SPYING ON HADES
Luke 16: 19-31
Some of you might have heard this story that circulated in 2006 but it bears
couple decided to come to Florida and to stay at the same hotel where they had
spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of their hectic schedules it
was difficult for them catch the same flight, so the husband left Minnesota for
Florida on Thursday, and his wife was going to fly down the following day. The
husband checked into the hotel, the one where they had honeymooned 20 years
earlier. In the lobby was a bank of computers, so he decided to send a quick
email to his wife. In sending his message, however, he accidently left one
letter out of his wife’s address. Without realizing that, away it went.
somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned from her husband’s funeral. He
had been a minister who gone to glory after suffering a heart attack. Her heart
was heavy. She decided to check her email to see if any family members or
friends who couldn’t attend the service had contacted her. After reading her
first message, she screamed and fainted. Her son ran into her room and found
his mother on the floor. After getting her conscious, he asked what was wrong.
She pointed to her computer. This message was on her screen:
My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived!
Date: October 16, 2005
I know you’re
surprised to hear from me.
computers here now, and you’re allowed up to 10 minutes to send and check
I’ve just arrived
and have finished checking in.
ready for your arrival tomorrow!
to seeing you then.
journey here is a good one.
P.S. It sure is
hot down here!!!
about the afterlife have been around a long time. You might have heard the
poignant story of a man who asked God what heaven and hell were like and, in
the story, God showed him. The questioner looked first at Hades (or Hell) and
was surprised to see a large banquet table and food on it that was fit for a
king! But those who were there were strapped to immoveable chairs positioned about
two feet away from the table. In order to reach the food they had long handled utensils
attached to their hands. But they were outraged and starving. No one could get
the long utensils into their mouths and their arms alone couldn’t reach the
table. They were screaming with hunger, and anger, and outrage. The questioner
said: “I have seen enough! Let me see Heaven! “Very well” was the reply. The
vision changed. The picture cleared and, to the questioner’s astonishment there
appeared a banquet table, just like the last vision. There appeared people
strapped to immoveable chairs positioned two feet away from the table. In order
to reach their food they had long handled utensils attached to their hands. But
they were eating and were satisfied; they were joyful and filled with love. The
questioner looked closer and noticed why: in Heaven people thought of their
neighbor first, and, with a little maneuvering, each could feed his or her
table mate. All could feed one another. In Hades, all thoughts were on self; in
Heaven, all thoughts were on others.
world has had some amazing stories shared about heaven in books like Heaven is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, and
Flight to Heaven. They each include
first-hand accounts of what real people saw. By contrast, we have had fanciful
and even terrifying images of the underworld in some of the horror films of
cinema, and years ago in 1667 John Milton’s Paradise
Lost was published from which many
of our modern ideas of Satan are gleaned. Ages earlier in 1310, Dante’s
Masterpiece of literature was published: The
Divine Comedy. Interwoven with his Roman Catholic theology, his most famous
part of his right was the section was called The Inferno, Dante’s “unforgettable visionary journey through the
infinite torment of Hell.” [Book
jacket description from The Inferno, Dante
Alighieri, A Signet Classic, 2001.]
Even popular author Dan Brown, in his latest novel called Inferno, draws heavily on Dante’s vision. The Bible, interestingly,
has few images of what we know as “Hell” in English, “Hades” in Greek, or
“Sheol” in Hebrew. Sheol is found 65 times in the Old Testament; Hades is used
just 10 times in the New Testament. Both Sheol and Hades referred to “the
general place of souls after death….Since this sphere was mainly supposed to be
found in the underworld, it was also called ‘the pit’ or ‘the bottomless
place.’” [Oxford Dictionary of the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1993, p.
277] But the Biblical place of punishment, not just of the dead, was known as
“Gehenna.” It described a valley just south of Jerusalem and named in Joshua
15:8. Those in Jerusalem who wanted go toward the Hinnom Valley might have gone
through the Dung Gate, downwind of the city, to the site of the city dump,
where refuse was placed to decay, and where smoldering fires burned
continually. The image we have in our passage today, translated as “Hades,” is
actually this Gehenna image of smoldering fires. This is one of the few stories
of fiery torment in the afterlife that appear in the Bible. But this one didn’t
originate here. As with stories that we tell in our day, it appears that Jesus
co-opted and retold an Egyptian folktale for his own purposes. If you have been
here for the last two weeks of sermons, you will remember how Luke focuses on
the idea of money in chapters 15 and 16, especially on who has it and who
doesn’t. But let’s be clear about what Jesus says about money in those
chapters: First, wealth is not the enemy; instead he challenges greed and
selfishness. Could Jesus have gotten such a world view from his mother Mary?
You may remember her words when she learns she will become his mother: “My soul
magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices with God my savior! … He has
brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has
filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” [Luke 1]
Again it’s not wealth per se that is on trial. Even Abraham was wealthy. It
addressed those who did nothing for the poor in life. Second, Jesus taught that
there will be justice for the poor in the next life if they do not get it in
this life. That theme runs through this chapter. And third, there is a time,
usually at death, when one’s eternal fate is cast. Therefore Jesus and others
through the years remind people to change their ways before it is too late.
it is an old story, re-clothed by Christ as yet another lesson for his
disciples. He used dramatic language: the rich man wore purple; only the rich
or royal could afford the dyes to make purple cloth. He feasted sumptuously.
The rich man is in one scene symbolically towering above the poor man called
Lazarus (not the one who Jesus raised from the dead). The poor man is on the
ground while the rich man is either on his feet or on a steed. Lazarus is one
of the poor beggars like those who can still be found on city streets today. They
are even around Jerusalem, and they lie there pitiful, despised, or simply
ignored. People who passed by would either have pangs of guilt, disgust, or
pity. Lazarus was covered with sores which made him medically and ritually
unclean. Only dogs came to attend to him in their instinctively unselfish ways;
no humans did anything. To the relief of some, the poor man died and precious
few mourned his death. We are also told that the rich man also died. How many
mourned his death? We are left to wonder.
The poor man went to the bosom of Abraham which was another way of saying
“Paradise.” The rich man could have repented and gone there, but he never did.
Instead he went to Hades and was tormented in the flames. It was an awful scene.
He starts to repent, because he sees what eternal death he has earned. But it
is too late. He will reap what he has sown. He tries to warn others to change
before it is too late. It is the oldest of morality tales, told from the lips
of our Lord.
what we have with those who have less is a cornerstone of Christian ministry.
If you have little or nothing, we try to pick you up and offer you food and
love. If you have means, the Christian message from this passage and others
encourages you to give so others may have something. When you give through this
congregation, you can be sure that we are working to feed the hungry, giving
clothing for those who don’t have the right clothing for school or work, and at
Christmas and through our Friends of Francis programs, we are even helping
prisoners, recently released prisoners, and their children. We will continue to
do so. We are seeking to do what Jesus did and would do. Today his message is
for us as it was for his disciples. Today, you may see other places where you
can help a neighbor, a worker, a student by meeting human needs and making
connections. You have today; but who knows about tomorrow? As Michael W. Smith
wrote in his popular song :
This is your
This is your dance
Live every moment
Leave nothing to chance
Swim in the sea
Drink of the deep
Embrace the mystery of all you can be.”
share life; make a decent life possible for others. Amen.
September 29, 2013