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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (Revelation 21:1-6a)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “ Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “ Look! I’m making all things new. ” He also said, “ Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. ” 6 Then he said to me, “ All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

It has been said that we sing our theology.  What we sing with our lips, we believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts, we show forth in our lives.  We just finished singing:

“Yet we on earth have union with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!  Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee.”

Friends, we sing it because we believe it, and on this All Saints’ Sunday, our belief in this promise from God is a source of deep hope, peace, and comfort.  Today, we celebrate the lives of the saints, those who have finished their course in faith, and now rest from their labors.  We celebrate their place in the Church Triumphant, among that great cloud of witnesses too great for any of us to number. In just a little bit, we will light these candles you see before you as a way to remember and honor the saints who have gone on ahead of us, a powerful proclamation that the light of those who die in the Lord burns on.  Their light still shines like so many twinkling stars in the heavens, a reminder that their witness still burns bright, and our communion with them is still in tact.

On a day like today, while we look back at their lives and remember what has been, we also look forward to the promise of what will be.  The promise is heaven: the kingdom of God, the holy city, the dwelling place of God, the place of perpetual fellowship with God and one another: described for us in the 21st Chapter of the book of Revelation, beginning with the 1st verse:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples.  God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more.  There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

What a beautiful vision.  What a hope-filled promise, especially knowing that our loved ones who have died in the Lord are already there, fulfilling the chief end of humankind, to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  A day is coming when we will join them and find our communion with them renewed.  But that reunion is not so far off into the future as we might think.

You see, the highway to heaven doesn’t run in only one direction.  It’s a two-way street.  It’s not only that we go to heaven; as we’ve seen in this vision from Revelation, heaven more often comes to us. 

It has been said that wherever the presence of God is found, that is heaven.  You’ve heard the saying, “Home is where the heart is.”  In the same way, heaven is where God is; and we know that God is anywhere and everywhere.  God - whose grace is boundless, whose mercy is matchless, whose love is from everlasting to everlasting - draws near to us all the time.  “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look!  God’s dwelling is here with humankind.’”  That’s what the Scriptures tell us.  Sometimes we go to heaven, and often heaven comes to us.  Heaven is not so much just one place we commune with God, but every place God communes with us.

And not only God, but also those who are already in the nearer presence of God.  Neither the saints we remember nor the God who binds us together are distant, remote, or inaccessible.  They are right here among us.  Heaven isn’t far away; it is right here!  The great cloud of witnesses, all the hosts of heaven are right beside us, closer to us now, even than they’ve ever been before, because heaven has come to us - God’s abiding presence is here with us.

God prefers to be among the people.  Always has, always will.  And it is the presence of God in our lives that makes all the difference.  The vision of heaven continues in verse 5: “Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look, I’m making all things new.’”  This is a promise to us.  God is making all things new.  Here’s the key of the whole thing: those whom we celebrate on this day as saints above were first saints on earth, and the thing that made them saints in the first place was the reality that God was making something new within their hearts.

Saints experience the holy presence of God as a transforming influence in their lives.  Saints are those who are being made new - those who are being transformed more into the image of a loving God with each passing day.  Such openness to the transforming grace of God is the only prerequisite for sainthood.  What makes a saint is not some special virtue or accumulated holiness or perfection.  A saint isn’t someone who has arrived, no, a saint is someone who knows that they are a work in progress, but thanks be to God, God isn’t finished with them yet.
Friends, it is this transformation, this being made new that God does within us, that makes a saint.  Today, on this All Saints’ Sunday, God calls us again to be clay in the hands of the potter, to enable God’s holy presence in our midst to continue to shape our lives and our faith as his saints here on earth.

In order to be shaped by that holy presence, we come often to the places where that holy presence is promised and experienced.  We come to the places where grace is made real in our lives, and one of the places where God has explicitly promised to come to us is in the meal of Holy Communion.  In Communion grace is offered, the presence of the risen Christ is experienced, and we look forward to the heavenly banquet that awaits us.  And sure enough, all the company of heaven joins us at the table.  Their presence is as real as the bread in our hands, so when you come to the table today, know that the saints above are having communion with the saints on earth.

Maybe you’re wondering if you’ll get into heaven when you die.  Learn from the saints; let heaven get into you while you live.

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