The bumper sticker read, “In case of the Second Coming, this car will be driverless.” No doubt thinking about visions of destruction and rescue in the book of Revelation and other biblical literature, the driver smugly assumed that he would be saved while most of the world would face tribulation, death and destruction.
Many people see the book of Revelation as a guide book to the future. They try to unlock its secrets to discern the date of Jesus’ return. Books are written, prophesies interpreted, and sermons preached describing the countdown to the final days of our planet, and so far all the predictions, beginning in the first century, have been wrong. Throughout the centuries, people have quit their jobs, gone up to the mountains to pray, and in today’s world, given large sums of money to televangelists just to be closer to Jesus when he comes again. The mischief making of the book of Revelation has led many pastors to discard it altogether. Others like the Reformer Martin Luther wished it had never been included in the bible.
Still, I believe there is value in this ancient text. It does not describe the end of the world or give us a timetable to Christ’s return. Rather it is a book about faithfulness to God in difficult times. Written at a time in which Christians were experiencing great persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire, Revelation assures the early followers of Jesus that God and not Caesar has the final word and that they must stand firm in the faith, trusting God and not human institutions for their salvation. The God of Jesus will outlast every empire and nation, and God’s plan for our planet is creation and not destruction.
Revelation 21 presents a very different picture than the “Left Behind” preachers. It looks forward to the healing of the earth and the salvation of all peoples and not the separation of the sheep and goats. Listen again to these affirmations from today’s scripture –
I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The home of God is with mortals.
God will dwell with us.
God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Mourning and pain will be no more.
I am making all things new.
This doesn’t sound like hell-fire and brimstone, does it? Nor does it sound like the words of a medieval preacher who asserted that one of the joys of heaven is hearing the cries of the damned and knowing you’re not one of them.
Salvation and saintliness is not about separating the world into saved and damned, and in and out, but in a compassionate heart that reaches out to everyone, without exception, and mourns the pain of anyone, including our enemies. God makes all things new, and this means everything and everyone.
Recently, I also saw another bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” While this is more reflective of the theology of this church – we are busy about many things – it, like the bumper sticker describing the “driverless car,” also misses the point. God doesn’t want us to look busy to impress God or others. God wants us to faithfully accept God’s unconditional love and then out of that great joy share God’s love with others.
That’s the point of All Saints Day. On All Saints, we remember the saints of the church and the saints of our own lives; the women and men whose love and care nurtured our own relationship with God. We honor the Saints of Christendom, but also saints everywhere – Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims – as well as good hearted seekers and agnostics. Grace abounds and wherever healing and love occur, God is its source, and whatever is loved shares in God’s eternal realm.
All Saints Sunday joins yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We remember all who have gone before us, people of faith and people of this church. We celebrate our calling to be saints in our time, right now, and we affirm that our faithfulness shapes the future of this church and the world.
All Saints reminds us of our mortality but also of the impact of each of our lives. The Reformer Martin Luther was once asked, “What would you do if you knew the world would end tomorrow?” His response was, “I’d plant a tree.” Life is brief and provides no guarantees, but in our brief moment, we can do something beautiful for God; we can love a child; we can insure that the hungry are fed and have housing; and that people in crisis have a friend who is constant and faithful. We can be saints: we can bring good news and God’s touch, to all we meet.
Who me, a saint? Well, yes, and this church was built by saints, who sacrificed their time, talent, and treasure to serve God in their time.
A saint isn’t perfect. Some are a little ornery and others swear. Some may have struggled with addiction or with relationships. But, in that moment when they heard God call, they said “yes” and lived a life from then on that was faithful with all their quirkiness and limitations. They realized that God dwells in and with everyday people, and they worked for a world with fewer tears, less loneliness and poverty, and more love.
We dream of the world described in Revelation. And so let us, in all our imperfection, make a commitment today to be part of God’s future, not an escape job that leaves some behind and turns its back on the earth, but a work of love guided by God’s dream – of every tear dried, every family at peace with a home and a place for children to play, every elder cherished and loved, and every city and village a safe place for all of God’s children…. “Behold,” God says, “I create a new heaven and a new earth…I am doing a new thing…and you can be my companions in the new world coming.”