Monday, September 26, 2016

It's Our Chasm

Luke 16: 19-31
September 25, 2016

It’s easy to understand why Jesus shares this parable.
The Pharisees, it says, are lovers of the law.
They use it to their own ends and to their own benefits.
It also says that they are lovers of money.
They enjoyed the finer things in life
and gave no thought to the throngs of poor people around them.

To be clear, this parable is not a full blown theology
of what happens after death and how salvation works.
It is a parable that says if you only had the law to rely on,
here is what the law would do to you.

So we have an unnamed rich man. He ate well, and he dressed well.
I think he is unnamed because he could be any one of us hearing.
We might say, in our defense, “well I don’t have a life
of obvious consumption, so this parable doesn’t apply to me.”
But expensive food and flashy dressing is not
in itself the problem.

What is the problem is that a poor man,
Lazarus, who does have a name,
has been laying at the unnamed rich man’s gate.
He’s sick, covered in sores and
the best part of Lazarus day was when the dogs
would come and lick them.

Lazarus wished that he could have
some of the rich man’s leftovers,
but obviously, the rich man didn’t care to share.
He didn’t care at all actually, it seems like
he didn’t even notice Lazarus, so he  
didn’t think that this poor man was his problem.

Maybe the unnamed rich man thought that he
was better than the poor people around him.
His comfort was a blessing from God.
And the poor people, they made bad choices,
they didn’t work as hard, they weren’t as smart,
they must have done something wrong
or they wouldn’t be in this position.
“Not my problem”, says the unnamed rich man.

This actually is the problem.
And we don’t have to be rich to have it.
So whether we consider ourselves rich,
or well off, or comfortable, or just getting by
it doesn’t matter, this parable is speaking to us.

So after he died, the unnamed rich man was sent to live in torment
and Lazarus was with the angels and father Abraham.
Which gives everyone else a good clue that
The unnamed rich man’s wealth was not a
God given blessing and a license of superiority at all.
Everyone else, except the unnamed man.
Because even after death he’s still arrogantly oblivious.

And just to prove that he still doesn’t get it,
the man calls over to father Abraham and actually tells
him to send Lazarus over to serve him
and bring him a cold drink.
Abraham tells them man,
“No, we can’t do that.”
And the reason is that
“a huge chasm exists between Lazarus and the man.”
A chasm.
A great gap that can’t be crossed.
That is the problem here.
A chasm between people.

We know about this chasm in our world.
The chasm between people.
Between rich and poor, between people of different races,
The chasm that we inherit, the chasm that we end up making larger.

Even if we’re not one of the conspicuously rich
like this unnamed man,
we have reinforced this chasm between us and others.
Especially those with less,
less money, less security, less privilege, less anything than we have.

We put physical distance between us,
and we put spiritual and mental distance between us too.
“At least we are not like them over there.”
And to keep others at a distance,
we make the chasm larger.
We support or ignore systems and laws that
keep people in lives of debt and fear
and always on the brink of disaster.
We support laws and development that take away housing,
and prevent people from earning a livable wage.

And then we look down on them for their suffering,
for a whole myriad of reasons:
They’re not as sophisticated as us,
or as smart as us, they’re not working as hard,
or making as good choices.
And we act as if their lives don’t matter as much.
Like the Pharisees, we love the law when it serves us.

With our action and inaction, with our apathy
and ignorance, we have created a great chasm.
No matter what our financial status,
we are familiar with the chasm that exists between
Lazarus and this unnamed man.
  
In this country, we are also part of a growing chasm
of race, even though some people try and deny it exists.
This week we seem to have another cascade
of black people being killed by law enforcement
without too much reason beyond fear.
One 13 year old was killed in our own city.

Whether or not we think one or any of these were justified,
the fact is that the African American community is hurting,
they feel under siege, nervous, angry,
afraid for their own lives and the lives of their children
frightened of the people who are there to protect them.
There seems to be no safe place.

Many black people feel like their lives don’t matter
as much to white people or this country.
And when this is expressed,
it’s often quickly shot down with a retort
that “all lives matter”, 
or with blame for the victims,
or with a though that they 
must have deserved it.
Or even a denial that there 
is a problem at all.
This isn’t a way to respond to pain.
Like the Pharisees, 
we love the law when it serves us.

Whatever your thoughts on this issue,
you must admit that a great chasm has grown
between white people and people of color.
People who are privileged by their race,
and people who are penalized by it.

The problem isn’t the privilege in itself, it’s the chasm.
Each generation, each nation, each place
has created and grown their own chasms,
it can’t be blamed on one person,
it’s not one person’s fault,
it’s taken years to build these chasms between people.
But this chasm is a problem.

The point of Jesus parable is to point out this problem.
And the point of this parable is also to say the time
to close our chasms is not later, it’s now.

The unnamed man gets another idea,
he’ll do a good deed –
or his version of a good deed anyway.
He tells Abraham to send Lazarus to go
serve him again and spend his time knocking
on the doors of his family and warn them
of the consequences of this chasm.

Abraham says, “umm.
Let me think about that for a minute. No.
You had all the information,
you should have fixed this chasm before.”

It’s not enough to say now, it doesn’t affect me,
I’m not going to get involved,
or this is too difficult to deal with  
or just pray that God will sort the whole thing out.
This chasm is ours to sort out, here.
This is for those five brothers to figure out.
We all have been given the guidance of Moses and the prophets.
Now is the time to listen and understand those we look down on.
Those we think we’re better than.

Jesus has basically show us the choice,
we can be stiff necked and tough,
and cling to our self-righteousness and say,
“not my problem today”
and just ignore the whole thing.
Or we can realize that we are all one family
and any problem of my brothers and sisters is my problem.

The bad news of this parable is that
The kingdom of God will not recognize our wealth
it does not recognize our privilege,
it does not reward us for being rewarded on earth.
On the contrary, the kingdom loves losers.

So be a loser.
If we happen to have money, wealth, privilege, good looks,
great friends, great luck, the best thing is to give it away.
As Jesus has said in Luke,
“Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required;
and from the one to whom much has been entrusted,
even more will be demanded.
Give up all your possessions.
You can’t serve God and wealth.”

But this chasm is not something we can just throw money at
and have it go away, Like Jesus we empty ourselves by,
eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners,
be seen with the wrong people, listening to the cries of sick,
bringing good news to the poor,
and, if you have access to the banquet,
inviting everyone into the banquet.
Time, understanding, compassion, vulnerability.
Those are the things that heal chasms.

For those of us with any status or wealth or privilege,
the chasm is ours to cross and heal in this world.

And the good news is that
even lovers of the law don’t have to worry.
Jesus has closed the chasm between us and God,
between eternal torment and the angels.
God’s grace is for everyone equally.

In God’s kingdom, we are all God’s children,

not rich or poor, slave or free, black or white.
In God’s kingdom, we are all one family.

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