Monday, September 26, 2016

The Growing Chasm

Last year I had the privilege of serving in a group called “OK: NH”
It was a group of political, business, and religious leaders that wanted to talk about the growing economic gap in our country.
This group included people from both political parties.
It included five people that ran for governor.
The plan was to read a book by sociologist Robert Putnam, a New Hampshire resident, and then talk to presidential candidates about how this can be an issue that is discussed during the election.
We read this great book called, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”.
In the book Robert Putnam gives all sorts of data about how the rich in our country are getting richer and the poor poorer.
All the advantages in our society go to those with money.
And it is affects every aspect of American life.
Rich people have more time to devote to their kids doing simple things like reading to them.
Rich people have more opportunity to have their kids go to summer camp, play musical instruments, and because of what is called pay for play, play sports.
Even Church is affected.
Statistically speaking rich people go to church more than poor people.
Because they have time off from work and resources to make it happen.
This is tearing away the American dream.
The American dream is that if you work hard, and do what is good and right anyone can make it in America.
It is making it harder and harder for people born in poverty to rise above their station.
The most damming statistic in the book is that a rich person with low grades and test scores has a better chance to get a college degree than a poor person who has better grades and test scores.
It was through this book and this work with those people that I have come to see statistically what I have felt in my gut.
That in our country there is a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

I want to say that all of us in our congregation are rich.
We might not be super rich.
We might not have millions in the bank.
But as far as I know we all have jobs, a roof over our heads, and money in the bank.
In our world today that makes you rich.

We have this world where there is a chasm.
And we have Jesus this morning telling us a parable of a rich man and Lazarus.
And the chasm that develops between them.
The chasm happens because the rich man does not see the suffering of another.
Martin Luther said about this text, “the other sin that he forgets to exercise love toward his neighbor; for there he lets poor Lazarus lie at his door, and offers him not the least assistance.
And if he had not wished to help him personally, he should have commanded his servants to take him in and care for him.
It may have been, he knew nothing of God and had never experienced his goodness.
For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor.
Therefore as he has no pleasure in God, he has no heart for his neighbor.”

I realize that this sermon could turn into one where I go on and on about a problem in our world, and everyone leaves feeling a guilty but then does nothing about it.
As Luther suggests, Jesus is not trying to get us to feel guilty, he is trying to get us to have faith in God and love each other.
I want to assure that my goal is not to have you feel guilty about what you have.
I am sure that you have worked hard all your life to have the things you have.
I am sure that you work hard to support your family.
Having money is not the issue.
The rich man is not condemned because he is rich.
He is condemned because of the chasm that he created between himself and Lazarus.
And that is what we must think about this morning, the chasm that we create in our lives.
And there are lots of them out there now.
There are chasms of race, of nationality, of political party, of economics, of religion, of sexual identity, of all sorts of things.
And those chasms only seem to grow.
They are made even clearer by our current political season.
And our two political party system only stoke the fires to make them more pronounced.
Our two candidates for president are campaigning on fear telling us not how our country could be better, but how bad it will be if we elected the other person.
We are told by Hillary that half of people supporting Trump belong in a “basket of deplorable”.
I can’t get behind that idea, because even people who like Trump are God’s children.
Some of their ideas might be deplorable but not the people themselves.
Most of them simply have created a chasm that seems too big to cross.
On the other hand we have Trump.
What can I say about Trump?
A man who talks bad about anyone that disagrees with him.
 A man who sees the world in stark terms of good and bad, and tells us to fear each other because of religion or nationality, gender, skin color, or whatever.
We have a chasm.
We have failed to see each other lying at the gate pleading for better treatment.

The question is what are we going to do?
We can’t leave it here.
We can’t say this is the chasm and there is no closing it.
I think we have to listen to Jesus on this one.
In this parable you and I are not the rich man, and we are not Lazarus.
We are the 5 siblings left behind.
We are the ones who have to listen to Moses, the Prophets, and the one raised from the dead.
We are the ones who are left here and now and tasked with repairing the chasm.
And I want to tell you that you can do it.
You can cross that chasm.
Right now today, if you choose, if you want to listen to Moses, the prophets, and Jesus.

Here is how.
Figure out what the chasm is that needs to be crossed, and with all of your Christian love and mercy go there.
Let me give a few examples.

I have a colleague she is a liberal person.
She is going to vote for Hillary.
She voted for her in the primary.
But during the primary she didn’t go to a Hillary rally.
She went to see Trump.
She wanted to understand why people liked him.
She went and she talked to people.
And she came away with a new appreciation for him.
She is not going to vote for him, but after seeing him live she understood better his appeal to people.

In my life I have been blessed to have been around people of different economic, social, and racial backgrounds then myself.
I had this experience once when I served in Boston in City Year.
More recently, I got to cross the chasm while in seminary.
I got to serve for two years in a Latino congregation, and for a year on internship at an African American congregation.
What I found in all of those occasions was that people are people.
Regardless of skin color or how much money they have.
We all come from the same creator.
We all love our kids and want what is best for them.
We all are a combination of good and bad.
We all sin.
We all are forgiven by a gracious God.
The chasm is not what we think it is, because on the basic level we are all the same.
Only artificial things separate us, politics, gender, race, theology, economics, and nationality.
If we could see each other through those things then maybe we would have a little more compassion towards one another.

And we will be able to see each other at the gate before it is too late and the chasm is to deep and wide.
So this week cross the chasm, try to understand someone else point of view.
See that we are all children of God, needing to rest in grace and mercy.

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