1 John 3: 1-3
Matthew 5: 1-12 (full texts at end of post)
Grace and peace to you from a God who created a world full of mystery, delight, and difference.
Does anyone remember the comedy TV series Cheers? It was set in a neighborhood bar which had regular customers forming a kind of family to one another as they commiserated about their lives over drinking- mostly beer. Not the type of setting you would expect religion to come up as a subject, but it did. One of the bartenders, Woody, was engaged to Kelly, and they agonized over their upcoming marriage because of the faith difference between them- Woody was Missouri Synod Lutheran , while Kelly was ELCA. They reconciled the issue by accepting, as Woody put it- “when we die and go to heaven, we just have to know that we can’t be together. There will be chain link fences separating the Missouri Synod Lutherans from the ELCA Lutherans. But I’ll still love you”.
The TV writers must have been Lutheran, for that’s a insight into Lutheran relationships that comes from experience. But unfortunately, that joke could be modified to fit all kinds of religious duos.
We have a tendency to think of heaven as a place similar to what we have now, but cleaned up somehow, purged of all the disruptive elements, those souls that are not like ourselves to be either behind literal or metaphorical chain link fences- or not there at all.
On All Saints Day, of course it is good to remember those who have left us, those who have died while living in the name of Jesus the Christ. We give thanks for those people who have taught us by example, given their service, their finances, and sometimes their lives in order to pass on the faith. For those of you who watched the Luther movie last Sunday, it is sobering indeed to realize what it took to reform the church which had drifted from the teachings of the Bible. Passion, stamina, and the willingness to endure whatever may come – Luther and others like him in the Reformation were not believers in theory and theology only, but took their faith as a grounding point for all of their life’s actions.
And so on All Saints Day- we ponder: All Saints. The experience of what is beyond our life. Our ELCA worship planning resource used the phrase “summer camp in the skies” to describe heaven as imagined by 19th century artists, and those images still spring to life in our heads when a next world is imagined.
When we think about heaven, life after death- I believe there is a tendency to imagine it as a place full of people just like ourselves. Heaven is a place that has been cleaned up, all the irritations of this life have disappeared, to be replaced by a soothing sense of harmony- in other words, sameness.
If you are political- well then, heaven is people all of the same party or passion about a particular issue. If you don’t care about politics, but sports- hey! perhaps heaven is one big game, a contest -of course- against the folks from the opposite side of the eternal.
And if you are concerned that the modern world has too many voices calling for change, too many weird people with strange causes: the world today is going to hell, – literally- then heaven will be a place where everyone just keeps their mouth shut.
But is any of this realistic? What does the Bible, especially Jesus, say about it?
Jesus has plenty to say in Matthew 5, in what is often called the Sermon on the Mount. He recites what has come to be known as the Beautitudes, and they are less moral slogans than statements of facts: this is the way it is. This is the way God is. Jesus implies there are situations about how we live now, and what God will do in the future.
There are people in this world who are poor in spirit- disheartened? Worn out? The Kingdom of Heaven is coming to rescue you.
There are people in this world who are meek: quiet, steady, unnoticed. You shall receive your due, and be called upon to steward the earth.
There are people in this world who ache when others ache, the pain of things not right : racism, injustice, oppression- it sickens their soul. That ache will be gone, filled by the wonderful fullness of God.
In these examples told by Jesus, this future existence is not organized by gathering those who think, act, and look alike. Earth is an amazing display of imaginative creation. God certainly was not interested in sameness as this world came into being. If we think the life beyond will be a paradise, surrounded by no one but those who are “our type”, we have seriously underestimated our God.
Our job, so to speak, this side of heaven is to become more and more the image of Christ. Each of us, by allowing the Spirit to work within us, brings Christ to life. Each of us, in our own way and through the work of the Spirit, fashions a Christ that is unique to our own personality yet bounded by Christ’s example of love and service. A saint is not a person who does good works in life. A saint is a person who has a relationship with God. The title saint is not given by what we do- but by what God does.
Our text in 1 John tells us of the culmination of this process, verse 2: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
The Kingdom of God is not about an existence with people who are like ourselves- it is about being with those who are like Jesus.
In our world, so much need of sameness is driven by fear. Fear and love drive each other out, as 1 John goes on to say, chapter 4: 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
All Saints Day gives us an opportunity to ponder our own mortality, honor those who have gone before us, and think of the legacy we wish to leave for those who will follow us. All Saints Day is one that honors the people of God- past, present, and future- celebrating and crying, hoping and remembering, becoming and to be made.
To all the saints here today, to all the saints that you love who are gone, to all the saints who will be here soon- God’s grace and peace be with you always. amen
1 John 3:1-3
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Matthew 5: 1-12 The Beatitudes (“Blessed are…)