A Chasm of Indifference

Luke 16:19-31

[Watch the sermon here.]

Distant and indifferent.

These are the adjectives
that describe the rich man’s stance toward Lazarus.

Even in death, the rich man remains distant and indifferent.
Even in death, the rich man uses Lazarus for his own self-interest.
A crevasse separates them; still the rich man
cries out, Send Lazarus over to cool my tongue.

There is a chasm between you and Lazarus that cannot be crossed,
the prophet Abraham points out.

Abraham is pointing out the truth.

A chasm of indifference lays between Lazarus and the rich man.
Even now, the rich man widens the distance.

This story invites us to see the agony we experience
when we live separate from one another.

This is the chasm Abraham points out.
Abraham explains to the rich man,
You did nothing to cross the distance to Lazarus during your life.
You did nothing to cross to communion and kinship during your life.
You had the law and prophets to warn you and you did nothing.

The rich man made choices,
and now there is a chasm because of the choices he made.
Even in death, he says to Lazarus, do these favors for me.
He treats Lazarus as a tool he can use for his own gain.
Even in this place of torment,
the rich man still lives a self-centered existence.
Even there, he says, send Lazarus to help me. Whaaat?
Even there, he says, send Lazarus to help my brothers. Whaaat?

This, after he completely ignored
hungry Lazarus for an entire lifetime?

this parable is not about the afterlife but our current life.
It is not about the dead but the living.
It is about how we die when we are still alive.
Jesus gives us a story to affect how we live.

This urgent story is desperate needed.
It shakes us from our sleepy slumber of apathy.

It is important to ask,
Where did the rich man go wrong?

What is wrong is not that the rich man was rich.
In the Bible, there are plenty of wealthy people
who use their wealth for the sake of the Gospel:
Joanna, Susanna, and Lydia are a few examples.

It is not that the rich man is rich.
Rather, money is a stumbling block because it is seductive.
It tempts us into doing things that are unjust.

Money itself is a tool,
and we have ways we can use it.

How will we use the tool of money?
What kind of world will we create with it?

This story calls into question how we use our resources;
this story also calls into question our economic system.
Our economic system encourages consumption, hoarding,
and a “not in my backyard” mentality toward the poor.

A concentration of wealth, power, and privilege
is made into a virtue and then baked into our system.

Our system prioritizes and idolizes the feasts, parties,
and award celebrations of the rich.
It turns an apathetic eye away from Lazarus
and punishes him for loitering.

I think, too, of the ways the system unhouses people.
I recently heard the story of someone displaced from Black Harlem.

(This is the story of Freedom Walker as told in the TMI Project. Please hear her story in full here.)

A rich cultural location,
Black Harlem experienced a renaissance in the 1920s and 30s.
Writers, professionals, politicians, and celebrities blossomed there.
In the 1990s, Harlem underwent another renaissance.
The streets got cleaned up and storefronts became revamped.
Yet, mom and pop stores went out of business
as big chain stores moved in.
Rich developers bought apartment buildings and jacked up rents.
Landlords stopped honoring Section 8 and government-sponsored programs.
Longtime residents soon became displaced and homeless.

One woman, named Freedom Walker, tells this story.
She grew up in Harlem. It was her home, her roots.
Yet, her apartment complex, too, was bought and sold. Three times.
One day, she found herself in housing court fighting for her tenant’s right
to keep the family’s apartment that she grew in.
Her rent had been raised from $899 to $2400.

Management waited until she fell behind in her rent and evicted her.
Her new, wealthy neighbors didn’t bat an eye at the rent prices.

Freedom Walker couch surfed. Went through the shelter system.
She now lives upstate in Kingston, NY.
She sees big developers moving in there, too,
ready to revamp and raise the rent.

She tells her story, her voice breaking, as she ends, saying,
I can’t go home.

She adds,
We need to stop the rise of power at the expense of others.

Our economic system, which prioritizes profit,
exploits us all in a way that is disturbing.
We can’t quite extricate ourselves from the system.
We exploit others for our cheap goods,
and we are ourselves exploited.
We can’t place ourselves too far away from Lazarus.
Our dear ones, too, will become priced out here on the Shoreline.
Rents are high, and it is difficult for young people,
locals, and families to find affordable places to live.

I know for my peers and friends —I am 37—
that home ownership is a pipe dream that some of them will never experience.

We continue to have apathy for Lazarus at the gate,
not realizing that we are Lazarus.
The extremely wealthy are getting richer, and everyone else is getting poorer.
The middle class is disappearing.
None of us will be spared from the effects of greed.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says,
“in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

We are all responsible and affected.

Close the gap, Rabbi Heschel urges us.

In the book Irresistible Revolution,
Christian Shane Claiborne tells the story of homeless people in NYC
being arrested for sleeping in the streets.
The streets being the place where the unhoused could sleep.
Yet, they were charged with the crime of disorderly conduct,
even though they did not act in this way.
It was a way to clear Lazarus from the gates of the rich.
In protest, Shane Claiborne also slept out and got arrested.
He filed a civil suit against the city, which he won.

Jesus’ story today points out that we are not addressing the wealth gap.
We are not facing the unjust system.
The rich landlords unhouse people and push them out of their apartments,
and then the legal response
is to charge Lazarus with a crime? Whaaat?

Jesus keeps getting at the importance
of revering and prioritizing the poor.
In the parable before this one, a shrewd manager bucked the system
that made his boss rich and started
canceling the debts of the exploited tenant farmers.
In today’s parable, too, Jesus brings us face to face with Lazarus.
Remember who and whose you are, Jesus urges.

To whom do we belong?
We belong to each other.
We need a lifetime to practice this belonging.

It is one thing to say, you are my siblings, or you are my neighbor,
but in reality, we have echelons and layers around our souls.
We have gated ourselves in.

Our soul is a gated community;
we monitor who can come in and out.
We do that personally and interpersonally;
we do that as communities and nations.

Like the arresting of the homeless.
Like wealthy communities who monitor who comes in.
Like towns that put up no loitering signs.
We monitor who can take up space and come into a space.

The profit-driven system unhouses people and then arrests them.
Jesus is calling out this system as culpable, as unjust.

Some are guilty, but all are responsible.

Where are we calling out corporations
who do not pay people enough for them to make rent?
Where are we calling out landlords
for bringing in rich people and pricing out the everyday locals?

This feasting is creating a chasm!

The rich people are feasting well
while everyday people live hungry and unhoused.

Jesus is very alarmed by this.

This is what it means to live in a gated community with a gated heart.
This is exactly what the parable is about.

Stop your heart from becoming an aloof, gated community!
Revere the poor and homeless.

Only in heaven, said Mother Theresa,
will we understand how much we owe the poor
for helping us to love God like we should.

Only then, when every thing is stripped away
will we have total freedom.
There, we realize all we really have is our kinship,
our belonging to each other,
the joy of porous boundaries that lead us
to intimacy, equality, and love.

Move and be moved.
Become displaced from your compound.

For God wants to the close of the gap of indifference.

Enter the warm river of grace
that God has been aching to give you.
The river will carry you from death to life.
From isolation to community.
For being self-conscious to soul-conscious.
The river will bring you to everything you have been longing for.

Take a dip.
Enjoy the pleasure of true love.

All you have to do is
open the gate of your heart.

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