First Lesson: Exodus 33: 12-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 99
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 15-22
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story this morning of a church. It’s the story of one of the first churches. The reason I want to tell you about this church is because it had a lot of members that were asking similar questions to people in our church. The church was located in a town called Thessalonica.
I suppose I should begin by telling you a bit about Thessalonica. Thessalonica was and is one of the most important cities in the country of Greece. Thessalonica was the primary port city in all of Northern Greece. Thessalonica was a vitally important city because it was the city where the great road of its day connected Rome with all the people north of the Aegean Sea. Thessalonica was the city at the crossroads of east and west, north and south.
Because of this a man named Paul wanted to start a church in Thessalonica. Paul had been traveling around planting churches left and right (Rome, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, and Thessalonica).
What Paul along with his right-hand men Silas and Timothy were going around Thessalonica claiming was that a man named Jesus had risen from the dead nearly twenty years before. Jesus would then promise salvation and eternal life to all his followers. Paul had spent about three weeks in Thessalonica converting both reaching both the previously religious and non-religious alike.
One of the interesting things that happened during Paul’s preaching is women were especially drawn to this new Christian church. Paul had looked at women’s role quite a bit differently. A woman named Dorcas was one of the earliest Christian disciples. Priscilla and Aquilla were missionaries in converting a man named Apollos. Chloe was the owner of a house in Corinth where the church met. Paul would later say “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.". Women, in fact, made up the majority of Paul’s congregations. Another interesting thing about the early Christians is that they insisted on their marriages being one wife to one husband. The early Christians were no longer going to treat women as property or possessions, but rather as complimentary parts of the family unit.
Paul had made quite a few enemies during his brief stay in Thessalonica. Members of the local synagogue were especially upset as they had been losing members to this new Christian church. Paul had felt such strong heat for his actions that he needed to sneak out of the city in the middle of the night for his safety. Paul would then journey a little over three-hundred miles to Athens to work with another church down there.
With none of the church’s first leaders in Paul, Silas, or Timothy around a leadership vacuum emerged within the Thessalonian church. A man by the name of Jason took the reins. Jason was a relatively new Christian himself, so he had to try his best to lead the Thessalonian community. While the Thessalonians were eager to embrace the faith, they had a lot of unanswered questions. Jason did not know how to answer their questions. The Thessalonians had recently experienced a rash of funerals amongst their initial members. The problem with all these funerals though is the members didn’t know how to interpret them. Many within the Thessalonian church believed that Christians would not undergo death. They believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime to establish his kingdom on earth. Many of the Thessalonians believed that the afterlife would only be available to those who lived to see Christ’s return. Jason not knowing where to turn to try to alleviate the Thessalonians fears got word back to Paul of the problems. Paul decides to write a letter to the Thessalonian church to be read by Jason in response to their questions. Paul had never written a letter like this to a church before. Within a few hundred years, thirteen of Paul’s letters to either various churches or individuals such as Timothy, Titus or Philemon would make up a good portion of the Christian’s holiest book.
Over a thousand years later, Paul’s letter would be broken up into five separate chapters. Paul begins by establishing the personal warmth and affinity that he feels for the people of Thessalonica. Towards the end of the letter, Paul begins to get into the meat of the issues. Paul’s letter said to the following.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to think of death as a form of sleep. Referring to death as a form of sleep was a very biblical idea. Death was referred to as sleep over fifty times in the Old Testament. A short while before this at the time of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles in the raising of Lazarus, Jesus describes Lazarus as not being dead but rather asleep. Paul didn’t say these words to give the Thessalonians any definitive answers about what their loved ones’ existence would look like between their death and their resurrection. Paul rather uses the word “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that upon Christ’s return that the body of their loved ones would rise as casually as one awakens within the morning. Paul uses the term “sleep” to remind the Thessalonians that even as they lay their loved ones in the ground, this will not be the last that they see of them.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Paul wanted to remind the Thessalonians how Christ’s return would exactly look. The dead will rise from the grave first. At this point, those that are living will get caught up or “raptured” to meet The Lord within the air. The key words that Paul speaks has to do with assuring the Thessalonians that they have no reason whatsoever to mourn the death of their fellow Christians.
Paul’s words about the rapture would get misinterpreted in later years. All sorts of ideas started spreading such as Christ would return secretly to whisk away the true believers before great hardship came upon the Earth for seven years. I think the key thing to know about Paul’s letter is that he wished to let the Thessalonians know nothing that wasn’t clearly told elsewhere within the scriptures. Instead, the Greek verb for rapture literally means “meet”. What rapture literally means is believers will meet Jesus in the clouds then journey with him all the way to the earth. Paul never meant to describe an event where Christians just randomly vanish off the face of the earth. Paul had heard about some words that Jesus had spoken during his ministry regarding the end of the world. Jesus would talk about the last days comparing it to the time of Noah. Jesus promises that it is at the end that all evil be swept away, whereas God’s chosen ones just like Noah’s family would be left behind to be with the Lord.
When Paul was talking about the Rapture, he was describing an event that took place on the last day rather than before the last day. When Paul mentions the Rapture, he wished to let the Thessalonians know about the promises of God’s grace. Paul wanted them to look towards the last days of not only their loved ones’ lives but time itself guided by a fear of God. Paul wished instead to give them an assurance of God’s promise given to them on the cross. Jesus Christ was indeed coming soon, and his Kingdom would have no end.
The Thessalonian church was not out of the woods yet though after receiving Paul’s letter. Within a few months, a popular rumor would emerge that Jesus had already returned in secret. The rumor was so widespread that Paul had to write another letter in response to it. Paul assured the people of Thessalonica once again that Christ’s return would not occur in secret. Paul then reminds the Thessalonians not to focus so much on the actual date of Christ’s return or the day of their loved one’s eventual resurrection. Paul believed that this day will come down the pike as unpredictably as the Thief arrives during the night. Paul knew the Thessalonians were probably going to endure some tough days coming up. Paul didn’t want them though to obsess about any specific details regarding the end. Paul instead wished for them to go forth guided by a promise that Christ promises salvation unto them even as the world around them may crumble down.
The story you heard today is the story of Paul’s First and Second Letter to the Thessalonians. Amen
 Acts 17:1-9
 Acts 9:36-43
 Acts 18:18-28
 1st Corinthians 1:11
 Galatians 3:28
 Paul’s journeys after Thessolonica to both Berea and Athens are detailed in Acts 17:10-21
 Jason is mentioned as influential in the Thessolonian church in Acts 17:1-9
 My mentor Dr. Joe Burgess recommended to me a book by Canadian scholar Lee Micheal McDonald entitled The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority published by Baker in 2007
 Chapters were added into the Bible with the Wycliffe Translation of 1382. Verses were added by the Geneva translation in 1560 then confirmed within the pages of the King James Bible.
 1 Thessolonians 4:13-15
 Intresting commentary by Dr. Richard P. Bucher at the website for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lexington, Kentucky (LCMS). Dr. Bucher’s article is entitled “Where Does the Soul Go After Death? (Paradise or Soul Sleep?)
 John 11:11
 1 Thessolonians 4:16-17
 Great comment on this issue by Rick Mason made on May, 31, 2011 for an article written by The Lutheran entitled “The Rapture: Does it Square with Lutheran Theology?”
 Matthew 24:36-44
 1 Thessolonians 5:2
First Lesson: Exodus 32: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-13
Second Lesson: Philippians 4: 1-9
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 1-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”-Matthew 22:13-14
The next two weeks during services will consist of a very brief sermon series in preparation for the Afterlife Conference to take place at New Life Lutheran in Duluth on Saturday October 25th. I invite you all to attend. The background of the Afterlife Conference is as I have been in the ministry for over a half-decade now the most basic question of every Sunday morning worshipper that I ever encounter is “What happens when I die?” Similar themed questions pop up along with this big question such as:
“What will my reunion with family members look like?”
“What happens to us both before and after Christ’s final resurrection?”
These are the most basic and ultimately important questions of the Christian faith. With these things in mind, I want to talk this morning about one of the most confusing questions that we attempt to answer in relation to the nature of a loving God and Hell? What I want to talk about today is how we should think about Hell as Christians.
Let me begin with a common misconception about Hell, it’s one of the greatest misunderstandings of the entire Christian Faith. One of the great misconceptions of Hell is that Satan is the ruler of Hell. This idea is not a Biblical idea but rather comes from a very popular book in the 17th century called Paradise Lost. Milton begins Paradise Lost by describing a scene where Satan and other Fallen Angels awaken after enduring defeat in the War in Heaven.
Paradise Lost describes Hell as the living place of Satan and his minions. Milton’s ideas about Hell seem to influence nearly every popular portrayal of Hell ever since from Disney’s Fantasia to the video game Mortal Kombat to Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoons to the popular TV show South Park. The problem with Milton’s ideas is they don’t mesh with the scriptural ideas of Hell.
For example, the Book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels as not dwelling in Hell, but rather being cast down into Hell where they are thrown into chains and tossed into prison.
Revelation 20 deals with the theme of Satan’s role in Hell. Revelation 20 mentions perhaps the most famous image of Hell in the Lake of Fire. Although the interesting thing about Revelation 20 is that describes Satan not tormenting people within the Lake of Fire, but rather Satan’s final destination being the Lake of Fire upon Christ’s Second Coming.
The great misunderstanding about Satan has to deal with the extent of his power. Scripture never describes Satan as maintaining any degree of power within Hell. Satan and his minions' only real power exists here on Earth through their ability to make sin attractive and beautiful. The ultimate reality of Satan is that he maintains no power in either Heaven or Hell in either the face of death or the power of the Gospel.
So with this misunderstanding of Hell cleared up, we should now move on towards how Christians should understand Hell. Occasionally, you will run across Christians who seem to delight in the list and types of people that will burn in Hell.
As we consider Hell this morning, the first thing that I should say is that Christians should be uncomfortable with the idea of Hell.
Writer C. Michael Patton describes it best when he says “I have often said that the doctrine of hell is simply the most disturbing doctrine thing known to man. If I could get rid of one of my beliefs, this would be it. Hands down.”
For as we consider the famous images of Hell from eternal fire, bottomless pits, and the great weeping and gnashing of teeth, these images remind us of the great pain that is caused by a separation from God for all eternity. The eternality of it all is probably the scariest part about considering Hell. Some church groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists try to deal with this scary notion by holding to the idea that instead of Hell, unbelievers merely cease to exist after the Second Coming.
Yet one would have to deny the clear words of Jesus to not hold to the belief of Hell’s eternity for the unbeliever:
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”- Matthew 25:46
As we consider Hell on this day, we have a few things to remember. The first thing to consider is the nature of God.
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”-1 Timothy 2:3-4
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”- 2 Peter 3:9
For as we begin a discussion about Hell what we must remember is that our God’s desire is that all people shall come to salvation that no man, woman, or child shall end up cast into Hell.
To inform our discussion about Hell let us consider a parable for this morning in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet from Matthew 22. It’s a parable that deals with our themes for this morning of Heaven, Hell, and unbelief.
Our parable for this morning is another one of Matthew’s parables that Jesus tells during the last week of his’ life. Jesus is telling this parable to the religious authorities of his day, within this parable; he is seeking to confront their misunderstandings about salvation coming to the whole world. The parable about the nature of God as told about a benevolent king.
The King has a Son who is about to get married. The King begins by sending out invitations. The first people that the King invites are the type of people you would expect a king to invite: the powerful, the beautiful, the popular, the winners, the rich and the famous. The King desires that this be a wedding feast beyond what the human mind could ever begin to imagine. The King sends his servants to invite all the Big Shots personally throughout the land. The Big Shots’ reaction though is not what the King expected; the Big Shots just didn’t seem to care.
Now most people would get mad at such blatant disrespect being displayed towards them. Many of us know people who always get on our nerves, by never being able to make time for the most important events in life. How often do we hear other people say that they will only forgive, after someone repents for how they wronged them?
The King’s attitude is different though; he did not take personal offense like most other people would, instead the King decides to send his servants again to re-extend the invitation. The Big Shots though were annoyed by the King’s persistent offers at this point, so their attitude towards from one of indifference to one of vengeance as they kill the King’s servants.
The King was not going to let this behavior though spoil his good time, so the King decides to pursue a different tact. The King is going to send his servants out instead to invite anyone they could find. This scene probably produces some people that you wouldn’t expect to see at a royal wedding. The servants invite outcasts, losers, failures, and the servants even dared to invite those who could not afford a decent shirt to wear to the wedding. The King looked over this moteliest crew of guests and just didn’t care. The King was going to see to it that this crew would look like a million bucks before the night was over. Some people didn’t want to come to the party; this was a failure on their part rather than the king.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding that we have of hell is best-summed up by Robert Farar Capon. Hell is not the place for sinners; Hell is rather the place for people who can’t believe in the seemingly absurd terms of God’s grace. The people that can’t believe that Christ’s cross is enough, so they instead desire to pursue their paths to God. Hell is the place for those who can’t come to terms with the power of the Gospel to raise the dead.
When I was in high school, My Dad invited me to attend an event put on by the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce where the keynote speaker was former Minnesota Viking and broadcaster Joe Senser. The thing to know about my Dad is he is very rarely on time for anything. A while back when staying at the parsonage right next door, he couldn’t even make church on time. So my Dad and I were late to hear Joe Senser speak, by the time we got there only two seats sit empty in the room. Both seats were in the presence of the honored guest Joe Senser.
People would rather sit by those they knew and felt comfortable then encounter someone whose experiences were so foreign to their everyday existence. I was embarrassed to go sit down by the honored guest after showing up late, yet my Dad has no shame. He marched us over there as being as worthy to sit there as anybody else. Whatever people in this room think of Joe Senser due to his wife Amy’s legal troubles, what I remember is one of the greatest meals of my life. Joe Senser told story after story along with quite a few jokes in my presence because others did not want to encounter someone on unfamiliar terms.
As we think about Hell this morning. Consider the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In the 19th Century, C.F.W Walther, who was one of the founders of the Missouri Synod, wrote a book called The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
Walther’s book dealt with the idea that there are only two words that a Christian can speak to another Christian. They can either speak a word of judgment or a word of forgiveness. What we need to remember is who needs to hear the following words.
Whenever Jesus spoke words of judgment, it was too the religious crowd like the Pharisees who thought they had a leg-up when it came to the Kingdom of God, yet it is often the religious who can’t come to terms with the nature of belief. Whereas within the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, we hear a word of grace, a word that those who one might not expect to see will be the ones who got invited to the Wedding Banquet purely according to the King’s terms. The key thing to remember about every one of Jesus’ parables is that winners often turn into losers with losers turning into winners. Jesus is all about extending grace to those who down on their luck, and those who are uncertain that the grace of God could be true! Jesus tells these people this parable to let them know that this grace extends to you.
So how should we understand Hell and how a loving God could allow such a place to exist? I think what we must remember is that God’s ways are often hidden from us.
What we remember this morning is the following truths:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God does not wish for one person to fall into Hell. God’s love is why he sent his son. We take comfort in the fact that God revolts at the idea of Hell as much as anybody in this room. The only difference in this case is that God’s control is such that he can do something about his disgust. We remember that Christ’s death was about rescuing people from Hell, so that the Resurrection of God becomes a promise to all who believe.
What we must remember about Hell this morning is that God is not to blame. C.S. Lewis describes Hell best when he says “All that are in hell choose it.” “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”
We cannot put the blame for God on Hell any more than we can put the blame on the firefighter for seeking to put out a fire that someone else started. Hell is a reality of human sin that separates from God. God is the not cause of hell; God is rather the solution to Hell as evidenced by his resurrection. Amen
 Revelation 12:7-13 describes this War in Heaven. The difference between the Biblical description though and Paradise Lost is that the time frame for the event. Paradise Lost describes the War in Heaven as occurring before the Fall of Man. The Book of Revelation though is centered on the future event of Christ’s Second Coming. The War in Heaven occurs at the end of time, rather than the beginning.
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 C. Micheal Patton. “A Word About Hell”. Credo House Blog. 17. May.2010. Web. Oct.9.2014
 Capon, Robert Farar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Pg.464.
 This is a common statement by Capon throughout his previously mentioned book.
 John 3:16
 Lewis makes these statements in his work The Great Divorce.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Luke the 24th Chapter. It’s the tale of Jesus and the Disciples saying their final goodbyes to each other as Jesus sought to leave the disciples with a word of promise, right before Jesus ascended out of the Disciples sight to never be seen in the flesh by them again. Crucifixion then Resurrection then Ascension, we spend almost all of Lent getting ready for the Crucifixion, we then spend almost all of Spring then celebrating Easter, whereas the Ascension of Jesus is the least talked about of these three big events. This morning’s sermon is the first that I have ever given on the Ascension. If Easter is the day where Christ achieved his victory over sin and the grave, then the Festival of Ascension is the day where Christ returned to his throne.
Ascension Sunday raises an interesting question for us of “Where exactly Jesus went when he left the Earth?” The Common way of thinking of the world even amongst Christian people has been the three-tiered universe which we could also know as the three-tiered planet.
Heaven is up above us. Popular culture often portrays Heaven as existing up in the clouds. Heaven is the place where your loved ones even the rascals go when they die.
Down below us underneath the ground is Hell or the Underworld, Hell is where apparently Satan pokes and prods people that have been naughty. Hell is where your neighbor who doesn’t clean up after his dog, and makes a lot of noises late at night or early in the morning tends to end up. Hell is the domain of people we don’t like.
Right in between this is all is where we live in the here and the now. Heaven, Hell, and Planet Earth all contained between the North and South Pole is the traditional understanding of the three-tiered universe.
The question for this morning would be “Is this understanding, right?”
When Jesus is proclaiming his message of salvation to the people of Capernaum in Matthew 11 he says the following: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You will be brought down to Hades.”
When Jesus speaks to this belief of Heaven being above us, and Hell being below us he is merely reinforcing the beginning of the Book of Genesis which states:
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse[a] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made[b] the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven.[c] And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”
The waters that are spoken about in the creation story as being above the Earth are thought to be the waters that separate God from his people. So the actual creation story itself points to the sky as the dividing barrier between God and his people. The creation story doesn’t go into details as to where exactly God nor the Heavens exist at the present time.
This all brings forth an interesting point about the location of Heaven. Either the location of Heaven is somewhere in the clouds that ultimately we cannot see, or Heaven ultimately resides in a place that we cannot find on a map or any GPS?
So where is Heaven located then? The question was not one that I ever previously sought to form an answer. Although a while back, I was having Pizza over at Jimmy’s with Pastor Brostrom from Faith Lutheran, who put forth an interesting idea that “Heaven does not exist within the traditional confines of the Earth, rather Heaven is located possibly in an alternative dimension."
I realize that such a suggestion sounds quite odd talking about alternative dimensions and Twilight Zone stuff. There are a few points about all this for us to consider this morning.
Within the last twenty-five years as scientists keep discovering more and more about the Universe what can conclude is that there is a lot out there that we don’t know definitive answers. For example, ninety-five percent of all matter within the universe would be dark matter, or matter that cannot be seen with a telescope because it does not emit light or any measurable magnetic pull. So to claim that we have all the answers to how the Universe works or what exists within it with five percent of the relevant material would be a proclamation of foolishness.
Even defining what we know about the Universe proves that our knowledge is limited. The Universe has been thought of as possessing four dimensions (length, width, height, and space- time) since the initial work of Albert Einstein on Relativity Theory. Einstein's work has been expanded upon for our understanding of the planet in recent years. Quantum Physics a science that studies the behavior of subatomic particles suggests that there beyond the four observable dimensions of which Einstein spoke that there exists the possibility of several additional dimensions that cannot be directly detected. The most popular theory “M-Theory” regarding the behavior of subatomic particles suggests eleven possible dimensions.
What this means for us this morning as we consider the location of heaven is that we can’t say whether God created an invisible spiritual dimension that operates outside the space-time continuum of this world. What we can say is that the Universe in all probability possesses dimensions that can’t be physically inhabited by us in our present condition.
We must not view Religion and Science as at odds with each other. What Science is revealing to us is patterns of behavior of even the tiniest sub-atomic particles that go way beyond human understanding. We can’t understand the ability to control time, let alone understand the possibility nor inner-workings of alternative dimensions.
Turning this discussion back biblically, one of the big themes of the Book of Revelation is the distinction that it makes it in the constant switch in the two scenes between Earth and Heaven. The whole point of Revelation is that things of the spiritual world are gradually becoming made known to the Apostle John. When Revelation makes such a sharp distinction between Heaven and Earth what it seems to be indicating is that Heaven is not merely a part of the Earth rather Heaven is a completely separate reality from Earth. The whole point of the Book of Revelation in John’s letter to seven persecuted churches is to give believers confidence that their earthly persecution and situation will not last.
Perhaps our greatest misunderstanding of Heaven and Earth is laid out in Revelation 21:2 which states: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Perhaps the way for us to think about the Afterlife isn’t so much in terms of us ascending into Heaven but rather in terms of God coming down to Earth. The exact location of the New Heaven or it’s connection with the New Earth isn’t what is ultimately important, but what is important is that God promises to come yet again for his people. The language that surrounds our Gospel is important. The key thing about Jesus’ ascension into heaven isn’t whether Heaven is located physically above us as we point towards the sky. Rather the key thing about the Ascension is that it turned his death and resurrection into a present reality for not only the Disciples, but all those who believed in it.
So how does Jesus conclude the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension before he says goodbye to the disciples until the day of their own resurrection. Jesus leaves the earth behind with a word of promise “Behold; I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Last week, we had our Pastors meeting down in Duluth. I was talking to a Pastor Paul Reiff from down in the Moose Lake Area, who had recently done a funeral for a sixteen year old boy who committed suicide. This boy was having issues with his girlfriend. They were communicating on what is called “Snap Chat." Snap Chat is a way for kids to communicate over the phone that communicates quickly without leaving behind any evidence. This boy’s Girlfriend used Snap Chat to flick him off as a way of telling him that their relationship was no more. The Boy’s response was then to take a gun to himself, shoot a video of him ending his own life that would be sent immediately received by everyone that he communicated with on a frequent basis. What makes this story so sad is this young man’s warped sense of self-worth, how he saw his value in life coming merely from the affirmation of a sixteen year old girl. What makes this story so important is there are infinite people out there who feel the way this kid does.
What I like to believe is the promise that Jesus is giving to the Disciples as he ascends from their presence is that in the moments when we want more than anything to see his presence, he is not absent. Jesus understood that as he left the disciples, the great human fear of being alone.
Pope Francis said a while back that “The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”
These statements initially struck me as missing the mark, but perhaps these things are merely expressions of the present human condition. Where the Ascension story comes to us today is that proclaims that Jesus does, in fact, live on for those who most need to hear during the struggles of their everyday existence.
The Disciples’ response to Jesus’ departure was quite a bit different than their response to his crucifixion that occurred several weeks earlier. Where as the Disciples had fled from the scene out of great fear at the time of Jesus’ arrest, the Disciples looked onto Jesus’ departure with a confidence that in spite of Jesus being removed from them that they would be all right. Maybe these feelings were a result of the promise of the coming or Holy Spirit, or maybe it had to do with Christ was not going to be that far gone.
As we reflect upon our lesson for this morning we remember Jesus’ final words from the Book of Revelation, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen-Revelation 22:20
I think it’s important as we consider questions regarding the possible location of Heaven within the universe that while these questions are fascinating, they are ultimately what’s not important. What’s important is that Jesus’ presence in our lives is not confined to any single place or any single time, nor is Jesus going to be gone for good. Amen
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Sally and Sully had met in High School. Sally had caught Sully’s eye from across the Diner. Sally wasn’t at first, quite sure what to make of Sully. Yet Sully was so persistent in trying to win her over, she gave him a chance. As Sally began to spend time with Sully, she soon became smitten. Sully was always the perfect gentleman, always offering Sally his coat to keep her warm on a cold Minnesota Fall night. Sully also had the ability to make Sally laugh like no one else she had ever met. A few years after meeting Sally and Sully were married in a church not unlike this one. Sally and Sully then proceeded to spend nearly 60 wonderful years together raising three children in the process.
Shortly before Sully’s 80th Birthday though troubles arose, Sully’s breath started getting shorter and shorter. Sully then started coughing up blood. Sally insisted that Sully go to a doctor immediately. In the past Sully would have been stubborn and refused to go. Yet even Sully knew that he didn’t feel like he ought to feel. Sully feared what would happen to Sally if anything happened to him. The Doctor’s visit led to Sully seeing a Lung Specialist who brought grim news, Sully had Stage 4 Carcinoma. Sully and Sally were told that the Cancer had spread to a point where treatment yielded little to no benefit. Sully had less than six months to live. The community and family rallied to Sully’s side in his final months. Sully heard from friends that had moved away years before, which led to the opportunity to say goodbye.
Sully’s final days were tough; Sully had to be placed on Oxygen and had difficulty communicating with his loved ones. Sully’s funeral happened on a Tuesday. Pastor Neil preached a beautiful sermon at the funeral about the Christian Hope of Resurrection.
The kids stayed with Sally for a few weeks. Eventually everyone drifted back towards to their normal lives. Only Sally didn’t have Sully around anymore. Sally decided that she was going to try to find ways to keep her days busy: meet friends for coffee, playing cards and go volunteer down at the local nursing home. Yet every day when Sally went home it was tough. As soon as Sally walked in the front door, everywhere she looked reminded her of Sully. The quietness of the house without Sully’s ranting and raving was often unnerving. Not having Sully to tell about her day would leave Sally with a sense of sadness as she lay down to sleep every night. Sally was a regular at the local Lutheran church in town. Sally rarely missed a Sunday because it was one of her best opportunities to interact with people throughout the week.
One Sunday though Sally went to church where she heard the preacher say something that greatly troubled her. Sally’s Pastor, Pastor Neil, was preaching on our Gospel lesson for Today from Luke 20 when he said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven”.
Pastor Neil said plenty of words after this, yet Sally couldn’t shake these words from her head “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
As tough as the last several months had been on Sally, the one thing that comforted her through it all was thinking that she was going to see Sully again. Sally couldn’t imagine something really being Heaven without Sully enjoying it along with her. Sally eventually gathered the courage to talk to Pastor Neil about what she was going through when she heard those words “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
Pastor Neil was blunt and direct in answering Sally’s questions. Pastor Neil was convinced that there would be no Marriage in Heaven. Pastor Neil believed that the scriptures were clear on the subject.
To be sure, Pastor Neil made some good points in his conversation with Sally. Pastor Neil pointed out how the afterlife cannot be compared to this life in any way, shape, of form. Pastor Neil reminded Sally that we have no knowledge based of a world without sin, a world without pain, and a world without death. Pastor Neil tried to comfort Sally by assuring her that as wonderful as her marriage to Sully was. The afterlife is defined by the things of this world, but rather by the goodness and mercy of God extending beyond what we can even imagine.
This story of Sally, Sully, Pastor Neil, and the state of our relationships in Heaven brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 20. Our lesson comes to us from the Jerusalem Temple during the Last Week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is engaging a group of Jews called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were made of primarily wealthy and high to do individuals in Judea. The Sadducees were the primary authorities of the Jerusalem Temple. A unique aspect of their belief system was that they only regarded the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as their authority. Since these books never mentioned the Resurrection of the Dead or any sort of afterlife then the Sadducees weren’t going to believe in it.
So, our lesson for today consists of the Sadducees attempting to set a trap for Jesus by seeking to expose his foolish beliefs about the resurrection. They engage Jesus about a hypothetical situation involving a woman and seven brothers. The women’s first husband dies leaving his wife without any children to support her. It was the custom of the day that in such situations that the widow would then marry their husband’s brother. Such an action would help keep a brother’s name and lineage alive. Yet this widow had terrible luck. Her luck was so terrible that she eventually ended up marrying all seven brothers.
So, this big question in our lesson is “Who is this widow paired up with in Heaven?” Which one of these seven brothers?
The situation behind our lesson might seem crazy. Yet similar situations occur today as widows remarry and end up being very happy for a number of years, whereas others seek different forms of companionship after the death of a spouse. What about those who endure divorces due to the decay of a fallen humanity on earth? Is there a possibility of reunion in Heaven? What about those who aren’t blessed with happy Marriages? This lesson raises a big question of “What form do human relationships such as Marriage take after the Resurrection of the Dead?”
I think a few points on this question need to be stated.
The big issue in the text for today isn’t the status of relationships in the great beyond. Jesus isn’t intending to give the Sadducees a description of the literal inner-workings of heaven. So, if someone were to just say Jesus said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.” They should be reminded that this was not the point that he was trying to make in our passage.
The real issue for our passage has to do with the Sadducees denial of the afterlife. The Sadducees whole belief system was based on the idea that what one received in this life was as a direct result of their own personal goodness. Since they had been so generally blessed in this life then they saw no need for their own redemption. The Sadducees would not believe that which they could not confirm by either science experiment or life experiment. The Sadducees would see Dead bodies in the ground and believe that was all there was.
The debate between Jesus and the Sadducees is well described in today’s lesson which states “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”-Matthew 22:30-31
For the real issue that our lesson deals with seeking to answer the question of whether God can raise the dead, and to that question an answer would soon be given.
Additional comment should be given regarding the nature of relationships in the afterlife.
Jesus words from this passage are often misunderstood. The best translation of the passage from Luke 20 isn’t that there will be no Marriages in Heaven. The best translation is rather that “There will be no given or taking in Heaven, they neither marry nor are given in Marriage”. Basically what this passage says is that there will be no new Weddings in Heaven. The point of this passage is not to declare relationships null or void after the Resurrection.
So, this brings back to the question of “What forms do relationships in the afterlife take?” “What will Sally and Sully’s Relationship look like?”
We can start by saying that we do have scriptural evidence of being able to recognize other people in the afterlife. Within the story of Jesus Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by three of Jesus’ disciples. The Rich Man and Lazarus were able to recognize each other during their encounter in Hades. In the 15th Chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham that when he dies then he will join his ancestors thereby strongly implying some sort of reunion. Even within today’s lesson in seeking to discredit the Sadducees view of the Resurrection Jesus invokes one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament in the encounter of Moses with God in the Burning Bush. It is a noteworthy reference as Jesus invokes God declaring himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Father, Son, and Grandson. Jesus draws reference to their family bond remaining in place even after the resurrection.
Yet as we leave here this morning we must remember that many of the questions that we are considering are ultimately open questions or questions that we don’t really have a knowledge base to answer. Questions about the nature of the Resurrection aren’t really dealt with by the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians the 15th Chapter (Perhaps the most drawn out statement of Christian belief within the scriptures regarding the afterlife).
Perhaps the reason that we don’t have a lot of details regarding our heavenly relationships is that they will be so different from our earthly realities that they cannot be expressed.
The thing about Resurrection life is it does not serve as the end of any relationships, it merely makes our present and earthly relationships stronger to such a degree that we cannot comprehend it. The nature of the resurrection is such that it will destroy all the former things of existence.
As Apologist Steven Ray points out, “We cannot understand our new spiritual bodies and heavenly existence any more than a caterpillar can comprehend what it is like to be a butterfly. We cannot anticipate how personal relationships will flower in glory any more than any acorn can anticipate standing 50 feet tall.”
For those of who have gotten married later in life to a second spouse, I think the best advice is to let God alone worry about what forms your new relationships take after the resurrection in comparison to your previous relationships. Heaven will not define relationships according to the pettiness and jealously that we often do. There will not be two men fighting over to whom a woman belongs in heaven (I can say this with relative confidence).
We go forward today by seeking to grasp the certain acts of our savior rather than the uncertain speculation. For in the words of Revelation 21 and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Sally lived several more years after Sully died. These years which at first seemed meaningless eventually developed into something meaningful. Sally began to consider how her continual presence on the Earth even without Sully served as a chance to impact others from children to grandchildren to friends to fellow widows.
Sally’s last days were spent with her kids and Pastor Neil by her side.
Sally overtime came to accept what Pastor Neil was trying to get across in the sermon several years before. The afterlife wasn’t going to be comparable to this life in any way, shape, or form. Even as Sully and Sally had become one flesh. The nature of their relationship was going to take a much different form in the afterlife then what they had previously experienced together. Yet for both Sally and Sully it was going to be for the better.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “. Defenders of the Catholic Faith. 22 Jan.2013 Web. November 4, 2013.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to provide an overview of the Afterlife as Christians understand it. In this overview, I wish to focus on the four H’s (Heaven, Hell, Hades, and Hallmark) and how these four H’s tie together. I also wish to look at our common misunderstandings about each of these four H’s.
Let us begin by considering Heaven. A few years ago, a widely popular book called Heaven is For Real was published. Heaven is for Real tells the story of a 4 year old, Nebraska boy named Colton Burpo who on account of a ruptured appendix nearly dies. But where the story takes a really interesting turn is a few months after being released from the hospital, Colton began describing to his parents a visit he made to Heaven while in surgery even though he never actually died.
Colton described hovering outside his own body in the hospital watching his Mom talk on the phone, while witnessing his Dad praying and yelling at God for the turmoil he was going through. Colton described meeting his sister in heaven (whom he had never heard about it, having died in his mother’s womb). Colton then describes meeting his great-grandpa who has insights into his father that he couldn’t have possibly known before.
Colton claimed to have met biblical characters like Jesus’ cousin (John the Baptist) and the Archangel Gabriel who sat at the left hand of God the Father. Colton described meeting Jesus who still had the marks of crucifixion on his hands and feet. Colton described seeing all sorts of animals in heaven. Colton said that in Heaven that no one was old nor wore glasses.
A lot of the book consists of Colton’s Dad, a Wesleyan Minister, trying to reconcile Colton’s experiences of Heaven with what is taught in the scriptures. The Rev. Todd Burpo concludes that it all matches up in a way that no four year old child could have ever figured out on his own. A book like this that makes so many claims about the afterlife is worthy of reflection. What should be pointed out whenever someone claims to have gone to Heaven is that this is not exactly a new phenomenon.
In the 18th Century there was a man named Emanuel Swedenborg who claimed to have been given permission to freely travel back and forth to Heaven over 28 years. When Swedenborg returned from his journeys, much of what he claimed to have learned stood in direct contrast to Christianity. It would be easy to dismiss Swedenborg as a nut. Yet is should be noted that Swedenborg’s teaching about the afterlife influenced was well-received by some of the most influential people of his days such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.
Within recent years, the International Association of Near Death Studies has documented over 900 incidents of similar experiences as portrayed in the book Heaven is For Real. These experiences have existed across a wide variety of faith traditions (Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Atheist, and Hindu). But what’s most interesting about all these near death experiences is they seem to correlate directly with one’s own faith tradition.
For example, Muslims describe being greeted by 70 Virgins, Hindus describe themselves as meeting Vishnu, Mormons get to meet Joseph Smith, Catholics get to meet the Virgin Mother, and when Colton Burpo returns from heaven, he describes Heaven as constantly placing an emphasis on the need to Ask Jesus into a Person’s Heart. Faith Language that never appears in the Bible yet is very prominent within his own family’s religious tradition.
Another thing worth noting is Heaven is For Real isn’t the first book within this genre. In 2004, A Baptist Minister named Don Piper, who unlike Colton Burpo was clinically dead for a period of time as a result of an auto accident, wrote a book entitled 90 Minutes In Heaven where he describes his own personal encounter in Heaven.
Yet when Don Piper describes his visit to Heaven it contradicts Colton Burpo in that he describes everyone in Heaven not being young, but rather looking the same way as when they died. When you have two contradictory visions of heaven between two people who I have no doubt are sincere in their faith it seems something else is probably at work here. Mainly the power of the Human Mind and the influence of American Folklore are at work in providing these understandings of Heaven.
The problem with these I’ve been to Heaven and back stories is they portray an incomplete understanding of the afterlife. Heaven isn’t really what most of us think that it is, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.
Now let’s look at the second H in Hell. The greatest misconception about Hell is when people think of Satan as the ruler of Hell. This idea isn’t Biblical rather it comes from the rich imagery of 17th Century author John Milton in his book Paradise Lost. For the book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels being cast into Hell and then being thrown into chains. The Book of Revelation describes Satan’s Final Destination as being cast into the Lake of Fire after Christ’s Second Coming.
Now let’s move to the Third H. The less known H of Hades. Hades is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Word “Sheol”. Sheol was known as the Grave, The Pit, or the Abode of the Dead throughout the Old Testament. Sheol was the place of darkness where all the dead go whether Faithful or Unfaithful. Sheol or Hades was known as being the personification of death along with the grave evil that death represents. Death and Hades are considered the same throughout the Book of Revelation.
Today’s Gospel Lesson comes to us today from Luke the 16th Chapter. In today’s parable, Jesus is seeking to confront the beliefs of the religious leaders of his day, mainly their love of money. To describe the error of the religious leader’s ways, Jesus speaks of two characters. The first character is a Rich Man, the type of man who the religious leaders would have idealized on account of the great blessings that God had given him.
The second man was Lazarus a poor beggar that would have been seen as a result of his poverty someone who didn’t possess God’s favor. This parable describes both the Rich Man and Lazarus being taken away after death. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both brought to Hades. Within Hades or the Abode of the Dead or Sheol, the Rich Man is unable to escape suffering and torment. Where as Lazarus is brought into a separate location within Hades called Abraham’s Bosom where he is described as being comforted within death.
What makes Jesus description of Hades so odd is the Rich Man is described as being able to communicate with Lazarus within Hades. The Rich Man requests to Abraham that Lazarus communicate with his brothers so that they don’t end up like he has.
The last few weeks we have been studying the Parables of Jesus. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we’ve touched on the Parable of the Prodigal Son that surrounds this lesson. Jesus’ parables always use earthly metaphors within earthly contexts to convey spiritual meanings. Jesus parables use real places (vineyards) and real titles (Father, Son, Older Brother) to convey these spiritual messages.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t a Parable because: A. It would be the only Parable that uses a real person’s name in Lazarus. B. Jesus is not conveying a new belief or symbolic belief about the afterlife only reinforcing a belief from the Old Testament that upon death that everyone went to Sheol or Hades.
Our lesson for today brings up something interesting about Christians and the Afterlife. The scriptures portray two realities of what happens to the believer after their death. These realities are often ignored by the majority of 21st century Christians who just tend to think of the soul being immortal. We must distinguish for today the afterlife as two separate realities. Both of which are often called “Heaven”.
The first state of the afterlife is “The immediate state of existence upon death” which is the place where our loved ones may currently reside, the place that is referred to as bliss, or paradise within the New Testament. The first reality of the afterlife is what too many people refer to as “heaven”. If Colton Burpo did die in Heaven is For Real it would have been what he experienced.
When Jesus encounters a Thief on the Cross as he prepared for his own crucifixion the famous words were spoken “Today, you shall be with me in Paradise”- Luke 23:43”. Jesus was promising a similar existence to the Thief on the Cross as was given unto Lazarus in today’s lesson, a place of blessing to await the final resurrection. Yet where Lazarus resides in Abraham’s Bosom does not paint a complete picture of the afterlife.
The 2nd and final reality of the afterlife, the New Heaven and the New Earth has a higher degree of scriptural emphasis placed upon it then any sort of intermediate state between death and resurrection. The New Earth has not yet been built, when people describe going to heaven in books and seeing streets paved with Gold and pearly gates. They are describing a place that according to the scriptures is not in existence.
One place where Jesus speaks of the preparation of heaven being made between the time of one’s death and the second coming occurs in John the 14th Chapter. Famous for being read at many funerals, the passage states “In My Father’s House are many rooms”. Consider the words from this passage that are often ignored verse 2 which states “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I WILL COME BACK for you to be with me that you also may be where I Am.”
When the Apostle Paul seeks to comfort the mourning Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians the 4th Chapter, he doesn’t describe the recently deceased as currently with Christ. Paul rather describes them as the ones who will be raised first at the second coming. Yet the Apostle Paul proclaims to the Church in Galatia that it is better to depart and be with Christ, for to die is to gain. What happens between Death and Resurrection is a question that can’t be answered.
Yet I do believe that like Lazarus in today’s text that believers are in some known state of comfort. As we look at our text for today, I should say a few words about Purgatory and our Catholic friend’s belief in it. Purgatory is known as being the place of purification. The place of getting one ready to enter into a State of Grace by purifying one of the sins committed in this life. The time frames vary on purgatory on account of the nature of one’s sins. Prayers and Masses are held to lessen one’s time in Purgatory.
The issue that Lutherans have with purgatory isn’t that it’s not possible for their to be an intermediate state of existence between Death and Resurrection such as Hades, Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise, or Bliss. The real issue with Purgatory is how it relates to the Biblical witness. The Thief that Jesus told on the Cross would be with him on the next day in Paradise lived the type of life that if purgatory was a reality would deem that he spend time there. The problem with Purgatory is that it places additional debt unto God’s people, apart from the death of God’s own sin. The real issue with Purgatory is that minimizes the complete and total forgiveness won for us on the Cross at the expense of one’s ritual purification.
This brings us to the last of the Four H’s for today, the H of Hallmark. Hallmark is adopting beliefs about the afterlife because they sound nice. Hallmark is the place of Happy Endings where good people find true love, and bad people get what they deserve. Hallmark thoughts are attractive because Hallmark always gives the nicest sayings with the nicest stories. I wonder if we often don’t sell the afterlife short as strange as it might seem. We do this when we think of only the soul living on for eternity apart from the body. I think our initial thoughts about the afterlife or heaven is that such a place seems nice, to think in terms of someone playing Racquetball on a big court in the sky, an idealized version of this world with Silver Bay Falls, and Las Vegas Winters. Yet the problem with the soul living on apart from the body is that it leads one to believe that the afterlife is a lesser existence in any way, shape, or form.
When in reality the afterlife is beyond what we can imagine. The afterlife is beyond what can be expressed in a movie or on a greeting card, since we have never lived in an existence without sin, without pain, without death. We have never lived in an existence where at the very center of our being is the one gave us life, and eventually redeemed it on a cross. The afterlife is Jesus Christ is coming back, not so we can levitate outside our bodies, Christ is coming back to save the whole world, all of God’s creation. So, that it may finally be declared to be “good again” Amen
 Patton, Michael. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”. Parchment and Pen Blog. Credo House Ministries. 6.Feb.2011. Web. Sept.23.2013
 Patton. “Book Review: Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 Patton. “Book Review: “Heaven is For Real”
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 Revelation 1:18, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 20:13-14
 Luke 16:22-23
 Luke 16:27
 Luke 16:27-28
 Revelation 21:1
 John 14:2
 John 14:3
 Philippians 1:21
 Luke 23:43
 Genesis 1:31