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February 07, 2008

a U2charist sermon from Christopher Sharen

"Crossing the Great Chasm"

Marquand Chapel
Yale Divinity School

September 28, 2007

Texts: Amos 6:1-7, Psalm 40, Luke 16:19-31

Chasma mega, says the Greek text. It couldn’t be clearer, even for someone whose Greek skills are rusty as the old hammer I left out by the garage last winter. As Luke’s gospel narrates this tale of Jesus, the rich man did not just “pass away” after a “long and fulfilled life.” As you can see from the beautiful 1000-year-old illustration I passed out, the rich man went to hell, and is tormented there. He cries out for mercy from Father Abraham in heaven, who is holding and comforting the beggar Lazarus. “You enjoyed life, and now you are suffering” Abraham tells him. “Lazarus suffered and now is receiving comfort. Besides that, have you not noticed the Chasma mega, the huge chasm, gaping between us?” “No one,” Abraham says, “can cross, not even if they wanted.” I unfortunately cannot find a way to identify with Lazarus. I am, like it or not, more like the rich man than anyone else in the story. But, to quote a favorite line from Monty Python, I’m not dead yet. I want to overcome the chasm; I want to listen to the thundering of Moses and the Prophets before it is too late.

But how? How to bridge the chasm?

Perhaps individual action is a way. Our family has intentionally sponsored a child through Save the Children. Her name is Rose Delesani, and she lives with her family in Milambe, Malawi. We write back and forth, although infrequently. We pray for her daily. Whenever my kids sell a dozen eggs (yes, we have 7 chickens in the back yard), we put the four dollars in a jar on top of the fridge “for Rose.” Statistics hardly tell the story that needs telling; yet in their starkness they point to a chasm between us.

Malawi:                          USA:

Life expectancy: 40              Life expectancy: 77.6
Per capita income: <$2 per day   Per capita income: $37,500
25% of children under 5          <2.5% of children
    malnourished                     malnourished
HIV/AIDS infection rate: 15%     HIV/AIDS infection rate: .3%

It is in one sense laughable, our sponsorship of Rose. We give out of our overwhelming abundance. We live in a very nice home in Westville, have all we need with extra to spare, and we give out of our extra. Through giving that extra, we trick ourselves into self-congratulatory justification of our relative wealth. What about a God who is like the widow who put her last coin in the offering? What of Jesus whose commitment to overturning the powers of this world cost him his very life?

Our closing song today, titled “Walk On,” points us deeper as we try to find a way to bridge the chasm.It is a song that directly connects to the Burmese “Saffron” revolution that has been growing over the last weeks.

In March 2000 U2 shared the Dublin “Freedom of the City” award with a Burmese academic named Aung San Suu Kyi. The band had not heard of her, but found out that she had left her academic position and her family in Oxford to return to challenge the military junta running her country. As the leader of the opposition party in Burma, she won the presidency in an election in 1990 and was promptly arrested. She has been under some form of house arrest ever since, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership of nonviolent struggle. In the last weeks, sparked by unbearable oppression and growing starvation among the people, Buddhist monks and nuns have led daily street protests in a powerful witness. Despite the current repression of this protest, the witness goes on.

“Walk On” begins with evoking the cost of love—“love is not the easy thing.” The song, while on one level dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi as tireless campaigner for peace, one who “will only fly for freedom,” as the lyric says, is on another level an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 3:9ff. U2’s lead singer, Bono, comments about the lyric:

“There’s a passage in Corinthians that uses the image of a house going through a fire, and it seems to suggest that when, in death, we eventually face judgment (or inspection, as one translation puts it) all that is made of straw and wood will be burned away, only the eternal things will survive. . . . So at the end of the song, there is a litany of ambitions and achievements. “You’ve got to leave it behind/ All that you fashion/ All that you make/ All that you build/ All that you break/ All that you measure/ All that you steal/ All this you can leave behind.” It is a mantra, really, a bonfire of vanities, and you can throw anything you want on the fire. Whatever it is that you want more than love, it has to go. That’s a really interesting question to ask: What are the things you want more than love?" [U2 By U2]

This jailed peace activist, and these Buddhist monks and nuns filling the streets day after day praying for peace and justice, teach us about what it is to let go of those things that will not endure. They teach us, I think, about how to follow Christ.

Which brings us back to the parable of the rich man. His ambitions and achievements, though they brought him much delight in this life, had to be left behind. They did not endure. Christ, however, teaches us something about living out of a broken heart. It is not in avoiding but entering into Christ’s broken body, given and poured out for the sake of the world, that we bridge the chasm. It is not in saving our lives, our pleasures, our loves, but in giving them away that we find our way towards God’s own reconciling work. Martin Luther offers a challenging description of this paradoxical logic. He said:

“If there is anything in us, it is not our own; it is a gift of God. But if it is a gift of God, then it is entirely a debt one owes to love, that is, to the law of Christ. And if it is a debt owed to love, then I must serve others with it, not myself. Thus my learning is not my own; it belongs to the unlearned and it is a debt I own to them. My wisdom belongs to the foolish, my power to the oppressed. Thus my wealth belongs to the poor, my righteousness to the sinners. For these are the forms of God which we must empty ourselves, in order that forms of a servant may be in us (Phil. 2:6).” [1518 Galatians Commentary, LW27]

Christ first bridged the chasm that divides not through his might but by embodying the weak power of love, being broken open for the sake of the reconciling work of God. Such weak power undoes my effort to give out of my abundance in an effort to justify my abundance. Such weak power undoes our intentions to manage our dis-ease over global poverty and injustice, pulling us from a connection to Rose into the global development work of Save the Children into the activist involvement with Save the Children’s partner, the ONE campaign to make poverty history. While we meant only to let our hearts bleed ever so slightly, the cracks widen and we find ourselves called, compelled, and empowered to rise up together, with ONE voice to say NO to violence, to hunger, to unnecessary poverty and disease, and to say YES to peace, to economic justice and opportunity for all, to the work of healing and reconciliation.

We can’t make it over the chasm ourselves. In Christ, we have a way already and that way is through the heart that breaks open and pours itself out in love. That is not ours to do alone, but to do together, in and through the power of the One whose own great love is broken and poured out for us and for all. Amen.

February 7, 2008 | Permalink

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