First Lesson: Jeremiah 32: 1-3, 6-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 6: 6-19
Gospel Lesson: Luke 16: 19-31
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel Lesson is an interesting one. Jesus tells the tale of two characters a rich man and Lazarus. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both residing in Hades. The Rich Man is suffering, whereas the poor beggar Lazarus is receiving comfort.
Jesus’ original intentions when telling this tale is to confront the Pharisees love of money. While proper stewardship is important, there is something much more interesting going on here. The Rich Man and Lazarus are both described as dead. They are living within eye sight of each other. Their mailing address is both Hades.
People continually debate whether this passage is a symbolic or literal description of the life that is to come. If this is literal, it means a few things. It means that this is the only preview within the entire Christian Scriptures of what happens between the time of Death and the Final Resurrection. It helps shed insight into the current state of all our loved ones that have gone before us.
Now I have a few reasons why I think we take this passage regarding Hades, Lazarus and the Rich Man literally.
One- the story gives a name in Lazarus. Giving an actual name in Lazarus would make the Gospel unique among all of Jesus’ parables. Parables always speak about unnamed characters (a good Samaritan, a prodigal son) to illustrate broader spiritual truths.
Two- parables seek to use earthly concepts (money, seeds, and personal conflict) to explain heavenly concepts. Parables never use spiritual concepts such as Hades as a way to communicate earthly truths such as how the Pharisees treat money.
Three- The wider Biblical narrative of Hades as being the “abode of the dead” with the Old Testament concept of “sheol” being the home of the dead both “faithful” and “unfaithful.” Hades would be the ground where believers would eagerly anticipate the Resurrection that is to come.
So if our Gospel lesson for this morning is literal then there are two questions to explore this morning.
Question one: "What happens when we die?"
Steve Molin tells the following story:
“When Muhammed Ali was at the height of his boxing career, he was on a commercial airline, and upon take-off, the flight attendant asked Ali to put on his seat belt, but Ali refused. "The plane will not take off until you put on your seat belt" the flight attendant warned. Ali stood up and said "I am Superman, and Superman don't need no seat belt!" And the attendant said "And Superman don't need no plane, neither!”
Here’s the greatest spiritual truth that we all face at some point in our life. We are not Superman. We will die. Now here’s the question. What exactly happens when we die.
A couple of years ago, Our LCMC/NALC Ministerial Association in Duluth hosted an event on the Afterlife. The event attended by Mary Bauman, Kathy Toland, Marie Kaiser and I ended up being a three-way debate between myself, the keynote presenter Steve King, and another minister. What made this discussion so fascinating is we all approached the Bible in a similar manner, yet we came to radically different conclusions.
For example, the keynote presenter Pastor King thought of death as merely a form of sleep or rest until the time of final resurrection. The scriptures more frequently use “sleep” than any other term when describing death. Luther himself in many of his writings comes very close to outright endorsing the position that the soul is unconsciousness until the time when it reunites with the body at the Final Resurrection.
So why do I disagree that the dead are merely “asleep” in the present age? I try to glean from what I can say for certain from the scriptures.
Exodus 4: The Lord declares unto Moses: “I Am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus would late quote from this passage in the Christian Gospels where he declares “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”-Matt 22:32.
2 Kings 2: Elijah ascends to Heaven in a Whirlwind. Fast forward to the Transfiguration story during Jesus’ ministry: Elijah after having ascended into heaven 900 years prior and Moses having been dead 1300 years both appear alongside Jesus upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
Luke 23:43: Jesus answered The Thief upon the cross by saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Now Jesus in other places in the Christian Gospels points people like the Sadducees to the day of Resurrection which would be the great hope of the Christian faith. In this passage, Jesus’ doesn’t use any language portraying a distant, future event but rather the Greek indicates a present event stating that the word “today” perhaps should be taken literally.
What does the word “Paradise” mean? Paradise comes from a Persian word meaning “In the Garden?” Think back to the story of the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve were residing in a fixed location from which they were thrown out. We can think of Paradise being in line with our Gospel text by serving as a waiting room for believers eagerly anticipating the final resurrection of the dead.
Is Paradise the same thing as Heaven? Now let’s answer a different question “Where did Jesus go when he die?” Jesus’ body went to the grave. Where Jesus’ spirit went is a more interesting question. For example, Church Tradition holds that Jesus’ spirit traveled into Hades to preach there. Hence the Apostles Creed. He descended into Hell or better yet, Hades or the place where both the Rich Man and Lazarus’ spirits lay upon death. So if the thief’s body lies beside Jesus in the Jerusalem, there is nothing to say that the Thief’s spirit could not be alongside Jesus’ in Paradise even during the period while he lied in the grave.
So what about all the Bible’s references to “sleep ” as death. A few different things need to be noted here. Number one- the Apostle Paul who did more to articulate the beliefs of the Earliest Christians stressed that Resurrection is the ultimate destination for Christian people.
What those who had gone were anticipating was not Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise, but rather Christ’s Second Coming. I often here people say upon the death of their loved one’s that they are in a “better place,” what’s also true is that they are not currently in “the best place.” The New Heaven will be the place of perfection. The current separation between the living and dead is why New Heaven cannot now exist. The New Heaven and New Earth shall not be separate in any way. New Heaven will be an advance of a purely spiritual existence.
The thing about the Biblical imagery of the New Heaven and the New Earth is it shall be the place where pain and separation shall be no more. These realities explain why Christians eagerly anticipate the Second Coming regardless of where God currently cares for our loved ones.
My belief about the scripture references regarding death as sleep is that they are referring to the present state of the body. Lying in the ground, motionless awaiting the final resurrection. I believe the whole of the Biblical witness is strong enough to lead me to believe I will not die; I will not see death. I will not taste death. I believe upon death that I will enter into My Lord’s presence eagerly anticipating the Final Resurrection which is to come.
So the second question for this morning: How aware are our loved ones regarding what’s taking place on Earth? Last December, I was visiting both Guss Krake and Karl Jevning in the hospital. Guss had cancer. Karl had congestive heart failure. Both were soon to leave this world within a matter of days. Now, what was also going on at this time was that the Minnesota Vikings had a big game coming up against the Green Bay Packers for the division title. Now what you need to know is both Guss and Karl were huge Viking fans.
So what do you suppose I told Guss and Karl “When you get into God’s presence, make sure you tell him to let the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers, finally.” This appeal for seemingly the first time actually worked. Believe me; I’ve had plenty of failed appeals to God on the Vikings' behalf before. But this story does raise an interesting question of “How much our loved ones know about what’s going on Earth?”
You’ll often hear it said “So and so is watching over us.” I have a pastoral colleague who some years back lost the love of his life. Her presence was such that she can never be that far away from him every day moving forward. Many of you probably have loved ones in your life of whom you feel the same way. The Book of Hebrews describes us as “being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” as we seek to live out our Christian faith. What “the witnesses” presence might be is a much more open question.
This week, I was wandering around Barnes and Noble at the Miller Hill Mall. I came across a book whose underlying theme was questioning regarding death from a non-religious perspective. One of the questions on the cover was “Do the dead watch us shower?”
Now as I see this book, I could merely chuckle under my breath. The reason for this is because that I believe when believers enter into God’s presence their whole outlook on creation is changed. They begin to understand God’s plan and presence in a new, unique way. So to watch living people shower would be a contrary focus to how people actually exist within the afterlife.
When I was in Seminary, I had a classmate who was Roman Catholic. She one day asked, “Why don’t I pray to Saints?” “What’s wrong with having others intercede to God on your behalf?” What I answered and still believe today is we don’t know what those currently in God’s presence can hear or see on our behalf. I think it’s also worth pointing out that upon death, our loved ones would have an understanding of God’s ways that it might be tough for us to speak the same language regarding things of faith. We shouldn’t view this as a bad thing, though, but rather a good thing if they like Lazarus from our text are currently experiencing God’s comfort and care.
As we await our own final answers, how can we make sense of all these issues this morning regarding Hades, Lazarus, The Rich Man, and the afterlife? What I do want to caution this morning is that there are questions regarding our faith that we will not be able to answer on this side of Heaven clearly. “What happens between the day of the believer’s death and resurrection would be one of those questions.” My personal conviction is that our loved ones like Lazarus in our Gospel lesson are currently in a conscious place of rest and comfort eagerly awaiting the Resurrection that is to come.
Whenever we consider these afterlife questions, Resurrection needs to be the focus. We need to draw hope from Christ’s promise to come back for us and gather all believers both living and dead into his presence for once and for all.
Let me close with Jesus’ famous words of comfort to the Disciples as they prepare to mourn his death from John 14:
“In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Amen
 Molin, Steve. “Have You Heard about These Two Guys?” Lectionary.org. 2001.
 The conference was hosted on Saturday, October 25th, 2015 at New Life Lutheran in Duluth.
 Exodus 4:5.
 2 Kings 2:1-12.
 User 3353. “What is the “paradise.” that Jesus references in Luke 23:43?” Stack Exchange(Christianity).24.Oct. 2012. Web. Sept.17.2016.
 Norland, Pastor David. “Afterlife Discussion.” LCMC/NALC Lake Superior Conference Clergy Word Document. 03. Nov.2014. E-Mail. Sept.17.2016.
 Hebrews 12:1.
 John 14:2-3.