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The Chasm - Sermon on Luke 16:19-31

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The chasm separating the rich and the poor seems insurmountable just as was the chasm separating the wicked and the good in the Hebrew land of shades. But Jesus is the bridge.

Note: This sermon was a rerecord done as the recorder did not function on Sunday when It was delivered.  

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 25 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

"The Chasm".  Text is from Luke 16:19-31 

Click here for sermon audio 

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

This is a classic parable of Jesus in Luke, and when we approach it it sounds like a classic reversal. Here we have a two significant characters. First we have the rich man. He enjoys all the things life has to offer, and wants for nothing. He has failed, however, to take notice of the suffering even at the gate of his house and has left Lazarus, a poor soul, hungry there, with dogs licking his wounds. As what comes to all mortal men, the both of them die. However, the fortunes are now reversed, as Lazarus, upon his ending, is carried off by angels and received into the land of the dead by Abraham, the patriarch of all the children of Israel. The rich man, however, is condemned into Hades, and suffers unending pain and torment. 

Crying out to Abraham, the rich man wishes for some small favor, that he send poor Lazarus with the slightest bit of water to quench his thirst. Having been refused that, because of the distance of the chasm, that the patriarch send Lazarus to warn his brothers against the life that caused he himself to find torment. Abraham says it is impossible, if they are not swayed by Moses, and the words of the prophets like we heard from Amos this morning, a dead man rising up would not make any difference. 

So one thing that we find in this passage is that even in death, the rich man is entitled. He doesn't appear to be overly remorseful of his behavior, and even fails to acknowledge Lazarus directly, but continues to expet Lazarus to serve his needs. Abraham, bid Lazarus to quench my thirst. Abraham bid Lazarus to warn my brothers. At first glance it appears that the rich man has earned his comeuppance. He did not even see Lazarus in life, he failed to acknowledge the suffering at his doorstep, and even in suffering fails to see his own culpability, choosing to objectify Lazarus and not see him as a human being. 

And so, for those of us who are trod upon in life, it truly is good news. Lazarus is spending the rest of eternity, with Abraham on the proper side of the chasm. Being well treated. And those that would have ignored him, those that would have tossed their scraps to the dogs before giving them to the hungry, those are reaping their rewards.

We see this chasm in death is much like the chasm that exists between worlds in life. That the gap between the rich and the poor is somehow insurmountable. That we find even though the years separate us from Luke's readers, that we can still understand a deeper meaning here in this text. Being too comfortable in one's situation can lead one to ignore those who it would take little effort to help. But while there is a strong element and sense of justice in this parable, it still feels like, on its own, it doesn't reconcile with radical justice and radical reparations. 

Is this parable good news for everyone? What of the rich man who at the end of his life was not redeemed, and even as he lie in torment in the afterlife, the chasm is not at all traversable. Even as he demonstrates an awareness of his life's...or death's situation, and has an opportunity to learn from it. This is not good news for him. Nor is it good news for many of us who have very low opinions of ourselves. I know that there were times in my life when I felt as if I could do no right and that even when I had good intentions, I was destined for failure. At those times, if I read something such as this parable of the rich man and Lazarus, I assure you I would have fervently identified with the rich man, and felt hopeless when I thought of my life passing worthlessly before me. Thankfully, those periods did not last long, but it makes me think of those people, many of them who are around, even among us, who view themselves as irredeemable. Those folk who jokingly say to you, "the church would come crumbling if I walked into the doors." How does one find good news in a parable that talks about a great chasm that cannot be bridged between those were left out in life but found paradise in death and those who had everything but lost themselves in the torment of Hades. 

Chasm (PSF)

How do we find good news if we are already under the illusion that we are destined for damnation? Jesus is already giving them the information that they need. The rich man is already talking to Abraham, and tells him about his brothers. Abraham reminds him that the brothers already have all they need from Moses and the prophets. And then comes the clincher. Even if someone rises from the dead, if they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, how are they going to believe it. If they cannot honor the commandment to look out for the poor, the infirmed, the stranger in their midst, how will the miracle of a risen friend convince them of what to do. 

But sisters and brothers, the chasm was bridged, because of that rising from the dead. Because on its own, this seems like a simple message about how the old rules apply to the people of Israel, but remember, this is written with the whole story of Jesus in mind. We know that when we read the gospels, we know that not only does Jesus know what is to become of himself, but he drops many hints there and there, and although this one might not be obvious at first, when Jesus says, how can someone rising from the dead convince them, it is not the parabolic Lazarus of whom he speaks but himself. 

It is in that death itself, that we declare that Jesus descended to the dead, or Hell, or Hades or many other names for the realm in which the shades are housed, and thereupon rescued the dead who had gone before. Jesus brought Lazarus up from the land of the dead, even as he brought a different Lazarus back from the brink of death. But the chasm was bridged and the bonds were broken, and the rich man was brought out from his torment as well. Never having known the mercy from the love of a risen Christ, and the gift of God's unconditional grace, the torment comes to an end. 

And although Amos warns us of what is to come for those who are housed in comfort, that they became the first to suffer, Paul, in his letter to Timothy gives us a different take. It is not in being rich that people are doomed, but through living in Christ and doing what the holy spirit calls them to do, people of means have the ability to live a godly life, "to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life."

For we who suffer, God brings comfort and life. For we who believe ourselves condemned, God brings forgiveness and mercy. For we who are rich, God sends the Holy Spirit to point us the way to live good lives of sharing and deeds. For we who are poor, God gives the promises of wealth of spirit and a kingdom free of want. And for all of God's people, the good news is that God's grace and mercy and promise is for each of us in this world, and the next. 


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