1 Timothy 6:6-19
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us 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.’
“He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
The Prime Minister died and made his way to the pearly gates.
When he got there St. Peter told him that he had a choice of heaven or hell, and he would spend a day and night in each and then elect whether he wanted heaven or hell.
So, the Prime Minister spent the first day in hell and had a really good time. He played golf, went to the Casino, ate and drank all he wanted, and partied half the night at the various night clubs, dancing with lots of pretty women. He met Satan whom seemed to be a pretty affable fellow.
The next day he went to heaven and though it was nice, it was very quiet, not nearly the party atmosphere that hell was…
…so the next day when Peter asked him where he wanted to spend his eternal destiny, the Prime Minister was sent to hell.
However, when the Prime Minister got to hell it was a wasteland, and there were flames and torture, and screaming people.
He turns to Satan and asks: Yesterday when I was here it was so nice. What happened?
And Satan replied. Yesterday we were campaigning for your vote, so we made all kinds of promises, but once you elected for hell, and you made your choice, things went back to reality. After all, isn’t hell the place of broken promises.
Heaven and hell jokes and stories have been going on for a long time. You probably know a bunch of them.
Three nuns die and end up at the pearly gates. They have to answer a skill testing question…
A bus driver dies…ends up at the pearly gates
God wants to sue Satan, but cannot find a lawyer…
Stuff like that. Etc etc.
In fact stories about the afterlife go back until at least the time of Jesus because Jesus himself took one of the popular stories of the day and flipped it on its head.
Now the popular story was this. The rich people in the world are rich because God has blessed them; and the poor people are poor because God has cursed them for their sin or something they have done.
In a world that had a theology that everything happened because of God’s will or God’s choice, there was not much other way to understand it.
And the popular story regarding afterlife was that the good people, the good Jews were the ones who make it to Paradise. The ones who followed the Jewish law would make it and the bad people would not make it and be punished.
So therefore putting two and two together, the rich would expect reward in the afterlife and the poor expect punishment.
I am sure there were some actually stories or jokes in Jesus’s day around this whole theme. Unfortunately we do not have the actual story that Jesus turned on it head…
But Jesus tells them a different story. Not a story to support their understanding of afterlife, nor a story to say there actually is a heaven and a hell…
But a parable with a deeper meaning than the literal meaning.
There were two guys:
A rich guy and a poor guy named Lazarus.
The rich guy was mega wealthy and dined on the best food. Caviar, Champagne. Servants..the whole shebang.
The poor guy sat at the gate of the rich man’s mansion and was so sick and hungry and poor that he was covered in sores. The dogs came and licked at him.
The two guys die and go to the pearly gates and the Poor man Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom, from whence we get the Spiritual.
“Rock a ma soul in the bosom of Abraham. 3x
Oh rock a my soul.”
And the rich guy who is not named goes into a place of torment where there are flames.
So notice the inversion. Instead of the rich guy making it, the poor guy makes it.
The rich guy is not named but the poor guy is named, Lazarus is his name.
The rich guy doesn’t even notice the poor guy during life…
…but once the tables are turned in death now he notices Lazarus and even calls him by name.
the rich guy was comforted by wealth in life and the poor guy is comforted by relationship in death.
On one level Jesus is just dispelling the myth that the rich are the good guys and the ones blessed by God.
Here he says that poor guys can and will be comforted by God.
Even taking it a little farther, the rich guys might even be held accountable for the way they used their wealth in this life. There may seem to be that warning anyway.
“To whom much is given, much is required.”
But I think that the real tension is in the great chasm. The real tension is in this great chasm that is fixed and people cannot pass from side to side.
And for me that is not a description of what is going to happen after we die, but like most of Jesus parables a metaphor for the way things are now.
That great gap or chasm, already existed in Jesus’ day. The rich had created it. They made a gap so big between their wealth and the plight of the poor that they stopped seeing the poor any more, they stopped seeing the poor as human.
They created a huge and terrible gap and it was the creation of hell here on earth.
Hell isn’t the place bad people or non-Christians go when they die, hell is the huge gap or chasm that is created by humans when they feel they are right or superior or better, or more educated, or more wealthy, or more spiritual, or more something.
Hell is the gap between the two sides in the Syrian Civil War and in the midst of that gap innocent men, women and children are being bombed and millions have fled as refugees.
Hell is the gap we create when we demean or diminish another human, call them names, or put them down, or gossip about them.
Do you have a gap with someone or someones? Sometimes there are huge chasms between races or ethnic groups.
Sometimes there are cultural gaps or linguistic gaps or theological gaps or religious gaps.
Sometimes there are gaps between the old and young or between the sexes or between those of different sexual orientation.
The point is that we humans like to create these gaps.
We like to say that we are good guys and are on the right side and everybody who is not like us is bad and we withdraw and create boundaries and rules.
But then Jesus comes along and says that every time we create a boundary and a gap and put people out there and not let them in…
…then we have created a hell… a hell that will torment us in the long run… a hell that will burn our inner souls and spirits…
because when we create divisions and gaps and boundaries we stop loving.
I don’t know about you…
But with whom do you have a gap?
With a Parent, with a child, with a sibling, with a co-worker…
With someone who doesn’t share your religious belief? with someone who doesn’t share your political belief?
Have you created a gap by not seeing those in need?
Jesus acknowledged the huge gap between rich and poor in his day and how the odds were stacked against the poor. And face it is hasn’t changed as much as you think in 2000 years. The inequities are many and the gap between rich and poor is like a great chasm.
Have you created a gap by looking out for yourself?
Do you create a gap when you use words to hurt, demean, belittle, shed a bad light, question another’s character, manipulate, condescend, make fun of…?
Or do you create a gap when you insist on being right at the expense of loving and caring for someone.
And so many of us make the gaps we create permanent and fixed.
“There ‘s not a snowball’s chance in hell I will change my mind about her.”
I wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire.
I wouldn’t talk to him if he were the last man on earth.
I wouldn’t talk to her for all the tea in China.
I wouldn’t give him the sweat from my armpits.
We humans like to have the last word and pronounce the other done like dinner.
They are… no good, bad, rotten evil, deranged, deluded, lying, cheating, misinformed, wrong or whatever.
They don’t meet our criteria, whatever that is.
And we make the gap permanent in our minds.
But Jesus points out we haven’t just created a gap in our minds, we have created a hell in our minds.
Hell isn’t the place we go to be excluded. Hell is the state of being we live in… when we exclude another…
and maybe in particular, the poor, and losers and the reprobates…
those our clique, or group, or church , or culture or society deems not good enough.
Listen to a parable found in the Brother’s Karamzov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire.
And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: “once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman.” And God answered: take now that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise.
The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all of the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: ‘It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.’ No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day. And the angel wept and went away.”
Every time I kick at someone and say that you are not coming with me, that you are not good enough. I create a hell and a burning in my own soul.
What is hell? Elder Zosima says to Alyosha in the Brother’s Karamazov.
Hell is being unable to love other people.
Hell is being unable to love other people.
I have seen that hell in families, in couples, in groups, in churches, in communities, in cultures, in nations and in this world.
I have lived that hell. We all have been there. We all have had someone who didn’t like us, who excluded us, who rejected us, who turned away from us, who didn’t love us, who maybe even disliked or hated us.
We have all been that person who excluded, who disliked who rejected, who ignored, who maybe even hated someone.
But there is good news.
While humans love to make the gaps, the boundaries, the rules, the exclusions …permament and fixed…
Jesus has come to break down the walls that divide and exclude humans.
Jesus has come to be the reconciling agent by which humans say “ I am sorry.” And humans say “I forgive.”
Jesus has come to be a highway to peace and harmony that smooths out the bumps injustice and the great gaps of inequity.
Jesus has come to spread him arms out wide on a cross….and those arms are so wide they can cross any human gap,
and traverse any hell…
…the good news is that because of Jesus we can walk out of any hell and into a state of heaven by loving, by including, by accepting, by forgiving, by creating relationships, by sharing, by being generous, by repenting, by apologizing.
When we see the poor, when we care for the poor, when we lift up the poor instead of creating hell, we create heaven.
When we forgive, include, embrace, reconcile… we bring the dead back to life.
When we love, we let Jesus live in us and raised in us.
There’s a story of a deeply religious man named Bernard who was caught up in a terrible flood.
The waters rose so fast in his town that the streets were like rivers and it the waters came into his house and flooded his basement and were starting to lap into his living room.
Bernard prayed. He prayer hard for salvation. And when he listened, he was sure that he heard a voice saying that God would save him.
Bernard looked out the window. By now the water was up to his knees.
A woman came by in a canoe. “hop in” she said.
“No” Bernard said. “God said he would save me.”
Bernard went upstairs. The water rose and rose and reached the second floor.
A first responder came by in a Zodiac.
“Hop in” he said.
“No” Bernard said. “God said he would save me.”
Bernard climbed on the roof fervently believing that God would save him.
Along came a helicopter with another first responder on a rope ladder.
“Climb on the rope ladder” the first responder said.
“No” Bernard said. “God said he would save me.”
And the helicopter flew off.
But the waters rose and completely engulfed Bernard who tragically ended up at the Pearly Gates.
St. Peter was there and welcomed him and invited him to the joy of the Lord.
“What’s wrong?” said Peter.
“Well. I am a little disheartened by God” said Bernard. “I thought I heard a voice saying that God would save me, and yet, here I am in heaven.”
“You did hear a voice” said St. Peter. “That was me, I said that God would save you, but to be fair, I did send you a canoe, a Zodiac and a helicopter.”
God has already given us what we need to save us…
and make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven… and it is each other….
When we love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, include one another, share with one another… Then the kingdom comes. Then Christ is embodied and comes to life. Amen.