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September 28, 2016, 8:50 AM

Mind the Gap


Luke 16:19-31, CEB
19 “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. 20 At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.
22 “The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. 26 Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
27 “The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28  I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ 29  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ 30  The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ 31  Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
 
“Mind the Gap”
 
In April of this year, Londoners lost a significant voice in their city. His voice was heard by millions of residents of London daily, for many multiple times a day. On April 15th Phil Sayers died at the young age of 62 years. Phil was the voice of the London Underground, the Tube. He was the “mind the gap” voice. Every time the subways of London pull into a station and the doors start to open, the recording sounds over the speakers—“Mind the gap.” “Stand clear of the doors.” Thousands of times a day, all over the city of London—“Mind the gap.” “Stand clear of the doors.”
 
Phil’s voice is a reminder to pay attention to that gap between the train car and the station platform, that small space they need to step over to walk safely on their way. If commuters become forgetful, if they drag their feet, they could trip and fall, or even turn an ankle causing a sprain or a break. And so, Phil’s message rings out at every stop on every train as the doors open to expel passengers—“Mind the gap.” It is a simple statement and a simple concept. Be aware that there is a gap, a crevasse between the two spaces. See the gap, navigate forward so as not to be caught by the gap, but don’t let the gap stop you. Don’t stand frozen on the train car, or frozen on the station platform, afraid of the gap, unable to move forward. Step over the gap. Don’t let it stop you.
 
The gap or crevasse in today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not one to be stepped over. It is impassable, according to Abraham. A great chasm separates the rich man in his torment from Lazarus reclining on Abraham’s bosom, a crevasse that is fixed and impassable. This parable is quite unique in the collection of Jesus’ teaching stories. It takes on an element of folklore or myth. Instead of being about the everyday things of life—seeds, sheep, farms, and business—this story is about exaggerated characters and the afterlife. The story is full of exaggerated contrasts and reversals, drawing a vivid picture. The rich man wears the richest of clothing—the purple of royalty—and he feasts daily. Lazarus wears weeping sores and doesn’t even eat table scraps. Instead, scavenging dogs lick at his wounds. It is quite the contrast. The story then flips the situation upon the death of the two characters. Suddenly the rich man is in torment, outside the gates of heaven, and Lazarus is held in the luxury of Father Abraham’s arms. It is designed to be a mirror image with the plight of the characters reversed.
 
As the conversation between the rich man and Abraham unfolds, Abraham reveals the great chasm, as if the rich man were unaware of it until Abraham pointed it out. It was certainly invisible to us, with the story limited to what is heard, no visuals. It appears out of nowhere, grabs our attention, this fixed and impassible crevasse. Where did it come from? If it exists on this side of the mirror image, did it exist on the other side, the side where both characters were alive? Lazarus would certainly have answered yes. Lazarus experienced a gap between his life and the life of the rich man, before whose gates he suffered. And in life, for Lazarus, the gap was impassible. He could not reach across, even to gather the table scraps. But was it impossible to cross for the rich man?
 
Notice what the rich man requests of Abraham once Abraham shines the spotlight on that chasm, that gap. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his siblings, so that they will change their ways and not end up in the same plight as this rich man. It is a Scrooge and Jacob Marley moment from the Christmas Story novel by Charles Dickens. Marley comes to Scrooge to urge him to change his ways, to not forge the chains that Marley is now forced to carry for all eternity—the chains of suffering, each link representing a time Marley failed to alleviate the suffering of others. The rich man believes that his siblings can live differently, can cross that gap and alleviate the suffering of the poor and marginalized outside their gates. He believes they can change their hearts and lives, even if Abraham is skeptical.
 
The last line of the story seems to hang in the air. “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” That line is for us, those who are reading the gospel and know what is coming. Abraham may not believe sending someone to rise from the dead will make a difference, but God does. God will not give up on those who are ignorant of the gap and are not stepping across to those in need. God will indeed send One to rise from the dead breathing love and abundance and compassion. God will indeed send One to remind us to “mind the gap.”
 
And, Oh are there gaps! We are not ignorant. We can see them. Crevasses. Chasms. Pits between groups that can seem insurmountable.  We can name those gaps—
the gap between those who have enough food and those who do not.
the gap between those who have shelter and those who do not.
the gap between those who are safe right now and those who are not
These gaps between those who have and those who don’t.
 
And then there are the gaps in justice—as we have seen time and again across our nation. There is a gap in treatment in our criminal justice system. There is a gap in treatment in our health care system. There is a gap in treatment in our education system. These gaps between those who hold the majority and those considered to be minority.
 
And there are gaps in how we group ourselves, creating a great divide in our nation. There is a gap between Democrats and Republicans. There is a gap between conservatives and liberals. There is a gap between Christians and Muslims and Jews and the other religions in our country, and those who have rejected religion. These gaps between those who have chosen a side.
 
God as not left us with only Moses and the prophets, though these voices from God were pretty clear about bridging gaps. God has also sent One to rise from the dead, calling to us on our life travels, “Mind the gap!” “Mind the gap!” It isn’t enough to simply see the gap. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge it exists. Jesus calls us to step over the gap, and even to step into the gap. We cannot let that gap stop us. It is not impassible. It is not larger than the One who rose from the dead.
 
We can step into the gap, offering our time, our resources to feed the hungry and find shelter for the homeless, AND to advocate for changes that alleviate hunger and homelessness—work with Opportunities for Otsego, Catholic Charities, Family Services Association, and even Department of Social Services to affect change. We can step into the gaps in justice—fighting for equal treatment of all people regardless of color, religion, gender, language, sexual orientation.  We can step into the gap and make sure our law enforcement, health care works, teachers and educators have the tools and resources they need to be justice workers with us. We can step into the gap between divided parties and create spaces for true listening and sharing instead of joining a side. We can mind the gap. There is time to change our hearts and lives.
 
The gap may try to convince us that it is impassible, that it is too deep and too wide for us to navigate. Standing on the edge, it is easy to become frozen, unable to step forward for fear of a fall. It is easy to convince ourselves that the gap is just too much to be crossed. But I remind myself in those moments of the great gap-crossers among us—the Parkour athletes who leap across the roof tops of cities, the daredevils who jump across great chasms like Evel Kneivel. I remind myself of the great bridges of the world that span divides that once seemed impassible. I remind myself that I do not go into that gap alone, but with a community called by the Risen One to mind the gap, and with that Risen One leading the way. The gap is not fixed. It is not impassible. But the gap is creating pain and brokenness and suffering for too, too many. May Jesus’ voice become one that echoes in our lives daily, multiple times a day—“Mind the gap.”

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