All Saints’ Day 2007

All Saints
Revelation 7:9-17

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Heaven is not a utopia of equality. God does not love everyone the same, either here on earth or there in heaven. The works of the saints follow them. All shine according to their works and life on earth, in accordance with how they lived and served where God put them. There are positions of honor on Our Lord’s right and left hands. Those places will be filled. Now, wouldn’t it be a wonderful piece of irony if it turned out to be Saints James and John, or even St. Salome herself?

The saints in heaven retain their nation, tribe, people, and tongue. They retain, in some fashion, their positions and their good works from earth. In heaven the angels, the multitude, the elders, the patriarchs, the martyrs, and the four living creatures are distinguished one from the other.

Heaven is not a place where the self is lost, like some imaginary Marxist ideal, where every saint is just as good as any other, where they are all interchangeable. Rather, Heaven is where the self finally becomes most fully self, as it was meant to be. In heaven you will be free to be yourself without sin. Your gifts and talents, personality and intellect, will be finally be free of all envy, malice, and greed. You will be the person that God has always loved, the one redeemed and forgiven by Him, still with your nation, tribe, people, and tongue, no longer as divisions fraught with jealousy and fear, but as distinctions of your unique character. You will not be a faceless saint, but the distinct individual whom God Himself crafted. You will honor Him and shine according to the grace given to you as only you can honor and shine. But you will be united to your brothers and sisters, washed in the same Blood of the Lamb, as pure as the holy angels, perfected in the grace of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, who has brought you to Himself in perfect love. You will be holy and perfect, but still in your nation, tribe, people, and tongue. You will be distinct but not separate. For you will be perfectly in love with all the righteous men and women of heaven and enjoy the benefits and glory of each culture and talent.

Our Lord does not love all men the same. You do not love your children all the same. You love them each uniquely, individually, as God has made and given them. You love different things about each of them and you love each of them in distinct and personalized ways. You love your children with precision. This is more true of the God who takes the time to count the hairs on your head than it is of you. The love of God is not an abstraction, some generic feeling of affection toward an unknown group, the way some people love dolphins. God does not favor spiceless, homogeneous food or require we eat only bread and water. He does even require that everyone get the same amount. He pours it on. He even seems wasteful at times, giving more than the cup can hold or a crowd of 5000 men plus women and children can eat. He is not fair. He is generous. And He is creative. He loves what He has created in its diversity. Dappled, irregular things hold beauty for Him. So also do symmetry and straight lines please Him. Again, His love is not like unto the way teen-aged girls feel about the Beatles or movie stars. His love is precise. He loves us because He knows us and He loves what He knows about us even when we think ourselves unlovable.

His love is deliberate and purposeful. He loves what He has made. He is the Creator and He expresses His love in creativity. His love has decided to rescue us from damnation, even though we did not love Him. He loves us despite our petty jealousies and fears, our prejudices and ignorance. The way He loved us was the sending His only-Begotten Son into Hell. He did not shrink from this. He would have not any man damned. He loves those He has made. He loves the neo-Nazis and the communist party bosses. He loves the drug dealers and the rapists. He loves the tellers of white lies and gossipers who betray their own friends. He loves the reluctant mothers and the tired husbands who just wish to be free of duty and responsibility. He loves them all with precision, on purpose, because of who they are, despite their sin. He loves those whom He has made. That includes you. He loves you. You are His beloved, the One for whom He suffered, the one He chose in Holy Baptism to be His own. By His bleeding, dying, and rising, He has made Himself a Divine Substitution and Holy Sacrifice on your behalf, that you would be clean. He has put death and sin to death. He has torn down Hell’s prisons and opened heaven to men. By this perfect love He has reconciled us to Himself, declared us righteous, and bestowed His own perfect peace. He has made you worthy of His love, beautiful in His eyes.

The love of Redemption is greater than the love of creation. It has lifted us higher. We do not go back to the garden. We go to heaven. We are served by angels. We are now bold to call God Brother, Lover, and Father. We are joined to Him and elevated in Him, free to be the men and women that He has made us to be, those in whom He delights and with whom He is well-pleased.

In Christ, we are free to be ourselves. In heaven, we will no longer be of two minds, no longer conflicted and confused, no longer making stupid, selfish choices. Too often we have hurt ourselves and those we love out of fear that God was holding out on us, keeping us from some simple pleasure that we could take for ourselves, by violence or trickery, and make ourselves happy. We have not trusted God to provide. We have not believed that He is good. We have not thought Him wise. Instead we have thought ourselves capable of discernment, of seeing for ourselves what is good, what is helpful and healthy. Thus have we have brought sadness and pain into our homes by our own vain grasps at happiness through alcohol, pornography, gambling, and other great shame and vice.

Socrates taught that if a man knew what was good, if he truly knew and understood, then he would seek the good, he would be virtuous, because all men seek their own good. Men do not knowingly harm themselves. But as much as it pains me to say it, we are witnesses against Socrates in this. For we have suffered temptation. We have known the good, revealed in God’s Word, but reached for evil nonetheless, thinking we could assuage our passions or the demons by a temporary fall, and come back to the good latter. We have been of two minds, one good and one evil. Knowledge alone is not enough to spare us from ourselves. Our flesh is weak. We do what we do not want to do. That is why we live with guilt and regret. But here is what Socrates did not know. Grace, forgiveness, the love of God in Christ Jesus, begun in you already but waiting for completion, will end your sorrow in ending your sin. It is the righteousness of God that overcomes our two minds and renews the mind of Christ in us.

This forgiveness does end personality. You are not your sins. Forgiveness removes both guilt and punishment now. You are forgiven. You are innocent of all crimes in heaven. When the good work begun in you is complete in the Day of Jesus Christ, you will also be freed from temptation. Your self will be free from selfishness and self-destruction. This grace is the highest virtue. It is God’s own goodness given to men. From it springs all of men’s virtues, all of which you will know and enjoy and practice in heaven. The forgiveness of sins sanctifies the forgiven. The forgiven are holy in Christ.

Already now, the old man is being overcome. The devil has already lost. You now seek what is good, that is why you are here. Even while you struggle against the flesh and sin, you seek what is good. The Holy Spirit is moving in you. God Himself fights for and in you. That struggle will not last forever. Its outcome is assured. Christ has won the battle. You are clean in Him. The old man, the fallen flesh, the part of you that causes you to do what you do not want to do, to do even what you know is evil, which blinds you to reason and what is good, he will be killed. But only he will be killed. He will be shed like a set of dirty clothes, like skin that no longer fits. While the rest of you, the real you, will live forever in Jesus Christ. Your intellect, personality, humor, gifts, talents, experiences, and interests will all remain in heaven. So much so that I dare to say if you love model trains or stamps or hobbits you will still love them in heaven. For you will still be you. You will be more fully you than you’ve ever been before. You will remain unique and special to God — but finally, and at last, without sin.

Rejoice also in this: this is also true of those you love who also believe in Jesus Christ. They will still be your loved ones, loved then for the same reasons you love them now, only without envy, malice, or greed. You will be free to love them without fault or selfishness, and they, by the blood of Jesus Christ, will worthy of it. You will be you and they will be them and it be good.

What fun we shall have gathered around the Lamb.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Keywords: heaven, equality, afterlife, Socrates, life after death, objective justification, personality, sanctification

Pastor David Petersen

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