Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Sermon: The Grand Canyon


This was my sermon this morning. I even learned how to copy it from my computer at work! I am learning more of this computer business every day.


The Grand Canyon


Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? There’s really nothing else like it anywhere, is there? You can see pictures, but they don’t really capture the sense you get when you are standing there, looking down into the huge unbridgeable chasm. My family stopped at the Grand Canyon when we were on a family trip when I was a teenager – just stopped to take a look. We took some pictures – little square pictures – but when we got home, we agreed that they just didn’t do the Canyon justice. This last time we took two teenagers with us – and their first reaction was like ours – there is nothing like it. "Wow!" they said – and some other words too. The Grand Canyon is awesome – in its beauty – but also in its danger.


I would like you to have that picture in your mind – the picture of the Grand Canyon – when you think of the Great Chasm in the story from our gospel today – the story of the rich man and Lazarus. After both of them die – and Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham, and the
rich man to the fires of Hades – there is an unbridgeable chasm between them. That’s what Abraham says, anyway, when the rich man begs him to have Lazarus come over and help him – just a little bit. Just as Lazarus, while he was living, longed for just the crumbs from the rich man’s table, the rich man longs for just a little bit of water. He isn’t asking for a lot. But Abraham says, "I’m sorry, but there is this unbridgeable Grand Canyon-size chasm between us. And there’s nothing I can do about it." And I imagine that he is saying this to the rich man in the nicest way possible. This is really, in some ways, an incredibly frightening parable, just as the Grand Canyon is a frightening place. If you slip and fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, there is no way you can be saved. There is no hope for you. The familiar song "Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham" ... might have that lilting chorus "So high you can’t get over it/so low you can’t get under it/so deep you can’t get around it..." but the meaning is ominous. It’s the unbridgeable chasm. That's the picture at the end of this parable. It’s a dark and sobering picture of danger and judgment.


But if you look closely, you will notice that this Chasm was also there before the rich man and Lazarus died.. Though it was invisible, perhaps, it was just as deep and just as wide. Lazarus was sitting every day at the rich man’s gate, so close to help, so close to food, so close to a little bit of riches – but it seemed there was an unbridgeable chasm, and the rich man just couldn’t get over it to help him. In fact, it seems that the poor man was invisible. We don’t know what was going through that rich man’s mind. We don’t know if he was too busy, too preoccupied with his own life to help the poor man. We don’t know if perhaps that’s why he didn’t stop and at least throw some crumbs to Lazarus. We do know one thing though: we know that the first hearers of this parable, the people who were listening to Jesus at that time, would have heard the first two verses of the story and assumed a different outcome. They would have imagined the scenes in their head of the rich man and his fine clothes and large dinners and his great house in the gated community, and they would have imagined that poor sick man – and they would have assumed that in the next verse the rich man would be in heaven and the poor man would have gone to the other place. They would have gasped in surprised when Lazarus – Lazarus!!! – was carried off to the bosom of Abraham. They would have assumed that the man who was rich was blessed by God and that the man who was poor was obviously – not. Not blessed, not righteous, somehow morally inferior. And perhaps the rich man himself thought this – as he passed through his gate to go to the synagogue and pray, and as he thanked God for his big house and his good food – perhaps he thought as he looked at the poor man who lay there: "He is not worth helping. He has been cursed God. That’s why he’s poor."

And lest you think that this attitude does not exist even today: I know of a pastor who was teaching confirmation, and talking about the 7th commandment: "You shall not steal." And they were talking about different kinds of stealing – shoplifting, cheating on tests, other sorts of things ... and the pastor told the students about a business practice he had heard of – I don’t know if it still occurs – that in grocery stores in the inner cities, (where people are often poor) they often charge more than they do in grocery stores in the suburbs. "Do you think this is a kind of stealing?" the pastor asked. And one of the students answered, "That’s not stealing. That’s just GOOD BUSINESS." Is it? "So wide you can’t get around it..."

As I said – the chasm between Lazarus and the rich man existed before they died – and it exists even today. There’s a chasm between the rich and the poor – but that is not only chasm. There are chasms not only between rich and poor, but between people of different races and religious and political affiliations, people who speak different languages and live in different places. But who created these great and dangerous canyons? So wide you can’t get around them, so deep you can’t get under them... who creates them now? The chasms that say: "You are poor for a reason. I don’t have anything in common with you. You are not like me. You are not worthy of help." The chasms that separate us into US and THEM.


The book The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler begins this way:

"The man who washes cars... does not own one. The clerk who files cancelled checks at the bank has $2.02 in her own account. The woman who copy-edits medical textbooks has not been to a dentist in a decade..... This is the forgotten America. At the bottom of its working world, millions live in the shadow of prosperity and well- being.... They serve you Big Macs and help you find merchandise at Wal-Mart. They harvest your food, clean your offices, and sew your clothes."

Lazarus is at our gates. We probably look each other in the eye every day. Or do we look away? Do we look away, or turn away? For whenever we look away, or turn away from Lazarus at our gates..... we create the Grand Canyon – the unbridgeable chasm between us. Maybe we turn away from fear, or maybe from shame, or maybe we are just distracted by our own concerns and cares. Whatever the reason, whenever we look away, whenever we harden our hearts, we create the chasm between us. God doesn’t fix the chasm. We do. By isolating ourselves from one another, from others – the poor, the outcast, the lonely. By not seeing that they are our brothers and sisters, people who God also cares about, sinners who God wants to be fed and cared for and clothed. By not seeing that we are a part of them, and they are a part of us.
By not seeing that our fates are intertwined. We create the chasm – not God. And in the end it turns out that the chasm doesn’t just separate us from them – it also separates us from God.
So wide you can’t get around it, so deep you can’t get under it....

But Jesus can. Jesus can and Jesus did. Jesus came here, to this poor earth, to walk with us, and to live with us. Jesus bridged the chasm that separates us from God and from one another –
and shows us that there is no human power that can dig a chasm so wide or so deep that it cannot be bridged in God’s grace – and by God’s love. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord," Paul writes. "Not life or death, nor things present nor things to come...." His love is ... "so high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under, so wide you can’t get around it..."

Because Jesus is not afraid to call us, all of us, rich and poor, young or old, lonely and outcast – his brothers and sisters. He does not look away from us, or run away from us, but comes to us with healing and food, with cool water for our heads, with forgiveness, life. He comes to every single one of us sinners this day. He is not afraid to eat and drink with us, not afraid to sit at our bedside, not afraid to live and die with us. He calls us "sisters and brothers" – no matter who we are – and he invites us to look at his face, and to serve him as we serve the lonely and the outcast, the homeless and the poor – and so see them as our brothers and sisters, too. Every time we do this – we bridge the chasm – in Jesus’ name.

AMEN

13 comments:

more cows than people said...

Outstanding. Great work, Diane! The image, the gentle way of dealing with a difficult text, the invitation to sight and to grace. Love it.

how did it go?

Diane said...

it went fine... not quite as energetic as the "lost and found" sermon from two weeks ago, but well-received (I think)...

I was getting pictures with baptismal family after 2nd service and didn't have time to hear any feedback then.

Wyldth1ng said...

Very good, the analogy is awesome.

Diane said...

I appreciate your feedback ...

ann.markle said...

Oh, my, this was my theme, too. We live in Appalachian Tennessee. We have Lazarus in muliple, who are off the grid entirely: no medical care, no birth certificate, no school enrollment (and certainly no diploma). We have fairly affluent retirees who are concerned about having enough to live on till they die, and then just across the road we have folks who can't have a phone, cable TV, and food on the table all at the same time. Thanks for joining me in the reminder about Lazarus and the rich man (I reminded all that we are ALL rich, compared to the rest of the world).

Barbara B. said...

"By not seeing that our fates are intertwined." -- wow, yes, hit the nail on the head here!

LawAndGospel said...

Really great! And I read this after reading an article for homiletics class about how the poor envision texts differently, these same people you identified so well here. I wonder though if sometimes our listeners think we are talking about someone else needing to hear the message and not themselves?
Unrealted but "uwbxztsd" to post? Soon it will be the whole alphabet! ;)

Diane said...

law and gospel -- re: the listeners. oh, I think that's always an issue ... I'm not the rich man... and the answer is that we are and we aren't.

Diane said...

oh, and for Barb -- not seeing our fates are intertwined -- could do a whole sermon on that! that's a really big part of the issue for me, that we separate ourselves from those who are "different". that's one of the big "sin" issues for me

Pastor Eric said...

I enjoyed your sermon; Jesus bridging the "un-bridgable" chasms. When I was thinking about this text I thought of a song by Point of Grace called "The Great Divide". I used the lyrics in my sermon on Sunday. I especially like the lyric thats says, "There is a cross to bridge the great divide". Thanks much.

Kievas said...

Enjoyed the sermon and imagery. It seems like the chasm is growing wider each year.

Tribal Church said...

I love it. Great sermon. I'll always remember your images when I read that passage now.

Thanks.

FranIAm said...

Just a few moments in Spain and checking a few blogs. Never a regret in coming here... Wow. GREAT sermon Diane.

Prayers from here to there- back soon!