Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Banquet of Glory

John 11:32-40
Isaiah 25: 6-9

Last Tuesday night was Halloween. My wife and I took our son to trick or treat with his best friend and his family. It was a very good time—we got to know some new friends, and the boys had an out of their minds great time. They zipped from house to house as Batman, Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the guy from the Scream movies all banded together to save the universe.

I think the Scream guy even had Jedi powers at one point, but I'm not sure. Sometimes they even forgot to trick or treat. But when they did remember, they were very enthusiastic. They would hide, and when the door opened they would jump out and holler "Trick or Treat!". The boys certainly honored the feast of all Saints in the most enthusiastic ways young boys can.

And when they got home, boy, was the haul great! Candy of every kind and flavor, and the trading began. The boy who had the peanut allergy gave away all of the Reese's Peanut Butter cups and the Snickers, and got more bags of chips in trade. There's a new candy that I am sure is made just for young boys—gummi-type candies that are modeled after some of the things people have to eat on the TV show Fear Factor. Each boy had to try one of those.

Halloween, for young boys, and I would imagine young girls, too, is a feast of fun and all of the foods they don't get every other day of the year. They would like nothing more than to plow through the whole bag as soon as possible, eating candy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks until it is all gone. It's a childhood version of a heavenly feast. And it isn't even so much about the candy itself as just the freedom to do stuff they normally can't do.

That feeling of freedom, that feeling of unlimited joy that the boys showed on Tuesday night is, I think a foreshadowing of the joy that we will feel when we move from this world into the next. I had occasion this week to also meditate on our ultimate destination because on Halloween morning, I was privileged to celebrate the life of one of our parishioners. She was 92, survived by her three sons and one grandson; she lived a long life, and died rather suddenly. She was a long-time member of the church I serve, and knew that she was loved by God, and believed in Jesus. She was also loved here, and it was my saying "If you think you are loved here, you just wait!" that gave her sons the greatest comfort. They, as at times we all are, were unsure about where she was headed—is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Is there just a lightening of a physical body by thirteen grams and then a burial, with nothing to come after?

Well, we don't know for sure. Despite all the stories of going into and coming back from the light, we don't have documentary evidence of what happens next. We believe what we believe on faith. We believe, as Christians, that there is a heaven. Most of us believe that there is some sort of place other than heaven. Some of us Christians spend more time thinking about that other place, and the Bible calls it hell. But you know what? The word hell only appears in the Protestant Bible 13 times. Only twice is fire associated with Hell, once in Matthew, once in James. Heaven appears over 800 times. Which do you think God wants us to concentrate on?

If the evidence of Scripture is to be accepted, our face is to be turned toward heaven, because that is where God is. And of course, where your face is turned, there your travel goes. We acknowledge that there is a place where there is not God, and that is the place Scripture calls hell. But it doesn't help us or anyone else to fixate on what we shouldn't do in life. We are much more strongly guided, and in tune with God, when we concentrate on what we should be doing. Sure, a warning very now and again is useful. But a steady diet of threats and frights is not guidance. It is intimidation. This isn't how God works. We can be guided by Jesus to see God in a clearer way, the deeper we become God's people. Our goal, God's goal for us, is not to avoid hell but to achieve heaven. We fall short, but we behave much better when we are assured of God's love and forgiveness than if we are threatened by God's withdrawal from our lives. God is not a bad parent. God is not stingy with His love for us. He does not withdraw it from us when we fail. He reaches out even more, because we are his children, He loves us, and wants us to come to Him.

He wants us to come to Him freely, and by our own choice. He wants to be with us in a place that he has created, in a place where it is so good, so joyful that John writes about it in Revelation as a city of gold and precious gems. Isaiah writes about it as a banquet with rich food and well aged wine, where there is no hatred or death. And to get there, as Jesus says to Martha, if you believe, you will see the glory of God.

If you believe that Jesus came to save you, you will see the glory of God.
If you believe that God can work changes in you, you will see the glory of God.
If you believe that the Holy Spirit can lead you to greater and richer relationship with God, you will see the glory of God.

If you believe. That's a very sweet thing to say. Our believing depends on the day, doesn't it? If the morning coffee was good, no one made us angry this morning, and we feel competent in what we do during the day, saying we believe is easy enough. But there are times where we want to echo the words "I believe; help my unbelief!" There are times in our lives when it is exceedingly difficult to believe in God. God knows that, and the solution is to reach out to God more then. I know how hard it is to remember that in the middle of the problem, I've forgotten more than once, too. But there is no greater proof of your belief that to remember that belief in the midst of our trials. And that proof is just for us. God knows our true hearts, and is just waiting for us to figure it out.

If you believe, your faith will grow, your joy will increase, and when the time comes, you will feel joy like a seven year old boy trick or treating. You will be in the glory of the banquet, where the food is rich, the wines are clear, and all the candy is yummy, even the Fear Factor gummi-worms.

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