Superman

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Date: All Saints Day + 11/1/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
In Memoriam: Ronald Archie Smith, August 12, 1939—June 11, 2009; Paul O. Manz, May 10, 1919—October 28, 2009.

“Peace be to you, and grace, from Him who freed us from our sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. ‘Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird!’ ‘It’s a plane!’ ‘It’s SUPERMAN!’

“Yes, it’s Superman—strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman—who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steal in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

As I read those words, could you (who are old enough) see it in your mind’s eye? The black-and-white television picture of the pistol, the steam locomotive, the building, the crowd looking and pointing up into the sky, the badly edited sound of the flight of the caped crusader himself? Did you find yourself thinking, “We could use a Superman like that right about now”?

Of course things have changed since then. For one thing, thanks to the proliferation of cell phones Superman would be hard pressed these days to find a telephone booth to use, as was his habit, to change his wardrobe, and if he instead availed himself of a public restroom he could be in danger of being arrested just for taking off his Clark Kent clothes there. And as far as the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way I can imagine these days a never-ending battle for deciding just what each of those words and concepts actually mean.

Ah, superheroes! “Fictional characters of ‘extraordinary or superhuman powers’ dedicated to protecting the public.” Every generation has had their superheroes, from Superman to our children and grand-children’s Spiderman and X-Men, even back to the ancient’s pantheon of mythological figures, Apollo, Artemis, Poseidon and the like. So how many people today think of Jesus as no more than a superhuman, fictional hero? Or that “All Saints” whom we celebrate today are but the Christian pantheon of superheroes upon whom we are to rely for safe travel, deliverance from various diseases and other protections. It’s no wonder that All Saints Day became, over the centuries, primarily devoted to promote the false doctrine of salvation by works; and that it was, therefore, the Eve of this day that Martin Luther chose to post his Ninety-Five Theses questioning that false doctrine.

For the Lutheran Church you’d think that it would be easier just to get rid of every vestige of salvation by works to eliminate All Saints Day altogether. But ours is called “the conservative reformation.” The original, historic development of remembering the saints who have gone before us has a better meaning and significance. For it is primarily to hold before us the example of those who walked by faith in order that we may imitate their faith and life.

The Gospel reading for All Saints Day every year is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, the very first section, the Beatitudes. The question is, who is Jesus speaking about in these words—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and so on? For these words sound to many to be a description of Super Christians or at least a program for making them so. For on the one hand the qualities listed seem beyond human ability to attain. On the other hand this fits exactly the spiritually blind religious logic that thinks salvation is only for those who become saintly or good enough to pass heaven’s entrance exam.

But sinful man has “cause and effect” completely reversed. It is not our sanctity or lack of it that determines our eternal destiny. Eternal life or death is determined upon faith in Jesus or the lack of it. This saving faith lives in people in this life under the shadow of death, the lingering effects of sin against which we still struggle. That’s why the hymn says, “we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” People wrongly think that salvation or justification is uncertain because it is dependant upon a person’s sanctification or holiness. In truth, by faith in Jesus a person’s salvation, justification is complete and certain. Sinners are declared righteous by God purely on the basis of faith in Jesus. It is, rather, our sanctification or holiness of living that is in question, incomplete all along the way, sketchy, always in a state of becoming as long as we are in this world. Upon death, however, suddenly our sanctification becomes complete because we are delivered from “this body of death” as St. Paul calls it (Rom. 7:24). Not that the physical body or the physical world is at all evil in itself as some Eastern religions think. God created everything very good. It is, rather, the death and separation of sin in this world that is being done away with.

Christians who have gone before us with the sign of faith are “with the Lord” as the Apostle reminds us to remind and comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:17-18). Once again, the Superhero mentality tends to make more of those who died as when people talk about dad or mom or uncle Harry “looking down on us.” Christians do not take on divine attributes like omniscience or omnipresence in heaven. Christians are and remain human beings the way God originally intended them to be, only better (Revelation). Admittedly, there is that mystery of our perspective that arises in our minds concerning the span of time between death and the grave and the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Comfort one another with these words: “with the Lord.”

This year we remember especially our dear brother Ron Smith who we laid to rest last June. We remember those members whose memory has been requested, Louis Beer and Eileen Anderson. And today, primarily because of my personal relationship with Paul Manz as an organ and church music teacher, I wish to note and mark his passing just this past Thursday. I wish you to know that the opening blessing with which I have begun each sermon for the entire 30 years of my preaching, “Peace be to you, and grace, from Him who freed us from our sins,” is a paraphrase of Revelation 1:4-6 written by Ruth Manz for Dr. Manz’ most famous choral work, “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.” I guess it’s been my way of not denying or letting go of my initial training as a church musician. I heard from one source that this was being played in the background as the surviving family was gathered around Paul’s bedside, “and when the text came round again to ‘E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come,’ Paul breathed his last.”[1]

I don’t believe you have ever read an obituary or heard a eulogy describing someone who has died as “poor in spirit, one who mourned, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, persecuted for righteousness’ sake, reviled and spoken evil against falsely on account of his faith in Christ, much less rejoicing in gladness for being so persecuted;” you have never read such an obituary unless, of course, it was the obituary of Jesus Christ. That obituary is called the Gospel, the Good News of the righteousness and power of Jesus Christ who, by His innocent, bitter suffering and death, and by His glorious resurrection now has opened the kingdom of heaven, not “For Super Christians Only” but for all believers, sinners who have become saints not by their own wisdom or strength but by their faith in Jesus. To keep us in such faith He has also given us His last will and TESTAMENT, His Body and Blood to be received sacramentally until He returns.

So, until He returns:

Peace be to you and grace from Him
Who freed us from our sins,
Who loved us all and shed His blood
That we might saved be.

Sing Holy, Holy to our Lord,
The Lord, Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come;
Sing Holy, Holy Lord!

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein,
Rejoice on earth, ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon,
For Christ is coming soon!

E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come,
And night shall be no more;
They need no light nor lamp nor sun,
For Christ will be their All!


[1] http://musical-chemist.blogspot.com/2009/10/rip-paul-manz-1919-2009.html, reported by Michael Barrone quoting son John Manz.