The gospel according to Luke, the sixteenth chapter:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted 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 the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.’ 25 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. 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 one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that 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 will repent.’ 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.’ ”
Word of God. Word of life. Thanks be to God.
I was seated at table number eighteen at a clergy organizing event this week. To my left was Bishop Richard Howell, Jr., the leader of Shiloh Temple on Broadway in North Minneapolis and overseer of forty other Pentecostal congregations scattered around the metro area. To my right was Pastor Billy Russell, the preaching minister at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church—a predominantly African-American congregation not far from here on 38th Street. The conversation centered around poverty profiteering, race, and equity.
About ten minutes into our table conversation, Pastor Russell made his frustration known from my right, saying, “I’ve been attending conversations like these for 35 years; when are we going to get real?” Like surround sound, Bishop Howell echoed him from my left saying, “Mmm, mmm, get real. That’s good.”
Luke’s gospel story is so very real, isn’t it?
Here I’m not talking about the latter half of the parable which centers on eternal punishment and eternal reward. Someday I’ll spend more time on why I actually don’t believe in God’s eternal punishment, why I actually don’t believe in anything other than God’s eternal embrace, but today is not that day. No, today, I’d like to focus in on the reality of Luke’s story that is also our reality—that is, there is one guy living with too much and there is one guy living with far too little. One is covered with purple arrogance, the other with sores. The two men are separated by mere yards. The truth of the matter is that while they breezed by each other at the gate almost every day, the chasm that existed between them was considered impassible.
We know a lot about chasms. By chasm I mean the profound differences between people, viewpoints, feelings. [11:00 only – I’m going to take a risk here and ask y’all to name a few chasms aloud… I’ll start: Democrat and Republican…] I get the sense that we’re constantly encountering chasms right now, in our homes, our communities, and our world. And we, like the gospel writer, tend to believe that many of them are fixed. Democrat and Republican. Black and white. Citizens and police. Water and oil. Rich and poor. Men and women. Young and old. Lutheran and Pentecostal. The chasms seem so great—so impassable—so fixed—that we give up dreams of ever crossing them.
And when we give up dreams of crossing the chasms that, in fact, we have made, we end up living in a world like the one that Luke portrays. A world where the rich feast unaware and the poor are blamed for their own hunger. A world where the last never actually becomes the first. A world where love takes a backseat to both the well-founded and unfounded fear that dominates the public square. [Pastor Russell said it was time to get real. This is me “getting real.”] The temptation to give up on dreams of a new creation is so great. Lest we think it’s a temptation unique to this time and this place, Luke reminds us that the temptation to stop dreaming has always been the Achilles heel of God’s people.
But we are created to be a dreamer people. That’s the good news in Jesus’ parable. “Remember Moses?” he asks his listeners. Remember that guy that had the audacity to lead a people from slavery in Egypt into freedom in a new land? Remember Miriam’s song that imagined a new way forward? Remember how the Israelites crossed the chasm of the Red Sea? The Israelites weren’t our only ancestors with big dreams, of course. Jesus simply uses the story of the Exodus to call to mind all of the prophets and all of the people who have dared to make risky crossings, too.
Yes, we are a people with big dreams of a new creation. Our dreams are neither naïve nor are they unfounded; they arise out of the fact that we can look back and see the God in whom we place all of our trust continually transgressing social boundaries, building economic bridges, and closing chasms the world considers fixed. God does this work one meal, one conversation, one miracle at a time. //
If you haven’t heard the latest recording of the Westminster Town Hall Forum that featured Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., then I hope you’ll go home and spend 50 minutes of your afternoon listening to his wisdom. Glaude was born in Moss Point, Mississippi and is the chair of the Center for African-American Studies and Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. Whether you agree with his politics or not, his prophetic voice is one that absolutely needs to be heard in this time and place. I’ll put the link to the lecture on the Holy Trinity pastors’ blog after worship today.
Glaude began his Town Hall lecture the same way he begins all of his classes at Princeton, by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said that “God speaks through our imaginations.” Glaude continued, saying, “We are experiencing a crisis of imagination [in America]. By this I mean something more than a failure to be creative. Rather, I mean something about who we are has gone out of focus…Imagination registers more than creativity. Imagination is something more.”
Quoting an English poet, Glaude said, “A [person] to be greatly good must imagine intensely and comprehensively. He or she must put himself in the place of another and of many others. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination. Here imagination involves the ability to see the not yet, a willingness to look beyond the opacity of now to see what’s possible. Imagination involves a kind of empathetic projection…[We need to feel] our way beyond the narrow consideration of ours alone to take up the concerns and aspirations of others.”
Democrat and Republican. Black and white. Citizens and police. Water and oil. Rich and poor. Men and women. Young and old. Lutheran and Pentecostal. The chasms seem so great—so impassable—so fixed. They require our most faithful imagination.
I like the image on the front of your bulletins because there is something rising, growing in the middle of the two seemingly opposing sides. It’s as if God saw a chasm and declared it a furrow—a perfect place for planting seeds that would prosper. It’s as if God looked beyond the opacity of now and saw a new creation. It’s an image that reminds us that God’s imaginative spirit goes before us, like she did with Moses and the Israelites, to show us a way even where there appears to be no way. We struggle to keep up with her; God’s people always have. But she won’t be deterred; she continues to beckon us, she continues to invite us, she continues to call us forth into life that really is life.
When are we going to get real? The Spirit’s answer to that question is always “now, right now.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.