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A Great Chasm

Luke 16:19-31

The Rev. Jon Roberts

26 September

2010

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”

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The Prophet Amos by Gustave Dore', engraving, 1891

Through the prophets, God has spoken,
Revealing heaven and hell.
Between, there is a great chasm
So far, so wide, it's hard to tell.
Whatever is broken, whatever is bent,
a person will never get out unless they repent.[1]

While lying on a comfortable bed made of ivory or stretching out on a soft couch there is a deep sense of satisfaction and content. But if a person has everything, they need forgetting the needs of others they don't have the right posture to repent. Through the ages, God has spoken through the prophets for humanity to always repent. Within the walls of our existence there are those both rich and poor. It is good and a joyful thing for both to kneel side by side rejecting everything that does not bring comfort to their faith in God. To repent means to turn away from one thing to touch that which is righteous and true. God, through His righteousness brings all men into the true heavenly kingdom. To accept this means we must see the way out of the great chasm. Our eternal fate of heaven or hell depends on it. For most people, depending on one's health or age, the choice between the two isn't a big issue. For most people, they are more concerned about the now; not about eternal life which lies ahead.

In an interview with Forbes magazine on March 10, 1986, Wally Amos, known as the "cookie-man", admitted he wasn't too concerned with what lied ahead. “All I wanted to do was make a living, I didn't even care about being famous." The Famous Amos cookie began when he borrowed $25,000 from his friends ten years earlier to take the production line from his home in Tallahassee all the way across the country to open his first store on Sunset Blvd., in California. By 1980 he sold $5 million dollars’ worth of cookies. By 1985 $10 million dollars was brought in. By his tenacious ability to make contacts he pleaded for passers-by to take a sample of his cookie.[2]

Before long he would no longer have to beg. People lined up at the door for a bite of his chocolate chips. Stores such as Bloomingdale's in NY sold them for $3 per pound. The promotion of sales and big profits may be the story that made his namesake famous, but his true success relies on another, when he lost his namesake. It happened in 1984 when the Bass Brothers purchased Famous Amos, giving Wally Amos $1 million in return. As a manager by trade, they kept him on as an employee as a further incentive, but then the company was sold once more, and he was let go. He no longer had any stake in the company. Complaining that his original cookie was losing its quality he opened another cookie company under the name "Famous Wally”, but he was sued and eventually was forced to drop the name.

He literally became the man who lost his name. But he never gave up. He became a self-help motivation speaker. He encouraged all the little people in industry to remain faithful and to have courage when up against the big companies who lie on their ivory bed of big profits and soft couches of greed. He's known as one who doesn't back down at the gate, as he continues to crank up his ovens, rivaling Famous Amos, Pepperidge Farms and Keebler with his new line of Aunt Della cookies sold in Sam’s and Cosco. Wally admits that he fell into a great chasm many times wondering how easy it was to lose it all and yet how wonderful to gain it back. He claims that his life, doing what he does, has been most spiritual.

There are times you feel you are in heaven and other times you feel you are in hell. Life is too short to be complaining about how you've been cheated. You simply must be thankful for whatever falls from the table. With the poor man, whose name was Lazarus, Jesus reveals heaven and hell within a parable. Whether or not he was thinking about his dear friend, the brother of Mary and Martha, whom he raised from the dead later, we do not know. The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is not told in Luke's gospel but rather in John's and it is what made him most famous.

Whether it be within the parable, or in the famous story of being raised from the dead there is the theme of resurrection. How do we go from the rich man's steward who was too proud to beg in last week's text to a poor man who is dependent on begging in this one? Could there be a connection? One was shrewd and the other one was despondent. But both were rewarded. These are the qualities of one who is poor. For them, all they are looking to do is to survive. They're not so much concerned with thinking about eternal life. They're more concerned with the chasm they've fallen into now. They act shrewdly to promote themselves to the front of the line because they beg to live. They hoard all they can because they never know how long the provision will last. If gone unnoticed they lose hope fast. They know nowhere else to turn for help.
God's grace is the eternal provision that gathers them up into His bosom. It heals the wounds that are broken and bent. He gives justice to those who are oppressed and food to those who hunger. The rich man, whose neglect of the poor led him to Hades, finds he is now the one who begs for God's mercy as he sees across the great chasm, the poor man, Lazarus, taking rest in the bosom of the prophet Abraham. In an eternal anguish he realizes the err of his ways and pleads for Abraham to send Lazarus back to tell his five brothers so they will not experience the same fate. But he is told they have Moses and the prophets. Again, he says that if someone from the dead goes back to them, they will then believe. Not so, Jesus contends, because he knew that down the road he would come back from the dead and even then, not all would believe.

Don't let the chasm between you and God overtake you. Your true survival relies on repentance and turning to the one who conquered death. Be poor for Christ and stand at the gate, holding out your hands and begging God to feed you with the spiritual food of His body and blood. We are brought into His bosom and live into the fame of heaven. In Him is our namesake.
In Him is our survival from the great chasm.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Story by Randall Frost on http://www.brandchannel.com/features
[3] Luke 16:19-31

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