All Saints' Sunday: For All the Saints
Let us pray…Gracious and loving God, on this day when we remember all those who have come home to sit at the foot of your throne, help in this time and space to hear words of wisdom, peace, and especially comfort this day. Now, o God, help us to open our ears to hear and our eyes to envision you and your still speaking voice, Amen.
The Entrance Exam...
The Entrance Exam...
Forrest Gump dies and goes to Heaven, as he stands at the Pearly Gates wondering why the gates are closed, he meets St. Peter himself. St. Peter says to Forrest, “Well, Forrest, it’s certainly good to see you. We have heard a lot about you. I must tell you, though, that the place is filling up fast, and we’ve been administering an entrance examination for everyone. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into Heaven.”
Forrest responds, “It shore is good to be here, St. Peter, sir. But nobody ever tolt me about any entrance exam. Shore hope the test ain’t too hard; life was a big enough test as it was.” St. Peter goes on, “Yes, I know, Forrest, but the test is only three questions:
First: What two days of the week begin with the letter T?
Second: How many seconds are there in a year?
Third: What is God’s first name?”
Forrest leaves to think the questions over. When he returns the next day, St. Peter who waves him up to the gates and says, “Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers.” So, Forrest says, “Well, the first one — which two days in the week begin with the letter “T”? Shucks, that one’s easy. That’d be Today and Tomorrow.” The Saint’s eyes open wide and he exclaims, “Forrest, that’s not what I was thinking, but you do have a point, and I guess I didn’t specify, so I’ll give you credit for that answer. So, how about the next one? How many seconds in a year?”
“Now that one’s harder,” says Forrest, “but I thunk and thunk about that and I guess the only answer can be twelve.” Confounded, St. Peter says, “Twelve? Twelve!? Forrest, how in Heaven’s name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?” Forrest says “Shucks, there’s gotta be twelve: January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd. . .” “Hold it, ” interrupts St. Peter. “I see where you’re going with this, and I see your point, though that wasn’t quite what I had in mind…..but I’ll have to give you credit for that one, too. Let’s go on with the third and final question. Can you tell me God’s first name”?
“Sure” Forrest replied, “it’s Andy.” “Andy?!” exclaimed an exasperated and frustrated St. Peter. “Ok, I can understand how you came up with your answers to my first two questions, but just how in the world did you come up with the name Andy as the first name of God?” “Shucks, that was the easiest one of all,” Forrest replied. “I learnt it from the song. . . . “ANDY WALKS WITH ME, ANDY TALKS WITH ME, ANDY TELLS ME I AM HIS OWN. . . .” With that, St. Peter opened the Pearly Gates and said: “Run Forrest, run.”
While this little bit of light-hearted humor does not really represent what I think happens when we die, it does remind us that interpreting what someone might be saying to us is sometimes difficult. We never know how someone will hear what we have to say. So, today, I wanted you to remember that what we share here in this space is not the end all be all of everything there is to know. There is much yet to learn and study when it comes to the Bible and how we put it to use in our lives…and with that, we are actually going to spend a few moments considering one of the most difficult texts we could ever contemplate from the Bible and it comes from one of the most complex, and in my mind, most beautifully written books of the Bible, that being the Book of Revelation...
The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation
Many of you know that the Book of Revelation is probably my absolute favorite book of the Bible and the primary reason is some of what we heard Debbie read for us this morning. The book is often overlooked and not studied because it is hard to interpret what John might have seen and written as Jesus revealed this vision of what Heaven will be like at the end of time. Many have taken to studying its contents for nearly their entire lifetimes and, personally, I do not think we will ever truly know if what occurs in the writings will actually occur or not, regardless, its imagery is what has always drawn me to study it whenever I get the chance to do so.
Today, however, we are looking at just one tiny fraction of its meaning for us today…to start us off on this journey this morning, I want to remind you of a few things that happened just before what Debbie read to us. In the first 6 Chapters of this book, we hear a tremendous amount about what it means to be a Christian in a world that despises us. Here’s the thing, historically speaking, the Christians of the first century faced much of the persecution we too face even two thousand years later…so let’s get a really quick overview of what has transpired so far...
As you can see from this outline, what happens prior to what Debbie read is very simple, it is basically an introduction to the story that follows. The first three chapters introduce us to the characters and tell us basically why this is all happening and the next three introduce us to the apocalyptic literature of the end of time…ultimately, we are told that at the end of time, we will all face judgment for what we have done and not done in our lives. There are seven churches in the area to whom John is writing these words and each one of them represents a different aspect of humanity, meaning the good, the bad, and the ugly of what people can be in this world. I guess I need to step back even further for a second to help us understand that this is a vision that John sees while being exiled on the Island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea for what he believed. Most scholars agree that the John who sees this vision and writes it down is the same John who stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus said, woman this is your son and son this is your mother. Aside from this, the other thing to keep in mind is that Jesus has come to John to reveal what people should be striving to be in this world, at least in my mind, this is the ultimate purpose of the Book of Revelation.
As I said before, we will probably never know the true meaning of the visions that John saw because none of us were there at the same time that he received them. However, what we can do is look to the words that he recorded as a promise of hope, love, and care that God promises to everyone who believes in Christ and follows his teachings. With me? I know that for most people who read this book, they focus upon the destruction and the fear that can be generated by some of the images but we need to keep in our hearts and minds that the vision that John sees, while yes a warning to those who do not necessarily believe, it is a promise of protection and care to those who do believe. I know it sounds like I am talking in circles here and I apologize but I want us all to hear this clearly, if nothing else, the book of Revelation is not about what happens but rather about the beautiful things that will come as a result of keeping our faith.
That being said, let’s take a quick look at a piece of this strange and beautiful imagery that we have before us this morning...
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.
So what John is seeing is the great cloud of witnesses, standing before the throne of God. I want to highlight a couple of things about this…first, we know that there were not that many Christians at this time in the world. Christianity had just begun to truly spread. So, for him to see the perfect number of people multiplied by itself and then a thousand is a huge number in John’s world. However, the number that he sees in front of the throne is not what is most important in this passage in my mind, it’s the idea that there are people from every nation, tribe, language, etc. there worshiping God. Let’s stop to think about this for a moment…every nation, tribe, and language. Throughout our Christian history, there have been folks who have said that only this kind of person, or that kind of faith tradition, or a certain lineage will guarantee you a place in Heaven. That’s not what God intends…every tribe, every nation, every language has a place in Heaven and not just in Heaven but in the Throne room as well.
For me this just brings to mind this beautiful image of all God’s people living in harmony and peace with one another serving one purpose…giving thanks and praise to God. Doesn’t that give you hope? Doesn’t that make you want to jump for joy and shout from the rooftops that our God is bigger than the troubles this world can throw at us? And frankly, regardless as to how we feel in this time and age, God’s realm has no limits to the amount of love that we can share with each other and that there is hope beyond this life for peace. There is no one in this world that can take away that hope from us.
Then there is this...
This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Here is the promise of eternal care once again…God will provide all that we need, there will be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more weeping, no more scorching sun. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Notice that in the previous mention of the great multitude, all of God’s people are gathered there with God. They are not on the Earth suffering any longer. Those who were clothed in white robes gathered around the the worshiping community had come together and were or should I say, would be provided with all that they need. Again, this is how I see these two pieces from today’s writings. It may not be how you see them or how others might even see them.
In my mind, I have this image of God sitting on the throne with the elders and the lamb right there at the foot of the throne. All around me are those I have loved and who have loved me, as we stand there before God, we are giving thanks and praise for being able to be together once again and for God’s love shining in our hearts and lives. It is this image of God with outstretched arms, welcoming everyone to come into this throne room, where the color of your skin, the number of wrinkles you have accumulated or not accumulated, the language that you speak, or the person(s) you loved in your lifetime have no impact on the embrace that God is willing to give. It does not matter…what matters is the faith, the trust, and the following of the teachings of Christ. I see hope and love in these reflections of what John saw. I see nothing but comfort in these words because I know I try to live my life, to the best of my ability, following in the footsteps of the one who gave his life for me.
On this day in which we remember those who have gone on to join the great cloud of witnesses, I am hoping and praying that in this brief time of reflection, you have found some peace, some comfort, and maybe just enough hope to get you through this upcoming week…Amen.