Usually when I answer the door on Halloween night, the conventional werewolf, princess, or superhero greets me, but then you have that one guy or girl who leaves you puzzled. You think to yourself, “Is he an animal or some kind of foreign car,” or “Is she a literary character or just uninterested,” or “Do you mean to be only in your underwear or are you in need of assistance?” I will admit that Halloween is not my favorite holiday. It’s not because I think it promotes witchcraft or the dark arts, I’ve just never been interested in dressing up like a bloodthirsty zombie clown. I understand children who want to dress up, and I understand the excitement of knocking on your neighbor’s door and they hand you candy. What could be better than that?
In eighth grade I wrote a very dark poem for an end of the semester poetry project. I had quickly learned that if a poem was happy or if it rhymed the letter grade would be low. So I wrote a dark, brooding, emo poem titled, “Matt’s Mask.” In it I talked about how every day I put on a mask to hide my true self. The world was dark, and the only joy to be had was rooted in deception . . . you know, a feel-good happy limerick. After reading the poem my teacher alerted the school counselor. She called me into her dimly-lit beige office, sat me down on the couch, held my hand and asked me if I was ok. I said, “yeah.”
“I heard about your poem. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Sure. Did I get an A?”
“I don’t know.”
“I wrote a limerick about Hillary Clinton and got a C. Then I wrote a poem about darkness swallowing the earth and I got an A. So did I get an A?”
The counselor quickly figured out what was going on and sent me back to class. The poem wasn’t about who I was; rather it was a means of giving the teacher what she wanted. It’s like putting on a mask and ringing your neighbor’s doorbell in order to get candy. It’s like putting on a happy face in order to hide a deep sadness, or wearing a frown to hide apathy, or mimicking the faces around you in order to find acceptance. Children aren’t the only ones who wear masks.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1) I had hoped the text said that we should be CEOs of God or Athletes of God or World Renowned Leaders of God, but no, it says that we should be children of God. Because of God’s love, God allows us to be dependent upon grace like a child is dependent on the care of a parent or guardian. God offers us a child-like, unfiltered amazement of the world. But it’s not about being naïve or having a blind faith. Being children of God means that we are heirs of God’s promise, and the promise is, was, and will always be that God is with us.
Earlier this week I got a text from Evelyn around 2:00 in the afternoon saying, “Praying for you.” It took me a minute to realize to what the text was referring. I began to think of what I did to warrant someone’s thoughts and prayers, but then I recognized that Evelyn had actually remembered the sermon from last Sunday, and she was messaging me because I had mentioned that it is difficult to find God Tuesday afternoon at 2:30. So I uploaded a post to Facebook asking folks where they saw God, if they saw God Tuesday afternoon. This is what I received:
“Today I prayed for patience and received peace.”
“God has helped me through pain and exhaustion.”
“I had the blessing of being with this handsome fellow, with a picture of a small child.”
“I was comforting an 11 month old who is learning to walk and cutting teeth. God is with me.”
“I was coming home from Bible Study and God showed up and showed out.”
God is with us. The kingdom is at hand. God is with us now, but the text also points us to when God wraps up the story. Scripture says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). I love the Word’s honesty. We are God’s children now, but we don’t know exactly what the afterlife will be like. We finished up our study on Matthew this past week and on many occasions Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven being a mustard seek, a treasure, a pearl, a vineyard, but he also says that the kingdom is at hand, so this treasure and pearl and vineyard is a present reality. In terms of the afterlife, there are a few images Jesus offers in the gospels, and there is one overarching image I would like to talk about this morning.
In John 14 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Heaven is a place of being. It is a place of life. It is a place Jesus prepares for us through his teachings, his life, his, death, and his resurrection. It is a place where the poor rest in the bosom of Abraham. It is a place welcoming those who clothe the naked and visit the sick and feed the hungry. It is a place for those who trim their lamps and keep them lit. It is a place for the prodigal who says, “At least in my father’s house there is bread and water.” In my father’s house there are many dwelling places means that heaven is a place in which all the good that ever was or will be, is. It is the eternal now that only love can sustain.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed, but what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Heaven is so real that we will see Christ as he is, or as CS Lewis puts it in the Great Divorce, “We know nothing of religion here. We think only of Christ.” Chris is our judge, and the good news is that our judge is the one who lived, died, and lived again for us. Paul beautifully says in 1 Corinthians 13,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
All that is not full of love will be burned away. When we learn to grow in love of God and love of neighbor and when we come face to face with Christ, we will be easy to recognize. “Well done good and faithful servant,” Jesus says in Matthew 25:23. If we spend our life full of anger or resentment, or bound by a habit that consumes your mind and body, or if we lust after wealth or power or inflation of the self, the master will say, “I do not know you. All that is not love has been burned away, and I do not recognize you because there is so little of you left.”
Heaven is the presence of Christ living within us. One day we will see the unfiltered reality of God, but until then let us take off our masks, let us tear away the falsehood keeping us from falling in love with God, let us tear down the walls that separate us from one another. If the scriptures is true, that love never ends, then let us be filled with the love of Christ so that we might gain eternal and abundant life. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.