Sermon Luke 20:27-38 – ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ 22nd Sunday after Pentecost November 10th, 2019 by Pr. Kerstin Weidmann

 

 

  1. Saint Martin, Saint Martin,

Saint Martin rides through wind and snow

As fast as his good horse would go.

Saint Martin doesn’t mind the storm –

His cloak, it keeps him dry and warm.

 

  1. A poor man, a poor man,

A poor man shivers in the storm;

He has no clothes to keep him warm.

He cries aloud, with fear and dread,

‘I need your help, or I’ll be dead!’

 

  1. Saint Martin, Saint Martin,

Saint Martin listens to his cries,

He stops where the poor beggar lies.

He takes his sword, and with one stroke

He cuts in half his precious cloak.

 

  1. Saint Martin, Saint Martin,

Gives half his cloak to the poor man,

He gives his horse a pat, and then

He’s on his way and he journeys on.

He rides until the day is done.

 

The little song we just sang is a traditional German children’s song that is sung on St. Martin’s Day, which is observed each year on November 11th – that means, tomorrow will be St. Martin’s Day.

This day is a pretty big deal in many parts of Europe. St. Martin is the patron saint of France, so you can imagine that it’s an important feast day for the French. In many European countries, there is the tradition of the ‘Martin’s Goose’ – just as folks here have a turkey on Thanksgiving, goose is served on St. Martin’s Day – and if you want to know why, ask me after the service.

And in many parts in Germany, children parade just after dusk, carrying colorful paper lanterns, and singing songs just like the one we just sang – little beacons of hope in the darkness. As a kid, I loved to walk in these parades with my lantern, carefully watching it lest it burst in flames – we used real candles back then to illuminate our lanterns. And, I admit it, I miss this tradition. To me, there’s just something very powerful about it. But, alas, hardly anyone in this area knows about St Martin and his legend.

The song we just sang tells the most famous story about this saint. But let me tell you a little bit more about St. Martin.

Martin was born in the 4th century AD in what today is Hungary and back then was part of the vast Roman Empire.  Since his father was already a soldier, he also pursued a military career and served in the Roman army.  In fact, his name, ‘Martin’, is a reference to the Roman god of war, Mars. There is debate as to whether Martin was already interested in Christianity at an early age.

According to legend, Martin was riding on his war horse on one cold winter’s night.  As a soldier of higher rank, he was decked out in his armor and a woolen cloak.  As he was riding along, he encountered a beggar sitting in the street, with barely any clothes on his back.  Martin was moved with pity and thought, this poor guy will die on a night like this!  So he took his cloak of his shoulders, grabbed his sword, and cut the cloak into two pieces.  Half he gave to the beggar, who, thanks to this act of charity, survived the night.

Now many story tellers stop right here. That’s a wonderful ending, isn’t it? The situation of the poor man is changed. What we learn from this story is that it is important to share.

But there’s more to this legend. And so let us sing the last 3 verses of the song about St. Martin.

  1. Saint Martin, Saint Martin,

Saint Martin falls asleep that night;

His dream is filled with dazzling light:

The Lord Christ Jesus then appears-

The cloak that Martin shared he wears.

 

  1. Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus,

Said, ‘I’m the man who cried with fear –

With whom you shared when you came near.

The acts you do in charity,

Dear one, are also done to me.’

 

  1. Saint Martin, Saint Martin,

Saint Martin, listened to his Lord,

He changed his life and dropped his sword.

A priest and bishop he became –

And to this day we know his name.

So the legend continues. The same night Martin shares his cloak with the poor man, Martin sees Jesus Christ in a dream, and Christ declares to the angels, ‘Martin has clothed me with his garment.’

According to legend, this was Martin’s conversion experience.  He became a devout Christian, gave up his existence as a soldier, because he couldn’t reconcile his newfound faith with the violent life of a soldier, and henceforth tried to see the face of Jesus in every human being he met. These two, of course, are connected: if you see Christ in every person, how could you harm or even kill them?  ‘Truly, I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me,’ we hear Jesus say in Matthew 25, and this passage was at the heart of Martin’s life as a Christian.

It turns out that this story isn’t primarily about how the poor man’s situation was changed through Martin’s act of charity – it’s about how Martin’s life is changed, transformed, made new in Christ.

Martin eventually became bishop of Tours in what today is France. In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Martin is revered as the patron saint of soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors and winemakers. Don’t ask me about the winemakers, I have absolutely no idea how that fits in.

And a little bit of trivia: Martin Luther, whose birthday we observe today, November 10th, was baptized a day later, and named after the saint of the day, as was custom in those days.

And a second piece of trivia: of course in this country, tomorrow is Veterans Day – and this is connected to St. Martin. The armistice of WW I in 1918 was purposely declared on November 11th in honor of St. Martin, the warrior who turned into a pacifist. And so Veterans Day, which originally was called Armistice Day in the U.S. and set apart as a day to honor the veterans of WW I, eventually was renamed Veterans Day to honor the veterans of all other wars the U.S. fought ever since. It’s no coincidence that Veterans Day and St. Martin’s Day both fall on November 11th.

I already mentioned that many who tell the story of St. Martin stop right after Martin cuts his cloak in two and hands one half to the beggar. And we get it: it’s about charity, it’s about sharing. But that’s only part of the story. There’s a more difficult lesson: that Jesus reveals himself to Martin as a poor beggar. And that Martin henceforth saw the face of Christ in everyone he met. That’s tough!

But I want to challenge you right now: try that. Look around and try to see the face of Jesus in the faces around you. (Musical interlude)

It’s not that easy, isn’t it? Or maybe it is. But then, try to do the same thing once you turn on the TV and see images of. Let’s say, a politician you can’t stand. Or step out on the street and try to see the face of Christ in every stranger, every person who seems weird to you, the poor, the homeless, we encounter there.

Christ is alive. Maybe tired, maybe hurting, maybe desperate, maybe grieving, but alive right in our midst. God is among us in many ways: in the words of the Holy Scriptures and answered prayers, in the waters of baptism, in bread and wine – and the community of all the saints – who also happen to be sinners at the same time.

I know that my redeemer lives – Job utters these words after has lost almost everything – his wife, his children, his possessions, his health – as a result of a bet between God and Satan.

But despite all his misfortunes, and despite the fact that Job at some point questions God’s love and justice – in fact, Job has some passionate arguments with God about why bad things happen to good people in this world – Job stubbornly refuses to give up on God, to declare God for dead. Job never doubts God’s presence. I know that my redeemer lives,…whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

Job understands that God’s presence is not to be found in riches and success, but in God’s revelation in the world around us – and that includes the presence in our neighbor. God is alive.

Not only that: God is a god of the living – and new life. And this is what today’s gospel is all about. Here we have the story of some Sadducees having a rabbinical discussion with Jesus. The Sadducees, one of the subgroups in Judaism, didn’t believe in an afterlife – and they try to make their point by presenting this hypothetical case of a woman who is married to 7 brothers, because one after the other dies, and bears children to none of them. To whom does she belong in the afterlife, if there is one?

But Jesus defuses the idea that the afterlife is simply a continuation of our life on earth. There will be transformation, he says, and earthly things won’t be important anymore. And, by the way, why would we call God the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob if those men were dead and relics of the past? Then God would be a god of the dead. There is life, life to the fullest, life eternal, to be found in God. God is a God of the living. God is a God of life. God is a God of new life.

That includes what we like to call the afterlife, but it also includes life in the here and now already. In our life in God, our life in Christ, we are already made new – transformed.

Which brings us back to St. Martin, whose life here on earth was already radically transformed by his encounter with the living Christ.

In our Protestant tradition, we usually don’t revere special saints, as it is done in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. We believe that it is God who makes us holy, makes us saintly, that it’s not our own doing – I think you heard something about this last Sunday, on All Saints Sunday. We are all saints – and yet remain sinners at the same time. Nobody is perfect.

But Martin, our fellow saint, can serve as an example, a role model, for us. A role model for what it means to be transformed and find a new life in Christ – a life that is connected to all life God created. Martin can teach us a thing or two about seeing Christ in our neighbor and treating every person accordingly.

But then to also look in the mirror and see Christ there. We are a part of the living, breathing and forgiving body of Christ, recipients and givers of life. Imagine a world where we’d all were able to live and act like Saint Martin. That would be a world where there is no doubt that God is present, and God is a God of the living and gives each and every one life eternal to the fullest. A world where everyone could confidently say: I know that my redeemer lives.

 

 

This post is also available in: German