Monday, November 7, 2011

When The Saints Come Marching In!

What will heaven look like?
Who will be there?
What will happen there?
These are questions that have touched the imagination of people since the beginning of time.
Since it is All Saints Sunday it seems appropriate this morning for us to ponder these questions together.
I don’t know exactly what heavens is like but I believe two things strongly about heaven.
One, lots of people will be there.
Two, God will be at the center.

These two things for me are at the heart of the Biblical witness.
Consider our reading from Revelation this morning.
(By the way, if you are attending our Wednesday night Bible study on Revelation I am about to give away what I think the whole book of Revelation is about.)
We are told that “there was a great multitude that no one could count.”
Heaven is full of people.
In fact, it is so full of people we should start getting used to the idea that there are going to be a whole bunch of people in heaven that we don’t expect to be there.
For those who say that getting into heaven is the prerogative of only a few “special” people they have not read all of Revelation, or they have not read it carefully enough.
In fact, we are told that there are people from every tribe, nation, and languages.
That no one is excluded from this celebration.

Look around the room today at the names written on the wall.
In just our small congregation look at all the people that we remember.
We have filled it with a multitude of people in our lives that have touched us, loved us, and given us a foretaste of God’s ultimate love.
The Saints surround us today.
They are with us are bowing at the throne worshiping God.
This is the vision of Revelation.

Revelation has a vision of what is behind the curtain, and that is what our reading is this morning.
It is a glimpse of what is going on in what we call heaven.
Revelation shows us that behind all the madness of the world is a God of great grace.
That even though we live through many trials and tribulations now there is something more glorious and wonderful in store for us.
Every one of the names on these walls has a story.
Every one of them lived through some kind of ordeal, overcame obstacles, and still managed to make a difference in our lives.
Every one of them did bad things in their lives they regret.
Every one of them did great things that we remember and celebrate.

That is why it is so important to remember those that go before us.
Because it grounds us in whom we are today.
It is a reminder that we don’t truly die that our story lives on.
Instead, we live forever in the things we build up and tear down.
We live forever bowing at the throne of God.

This week it was my sons 5th birthday.
We were out having pizza on his birthday and his mother and I were telling him the story of his birth.
Part of that story is that his name was going to be “Micah”.
It was a done deal.
Then in August before he was born my dad died.
It seemed perfect that his name would be Charlie after my dad.
So instead of having a son named Micah I have a son named Charlie.
We were telling him this story and he said, “So I am Charlie so you can remember your dad.”
Yes, that is exactly right.
And when I see my son do certain things or act in certain ways it reminds me of things my Dad might have done.
It is a reminder that we don’t die.
This life is not the end, but only part of the story.
My dad’s story lives on in me and my children.
Just as the people on these walls lives on in each and every one of you.

Perhaps that is why we have saints so we have a way of keeping alive those people in our lives who have loved us.
I don’t know what exactly heaven is like, but I believe that all those people will be there surrounding us when we get there.

That is why we have written the names on the cards that surround our sanctuary today because it is good to think of the saints that surround us all the time.
It is good to remember them and keep them alive.
It is good to remember that when we worship God we don’t do it alone but with all the saints that have gone before us throughout time and space.
That in our worship in this time and place, we worship with the great multitude of every time and place.

And what we worship is our God who sits on the throne.
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the lamb!”
Again I don’t know what heaven looks like but I am sure that God is at the center.
I am certain that in the midst of our lives God is at the center of everything.
All Saints day was initially a celebration of people who were martyred because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
It helped people remember that they did not die in vain, but they died because they believed in something greater than this life.
We are lucky that we don’t live in a time when we are killed for our faith.
But we still live in a time when times are challenging.
It still takes lots of faith to make it in our world today.
The names that surround us today remind us that at the center of everything in heaven and earth God is sitting on the throne.
God does not abandon us to a life of desperation.
God gives us hope when things are hopeless, life in the midst of death, strength when we are week.
Today with all the saints that have gone before us we worship God who is at the center of all things.

That is what salvation is about.
It is not about whisking us off to some place with harps and clouds.
It is about helping us to keep in perspective our lives.
Salvation is the reminder that this life is not the end.
There is more and it is glorious.
Salvation belongs to God!
Whatever is happening in heaven it is not dependent on what we do.
I am so glad that salvation belongs to God.
It does not belong to us.
It is not ours to earn, to work for, to pray for, to hope for.
It is God’s to give to us.

And today we can be assured that all the people that surround us one these walls are with God bowing at the throne.
Not because they were good people, but because they were beloved children of God.
The Bible is the promise that salvation belongs to us through God who loves us.
It is one of the great gifts that God gives.

Any guessing on our part about who might or might not be part of the saints is just that it is guessing.
What we are promised in the Biblical witness is that it is a great multitude, that it is not based on our ability to be good or do good, that it is not based on our tribe, nation, or language.
What I think is that instead of trying to guess who is in and who is out, we should be celebrating that God is welcoming all in!
That today you are welcomed into God’s salvation.
Today you hear the promise that there will be a day when the tribulation will end, when there will be no more tears, hunger, and our shepherd will lead us to springs of the water of life.
What a promise!

That promise is remembered every time we think of those saints that have gone before us.
Every time we think of them we think of how they were beloved children of God and how they showed us a glimpse of that love in this life.
The best of them is now with God and still with us.
Even though we are not sure of what heaven is like.
We are sure that God is at the center because salvation belongs to God, and that we are in that number when the saints come marching in!

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