The not-so-grand Canyon – sermon for Sept. 25, 2016

Preaching text:Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
How’d it get to be so big, so beautiful? How were the walls carved out of red, yellow, white and brown rocks of the Grand Canyon? Many years ago, before we had the boys, Brad and I traveled out to Arizona to go hiking in and around the Grand Canyon. As we stood on the South Rim, gazing in awe and wonder, reading the signs describing the 1.84 billion year old rocks and the carving of the canyon by wind, water, tectonic plate movements from 6 million years ago, the ice age fossils, I overheard a different answer to the question of when, how, what made the Grand Canyon. A man explained to the people around him, that it was the Flood, the global deluge that we read about in Genesis ch. 7 & 8. Those rushing waters carved the canyon exposing rocks that were put there on Day 3 of creation only 6-7 thousand years ago.


Two very different explanations of the same phenomenon. Which is what could be going on in our passage from Luke’s gospel. That is, there two chasms 1. is what Abraham points out. And, as Barb’s thoughtful liturgy points out to us today there is another—a 2nd chasm. The great divide that exists in this world, in our lives—between the rich man and Lazarus—the not-so-grand canyon that divides the rich from the people in poverty.


In the gospel story Jesus tells, we hear of some nameless rich guy wearing fine clothes, eating fine food, and living in a fine gated home. Unlike our modern world, right at this rich guy’s door was put Lazarus, covered not in soft robes, but in soars, and starving to death. Some might see it as a sign of progress, that we’ve been able to put and keep the poor in their place, the rich separated by miles of expressway, gates, cards, cars, entry-codes, so that the rich do not need to really see the poor.


The very creation of this not-so-grand canyon can be one of the things that makes the division so deep. And much like the example of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, some


people still today create a false chasm between science/experience on one side and faith on the other. Some people see the systemic patters of oppression that entrap generations of some people — many people of color and others in poverty. Others, some Christians attribute the distance between rich and poor to the hand of divine providence. On that side, riches and success are signs of God’s blessing. Poverty and injustice are signs of, if not God’s punishment, at least somehow God’s will.


Now there are certain passages in the Bible that can be found to support this interpretation of the world. However, it should be quite clear to us, that this is not Jesus’ vision. The wealth the rich man received (inherited or was lucky enough to get)—the rich man’s wealth is not rewarded. According to Jesus it helps dig the deep chasm between the rich man and Lazarus. So in this story, after both men die, the rich man suffers in Hades while Lazarus is gently placed in the arms of Abraham. It is not only interesting, but I think important to note that Jesus does not tell us that Lazarus was good guy; nowhere do we hear that he is an example of the noble and godly poor. There’s nothing to say he earned his place in the bosom of Abraham. It is, according to Jesus, simply and significantly God’s will, God’s doing.


Jesus wants us to know that the not-so-grand canyons between rich and poor, between people of color and whites, between people in the US and so many other places. God didn’t dig these chasms. God is not the creator of canyons or chasms. That’s all us folks.


And if these divides are not part of some divine plan they do not have to be permanent and impenetrable. Do any of you remember, did anyone of you watch the tv broadcast from 2013 of Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a wire? We did, and of course Micah asked, “Mommy can you do that?” No! And, there’s no way I would ever ever even try. Unfortunately, that’s how we treat the great chasms in our world today. We take Abraham’s words as Gospel truth.


The Gospels themselves, though tell whole different story. A story of crossing chasms not for glory, but for love. Way before the amazing Flying Wallendas, it was Jesus. Jesus crossed the great divides not just between god and humanity, between the eternal and temporal. Jesus crossed the chasm between the great and powerful and the poor and insignificant. The incarnate God as Christ didn’t walk around wearing the purple robes of Roman royalty. He didn’t feast sumptuously on fine organic, free range food with the rich and powerful. He bridges the chasms to eat with hungry, the despised.  


Which is at the heart of what following Jesus is all about. Think about all that we already do cross the chasms of rivers of mountains. We do a lot to bridge natures divides, Jesus calls us to put the same energy, time, resources into bridging the divides between us. But this isn’t merely giving money to feed the hungry. You know, we could give food out much more efficiently if we just installed a drive through, like McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. It could save us and the people we serve much more quickly, and while that is a bonus. We couldn’t get to know the people who come here; we wouldn’t hear a part of their story; we wouldn’t be showing them the love and respect that the Spirit of Jesus pours into our hearts to live out with them. As author Sarah Miles says of Jesus’ church, says after having received communion one day, she says “I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome…And so I became a Christian…”[2]


Jesus crosses the not-so-grand canyons, not to be entertaining, not even for good publicity. Today, Jesus crosses the chasms of time, of space, of logic and reason to feed us the finest food of healing and forgiveness, food to strengthen and in-spirit us for the work ahead, to cross the chasms between rich and poor. For Jesus there is no divide too deep, no hole too wide, wealth, or guilt, or addiction, or trauma or doubt, no chasm can, as Paul says in one of my favorite passages from Romans—chapter 8. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. It is God’s will for all the children of Abraham, for all the children of God that no one will have to ask the question how did the divide, the chasm get so big. Amen.


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