Here Jesus is offering a strange vision of the afterlife. It is not one we are familiar with. Where is God? Abraham, our Jewish patriarch is the great comforter and transmitter of the lesson.
Tonight in Judaism is Rosh Hashanah. It celebrates the Jewish New Year. Traditionally the next ten days are days of reflection about the past year leading up to Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the Day of atonement when Jews ask for forgiveness. They say similar prayers to the confession we use on Sunday. The purpose of this holy day is to bring about a reconciliation between the individual and God and between individuals. They ask that the gates of Heaven be open at a time when they normally are closed.
Craig was telling me about a scenario he remembered in which a rabbi was asked, Do we believe in Heaven? What happens after we die? The rabbi responded the afterlife is part of our internal journey. Our bodies are an extension of ourselves during life. But when we lose our bodies the soul continues on an interior journey. Heaven is not an external event. It is a deepening of our journey within. We speak of something similar in Christianity. Christian mystics believe that the soul is the dwelling place of God. Teresa of Avila speaks of the indissoluble relationship with God at our center. The deeper our encounter with God the greater our compassion is to others.
And our Gospel story today is about compassion and connection, and as Paul says in his letter to Timothy, it is about “taking hold of the life that really is life.”
In our story today we have a rich man suffering in Hades, who pleads with Abraham while being separated by a fixed chasm. Lazarus is comforted in death at the side of Abraham while the rich man is tormented but there is no way to remedy the situation. The gates are closed.
Hades was neither a Jewish, nor a Christian belief at the time of Jesus. It came from Greek mythology. Scholars believe this parable is based on a prior Greek myth. Whether the words came straight from Jesus, or was added by the Gospeler Luke, is still debated.
The Gospel of Luke is actually directed to a more affluent Greek community. For weeks Jesus has been offering several parables common to other Gospels about the misuse of wealth, of giving up possessions, of focusing on the lost and the lonely; about treasure in Heaven. Here Luke has also incorporated this myth about Hades into the words of Jesus, as a culminating point, as if to say to this Greek audience: “you already know the story. It is familiar to you.”
What Jesus is teaching, is that the values of this world, ignore, victimize and reject the poor. For weeks Jesus has been expanding on this message. Each time he takes us deeper and deeper into our interior.
He is winding us towards our hearts.
This teaching, essentially about “doing the right thing” is taught through a predicament with black and white values. There is either this or that. There is Hades or comfort. There is no grey area. It is similar to Jesus’ other teachings that employ “hate vs love logic” that we’ve spoken about, hyperbolic language used to emphasize the importance of decisiveness in decision making.
In this predicament the rich man’s behavior is deemed bad; uncompromisingly bad. Even his brothers will not be convinced by someone rising from the dead if they didn’t first listen to Moses and the Prophets. Jesus is telling them the good news is an extension of our foundation as the people of Israel. Essentially: “You already know this story. You already know how to do the right thing” :
40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus message asks us to reconsider our values and what we value. In most societies the wealthy are the ones with status and authority. Not only are they named, they often have more initials before and after their names. Dr. Rev. Ph.D. Esq. CEO, CCO. We like lots of names and labels (Barring the Really famous who get away with simply Prince, Oprah, Sting & Madonna… and Jesus!
In this story Jesus upends this tradition as usual. It is the rich man who remains anonymous. The rich man isn’t acknowledged by name, but it is the poor man who is named and becomes the protagonist of the story. This reversal plays on the idea of the named gentry and the unnamed anonymous poor. This poor man has a name: Lazarus. And the name Lazarus in Greek means “God is my Help.”
This is the only parable in the bible that names names. All of the others use generics like the rich man, the sower, the father, the man, the tax collector…That’s a significant point for us. Jesus gets very specific here: turning to a specific poor man, a specific person with a name.
The Gospel story takes place after the death of Lazarus and the rich man. But the emphasis is on what happened during their lives. "Ignore human need and despite external appearances, there is only deep internal poverty:”  A gap between us and God and others. Heaven is internal. Sometimes we speak of Heaven on Earth. Hell on Earth for many of us is the knowledge of suffering that we cannot remedy. It is internal: What feels like that insurmountable chasm. Our hearts ache.
In the vision that Jesus offers, it is the victim who is to be exalted, it is his very need that provides the opportunity for the rest of us to experience the divine, by reaching across the gap not only to the poor and the hungry but also responding with compassion to others who perceive things differently.
How do we remedy these disconnects while we are living? I feel like this community has embraced the life; the message that Jesus is describing. What troubles us primarily is how our societies are embracing this teaching. (The World.) This is what troubled Jesus. The “World” gives us news feeds and social media that are constantly creating schisms, disconnects: chasms …even amidst our friends and family.
Labels like the rich man, tax collector turn into republican, democrat, maga, anti-vaxers, Trumpers, conservative, liberal. It is still so easy for us to dismiss, to put people into categories and dehumanize them in the process, which always dehumanizes us.
I don’t know about you, but I know Trump supporters who are also pro women’s choice and pro vaccination. I know Liberals who don’t like Biden, and who are against vaccination mandates. Conservatives who believe in free speech, Liberals who believe in free speech. Veterans who vote Democrat and artists who vote Republican. We are complicated. We are individuals. We are unique. We each have a name like Lazarus. A real name not a label.
Chasms are made by humans. In that predicament we stand as a community of hope. Being God’s people makes us available witnesses to the World in all of its discord and messiness. Sometimes it may feel hopeless, but I would offer that Jesus, our teacher, is always trying to bridge this gap. This is why we say he came down from Heaven, To reconcile us to God and to one another. Rather than hopeless we can feel empowered by this identity. Like Lazarus we have a name: “God is my help." As the children of God we can also take hope in a future because Jesus invites us to follow him by being bridges, by opening our gates and letting our guards down with each connection we attempt to make.
Taking hold of that “life that really is life” is about days of reflection: wrestling with important issues until we are transformed. “Life that really is life" is not censorship and closed gates. It is connecting: facing into difference and giving of ourselves through listening, staying awake emotionally, spiritually and sometimes financially. “Life that really is life” is centered in our Soul where God dwells and where we can expand our sense of Heaven.
“Life that really is life" is Love and "Love is not about what you are going to get, but about what you are willing to give away, which is everything." 
1. The Rev. Steve Yagerman
2. Kathryn Hepburn