God has crossed any chasms between us and God, and now empowers us to bridge the chasms between us and all God’s children, for the life of the creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 26 C
Texts: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There are two great chasms God shows in these readings. The important one isn’t the one you think.
Jesus tells of two of God’s children who die and end up in very different places. One is in God’s presence forever. The other is in torment in, well, the other place. And in Jesus’ story, Abraham says there’s a vast chasm between the two places, and none can cross it.
But it’s the other chasm that God is far more concerned about. The chasm between Lazarus and this rich man in their earthly lives, one eating well in a beautiful house, and one living on the streets with the dogs. The canyon between these two deeply distresses God.
It’s the same chasm Amos decries, declaring God’s judgement on those who lounge on their beds, eating and drinking and being entertained, while their neighbors starve and struggle for life. Hundreds of years of God’s prophets decry the huge chasm between those who are safe and secure, wealthy enough to never miss a meal or doubt about shelter, and those whose every moment is a struggle for survival.
That’s the chasm that makes all these readings so uncomfortable for us today, with our sofas and houses and food and IRAs and privilege. And it breaks God’s heart.
And if God’s children won’t fill this chasm and bridge it, God will be on one side.
We hear it all the time from our Scripture reading in worship and at home. We sing it in our psalms and hymns. Mary sang it. Moses and the prophets declared it. Jesus lived and proclaimed it. The early church centered their lives around it. Here’s how today’s psalm we sang says it: God gives justice to those who are oppressed, food to those who hunger, freedom to the captives. God cares for the stranger and the orphan, lifts up all who are bowed down.
If you and I sit on our comfortable, well-fed side of the chasm, these readings today – and all of Scripture – say God’s going to be on the other side. God wants no gap between God’s children. God wants all to live in freedom and abundance and justice and mercy. But if we keep digging the canyon deeper, or ignoring it, if we ignore those at our gates and on our streets, God will never. God will be with them. On the other side.
But God’s Word has good news for us today, too.
Even if God is on the side of those who struggle, God always keeps reaching out to our side. We have these constant, regular admonitions from Scripture because God simply won’t stop hoping that somehow we’ll hear, be changed, and that this chasm in our world will close.
God could have abandoned the northern kingdom of Israel to their greed and wealth and abuse of poor and oppressed people. But God sent a farmer from the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos, to the north, just to get across God’s word of warning. A warning that included God’s hope that these people would hear, be changed, and so change their world.
Jesus hopes that just maybe rich people like us who hear his story will remember Moses and the prophets and their call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, and will be jarred to change. And to change our world.
The joy here is that God hasn’t given up on you. Or on me. Or on the Church. God’s love is for all God’s children, including those in the houses, at the full tables, with the IRAs. God hopes maybe you’ll finally be drawn off the sofa and out the door to start bridging the canyon between God’s children. And if you and I do, and more and more do, this chasm will finally cease to exist.
1 Timothy transforms our fear into hope as well.
Like Amos and Jesus, this writer is also deeply concerned about the chasm between those who have and those who don’t. So again, through this writer, God’s hope for you and me to change still flows.
But this writer says if all God’s children with houses and tables and pantries and IRAs start sharing, become rich in good works for others, become generous, simply do good, we will know what real life is. Life that really is life, this writer says.
God’s true grace is that a world with no chasm between God’s children, where all have enough and are fed, is joy and life in a way that those of us with the houses and tables and IRAs don’t know right now.
You see, Lazarus and this rich man would both have had a truly abundant life if there had been no gap. If everyone had enough to eat, and a place to stay, and medical care for whatever their needs were, it would have been a good, abundant, joyful lif for all. If anyone is in need, you are, too, God’s Word says. If any one suffers, you do, too. And the way to life for one is life for all. That’s Christ’s real life. Abundant life. Joyful life.
But in case you still can’t shake the threats of Jesus’ story, there’s more good news.
Notice that Jesus tells a parable he has every intention of proving wrong.
He has Abraham say that the second chasm in these readings, that is, the eternal chasm between those who are with God in the next life and those who are not, is so wide, so vast, it can never be bridged.
But this is God-with-us talking. God in our flesh, who has literally crossed that chasm already. Who will, on the cross, permanently fill it. Make his sacrificial love the bridge to bring all God’s children back into the loving embrace and dance and life of the Triune God. Rich man and Lazarus and all – all will be with God in the life to come.
Jesus has absolutely no intention of following through on the fear of this parable, throwing you or anyone into torment after this life. He is living – and dying – proof of God’s insistence on ending all the distance between God and God’s children. No chasm is wide enough to keep God from crossing.
But Jesus also does what Abraham says it won’t matter to do.
Abraham tells the rich man that if his living brothers don’t heed the Scriptures they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
But Jesus will actually rise from the dead. Christ’s sacrificial love will die for you and me and the whole creation and be transformed into life that creates and restores all things. The Triune God’s resurrection life, poured into you by the Spirit, will empower you and me to start filling the chasm in this world and building bridges. Will fill God’s children with life and the power to change everything and bring all to hope and justice and mercy.
This is the life that really is life – sharing, being generous, bridging gaps, tearing down walls.
Sure, it means giving up more and more of our privilege, more and more of what we have. It means learning new priorities and letting go of our human need to hoard and store up for ourselves. It means opening our eyes to see those at our gates and in our streets as God sees them. It means opening our hearts to care for the same people God cares for, the ones we keep singing about here. It means closing the chasm between God’s children in this world so all may live.
But this is the life that really is life. The only life worth living for you and all God’s children. Nothing can keep you from it, if you really want it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen