they saved another after they died by praying and interceding for them and causing a miracle to take place.
Saints are made by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone as God’s Word comes and creates holy saints and heirs of heaven — as water is splashed on us at the Baptismal font. As bread and wine from the altar is placed into our hands and mouths. As the voice of God himself is heard through weak and fallen and sinful prophets and apostles as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
This morning, it isn’t a church committee, but God himself, through his grace, through his Word, through his Son, through his Holy Baptism and Scriptures and Table, that announces to you this day: acknowledging you sin and looking to Christ and his Cross alone as your righteousness, “I declare you my beloved, precious, forgiven, glorious saint. Through my Son, and him alone, I am well-pleased with you.”
May God in his mercy keep our eyes where true redemption is to be found: on our crucified and risen Lord, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be all power, honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.