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Each Friday, Dr. Daniel Hagmaier posts his weekly newsletter. Catch up on what's happening and plan ahead.

LUKE 16:19-31 | ON KEEPING OUR DISTANCE

ON KEEPING OUR                DISTANCE

LUKE 16:19-31

SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

 

 

THIS WEEK THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCED A NEW POLICY CONCERNING VEHICLE AUTOMATION.

 

WHAT THAT MEANS IS THAT THEY ARE GOING TO ALLOW THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY AND OTHERS TO CONTINUE TESTING, MANUFACTURING, AND IMPLEMENTING TECHNOLOGIES TOWARD THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES.

 

MOST OF US, I’M GUESSING, ARE STILL A LITTLE SKITTISH ABOUT ALL OF THIS, THOUGH IN THEORY, WE LOVE THE IDEA OF SOME OF THESE NEW TECHNOLOGIES.

 

THE 360 DEGREE CAMERA SYSTEMS THAT ALLOW US TO SEE ALL THE WAY AROUND THE CAR MAKING IT EASIER TO DRIVE AND EASIER TO PARK; AND THE AUTOMATIC PARALLEL PARKING ASSIST SYSTEMS.

 

THE PROSPECT OF THOSE LONG FAMILY ROAD TRIPS WITHOUT HAVING TO STEER THE CAR, LOOK AT A MAP FOR DIRECTIONS BECAUSE THE GPS HAS LOCKED IN ON OUR DESTINATION;

 

NO HOURS OF KEEPING OUR FOOT ON THE ACCELERATOR, NOT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT’S PASSING US, AND IF IT’S DOING SO SAFELY.

 

FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE SOMETIMES DISTRACTED WHILE DRIVING, THERE’S THE COMFORT OF KNOWING THAT OUR AUTOMATIC BRAKING SYSTEM WILL KEEP US FROM RUNNING INTO SOMETHING WHILE WE ARE FIDGETING WITH THE RADIO, FIXING OUR MAKEUP, OR REACHING FOR OUR TRAVEL MUG.

 

AND AS I AM ONE OF THOSE WHO SOMETIMES FOLLOWS TOO CLOSELY, I’M SURE MY WIFE WILL APPRECIATE THE SIX POINT RADAR SYSTEM THAT WILL PREVENT ME FROM GETTING TOO CLOSE TO THE CAR IN FRONT OF ME.

 

KEEPING A SAFE DISTANCE.

 

WHEN IT COMES TO THE LAST OF THESE – KEEPING A SAFE DISTANCE – TECHNOLOGY IS FINALLY CATCHING UP WITH WHAT WE’VE ALWAYS BEEN TOLD, AND TRIED TO PRACTICE IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES AS HUMAN BEINGS.

 

KEEPING OUR DISTANCE.

 

CHILDREN ARE WARNED NOT TO TALK TO STRANGERS; TO NEVER ACCEPT ANYTHING FROM THEM; TO NEVER, EVER GET INTO A CAR ALONE WITH THEM.

TEENAGERS ARE CAUTIONED ABOUT FALLING IN WITH THE WRONG CROWD; DADS WARNING DAUGHTER’S ABOUT TEENAGE BOYS.

 

COUNSELORS AND OTHERS ENCOURAGING PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE, ONCE BURNED, TWICE LEARNED PEOPLE, ABOUT ESTABLISHING APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES WITH FAMILY MEMBERS OR WITH THOSE WHO HAVE HURT THEM.

 

THERE’S EVEN THAT INTERNAL RADAR SYSTEM MOST OF US CARRY INSIDE OF US WHEN SOMEONE INVADES OUR PERSONAL SPACE BY STANDING TOO CLOSE.

 

THE FACT IS, WE ARE CONSTANTLY MONITORING, CONSCIOUSLY AND UNCONSCIOUSLY, OUR ZONE OF SAFETY, THAT INVISIBLE FORCE FIELD WE SET UP, AND BY WHICH WE GAUGE HOW CLOSE WE WILL LET PEOPLE GET TO US, PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY, RELATIONALLY.

 

THE CLOSENESS WE ALLOW, AND THE DISTANCE WE KEEP, ARE PRETTY MUCH UP TO US, AND WELL THEY SHOULD BE, BECAUSE FOR THE MOST PART, THIS SORT OF MONITORING SERVES US PRETTY WELL, MOST OF THE TIME.

 

HOWEVER, LIKE WITH ANY TECHNOLOGY, AND FOR THAT MATTER, ANY PERSONALITY TRAITS, HUMAN EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS, THERE ARE ALWAYS THOSE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.

 

OUR HESITATION TO GET TO KNOW SOMEONE, MAY COST US A FRIENDSHIP THAT WOULD HAVE DONE BOTH OF US SOME GOOD.

 

OUR RELUCTANCE TO PUT OURSELVES OUT THERE, MAY RESULT IN A LIFE OF ISOLATION AND UNFULFILLED PERSONAL HAPPINESS.

 

PREJUDGING OTHERS, INDIVIDUALLY OR AS A GROUP OR CULTURE, MAY PREVENT US FROM EVER KNOWING THEM AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS;

 

AND AS PEOPLE WITH WHOM WE MIGHT ACTUALLY ENJOY ASSOCIATING.

 

BY REFUSING TO RISK SOMETHING OF OURSELVES WITH OTHERS WE OFTEN HUNKER DOWN IN PLACE, SHUTTING OTHERS OUT.

 

AND THEN THERE IS THE VERY INTENTIONAL WAYS WE SHUT OTHERS OUT, THOSE WITH WHOM WE DO NOT WANT TO ASSOCIATE BECAUSE…

 

WELL, BECAUSE – WITH THERE BEING LOTS OF BECAUSES-S.

 

TAKE, FOR INSTANCE, THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS, IN OUR STORY FOR THIS MORNING.  WITHOUT TRYING TO RETELL THE WHOLE STORY, THE BASIC FACTS ARE THESE.

 

THE RICH MAN IS RICH; LAZARUS IS POOR.

 

IN FACT, THE RICH MAN IS SO RICH (DRESSED IN PURPLE AND FINE LINEN, AND FEASTING SUMPTUOUSLY EVERY DAY) THAT HE HAS AN ABUNDANCE OF EVERYTHING;

 

INCLUDING AN ABUNDANCE OF SERVANTS TO DO HIS EVERY BIDDING – BRINGING HIM ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING HE WANTED, WITHOUT HIS HAVING TO LIFT A FINGER.

 

LAZARUS, MEANWHILE, WAS SO POOR, SO MALNOURISHED, THAT HIS SKIN HAD BROKEN DOWN WITH TERRIBLE SORES, FOR WHICH HIS ONLY COMFORT WAS THE DOGS WHO WOULD OCCASIONALLY COME BY AND LICK HIM.

 

LAZARUS WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HAVE EVEN HAD THE SCRAPS OF FOOD FROM THE RICH MAN’S TABLE THAT HAD FALLEN TO THE FLOOR TO EAT.

 

BOTH OF THEM DIE.  THE RICH MAN ENDS UP IN HADES, LAZARUS IN HEAVEN.

 

THIS, BY THE WAY, IS IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION WITH THE THINKING OF JESUS’ DAY; THE BELIEF BEING THAT THE RICH WERE BLESSED; THAT THE RICH GOT RICHER; AND THAT THE RICH WOULD STILL HAVE IT ALL IN THE AFTERLIFE.

 

THE POOR, ON THE OTHER HAND, WERE BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN SOMEHOW CURSED BY GOD; THEIR POVERTY THEIR LOT IN LIFE; AND THAT THEIR LIVES WOULD END AS THEY HAD BEGUN, AWFULLY, IN POVERTY, AND WITH NO HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE.

 

SO IN TELLING THIS PARABLE, JESUS IS NOT ONLY REVERSING THE FORTUNES OF THESE TWO CHARACTERS, HE WAS REVERSING THE THEOLOGY AND THINKING OF HIS DAY.

 

HOWEVER, IT IS NOT THE RELEVANT ARGUMENTS OF RICH AND POOR, AND HEAVEN AND HELL, AND WHO GOES WHERE, AND WHY, I WANT US TO THINK ABOUT THIS MORNING;

 

BUT RATHER THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE TWO CHARACTERS IN THIS MORNING’S STORY, AND WHAT, IF ANYTHING, THEY HAVE TO TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES.

 

THE RICH MAN GOES TO HADES; LAZARUS HEADS FOR HEAVEN AND THE WELCOMING ARMS OF FATHER ABRAHAM.

 

IN HADES, THE RICH MAN IS TORMENTED BY THE SCORCHING HEAT AND DEPRAVATION OF THE PLACE;

BEGGING FOR THE KIND OF MERCY HE NEVER SHOWED LAZARUS IN THIS LIFE, (AND REMEMBER, IT’S NOT AS IF THE RICH MAN DIDN’T KNOW LAZARUS, AS LAZARUS HUNG OUT BY THE GATE OF THE MAN’S HOUSE EVER DAY) HE ASKS FATHER ABRAHAM TO SEND LAZARUS TO HIM, TO COOL HIS TONGUE WITH A DIP OF THE TIP OF HIS FINGER IN COOL WATER.

 

SOME OF YOU KNOW THE COTTON PATCH GOSPEL VERSION OF THIS PARABLE.

 

SET IN THE RURAL SOUTH, THE COTTON PATCH GOSPEL IS A RETELLING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT IN A SOUTHERN, HOMESPUN VERNACULAR.  IN IT, THE PARABLE GOES LIKE THIS:

 

“OH, FATHER ABRAHAM, SEND ME MY WATER BOY.  WATER BOY!  QUICK!  I’M JUST ABOUT TO PERISH DOWN HERE.  I NEED A DRINK OF WATER.

 

THAT OLD RICH GUY HAD ALWAYS HOLLERED FOR HIS WATER BOY: BOY, BRING ME WATER!  BOY, BRING ME THIS!  BOY, BRING ME THAT!  GET AWAY FROM ME, BOY!  COME HERE, BOY!”

 

EVEN ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE GRAVE THE RICH MAN DOES NOT RECOGNIZE THE POOR MAN AS A FELLOW HUMAN BEING.  HE STILL SEES HIM AS SOMETHING LESS.

 

HE THINKS LAZARUS IS FATHER ABRAHAM’S GOFER, SOMEONE TO FETCH WATER AND TAKE MESSAGES, BUT FATHER ABRAHAM SETS HIM STRAIGHT.

 

IN ALL OF THIS, IT IS VERSE 26 THAT STRIKES ME MOST:

 

“BESIDE ALL THIS, BETWEEN YOU (THE RICH MAN) AND US (FATHER ABRAHAM AND LAZARUS) 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.”

 

ONLY, IT’S NOT JUST THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL, I THINK FATHER ABRAHAM IS TALKING ABOUT, AND NOT JUST AFTER OUR DEATHS;

 

THIS VERSE IS A WARNING, A CAUTION, A NOTICE TO US ALL, ABOUT THE DISTANCES WE CREATE BETWEEN US AND OTHERS IN THIS LIFE AS WELL.

 

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL, THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS, WAS NOT SOMETHING NEW; NOT SOMETHING THAT JUST HAPPENED AFTER THEY BOTH DIED;

 

NOT SOMETHING CAUSED BY ONE GOING ONE WAY AND THE OTHER GOING THE OTHER;

 

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THEM HAD BEEN ESTABLISHED LONG BEFORE, AND WAS KEPT IN THIS LIFE, ONLY TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT.

 

THE LESSONS FROM THIS PASSAGE, THIS PARABLE ARE MANY, INCLUDING THE FACT THAT WE ONLY GET SO MANY WARNINGS.

 

WHEN THE RICH MAN ASKS FATHER ABRAHAM TO SEND LAZARUS BACK TO EARTH (STILL ORDERING HIM AROUND LIKE A SERVANT BOY!) TO WARN HIS FIVE BROTHERS WHAT AWAITS THEM;

 

THEY, APPARENTLY, NO BETTER THAN THEIR LATE BROTHER IN HADES;

 

ABRAHAM SAYS THEY’VE BEEN WARNED ENOUGH; THEY HAVE THE LAW OF MOSES, AND THEY HAVE THE WORDS OF THE PROPHETS;

 

AND IN AN APPARENT REFERENCE TO HIS OWN RESURRECTION, JESUS HAS FATHER ABRAHAM SAYING, EVEN IF ONE WERE TO RISE FROM THE DEAD, THERE’D STILL BE PEOPLE WHO WOULDN’T STRAIGHTEN UP AND FLY RIGHT.

 

FOR OUR PURPOSES HERE THIS MORNING, AS I SAID EARLIER, I’M NOT SO MUCH CONCERNED ABOUT OUR HEARING THIS PARABLE, THIS PASSAGE, AS A THEOLOGICAL TREATISE ON RICH/POOR; HEAVEN/HELL; AND WHO GOES WHERE, AND WHY;

 

AS I AM IN OUR HEARING IT AS THE CAUTIONARY TALE THAT IT IS; ABOUT HOW WE TREAT ONE ANOTHER, AND THE DISTANCES WE KEEP, AT TIMES, FROM ONE ANOTHER.

 

HOW, IN AN EFFORT AT SELF-PROTECTION, VALID, OF COURSE, AT TIMES, WE RUN THE RISK OF GOING TOO FAR; CREATING TOO WIDE A CHASM BETWEEN OURSELVES AND OTHERS;

 

FAILING TO SEE EACH OTHER AS FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS;

 

AND KEEPING SO GREAT A DISTANCE FROM THOSE DIFFERENT THAN US, THAT WE CAN NEVER FIND A WAY BACK TO EACH OTHER.

 

BY ISOLATING OURSELVES FROM ONE ANOTHER, AND WE SEEM TO HAVE GOTTEN VERY GOOD AT THIS, TOO GOOD, IN FACT, WE ARE SLICING AND DICING UP EACH OTHER IN EVER INCREASING WAYS.

 

BLACK AND WHITE; GAY AND STRAIGHT; REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRAT; PATRIOT AND TURNCOAT; LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT; CITIZEN AND ALIEN; CHRISTIAN AND NOT; US AND THEM; THEM AND US.

 

AND EVERY TIME SOMETHING HAPPENS, LIKE THE EVENTS IN NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY THIS PAST WEEK; OR IN TULSA, OKLAHOMA; OR CHARLOTTE, NC;

 

OUR NATURAL INCLINATION IS TO WITHDRAW INTO OURSELVES; INTO OUR PARTY OR AFFILIATION; OUR GROUP OF LIKE MINDED’S;

 

AND GUARD THE FORT AGAINST ALL WHO ARE UNLIKE US, WHO DON’T AGREE WITH US, WHO DON’T WANT TO DO WHAT WE WANT TO DO;

 

AND LIKE THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS, THE GAP GETS WIDER, THE DISTANCE GETS FARTHER, AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE “THEM” AS LESS THAN “US” AND LESS THAN HUMAN, GETS EASIER.

 

AND RAMPING UP THE “US” VERSES “THEM” RHETORIC AND ACTIONS CREATES “A GREAT CHASM (WHICH BECOMES) MORE AND MORE FIXED;”

 

SO THAT WE WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO “PASS FROM HERE TO YOU,” AND THEY WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO “CROSS FROM THERE TO US.”

 

WITHOUT EVER SAYING SO, EXPLICITLY, FATHER ABRAHAM, AND JESUS, THE ONE TELLING THIS PARABLE, SEEM TO BE SUGGESTING THAT GOD DESIRES SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR US.

 

THAT THINGS NEVER SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN SO BAD BETWEEN THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS;

 

AND THAT IF EACH OF THEM WOULD HAVE DONE MORE TO KNOW THE OTHER, CARE FOR THE OTHER, REACH OUT TO THE OTHER, THINGS WOULD NEVER HAVE GOTTEN SO OUT OF HAND.

 

THAT, RATHER THAN A GROWING DISTANCE BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM, AND THOSE LIKE EACH OF THEM, SOMETHING BETTER MIGHT HAVE BEEN; MIGHT YET BE.

 

AND AS THE PARABLE SUGGESTS, IT ACTUALLY WOULD HAVE, WILL, BENEFIT BOTH OF THEM.

 

NOT ONLY, WOULD, PERHAPS, THE GAP BETWEEN THE TWO OF THEM BEEN LESSENED, BUT THEIR PRESENT AND THE FUTURES OF BOTH WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.

 

WE ONLY GET SO MANY WARNINGS.  WE HAVE THE LAW OF MOSES.  WE HAVE THE WORDS OF THE PROPHETS.

 

WE HAVE CHRIST, RISEN FROM THE DEAD;

 

WHAT MORE DO WE NEED TO CONVINCE US THAT GOD DESIRES SOMETHING MORE FOR US?  SOMETHING BETTER FOR US?  FOR ALL OF US?

 

FOR THE RICH; FOR THE POOR; FOR ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE, EVERYWHERE.

 

KEEPING OUR DISTANCE WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH THIS.

 

KEEPING GOD’S WORD, GOD’S LAW, GOD’S WAYS TAUGHT TO US IN THE RISEN CHRIST, WILL, AT LEAST, GIVE US A FIGHTING CHANCE.

 

ACTUALLY, LET’S MAKE THAT A “NON-FIGHTING” CHANCE;

 

A CHANCE; A CHANGE; AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE MORE AS GOD HAS CREATED AND CALLED US TO BE:

 

“FOR YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE YOUR GOD.”  AND “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

 

 

 

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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