Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He 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.’ But 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. Besides 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.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He 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.'”
lready a chasm has been fixed between you and us.
Almost exactly one year ago, I was in Arizona at a retreat and workshop. In the early mornings before breakfast, I would go out on a hike through a small canyon carved away through time by a tiny desert stream. At one point along the hike, I could climb out to the edge of the rocks where they opened into an expanse. Below, I could hear the trickle of water echo softly in hidden places in the stone. Across the expanse I could see the rocks, the shrubs, and the small cacti on the other side. They were so close that had someone been on the other side, we could have held a conversation. Yet, they were far beyond my reach.
And you know what? Chasms have a sound. What do they sound like? They do not sound silent, for they are not silent places. Chasms sound like distance. They sound like a barrier, echoing their impassibility to all who stop and listen. Chasms sound of emptiness.
That isn’t very surprising, because that is exactly what chasms are. They are that which separates point A from point B. They grow so slowly that we think they have always been there. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. They form by the slow erosion of that which connects; the slow erosion of something as seemingly immutable as stone itself, until we wake up one day and find that which had once been close is now immeasurably far away.
Of course, the chasm in the scripture today is not one carved of stone and of time, for this is a parable and the chasm is of another sort. It was formed over the years as the rich man ignored the pleas of Lazarus. It was shaped gently as the rich man chose not to lift even a finger to help Lazarus, denying him even to eat the scraps from under the table as the dogs do. It came into being as the rich man trained himself so that he no longer even saw Lazarus at his gate, as if he weren’t even there. For this is a chasm of human relationship. Though they were so close, Lazarus was so far away from the rich man as to seem like nothing more than another part of the scenery.
What did this chasm sound like? I assure you, my friends, it was not silent. It sounded like the echoes of Lazarus’ cry for mercy from beyond the gates. It sounded like the rhythmic sound of feet on stone, a tempo broken only when legs stretched far to step over the prone body of Lazarus. It sounded like the voice of the rich man begging Abraham to send Lazarus down to bring him the relief of a cool drink of water as the rich man was tormented in the fires of hell.
Even in death, the rich man did not get it. Even in death, he did not understand that the chasm before him was of his own making and still grew deeper. Even in death, the rich man could not see Lazarus as a human being, only as an object to serve his own purposes. Even in death, the rich man could not bring himself to speak to Lazarus directly.
But this parable about heaven and hell is not actually about heaven or hell. It is about us. It is about the way we live our lives. It is about our relationships with each other and with God. And the author of Luke makes that very clear. Realizing the extent of his predicament, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus up from the grave to warn his brothers so that they might not share his fate. Abraham gives a poignant response, “If they do not listen to Moses and all the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
His words jump off the page and point a finger at us, for we are witnesses to Jesus Christ who rose from the grave. Has it made a difference? The jury is still out. The question is still being answered.
Oh my friends, of this there is no doubt: there is a chasm already before us. I know it by its sound. And what does it sound like? It sounds like our anger at people who would protest the loss of innocent life. It sounds like our indignation at a man who takes a knee during the national anthem rather than indignation over the men who take a bullet and lie dying in our streets. It sounds like the vilification of those who seek new lives and safety as they flee from the ravages and horrors of war. It sounds like our own silence in the face of a growing roar of hate speech in our public discourse.
If you but listen, you too will hear the sound of the chasm. The emptiness before us is immense.
My friends, we are the rich man’s brothers and sisters. My friends, Christ is risen. The question before us: does our faith in the risen Christ make a difference?
Does our faith in Christ help us to learn to see each other as human beings again? Does our faith in Christ help us to act with compassion toward all of God’s children? Does our faith in Christ give us strength to stand against injustice and evil wherever we see it in our world? Does our faith in Christ help us to live a life in right relationship with one another and with God?
A chasm is already fixed before us indeed, but Christ who died and rose again bridges the divide. He is calling us across. Will we go so that we might stand together, face to face, with all the peoples of the world?
Preached by Adam Yates