The Great Divide
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 16:19–31
The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 25, 2022
“Belonging: The Great Divide”
“The Continental Divide of the Americas (also known as the Great Divide, the Western Divide… is the principal… hydrological divide of the Americas. The Continental Divide extends from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, and separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic…” (Continental Divide of the Americas - Wikipedia). We see a different kind of great divide in today’s Gospel lesson as Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. That divide between these two men on earth led to a divide that separated the two for all eternity. It is Jesus alone who bridges that great divide, and it is Jesus who speaks to us in this parable today. The message for today, based on Jesus’ words from the Gospel lesson is entitled, “The Great Divide.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
We just finished packing 12,000 meals for hungry people around the world at yesterday’s Rise Against Hunger (Home - Rise Against Hunger) meal packaging event. Thank you to everyone who helped organize, support, and carry out this great work. In thinking about this in light of today’s Gospel lesson, we might ask ourselves, “Who is Lazarus at our gate today?” Who is the person looking for something – anything – from us? Hunger is everywhere, and we see people in need all around us: the person standing on the median strip at the intersection where we’re waiting for the light to turn. Or the person sitting near the Metro stop with the placard. Or the woman with her children in the parking lot of the shopping center. Or the child in school who goes hungry. It’s easy to make judgements about who these people are and what their situation is. It’s easy to come up with a hundred reasons why we shouldn’t offer help. “This is probably some scam.” “Who knows what they’ll do with that money?” “Why don’t they just go out and get a job?” “Somebody else will help them.” We’re not told what relationship, if any, the rich man had with Lazarus. Did he know that Lazarus was out there day after day? Was he even aware of this man? Did he make the same judgments about Lazarus that we make about people in need today? Did he have the same reasons or excuses for not helping that we use today? There remains a great divide among people today.
There’s more at work here than just feeding the hungry, important as that is. There are spiritual truths that undergird what Jesus is telling us here. The rich man had everything he wanted in this life, to the peril of his own soul. By his inaction and the good he failed to do, Jesus makes clear that the great divide which was so painfully present on earth has now been fixed for eternity. It cannot be bridged, and this is what is so disturbing. The rich man cries out to Abraham across that great divide for relief, but there is none to be had. The rich man still thinks that Lazarus is his messenger boy to do his bidding: send him here, send him there. He asks that Lazarus go back and warn his five brothers so they might avoid what he is experiencing. Abraham’s reply leaves no room for doubt: “‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:31). What about us? Do we hear? Are we listening? There is One who did rise from the dead, and that is Jesus. He has fulfilled all that was written in Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:27). He suffered, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead to redeem us from this terrible curving in on self that is sin. Jesus came to buy us back again, not with gold or silver, but with his own precious blood; buying us back from the sin which separates us from God and others. It is Jesus who has bridged that great divide.
So does all of this mean that rich people are bad and poor people are good? No, but it does mean that the answer to Cain’s snarky question to God after he killed his brother, Abel, is a resounding yes. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) is a question that we still struggle with today and we continue to look for ways to get out of it. In today’s Old Testament lesson (Amos 6:1-7), the prophet Amos thunders against the callous indifference of God’s own people in his day. They were more concerned about their comfort and security than the spiritual rot that was eating away at Israel. What about us today? Flowing out of our Baptismal identity as God’s beloved children, this means that we do have obligation and responsibility to care for one another, not only within the Body of Christ but beyond that into the community and the world at-large. It is true that there are community service agencies like Koinonia (koinoniacares.org) which offer assistance to people in need, but does that mean that each of us is thereby exempt from helping others, not just as individual citizens, but as members of the Body of Christ? We have opportunity to do good every day, as the Lord opens doors for this to happen. That will be true next Sunday when it will be Share Sunday in the life of our congregation. I challenge us not just to fill that shopping cart in the Narthex with non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, and personal care items, but fill the whole Narthex with things that will bless our neighbors in need, Lazarus at the gate, in our own community.
The truth is that we are, all of us, Lazarus at the gate. We are all poor beggars before God our Maker and Redeemer. We are welcomed into the kingdom of God not because of who are are, where we come from, or what we have done, but only by the grace of God made known in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, who has bridged the great divide between God and us, we are now called to bridge the great divides that separate us from one another. We are called to do so with Christ-like compassion and love; not because we have to, but because we want. A good starting point for all of this is to be in the Word of God where we are shaped and formed to be Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth. As our month-long series on “Belonging” comes to a close, I invite you to stop in the Narthex to look at the display on how you can be involved in a Bible study, small group huddle, or missional community.
May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). Amen.