Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we celebrate All-Saints Sunday today, I want to tell you the story of a Saint and the impact that one such Saint made on my life. Now when I was growing up, I didn’t have a Grandpa that enjoyed spending time with kids.
Yet I had an ever bigger blessing, I had a Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid lived a few blocks away in Lindstrom in a big, brick house that reminded you of Wrigley Field with the Ivy hanging down from it. Arvid’s place would be my get away from home.
Perhaps the most special year of our relationship was the summer of 1991 as the Minnesota Twins completed a turn-around from “worst” to “first” bringing the World Series Trophy back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Arvid’s Daughter “My Grandma” would often have to leave for the night. So when I was in Junior High, I would often spend the night at Arvid’s house to make sure nothing happened to my ninety- something Grandpa who had trouble moving through the night.
Arvid died in November of 1995 at the Age of 95. Arvid might have made 100, yet his diet was absolutely horrible. That’s why I liked hanging out at his house so much. I rarely saw Arvid without a bucket of Caramel Corn in his hands.
My first experience with death was visiting as a 16 year old nursing home in the last few hours of Arvid’s life as he struggled with his last breath.
Arvid’s legacy in Lindstrom was such that the week he died, the Chisago County Press editorialized about his death. Arvid brought a lot to the town of Lindstrom. Arvid founded the Victor Agency in 1948, the business my Dad runs today. Arvid served as Mayor. Arvid was the last original member of Trinity Lutheran Church to die. Arvid brought the Dairy Queen to Lindstrom that eventually became the most profitable DQ in Minnesota.
But the one thing that I’ll remember from that editorial given about Arvid’s life is how the editor John Silver recalled that in all of Arvid’s life experiences, no one had come across him saying a bad word about another person.
In my line of work, you see people brought down from their public image all the time, where words don’t match reality. Yet Arvid remains the figure I try to emulate in relating to other people even when I fall short in these regards.
What I’ll remember most about Arvid is how he would absolutely drop everything for others. One time I was 8 years old and had broken my leg due to my stupidity. Arvid calls me up on the phone asking if there was anything I needed.
I said I wanted “Dorpa-Scorpa”. Dorpa Scorpa was dried Cinnamon Toast, so hard that I still have a chipped tooth from eating it as a kid. Remember we’re all Swedes in Lindstrom. Five minutes later, Arvid shows up with a bag of Dorpa Scorpa as my request had become instantly the most important thing in his life.
I remember Arvid’s funeral. We were so close that it ended up being the first time in my life that I ever spoke in front of a church as I delivered a eulogy. I remember thinking that I was going to be able to tough it out, throughout the service. The worst thing you can do as a 16 year boy is cry. Yet leaving the sanctuary I remember the reality of Arvid’s loss just overwhelming me as I broke down. I stand before you today almost 18 years to the week after Arvid passed. I have been blessed with new relationships, yet I know that I will never come across another Arvid.
Our Gospel Lesson for Today comes from Luke the 6th Chapter. Today’s lesson comes from the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. The Sermon on the Plain is known for speaking some very dramatic language. It describes the people who are blessed as those who are hated, those who are poor, and those who are begging for just one crumb of food.
The message of our Gospel for lesson for today is simple. The things that Jesus describes are about who God blesses through his gospel, not about individual blessings that we receive. How God is present in the deepest, and darkest places of human despair.
A few years ago, I met an old High School Classmate for Lunch. I hadn’t seen this classmate named Matt for a few years. Matt walks up to me and without any tact whatsoever says to me “Boy-Stew you’ve sure gotten gray”, gray just like my great-grandpa.
Hundreds of days had passed marching closer to death since Matt and I had last seen each other. Hundreds of days had been spent trying to deny this fact. Hundreds of more days have been spent looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that I look the same as yesterday, looking in the mirror seeing that I’m not as strong as I might think.
For to whom can forgiveness be extended but the weak? Who can be given mercy other than the broken? Who can be given new life but the dead?
“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” –Romans 14:7-8
Luther on his death bed, put the Christian’s life in the most simplest of terms. “We are all beggars. This is most certainly true.”
I want to talk a bit today about the nature of Sainthood. A number of years ago, a Time Magazine article came out with the scandalous title “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa”. This story detailed how Mother Teresa had been held up as a Hero and Saint for nearly half a century, while at the same time struggling with her own sense of doubt. Prominent Atheists jumped on this story as proof of the untruth of religion as how even one of its most notable proponents struggled with self-doubt. Yet perhaps Mother Teresa’s story tells us something else. It tells us how Saints don’t become Saints due to the human will, Saints rather become Saints because their molded into them. For it’s at moments when we’re at our lowest, that our need for a savior tends to be the most revealed.
One thing worth noting about Sainthood is Saints are never described throughout the scriptures in singular terms. Saints aren’t merely Super Heroes of the Faith. Saints are rather the whole communion of believers. The word Saint means “Holy”. We are called Saints not because we are ourselves are without flaw, we are declared to be Saints because the Holy One seeks to call us home through his gospel.
A few years ago there was a Saturday Night Live Character named Debbie Downer played by Rachel Dratch. Debbie Downer’s claim to fame is that whenever someone was on the verge of having a fun conversation, Debbie Downer would come back with some really unpleasant fact about life. Debbie Downer is actually a fairly good illustration of how too many people misunderstand religion as pointed out by Religion Blogger Kate Norris. Too many people tend to think of a Christian’s life only in terms of human glory.
Today we come face to face with the harshest downer of all in death. Death is not beautiful. Nor is Death desired. Death is not natural. Nor is Death peaceful. Death is never what God intended for his creation. As evidenced by the tears it sheds and the pain it brings. What happens in Death is we come face to face with Death’s tragedy. We come face to face with the fact that we’re just as mortal as those who have gone before. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Yet in Death we are brought forth to the cross. So we do not face death with uncertainty. We face death with confidence because of the one who conquered death on our behalf.
“I am the resurrection, and the life”, says the Lord, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”- John 11:25-26.
Today we remember Matt Banovetz who rose from the Pelletizing plant all the way to being the final president of Reserve Mining. Yet Matt never changed one bit. Matt who had sleepless nights because of the burden of watching his friends and neighbors future be thrown into chaos as the Reserve was in his final days. Matt was so hurt by all this, he decided to retire rather than move on when the plant shutdown.
I’ll remember being with Dee Guzzo in the last years of her life. As she struggled with the loneliness brought on by Tony’s loss. As her eyes began to fade, as her hearing began to go, as her body kept breaking down. Yet Dee’s bond with her family was so strong that family members would spend the night at her side in the final hours. Keep trying to say the last words to her not unlike I had to say to Arvid years ago. Dee’s dying days were a testimony to how much she had given to others throughout the course of her life.
We remember Ardell Granlund for his quiet and gentle nature. We will remember Ardell always being willing to give of his time to help others as an electrician. We will remember how he loved our ladies cooking.
We will remember Ivy Grotberg as a feisty, old lady. Ivy loved music especially hymns and harmonica. Ivy will be remembered for her sense of humor. But Ivy will be remembered most of all for always putting her family first.
We will remember Pam Mattila for her ability to always see the best in other people. How Pam through her illness never wished to see other people brought down. How Pam will be remembered this Christmas Eve as the Matilla’s gather to light Ice Candles as Jon plays Silent Night at the Cemetery.
We will remember Debbie’s Nelson’s stirring renditions of Harper Valley PTA and These Boots Were Made for Walking along with her deep laugh when working at the Ye Old Store.
We will remember Lee Roy Jacobson’s tragic loss. How there were so many people at Sychar you’d think the Fire Marshall would shut it down, but the fire-men were the ones standing along the side wall as we heard stories of his sense of humor and zest for life.
We will remember Virtus Schultz trying to flirt with any woman who came his way. We will remember Virtus’s greeting, smile, and continual presence at the Northwoods. “We will remember how Virtus served as an example for so many men and women for years and years in the AA Program. How Virtus believed that if he could have his life brought back together than anybody else could”-Andi Stebelton Bourne Remembrance
How all of the Saints that we recognize today influenced lives of those around them much like Arvid influenced my own. I remember being 18 years old, trying to explain to others, where I believed I was being led with the rest of my life.
I remember sitting down at My Sister’s confirmation with my Pastor Tom. The same pastor that had buried my Great-Grandpa two years earlier, I told Pastor Tom I was feeling called to go to School to pursue a career in Ministry.
Pastor Tom just looks at me saying ‘I can see it after seeing you with your great-grandpa growing up.” Arvid wouldn’t have known it at the time, but if it wasn’t for how his life exemplified grace as I’m getting into all sorts of trouble at school and home, I’m probably doing something else, far away from here. We never know how the Saints around us impact us.
As I think back to Arvid’s funeral. I can’t remember much. I can remember processing to the Front of the Church as family. I can’t remember what Pastor Tom said. Yet I’ll forever remember something that Pastor Tom did during the sermon, something that I’ve never before seen during a sermon.
Pastor Tom had the congregation open up their hymnals and sing. He had them sing the song that we’ll sing in a just a few minutes. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. A hymn that points out the true meaning of All-Saints Sunday, a hymn that points out how any Sainthood we possess comes because Our Lord knows us not just in our triumphs, but our Lord knows us when we’re at our lowest, and most broken. How Our Lord takes us to the very place of our death and judgment only to bring us on the other side through his resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”-John 5:24
So that even when we’re weak as we’re struggling for our last breaths, even as we’re weak as we doubt the future and uncertainty through our tears, on the cross we are made strong. How by his death Jesus destroyed the power of death and how by his resurrection he opened the Kingdom of Heaven for all believers.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed”-1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
All this so that Sinners may be declared to be Saints. Amen
 Van Biema, David. “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” Time Magazine. 23.Aug. 2007. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Davis. “The Exposed Lies of Saints.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA.10.Oct.2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Norris, Kate. “Debbie Downer”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4 June 2010. Web. Oct.29.2013