Our Hearts Enlightened
Did you make it safely through Halloween? No one got carried off by the ghost and goblins, or the monsters and witches, or the vampires and zombies?
Let me tell you sort of a ghost story. I remember one church I was at, and it was really an odd sort of church. Sometimes when I would walk through it, I would feel like it was almost haunted. Have you ever felt that way walking through a church when it is empty and dark. There is always something a little spooky about empty churches. I do not know. Maybe it is the thought of this place as being God’s place, maybe it is the history of so many people having put so much of their hearts into a given location, maybe it is because often the church is the place for funeral services for so many people. Maybe I am just a little bit crazy myself. Anyway, this church made me feel that way more than most, and then Halloween came.
Every Halloween the youth would set up a haunted house in their church. One day we went up a set of stairs to sort of an alcove above the sanctuary, and there some of the youth and members opened up these closets in the walls and started pulling out all these images of ghost and ghouls and periphnalia for Halloween. “By golly,” I set to myself, “This church really is haunted.” We had the severed head, and the fake rat, and fake blood to prove it.
Now I know that most people just take Halloween in stride simply as being a good-natured bit of fun. Who doesn’t like to dress up and get candy? This year at our candy give away we had about 562 people coming through the doors of the church. Seeing all the children, adults, and costumes was just fun, and a way to connect with the community.
But really I challenge you, to consider what Halloween really is all about? Is it just candy and costumes? Community fun and neighborliness? Maybe a bit mischievousness and trickery. There is the “trick” part of trick or treat. Or is it also about something deeper that relates to our finite human existence? It deals with the mystery of life and the fear of death. We surround ourselves with the images that scare us and pay homage to the things we do not understand. What is it the goes bump in the night? Halloween is rooted in ancient Celtic pagan rituals designed to help people deal with the fears of living and dying. As human beings we are plagued with the fear of the unknown, and the unexplainable. People tend to do a lot of odd things to deal with it.
When the church faced these questions and the ancient celebrations that have become Halloween, one thing they did was to create All Saints Day. A special day for remembering all the saints of God who have lived and died. It was hoped that this day of light might supplant what has become yesterday’s night of darkness. It never really has, but I do want us to pause today and consider what God has shown us concerning our lives before him and one another.
We need not live in fear of the darkness. We need not walk in defeat. We need not stumble as we step forward, because of uncertainties that lie ahead. In Halloween we face the fears of death and the unknown, today God wants us to realize the hope and the glory that is surely ours. For you see there is a big difference in “trick or treat,” and God’s most certain gift. Halloween would have us believe that our only hope is either to enjoy life and make fun of death, while we can, or be tomorrow’s ghost or ghoul. I was watching a show entitled the Ghost of Gettysburg. Hollywood came and filmed the movie “The Battle of Gettysburg.” One women volunteered to transport the actors from the filming location back into town. She dropped everyone off and started traveling back home when she heard a tapping sound from the back of her pickup. She looked in her mirror and saw two confederate soldiers sitting there in her truck. When she stopped to find out what was going on, they had vanished. That is supposed to be a true story. Halloween would have us to believe that our inheritance in the life is something like that. To become but a lost wanderer amidst the fields of past experiences and life, and never be lifted from the battlefields.
But is that what God hopes for us?
Ephesians 1:12-14 reads:
12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
This reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11–14. Here God was speaking to the children of Israel who were in exile. God said,
11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me…
God’s intentions for us have always been for our good. Jesus taught his disciples to refer to God as their heavenly father. God is the good parent to all of us. As such God wants us to succeed and thrive. God is our greatest fan and support.
Go back to thinking about the verses in Ephesians again: These verses speak of Salvation! Our lives are not meaningless and doomed to become but a shadow of the past, but rather we are intended for the praise of God’s glory.
Lately I have seen a lot on the news about politicians and celebrities showing up to support their candidate for office. Why? Because we know that the support of important, notable, “glorious” people attracts people to vote for that candidate. The candidate gets to bask as it were in the attraction of this more successful and important person. Well it is God that stands by our side, and we likewise are able to stand in the glory of God. We can live for the praise of God’s glory –Bask in the nature of God’s presence and be more than what we are by ourselves. God calls us into this fellowship. This is God’s intention for us.
As such we are “Marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is called “The pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” This is telling us that the gift of the Holy Spirit is but the beginning of eternal life for us. There is more to come –the full inheritance of all that God shall give to us. The Holy Spirit is like holding that billion-dollar lottery ticket, before you cash it in. You got it. It’s yours, but the full truth of what you have obtained only comes upon its full redemption, which is a certainty.
The Holy Spirit is the promise of a full and certain hope of eternal life to come. God does not leave us as a ghostly image of ourselves when we die. Even though we do not really know what happens after this life we can be sure that God will give to us fullness of life in every way. Whatever good there is in life now, just multiply it. I don’t believe that there is room for ghost and ghouls in God’s plan. Sometimes there are things that go bump in the night, but it isn’t the things of life. For us there is Heaven. This is God’s plan.
Therefore, the apostle prays for his readers and us “so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
The scriptures encourage us to understand with the depth of our being that which is beyond our physical eyesight. Through the Spirit’s power and divine revelation, we are able to see with the eyes of our hearts all that God has promised us and will do.
The promise that God will keep is nothing like “Trick or Treat.” It is grace, and mercy, and it is the power to know the resurrection and eternal life. God gives us the power of life itself. Through Christ just as the apostles of old we have been given authority over the spiritual forces in this world. Let it always be the providence of God that guides us. The grave is certainly not the end. Today we remember those of who have left us, but know that through Christ they have not simply stumbled weakly into the unknown, they have been delivered into the glory of God.
May the eyes of your heart be enlightened to the truth, love, grace and mercy God has given to us all. Amen.