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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Contented Life

There is no longer a chasm between us and God, or between us and our neighbor, for God has filled in all that divide through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 26 C
   Texts: Luke 16:19-31; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146

Sisters and brothers 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, fixed chasms in this story, not one.

There is the chasm between Abraham and Hades, which Abraham declares is fixed and great, and can’t be crossed in either direction. The rich man – so intertwined with his wealth, he has no name; Jesus just calls him “rich guy” – he feels the pain of this divide separating him not just from Abraham’s bosom, but from God.

But there was another chasm in his life, also fixed and great, that also divided “rich guy” from Lazarus, a poor, sick man who begged outside his door. Like the other one, this chasm, separating him from a neighbor in need, was never crossed. Lazarus may have sat outside his door for years, but could have been miles away for all “rich guy” could see him.

Amos rails against this second chasm. He decries the wealthy relaxing on their nice couches, enjoying wine and music and parties, and not even noticing or grieving the ruin of their own country. Their nation is collapsing under infidelity to God that builds a tremendous divide between rich and poor, an ethical failure that deems religious activities sufficient for faithfulness instead of caring for God’s world as God does. Meanwhile the wealthy enjoy their Cabernet.

Amos wonders how anyone could be content in their lives while others suffer. His audience, like “rich guy,” are living on the other side of the Grand Canyon from God and from their neighbor, and trying to make themselves content with that situation by seeking wealth and comfort.

That’s the problem God’s Word places directly in our path today.

It makes us uncomfortable to talk about being wealthy or rich, but it’s such a critical problem with our human nature that the Scriptures come back to it again and again. Our problem is we see the 1% in our country, the wealthiest of the wealthy, and know we aren’t among them. What we avoid is that we’re actually the 1% ourselves when it comes to the rest of the world. Comparing ourselves only to the ultrawealthy lets us hide from God’s claim that our relationship to wealth is destroying us. Our love for money is at the root of all kinds of evil in the world and our lives, from war to poverty to injustice we permit to continue.

Today we hear that wealth tempts us to be content with our lives while others suffer terribly. That wealth, our wealth, blinds us to these chasms that exist. That wealth doesn’t lead us to God; it helps us set up our couches and parties on the edge of the canyon in hopes we can pretend the divides between us and God, and us and neighbor, don’t exist.

We hear that wealth, our pursuit of it, our defensiveness that we aren’t wealthy, our need to protect what we have, all of this means we are not living a real life, a truly contented life. We were designed to live in love with God and with our neighbor. As long as chasms divide us from those relationships, no amount of enjoying ourselves on the edge is going to truly fill our empty hearts and our discontented spirits.

It’s good that Abraham is wrong about one thing, then.

He says those who want to cross the chasm in either direction, can’t. But God’s Word witnesses that the Triune God absolutely can and does cross over, and it is so massive a movement of grace that the chasms are filled in forever.

One of the greatest mysteries of our faith is why God bothers to try and heal our world after all the evil we have done to it and to each other. Surely God has earned the right to relax on a heavenly couch, enjoy wine and music, and not be grieved over the ruin of this earth.

Yet God could not rest, would not be content while this world suffered. The Incarnation reveals to us God’s sleepness nights over our brokenness and sin. Unable to let us go, God chooses to become one of us, and the Trinity sends the Son to take on our flesh and cross the great, fixed chasm between humanity and God. God has crossed, and reached out into our lives to restore us into the relationship of love God always wanted.

The other chasm doesn’t exist in Christ, either. In Christ Jesus, the Triune God does exactly what we sang with the psalmist today, and what we prayed in our collect: God looks with compassion on this troubled world, and comes to give justice to those who are oppressed, food to those who hunger, freedom to those who are captive.

Jesus’ ministry is the embodiment of the Scriptures’ hopes for God’s healing life in this world. Even when he didn’t want to distract people from his preaching by doing miracles, Jesus couldn’t walk past the Lazaruses sitting in his path, hiding in the corners, unseen or unloved. In Christ, the chasm between us and our neighbor is utterly removed.

That is, of course, if we wish to be found in Christ. If we want the chasms gone.

“Rich guy” worried about that, now that he saw the truth. Who would warn his brothers about these chasms?

It’s a fascinating question. What does he want to warn them? Does he want them to care for the Lazaruses outside their own doors? What warning will help them?

Whatever he wants, Abraham says “never mind.” They’ve got Moses to warn them, they’ve got the prophets. Prophets like Amos today. They can see truth there.

When “rich guy” says that’s not enough, have someone come back from the dead, and then they’ll believe, Abraham says something that breaks this all open: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they’re not going to be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

This might be the second time Abraham’s wrong in this story. Because someone will rise from the dead, and the Risen One will change everything. Even if we’re not convinced by Scripture, by Moses and the prophets, we need to pay attention to this One who died and rose.

Christ’s resurrection isn’t about warning, like Moses and the prophets. It’s about ending the chasms permanently.

Christ Jesus, in dying and rising from the dead as the Incarnate Son of the Holy and Triune God, shatters the fabric of all things. Christ’s resurrection fills in the chasms between us and God and us and neighbor with all the rubble of death and evil that was broken by divine love that overcame all the powers of this world.

A new land now lies before us, a gift of the Risen One, an unbroken, filled landscape, where we are able to walk with God as we were created to do, and where we are brought out of ourselves into the reality of God’s love. Where we see all our neighbors as Christ does, wrapped in the same love of God, and see how we are connected deeply to them.

This is the “life that really is life” Timothy speaks of, because in Christ this is not just the world yet to come. It is abundant, contented life we can know now. Pain and suffering still exist here, but shaped and fed by this love of God, we become Christ, chasm crossers, agents of God’s healing and grace to every Lazarus we encounter, even as others are the same to us. There is great gain in this, Timothy says. Not gain of wealth, but the gain of godliness combined with contentment, a life of love, faith, gentleness, righteousness.

Compared to such a life, the tiny, self-centered life of taking care of our own needs, our own ego, our own accumulation of wealth, looks worthless and cheap. This new reality can fill us with contentment and peace right now, in this place, and change this world.

The Risen Christ isn’t trying to convince us of anything, only invite us to follow.

Christ would have us rejoice that there is no divide between us and God or us and neighbor. Christ would draw us deeper and deeper into God’s love until we are utterly transformed, until we see as Christ sees, act as Christ acts.

The greatest news we could ever know is that these chasms we thought were enormous and permanent no longer exist in the resurrection love of God. That seems like an excellent reason to get off our couches and enter into the life that really is life, until all Lazaruses, even we ourselves, are healed and whole and living in the love and life of the Triune God.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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