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The sermon for week September 29, 2013

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Mind the Gap

Luke 16:19-31

The rich man and Lazarus… there is a gap between them. Jesus tells a story of a terrible chasm that existed between them after they died. But that great chasm was there while they were still alive. And I think Jesus wants us to think about how there might not be such a big chasm on this side of heaven.

Sam always asks us to find ourselves in the story. Well, I’m not finding myself as Lazarus. Yet, I’m not the rich man either. At least, I don’t feel like the rich man. I can excuse myself, right… I’m not rich. I don’t have a multi-million dollar home. I’m not planning an extravagant birthday party for Sam’s 2nd birthday. I’m not wasting my money on a $2,300 solid crystal turtle. Who would buy that? And why? Or a $12,000 watch? How does it keep better time than my cell phone?

I get pretty excited because I’m not one of those wealthy people. Yet I don’t spend all that much time talking to people who are really, really poor. I mean, maybe a little when I’m at Nu Vizion or Grace Community Center. Or when someone happens by the office, and we sign them up for Toledo Area Ministries. Yet I sense that there’s a great chasm between these visitors and me.

There’s a great chasm in today’s text, and it existed before both men died. Listen to how carefully this text is written. Jesus wants us to see this chasm.

A rich man, unnamed. A poor man named Lazarus. A rich man dressed in purple and fine linen. A poor man dressed not in purple, but covered in sores. A rich man who feasted. A poor man named Lazarus who longed for a crumb that might fall from the rich man’s table. And one never feasts alone: The rich man must have had so many friends over for dinner and knew so many people. Lazarus kept company with the dogs. There’s a huge chasm, a gap between how these men are living.

And there’s no indication that the rich man even knows Lazarus, yet after they die; he calls out to Lazarus by name. “Send Lazarus!” you mean he knew the poor man’s name?! And he did nothing?! Not even a sandwich?

Well, the answer to this is that the rich man is cruel and hard-hearted, right? Here’s another thing that Jesus does, he paints the rich man as rather… loving. He’s so concerned for his family left behind. “Please, send someone to warn my brothers!” Jesus doesn’t present him as a nasty man.

Then Jesus says, “Father Abraham replies, ‘They have Moses and the prophets, they should listen to them.’” This is the heart of this parable. What do Moses and the prophets say? Jesus is interpreting scripture in this parable. It’s not just about economics, about the gap between those who are rich and those who are poor, it’s about theology and how we interpret scripture. And by this parable, Jesus is calling us to be interpreters of the text. How do we rightly interpret Moses and the prophets? That’s the question here.

Hear this from Deuteronomy 28: “If you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments you’ll get these blessings:” and the chapter goes on to give all sorts of blessings: blessings of the field, blessings of the soil, blessings on the city you reside in, all kinds of blessings if you obey the Lord. Then the rest of the chapter is filled with curses if you disobey. And they are the opposite of the blessings: blight of the fields, mold and mildew in your soil, a cursed city. And listen to this very specific curse: “The LORD will strike you in the knees and on the legs with severe boils which cannot be healed, and from the sole of your foot to the top of your head.”

And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, even the dogs would come and lick his sores. See what Jesus is doing? He’s painting a picture of the one cursed by God in Deuteronomy. So according to one interpretation of the text, the rich man doesn’t have to do anything for Lazarus! This is his plight. Lazarus is getting what he deserves for disobeying the Lord.

But Jesus knew there were many other words in Deuteronomy. “You shall open wide your hand to your brothers and sisters, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” As we move into the prophets the voice gets stronger. Amos, Jeremiah, Micah, and then we get these words from Isaiah: “Is not this the fast of the Lord: to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores. Which reading of Moses and the prophets will we heed? Which reading opens us up to the pain of the world?

There are so many gaps in my thinking. I was shocked to learn the experience of black people in America. From witnessing the less-than-fair treatment of the only African-American in my white Catholic school, to my undergrad classes in African-American History and the friendships I made in college. I had no idea. There were gaps in my thinking. Now I am somewhat aware of the pain of many black people.

When I learned about the treatment of women, what gaps were in my thinking! My own single mother, she was a mechanic when I was growing up. She only went to certain car parts stores because of how she was treated as a female mechanic. What she was subjected to just because of her gender… What so many women are subjected to…

Recently, Kate and I attended a screening of the documentary Miss Representation at UT. Miss Representation is a documentary about women’s issues and there I learned that while women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures (behind Iraq and Afghanistan). Women make up 51% of the population, they only hold 3% of clout positions in mainstream media. This matters because the body type presented in the media somehow accounts for the fact that 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors. I don’t really think about this, but I should. My mom’s a woman, so is my wife. And my daughter… what type of world, what type of images will Eve have to battle? I, as a male, need to address these gaps in my thinking.

My mind goes back to my sermon about “The Mutt” my cheap car I owned back in high school. I said that The Mutt was a reminder that I was poor, but I was rich enough to own a car! I am one of about 9% in the world who owns a car. And privileged enough to have my own personal mechanic mother who could keep it running, that’s better than most.

I have never really been hungry. Not really, really hungry. I’ve never had to walk to get my water, I’ve always just had to go to the sink. These are incredibly wonderful things, rich living compared to the rest of the world.

I am also rather able-bodied. So hearing the witness of the Rev. Bob Molsberry when he was here, how important it is to have access in this church. And in speaking with many of you who have undergone knee replacements or changes in your ability. You’re filling in gaps in my thinking. You are helping me mind the gap. You are making me aware.

This is what we mean in our mission statement when we say “deepen our faith as we journey together.” We help fill in one another’s gaps. And minding the gap is seeing the world for what it is. Experiencing the world from someone else’s point of view is an incredible thing and accepting their reality is the first step to change. It is about compassion.

I think what Jesus was trying to do in his ministry was to bridge this chasm. And the church exists to do that very thing: to bridge the chasm. To mind the gaps in our thinking. For Jesus was crucified in ignorance. His last words were “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” When I look at the cross, my heart breaks. We did this to God, we did this to an innocent man. And we didn’t even know it. And we continually do these things to ourselves and each other because of the gaps in our thinking. Yet being in community, walking with one another, helps fill in the gaps.

Compassion grows as a result. It helps us resist our very real urge to hang people up on the cross. Instead, the cross reminds us to open our arms wide to one another. Something the rich man failed to do during his time on earth. Something we often fail to do to the Lazaruses sitting on our doorstep. And together we can figure out how to respond in a meaningful way to the world with such terrible chasms in it.

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