WELCOME to this post for Sunday, March 14, at Digby Baptist Church, Nova Scotia, Canada. Today, we are almost concluding our series: ‘Why Church?’ Read the whole service plan in the Bulletin here.
PRAYER of Approach: Saviour of all, we sing the songs of praise and adoration, we recite the scriptures that rejoice in Your presence. Now, test our motivation, reveal our desires, purify our goals in this hour. We come, worshipping for one single hour out of 168 this week. Show us again a glorious glimpse of Your Kindom. Inspire our hopes with things eternal. Make the lessons of the afterlife practical for this life now! Whenever our reasons for being here are weak or wrong, challenge us to rediscover worship of You, rediscover our Christian purpose, and rediscover what is possible among us, the Church, in Your name, Jesus. Teach us to pray. Our Father… AMEN.
(1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Luke 16:19-31) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, March 14, 2021, UBC Digby
I was in my late twenties before I heard, at a funeral, a sermon that preached this: the dead are not going to heaven, they are going to be resurrected, and live on the New Earth (under the New Heavens). I was a Baptist minister myself, pastor of three Churches, at this time. And this sermon was from a Johovah’s Witness funeral service!
At least they got that right.
And it is right, though our pop culture, and even pop Christianity, keeps saying “when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”
I know, I know, it’s complicated. Maybe we get to spend some time, or eons, in heaven with Jesus, before the final Day, and our resurrection, to live on the New Earth.
Why are people in the Christian Church? One last answer today: To Reach Eternity, the afterlife, heaven (whatever God gives us that we are calling heaven). Do many people in our province look to Christianity for answers to the life-after-death questions? And do we here have clear answers for them? Are we knowledgeable? Are we at peace with the answers? Are we articulate, good communicators?
Once more we looked to the story of Jesus from the evangelist named Luke. Dr. Luke today tells us Jesus’ very interesting parable of the rich man, unnamed, and the poor man, Lazarus. As some have said, it is a double-edged parable. First, there’s the reversal, so common in Luke, of the rich and the poor. Father Abraham says to the formerly rich fellow: Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. (L 16:25)
Second, is the word of warning about, well, warnings. ‘Warn my brothers!’ pleads the man in flames. Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (L16:31) How very poignant this is to us now, as we read these words from the lips of Jesus. Jesus who has come back from the dead, resurrected, for the whole world.
I agree with the Bible scholars who do not see in this parable of Jesus a list of details that explain what heaven and hell are, and how they relate to each other. It is a parable to warn, once again, about the riches we store up for ourselves in this life. And it makes us think about how we get warned, or may want to warn others.
There might be three things, at least, that people today still want to sort out about the afterlife. (1) What it will be like? (2) Is there more than one option after death? And (3) how to get there – to the best place, assuming there is one. Folks look for clues about this everywhere. From everyday experience. From extraordinary and miraculous experiences (such as near death experiences). From science (research) and philosophy (thinking). From spiritual authorities (revealed truth). And maybe the arts (creative and inspiring things).
Within Christianity, we make strong use of the Bible: revealed truth, a spiritual authority. This snippet – Jesus’ parable of the rich and the poor man dying – we ponder what it shows us about the afterlife? We don’t usually imagine going down to sit by Father Abraham, do we? Unless we sing something like “Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham / Oh, rocka my soul!” A study of the Bible and the afterlife will show some progress, some evolution through time of how the Hebrews thought of it all. What they understood kept changing.
Another rich snippet of scripture today was that piece from 1 Corinthians 15, the Resurrection Chapter. I had us hear a bit that – no surprise here – has traditionally been read at Christian funerals. All about the natural body, and the spiritual body. Part of a human soul, a complete person, is the body. I think the one and only time we acknowledge this with our words is when we speak of ‘souls lost at sea.’
So Paul goes on at some length here, as we heard, about the natural body and the spiritual body. Like a seed and the plant that grows from the seed: it’s great imagery. This was all written down in Greek, a couple thousand years ago, and is a challenge to put into English words today. The Jerusalem Bible translation does a good job here. Such as with verse 44. If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment.
Perhaps my own daydreaming, from time to time, of me in the afterlife being a disembodied spirit, thinner than a ghost, is not very biblical. Whether we understand or agree with every teaching in the Bible, it is worth knowing when we are with it and when we are not.
Now then, let’s take a little quiz. Five questions, multiple choice. The AFTERLIFE Bible QUIZ.
- To get to heaven, individuals must do this:
- Stop sinning.
- Have faith in the grace of God, thru Jesus.
- Be worthy enough to get in.
- Be good enough to get in.
- Jesus taught this:
- Those who know God & Jesus get eternal life
- Those who believe the Son of God get e. l.
- Those who eat Jesus’ body & blood get e. l.
- All of the above.
- The final goal of a Christian after death is:
- Life in heaven.
- Death in hell.
- Burial in the earth.
- Life on a new earth.
- The New Testament does not teach this:
- Resurrection requires burial, not cremation.
- Resurrection from death came thru a human.
- Our resurrection happens when Jesus returns.
- Resurrection happens to the good & the evil.
- Jesus did not teach which of the following:
- There is no marriage in the eternal Kingdom.
- There is no crying in the eternal Kingdom.
- There is no dying in the eternal Kingdom.
- There is no body in the eternal Kingdom.
I could have worked on another five questions, on things like, the Bible does not teach that a human soul is immortal, or, what we are judged on in the final judgment. But this was enough, enough to illustrate that what we sometimes say about scripture and Christian teaching is occasionally askew and not really biblical.
We are in another time of reformation in Christianity. There are big changes in our religion across the world, in our lifetimes. The ways we shift in our thinking with the scriptures and our 2000 years of tradition are important.
It is important that we pay attention to what we know, and what we are sharing with the world around us. And if we change our minds about some things, or think we have learned something new about God and us and the afterlife, we admit it is new. That we changed our mind. That we learned a new lesson. We are always to be learning. And even the big groups of Christianity globally can be learning and changing together. Does not the Holy Spirit guide us? To be guided means we are moving, going somewhere.
So, let us pay close attention to where we get our answers. How we built our world-view, our own philosophy of life after death. It is sometimes in our conversations: at a Bible Study, in the Funeral Parlour, in a cemetery. Let’s keep up our conversations with the Bible. And with our Saviour – Christ crucified, who is ALIVE. He promised the Spirit, the Advocate, to be with us and continue His teaching.
So, we have got to the end of my sermon series. Why Church? Why the Christian Church?
To Study & Learn
To Save & Be Saved
For Healing & Miracles
For Spiritual Experiences
To Do Good & Be Good
To Explain Life & Death
To Reach Eternity
I ask again, why are you here, in the pews? Reading or watching the sermon at home? Why still a member in good standing, perhaps? What reasons are most important?
In the bulletin you see a chart, of sorts, with six other categories. These are basic streams within our Faith. These Six Traditions in Christianity come right out of the life of Jesus, our Master and Saviour:
Holiness: the virtuous life
Charismatic: the Spirit-empowered life
Contemplative: the prayer-filled life
Social Justice: the compassionate life
Evangelical: the Word-centered life
Incarnational: the sacramental life
Look at the chart printed in the bulletin; estimate where you are in each area on the wheel spokes. Put a mark at those points, then connect the dots from spoke to spoke to form a ring around the hub.
What are your strengths, as a spiritual being? What are your reasons for being in a church, a local spiritual community? What are not big parts of your life?
Consider also those who are not worshippers, not churchgoers. Watch for how they still may be following Jesus. How they pray or study or worship or contemplate or serve sacrificially. How is it Christ is sometimes using them on His team, with us.
And how shall He take them, with us, into Eternity?
PRAYER after the Sermon: Eternal and everlasting God, the things we want and hope for in the afterlife fill our imaginations. You have inspired us, by Your Word, yes. We also have the theories of the centuries to draw upon. Be our Teacher still, as time marches on. Arise, O Holy Spirit, among us, when we face a loss, when we remember the saints and sinners who are gone, when we come to our own death. In the name of Jesus, who conquered the grave, give us grace to have faith when we do not have all the answers. AMEN.
QUIZ Answer Key
- To get to heaven, individuals must do this: b. Have faith in the grace of God, thru Jesus. (Eph 2:8)
- Jesus taught this: d. All of the above. (John 17:3; John 3:36; John 6:54)
- The final goal of a Christian after death is: d. Life on a new earth. (2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1)
- The New Testament does not teach this: a. Resurrection requires burial, not cremation. (1 Cor 15:53)
- Jesus did not teach which of the following: d. There is no body in the afterlife. (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:44)