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2022-09-25 Pentecost 16

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Did you ever hear the story about Hans and Annie? They were both 90 year old Lutherans who died at exactly the same time. When their Spirits ascended to heaven they were absolutely astounded by the beauty! They saw incredible rolling green hills, vibrant flowers, picturesque forests, tropical waterfalls, warm sunshine on their skin, a gentle breeze blowing through their hair, and a lion and a lamb laying down on the grass together peacefully. And, as the crowning touch – as far as Hans was concerned – was the most amazing golf course he had ever seen! It was spectacular in every way, and it was instant free access to play. After a few silent moments of taking it all in, Hans whirled around, glaring at Annie with the utmost disdain. “YOU! If it weren’t for you and all those bran muffins, we could have been here 20 years ago!”

Heaven! What’s it gonna be like?! I think we have all spent time pondering this very idea. The afterlife is quite mysterious, and the Scriptures do not completely spell it out for us. St. Paul writes in the First Letter to the Corinthians “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Cor 2:9). As Christians, we know without a doubt that Heaven is real and we believe it. In fact, we stake our Eternal lives on it! Heaven is like a grand banquet, a big, giant family reunion dinner. As we become God’s children by Baptism, we begin to take part in it already. Eternal life isn’t solely a “one fine day,” future only type of thing. It begins here and now as Christ dwells in our midst. Jesus would often preach about the Kingdom of God and teach people about heaven. He would frequently use parables and stories to teach us simple folk about it. “The Kingdom of God is like. . .” a grain of a mustard seed, a leaven, a treasure hidden in a field, a merchant in search of fine pearls. And, today too we hear our Lord speaking in parables. We have before us the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

The very fact that people ask “what happens when you die” implies the cold, hard, reality that people do die. All people. Male or female, rich or poor, black or white, ridiculously good looking or ugly as a mule. Death has no partiality. It shows no mercy. Adam and Eve, were warned about it. The day you eat that forbidden fruit, you will surely die. And that is exactly what happened. Indeed we are all born spiritually dead and cut off from God and each other. Because of this fragmentation and brokenness, we sin and pursue a life of godlessness, just as St. Paul writes “The sting of death is sin” (1Cor15:56). But by God’s rich grace, He has made us alive in Christ Jesus by faith and called us to a new life with Him. This parable that Jesus teaches doesn’t really give us a blueprint of the afterlife, so to speak, with “Abraham’s Bosom” behind door number 1 and “Torment in the Fires of Hades” behind door number 2. The parable is a story to drive home a point.

And the parable is this. There were two guys. One super rich, the other super poor. One was clothed in splendid attire and ate 100% certified Black Angus Beef steak every night, the other one wore rags and starved at the rich man’s gate. What’s worse is that dogs would come and lick the poor man’s openly festering sores! Gross! Then, both men died. A fitting equalizer! Poor Lazarus who had a terribly rough life of disdain and discomfort goes to Heaven, carried by angels, and there receives comfort! His wounds were healed and He was filled with the good things of God.

The rich man on the other hand was on the other side of a huge chasm, a great divide. He “died and was buried” Jesus said. He was buried alright, buried by all the pleasures, luxuries and finery of world! Plush couches, rugs and furnishings, fancy cars and big houses, vast vats of the finest wine and delicious delicacies with which to fill his face. And flatterers! Don’t forget his fans! The rich man had lots of people to flock around him, or should we say, his money. But his false god of money and wealth betrayed him! In life it made him walk the path of greed and stinginess. And in death, made him reside in torment and anguish.

Muhammad Ali, at the height of his boxing career, was on a commercial airline flight that was trying to take off. The stewardess kindly asked Ali to put on his seat belt because the plane couldn’t take off unless he put it on. Ali ignored her request. She politely asked him again, at which Ali stood up and aggressively said to the stewardess’ face: “Woman, I am Superman! And Superman don’t need no seat belt!” The stewardess, wiping spittle off her cheek humbly replied “And Superman don’t need no airplane neither! Sit down and put your seat belt on.”

This rich man in the parable thought that he was Superman! He had the world’s finest everything. His hands and his belly were full in excess. He thought he needed nothing. But po’ old Lazarus had nothing of these finer things. His life was pain, and hardship and anguish. His hands and belly were empty and in need all of his days. Despite having none of the world’s luxuries, he did have one thing that the rich man didn’t have: a name. Lazarus had a name. It literally means “whom God helps.” The rich man, for all of his luxuries and toys and stuff, had no name. It isn’t recorded in Scripture and it isn’t recorded in the book of life in Heaven either. Poor Lazarus’ name, on the other hand, is. Though he was a poor, homeless, pathetic beggar, his hands were open to receive the riches that God gives: forgiveness and eternal life. The rich man’s hands were so full of worldly stuff, there was no room for God’s riches. His heart remained hardened and closed to the Living God as his false god of wealth dragged him into the fires of Hades.

This is a strong and important lesson for us today. When we come before God, clinging to the gifts and luxuries of this world, then we come with hands that are full and hearts that are empty. Money, wealth and plump bank accounts, when they become the be-all and end-all of our earthly life, become our false gods. We fear, love, and trust in them above all things! At first, it seems like we have all the comforts of the world – but in death, what do we have? Contrasted to this is Lazarus. He came to the Lord empty, broken, humble and needy and God filled him with His good things. For “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:17).

We all ought to esteem to be like Lazarus. We come to God our Heavenly Father dirty and sore with sin and death and in Baptism, He washes us and gives us new life. We come as orphans and He gives us a family: the Church! We come to Him nameless, and He names us “forgiven child of God.” We come empty and hungry and He invites us to His table to fill us with His good things in Holy Communion. We come as beggars and He places into our empty hands healing and hope in the Bread of Life itself. We come, undeserving as we are, and our Lord grants us His comfort that lasts for eternity. Will we hear the word of Moses and the Prophets? For in them is the Word of Christ and His cross who has died and risen from the dead for you. Cling to the Lord of Life for He has filled us with good things. Amen!

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