21March 2021 Crossing Distances MartinBaker
19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and whofeasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus,covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from therich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor mandied and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man alsodied and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked upand saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'FatherAbraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger inwater and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abrahamsaid, '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 youare in agony. 26 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 onecan cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send himto my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, sothat they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied,'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said,'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they willrepent.' 31 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.'"
Lastweek, Sandy and I went to Newmarket – I think we were getting a coffee at theCandy Shop. And walking along, in front of Smith and Caughey perhaps, Iremember a big poster for some sort of perfume. And below that was a bloke, Iguess he was middle aged, hard to know, he was pretty heavy. Sitting there ontop of his sleeping bag, and he was begging for money. And I noticed and walkedon.
Itcan be hard to talk about these things. This gulf that can exist. This distancethat can exist. Between ourselves and that other person. The one annoying us with the offer to washour car windows at the Manurewa traffic lights.
Iwonder how many of us have felt that sense of distance? How troubling thatexperience can be?
Jesusis addressing the story today to the Pharisees who were grumbling that Jesuswelcomes sinners and eats with them.
Whendid you last do that - welcome sinnersand eat with them?
I’veoften thought that that should be the central question when interviewing newministers or pastors. People want to find someone who might be a good preacheror might be good at visiting, or a good teacher with all the right training andskills, or a good evangelist, but no selection board that I know of asks thequestion, is he or she good at welcoming prostitutes, tax collectors and sinnersand eating with them?
Wehad a tax lawyer for afternoon tea last Saturday – I wonder if that counts?
Becausethat was a key event not only in Jesus’s ministry but was also part of the casebuilding against him for his crucifixion in a couple of weeks’ time.
Aglutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinner. All the taxcollectors and sinners were coming near to him. This fellow welcomes sinnersand eats with them. That’s what theserighteous Pharisees said about Jesus.
Behindeverything Jesus does there is a question of what is going to be Good News forthis person? He invites. He eats and drinks. He calls people to repent, but hesays we all need to change.
Iwant to go through this story this morning, and reflect on what might be beingsaid to us. Because it is a layered story. It has these multiple places ofconnection.
Sothere is this rich man in purple and fine linen who feasted sumptuously everyday. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, it sounds a bit like this richman might be eating all alone. In fact,all we know about him is that he is a rich man. Is that it. To be known as the rich man, to be known by what we haveaccumulated?
Andat this unnamed rich man's gate lay Lazarus who was covered not in fine robes -Lazarus we are told, is clothed with sores - he longed to satisfy his hunger with whatfell from the rich man's table - even the dogs would come and lick hissores.
So,we enter into what distance can mean in our bibles. The horror of this story.Not only is Lazarus sick and poor, the real horror of this story is that thereexists nothing between these two people who would have seen each other notthrough CNN, or Instagram or Facebook – they can all be distancing things - butevery day. There are no words, there is no communications, there is norelationship and yet these two people see each other every day.
Lazarussat at the rich man’s gate; he ate the scraps from his table. So, we startunderstanding more about sin, more about evil. And all this relates todistance.
Abreakdown of relationship. A gulf of communication, an active or passiveignoring of another’s need. A failing to identify any common bond, commonhumanity.
Jesuswas mostly interested in the sin that separates us from each other. In fact hedidn’t really draw a distinction between what separates us from one another andwhat separates us from God. Sin is allabout separation.
Thewealthy man, he can’t see Lazarus, he can’t hear him and he can’t speak to him.
Thenthe poor man died and was carried away with the angels to be with Abraham. Ithink we are meant to hear tones of the story of the prodigal son here.
Theimpoverished son who has spent all his inheritance. He is lost, he has nothing. His father welcomes him home. Restoreshim. Runs across the distance. This isthe nature of the God we worship.
Pureabundant grace for those who realise they can do nothing to earn that welcomeand love. The very nature of God. One of homecoming, welcome, acceptance,grace. The heavenly reality, in whichthe poor and outcast would be welcomed to Abraham's side, God’s kingdom, wascoming true in flesh and blood as Jesus welcomed the outcasts. This is what itwas like with Jesus, this is what it’s meant to be like now.
Thepoor man dies and is carried away by the angles - the rich man died and wasburied. Only one of them could afford a funeral. In Hades where the rich man was beingtormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. Itsonly at this time that everything else is stripped away, his wealth, his househis fine clothes - its only now that therich man notices Lazarus, and notices Abraham the father of all Jewish people,the symbol of their common unity and there shared history and faith.
Therich man calls out, Father Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and sendLazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am inagony in these flames. Now the supreme irony. A man who has never fed anyoneexcept himself and his own interests now want Lazarus to feed him. And notice the language here – he wantsLazarus to act as his slave. He wantshim to continue in a role of bondage and poverty. Make Lazarus feed me.
Theman who’s very sores the dogs fed on in life.
Abrahamin our story addresses the rich man affectionately. There isn't even a sense ofjudgment. It’s just a simple recognition of consequences and outcomes that layentirely in the realm of the wealthy man’s possibilities.
Child,remember that during your life you receive good things, and Lazarus in likemanner evil things. But now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Besidesall this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that no one cancross between here and you.
Itssounds a bit horrifying, but remember this chasm existed at the beginning ofour story, between the rich man and Lazarus.
Theonly difference then was that the rich man had the power to cross it - he had the power to travel distance, crossthe gap, cross the room, and he didn’t.
Therich man remained separated from God and from people in life and he remainedseparated in death. The beggar Lazarus relied on human goodness for hissurvival in life and he relied on God’s goodness in death.
Jesustold this parable to those who accused him of eating with sinners and welcomingthem.
Jesus’message for us:
Tonotice another. Bill Hybels famously and frequently talked about crossing theroom as the first step in any evangelism.
Whatwill that mean for you and me this week? To cross the distance?
Hospitalityis such a powerful theme running through our scriptures. I am not sure we couldall find a prostitute or tax collector to welcome to dinner but is there onething we could do this week which would make someone else feel valued andwelcomed.
Andfinally, for ourselves. We have all mucked up some way or another. And thosesins always lead to a distance. But to pause and give thanks this week forGod’s welcome embrace, to acknowledge that simple truth that nothing canseparate us from God’s love.
Ormaybe you, or someone you know is in that hard place. A place where they feel no one would noticethem, no one would cross the distance to care and support.
Maywe all know that costly love of Jesus. The sacrifice on the cross that tells usthere is no distance God will not go to reconcile the world and each of us toGod.
So,let’s join Lazarus in trusting God’s goodness and grace. To set aside our fears and hang ups. God’s children. We have a chance now to reachacross the distance, to notice, to care to forgive.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.