A few years ago, there was a book and a movie
about a boy who died for several hours
and when he came back to life, he said he’d been in heaven.
It’s not the only book that’s been written about heaven.
A lot of us wonder: what might heaven be like?
Well, let’s look at what the Scriptures we heard have to say.
First, Heaven will be full of people.
Notice what the Apostle John said in the first reading:
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
That is hopeful; and hope is something we need;
especially when our business isn’t going well,
or we’re out of work, or we have problems at home.
Second, Heaven is full of holiness – and, therefore, joy.
The psalm we prayed tells us, to be in heaven is to have
Hands that are sinless and a clean heart.
To be in heaven is to be pure, “as God is pure.”
How is this possible?
We think of sin as something we have:
we have greed, we have wrath,
we have lust, we have bad habits.
But it would be truer to understand sin as being about what we lack.
We lack the fullness of purity; of peace; of contentment; of truth.
We lack the fullness, finally, of God.
Sin happens in our lives not because of what we have,
but because of what we think we don’t have.
Isn’t that what envy is?
If I like my house, my car, my life –
I have no reason to envy my neighbor.
Anger becomes sinful when we are not content
to let someone else be the judge of things;
and, ultimately, the final judge is God.
The sin of wrath comes in when we don’t think
God is doing a good job as the final judge of things.
Heaven is free of sin, precisely because it’s full of God.
Which leads to my third point:
Just because heaven is full, don’t assume heaven is easy.
The standard way of thinking today
is that pretty much everyone goes to heaven.
Only really bad people, like Stalin and Hitler, go to hell.
Well, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said a lot about hell.
He kept warning people about how likely it was they would go there.
If heaven were more or less automatic –
the way lots of people think –
there would be no point for the Bible
to be more than five or ten pages long.
We wouldn’t need ten commandments, only one:
“Thou shalt not be really mean – like Hitler.”
And, more than that, Jesus would never have died on the cross.
Remember, he agonized about it the night before.
If heaven was easy, he could have told his Father:
“It’s not like they need this, Father –
they’re all coming to heaven anyway.”
So am I now contradicting my claim, earlier, about hope?
Not at all. But what I am saying –
and which it’s critical for each of us to understand –
is that we will make it to heaven
only because we surrender ourselves to the grace of God.
We profess that Mary, the Mother of God, is “full of grace”—
which is the same thing as saying, she is without sin.
But here’s the part we miss: what Mary received early,
every one of us is destined to receive.
Every one of us is destined to be full of grace.
In other words, every single one of us is meant to be a saint.
Let me make the point even more strongly.
If you and I don’t make as saints?
Then we will be in hell.
There is no middle option.
No, not Purgatory. Purgatory isn’t a destination;
it’s the last stop before heaven.
And everyone who makes to Purgatory will be a saint.
Purgatory is the finishing school for saints.
So, unless you want to go to hell –
and I don’t know anyone who really wants that –
then you and I had better get serious about being saints.
This is a good time to highlight the cards in the pews.
If someone on the ends can pass both
the white and blue cards down the aisle.
If you were here last week,
you heard me talk about the Symbolon program,
which we have available to everyone, for free.
This is a high quality series of videos, accessible online;
And my proposal to you is that together, as a parish,
We watch the first part of the Symbolon series.
Now, if you look at this card, you can see there are ten topics,
and they are good topics: about who God is, what he has for us;
about the Bible, how we got in the mess we’re in;
who Jesus is and what he does for us.
If you look at Week 4, you’ll see a discussion of the Holy Spirit,
and the Church and the sacraments –
there’s where we’ll talk about how we get to heaven.
So if you want to commit yourself to this project,
fill out the blue card. Go ahead and do it now.
You can just check the first one,
committing to watching the video series.
But, if you would like to be part of a weekly discussion group,
check the second one.
Now, don’t agonize over this; it’s not a contract or anything.
This isn’t a class; no tests, no grades!
If you’re not sure you can attend all the sessions, don’t worry about it.
This is an invitation and an opportunity.
And here’s another idea:
maybe you want to form your own discussion group,
with your family or with some friends. That’s fine!
Just note that on the card as well.
When the collection comes around, you can put the blue card in today;
or next week, if you prefer.
Or you can drop it off at the office.
The white card is for you to take home.
On the back side are the instructions you need
for finding the materials online.
I looked at the first video, and it was beautifully done.
It was very moving, actually. And I was so proud
to see something so high-quality being available.
And I am excited to think about people coming to know who Jesus is,
and giving their lives to Jesus, as a result of this program.
Because that’s what heaven is. Heaven is giving our lives to Jesus,
who responds by giving his life to us.
Heaven will be full of joy – and as saints in heaven,
We will be full of joy – because we will be full
of the presence and knowledge,
the love and the life, of Jesus Christ.
You and I – along with countless others – will be those saints,
whose lives are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.