Pentecost 19, 2016
"The Saints live in heaven"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Life and death. Heaven and hell. Treasure now in this life or treasure to come for all eternity in heaven. What happens when you die? Where do you go when you die? This is what our Gospel lesson this morning is all about. So if you truly are concerned with life now and life to come; if you are concerned about salvation or damnation...if the afterlife is important listen to what God has to say in His Word. Listen to Him.
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side." (Luke 16:19-23)
Why did this happen? Why did the rich man go to hell and the poor man to heaven? "Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." (Luke 16:25)
Jesus had been building up to this text. He warned the people and the Pharisees over and over again! He had just told the audience "You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13) God in His Word also reminds us that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:10) Scripture also encourages us to "keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
I once had a Confirmand that complained about being in Confirmation class...it just wasn't fair that she was forced by her parents to be there...besides...it wouldn't help her get into the right college or help her decide on a career or help her to make money. Those all might be true. But being in God's Word. Studying God's Word. Confirming the faith you received in Holy Baptism are about life over death; salvation and life eternal in heaven over damnation in hell. Daily we struggle with sin. Daily life and death decisions surround us.
The rich man was worried that his family would have the same fate as he: damnation in hell. "And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:27-31)
God's Word is all we need. God's Word is all that the world needs. For God's Word is truth! (John 17:17) And what does that Word say to us this day?
Our Gospel lesson reminds us that we are saved, not because of our wealth or prestige, but as a gift from God. The difference between the rich man and Lazarus was faith. The rich man loved his wealth. Lazarus loved His Lord. The rich man served himself and the pursuit of money. Lazarus served his Lord.
Scripture also comforts us with the fact that Lazarus, when he died, went to heaven. He didn't have to stop at the pearly gates to get permission. He didn't have to wait in a waiting room or purgatory. Lazarus was with His Lord. Not only that...but Scripture tells us that Lazarus did not roam around as a ghost waiting for closure...or to spook people...or haunt them. In the same way the rich man when he died went straight to hell. He also did not roam around...or wait. Scripture tells us "And [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:27-31)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Our hope is in heaven. Our comfort is found in Christ. Our hope is indeed to be with Christ and all of our loved ones that have died in the faith that are in Heaven. Our comfort is in Christ who has welcomed these dear saints into His kingdom. Our loved ones have not died but are alive in Christ! Our loved ones are not wandering the earth...haunting houses or cemeteries or buildings...they are in heaven with Christ. Our loved ones haven't been turned into frogs or rabbits or mosquitoes... they are in paradise! Our loved ones aren't dead! They are living with all the saints in heaven surrounding God and surrounded by angels. That is the truth found in God's Word. And that is the comfort and hope we share.
What a sight it will be when we are numbered with the saints in paradise and witness the glory of heaven. "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes. Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9, 13-14)
The Saints live in Heaven! We shall live in heaven. Until then...we get just a taste; the foretaste of the feast to come ever Sunday in this place. For in this place all are welcome to hear God's Word. In this place we have been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism and clothed in the white robes of Christ's righteousness. In this place we join with all the Saints in heaven and on earth in worshiping around the same Lamb of God; Christ Jesus our Lord. When you walk in these doors remember "how awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17)
This is God's House. This is the gate of heaven. This is where we worship with all the saints and angels. This is where we get to be with those we love that have died in the faith until we join them in paradise. For our departed loved ones that have died in the faith are not dead...they are alive...and they live eternally with Christ in heaven. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.