26 September 2010

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost - "A Chasm of Compassion"

A pop quiz.  According to researchers from Princeton University, which of the following is the income level beyond which more money does NOT guarantee more happiness:
a.     $50,000
b.     $75,000
c.     $100,000
d.     $125,000
If you guessed $75,000, you’d be right.  Researchers from Princeton
“found that not having enough money definitely causes emotional pain and unhappiness. But, after reaching an income of about $75,000 per year, money can't buy happiness. More money can, however, help people view their lives as successful or better. [1]
I did some further research on my own, and according to the 2007 census, well over 40% of the U.S. is going to clear that $75,000 threshhold.  So, it seems that most of you can count on making enough money in your lifetime to be financially assured of maximum happiness.  In other words, you’re going to be rich.  Congratulations.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Hunger begins only when people desire to keep their own bread for themselves.”[2]  In the movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”[3]  The task for you, as American Christians in the 21st Century, will be learning how to overcome the chasm between these two polarities. 
            There is a chasm in Jesus’ parable.  But it is not a chasm of riches or poverty.  It is not a chasm of greed.  It is not a chasm of luck or good fortune.  The chasm exists from the start of the parable right through to the very end.  The chasm in Jesus’ parable is a chasm of compassion.  It has very little to do with wealth and everything to do with blindness.  Jesus did not tell this parable to make the rich give up our riches.  Jesus told this parable so that the blind might see.
            In Bible Study Tuesday night, as we were discussing this parable, one of our folks said, “Okay, so when do we know we’ve given away enough so we won’t wind up in the rich man’s spot?  Who do we need to save?”  The quick, snarky answer to that question is, “Who are you thinking about, and what are you waiting for?”  But that’s missing the point of the parable.  Jesus isn’t talking about an actual person burning in hell – he IS, however, warning actual people that their actual blindness to the needs around them could actually place them in actual danger of actually getting in big, big trouble.
            The deep, true answer to the question from Tuesday night is this:  it isn’t how much you save, it’s how well you see.  You are not the savior of the world; that’s Jesus, just in case you’ve gotten confused lately.  But if you claim to follow the Savior, then within that following you are called to open your eyes to more than just your own needs.  The rich man wasn’t condemned for being rich:  he was condemned because someone was suffering right on his doorstep, and he either couldn’t see it, or refused to see it.
            One of my seminary professors used to remind us that “the parables are told for us, not against us.”  This parable, with all its talk of Hades and burning and poverty, is good news for us.  Forget the abstract suffering of the poor man Lazarus, the abstract sorrow of the rich man who ignored him.  They are imaginary, fiction told with a purpose.  Remember that for you, this parable comes in time.  For you, this parable is good news:  you can bind up the wounds you encounter in this world.  You have Moses and the prophets.  You have the witness of Jesus, risen from the dead as proof that God’s love will never be conqured.  You can see the chasm of compassion that separates us in this world, and you can trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to venture into that chasm for the sake of your neighbor, rich or poor.
            Jurgen Möltmann, a German theologian, once said that “the opposite of poverty is not property:  the opposite of both is community.” [4]  The chasm Jesus shows you cannot be filled with money – it can only be bridged by the love of Christ for rich and poor alike.  Yes, we are rich – but our riches will not heal the wounds of this world.  Only the love of Christ poured out through us can bridge the chasm of compassion.  As a baptized and beloved child of God, you are part of that bridge – take the love of Christ with you this week, and let those riches loose for the sake of the world.  Amen.           

[1] http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/la-heb-money-20100906,0,7805444.story
[2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  DBW Volume 5:  Life Together – Prayerbook of the Bible.  © 2003 by Fortress Press.  p. 65
[4] http://adammlowe.com/2010/05/23/holy-spirit-in-the-world-today-conference-london-htb/

1 comment:

  1. Powerful sermon. Having struggled mightily and with dubious power to preach this text and the epistle yesterday, I appreciate your insights and the "chasm of compassion."