All Saints Sunday, 2016, Glen Carbon, I John 3:1-3
Today, we remember those who have been in our midst, family, church members, friends who have gone on to the church triumphant. The first lesson gives us a peek into the realms of heaven. St. John, writes, “Do you see what I see? Look, a multitude, beyond number, from every nation under heaven – tribes, peoples, languages – all standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. That lamb is Jesus Christ, who was slain and is now risen. Do you see them? Attired in white robes, palm branches in hand, loudly calling out, “Salvation belongs to our God.” And there are angels, and elders and living creatures. Now look, all if them have fallen on their faces before the throne worshipping God. Listen as they sing, “Yes, oh yes. To our God, blessing and glory and wisdom and understanding, honor and power and strength forever and ever and ever. Yes, oh yes.” That’s the vision of the church triumphant as John beheld the host of saints who had washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
But when we turn to psalm 149, it brings us back to earth to the worship going on right here along Main street in Glen Carbon and throughout the world on this day. The psalm calls us to join our voices to the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven, “Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing his praise in the congregation of the saints.” Then he calls on us to do something crazy, at least for us Lutherans, “Praise his name in the dance! Praise him with tambourine and harp!” The psalmist calls us to extend our singing throughout the whole day. In the privacy of our homes he urges us, “Let the saints rejoice and sing for joy on their beds.” Sing for joy on our beds. In other words, copy here on earth what is going on in heaven, worship the Lord 24/7. St. Paul tells us to offer our selves and our daily life to God in thanksgiving for his mercies. That is our spiritual worship acceptable to God.
In our epistle lesson, John tells us why God deserves this never ending worship on earth as it is in heaven. “Look at what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God.” Remember Jesus’ parable of the son who asked his father for his inheritance before his father had even died and then went over across the river into St. louis and blew the whole thing? When the wayward son came to his senses, he decided he come back home and work as a hired hand for his father so he could at least have something to eat. And what had the father been doing all that time? Every day he went out to the end of the driveway and looked and waited for his son. And when his son came bedraggled and beworn the father welcomed him back into the family, something he did not expect nor deserve.
That is what the Father did for you and me. We were created in the true likeness of God. Or at least our ancestors, Adam and Eve were. However, instead of being content with being in the likeness of God, they grasped at a counterfeit likeness held out as the tempter’s bait, ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ As a result, they, and we, became unlike God. Living in a world filled with animosity, darkness and death in the place of love, light and life. The image of God in us was sadly defaced.
But God’s purposes for us was not frustrated, disobedient and deserving of wrath as we were. In fullness of time the image of God reappeared on earth in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, undefaced, unscarred and obedient. In him the love, light and life of God shined forth in opposition to hatred, darkness and death. However, his own people wanted nothing to do with him. His own people rejected the Gift of grace upon grace. It seemed at his crucifixion that hatred, darkness and death had once more won the day. It seemed that God’s purpose, in launching his all or nothing, all- out assault on the realm of sin, Satan and death, had been thwarted. But instead, the cross of Jesus proved to be God’s instrument of victory. God’s purpose was fulfilled. This was the “reason the son of God appeared, to destroy the work of the devil.” Love, light and life are now the order of the day.
This is the kind of love which the Father gave us. We who had abandoned our Father and went our own way, were welcomed back. He adopted us as his children. That is what we are now. God’s children. Restored as full members of God’s family as surely as the prodigal son was accepted back into the family he left. God sees us, accepts us, loves us and welcomes us home again.
However, God isn’t done with us yet. There’s more to come. John adds, “and what we will be has not yet been disclosed. But we know that when he appears, (when he comes again) we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
You are familiar with the work of the painter Pablo Picasso. In her autobiography, Gertrude stein described an exchange with the painter. Even though he had painted her portrait, he did not immediately recognize her at a later meeting. Stein wrote, “I murmured to Picasso that I liked his portrait of Gertrude Stein. Yes, he said, somebody said that she doesn’t look like the portrait. But that doesn’t matter, she will.” You and I are growing into the image of Jesus, his likeness; even though there are days when we do not seem to be very much like him, we will be one day. But exactly how that will be we don’t know. The picture John gives us in Revelation is a vision, more akin to a Picasso painting than to a digital photo shot from an I phone. John gives us no detailed description in our text nor in his vision in Revelation. It is with us as St. Paul writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Psalm 24 poses an important question, “Who shall stand in God’s holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” We heard Jesus say in the sermon on the mount this morning, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” In the blessing of Jesus death and resurrection our hands and hearts are cleaned and purified of all animosity, darkness and death. Being clean and pure is not a standard God sets for us to attain, but rather a gift.
Thus as we wait for our Lord to a come again we will grow evermore into the in the likeness of Christ as we see the likeness of Christ in those around us. Especially those in need of our love and care. For Jesus will one day appear before us and say, “You saw me when I was hungry, and you fed me. You saw my face when I was thirsty and you gave me drink. You saw me when I did not have adequate clothes and you gave me some clothes. You saw my face in the stranger, a foreigner, a refugee and you welcomed me. You saw me when I was sick and you visited. You saw me when I was in prison and you visited me.” We will ask, “When did we do all this? He will say, “When you did a kindness to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” On that day when he returns in glory and bids us come and receive our inheritance, then we will know what it is to be like him.