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Sunday 29 September 2019

 

Mind the Gap

Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Luke 16:19-31

 

By Joe Aldred

A bishop and ecumenist responsible for Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations at Churches Together in England

 

Context: a multicultural inner-city Pentecostal congregation

Aim: to encourage hearers to beware the gap between rich and poor, haves and have nots in our world

 

Come with me on a short journey now as we ponder together the dangerous gaps of inequality and injustice in a world of power and of plenty. Of significant concern here are three important facets: the indulgences of the rich, the ignoring of the poor, and some consequences of the gap that result from the way we live.

I invite you to think about the phrase heard often on the London Underground, ‘Mind the gap!’ This repetitive warning alerts travellers to a potentially dangerous space between the platform and the train step – it is a metaphor for life. Some gaps are wide enough for a foot to fall through, others are not quite as wide but still hazardous. In life we must mind the gaps that threaten peace, harmony and prosperity between rich and poor, men and women, worker and employer, bourgeoisie and proletariat, Muslims and Christians, theists and atheists. My brothers and sisters, life teaches us that it isn’t always possible to close the gaps that exist, but we must mind them; that is, remember they are there and mitigate against them. In the one holy, catholic church to which we all belong we must mind the gap between denominations, between different theological and traditional streams that intensify disunity and blunt mission and worship.

Time does not permit me to speak of all the gaps that exist, so allow me to reflect a little on the gap between rich and poor, haves and have nots.

 

Indulgences of the rich

The rich are given a hard time throughout Scripture and yet many of the characters presented in the Bible were rich in land, stock, money and power. Wealth and the way the wealthy live is the source of much contention in our world today as we read about greedy bankers, overpaid footballers, corrupt politicians, millionaire prosperity preachers. There is no denying that there are some extravagantly rich people in our world – the overwhelming proportion of the earth’s resources are taken up by a privileged minority. But, rich and poor are relative terms. In fact, each of us is rich or poor relative to someone else. It is so tempting to sit in judgment of those we deem rich while absolving ourselves from the adverse effects of our relatively wealthy lives. Our own opulence can blind us to the plight of those far from us – in time, space or class.

Forgive me if I do not pick on the super-rich alone here, because I believe the Old Testament prophet Amos puts a lot of us in the dock as those who ‘sit at ease in Zion,’ enjoying and indulging in wealth and power. We live well, dress well, eat well, pamper ourselves even as we complain about the excesses of those we deem richer than ourselves, and all the while pay little regard to our poor neighbour. Mind the gap!

 

Ignoring the poor

We sometimes leave modern day Lazaruses to wallow in their sores, with stray dogs and cats and birds for company. We are prone to pass the homeless by, ignore refugees and asylum seekers, displaced persons, those cowering from bombs raining down in the struggle against international terrorism and extremism. Our self-indulgence can leave little room to see and grieve over those whose lives are in ruin from natural disasters and wars, and it’s sometimes convenient to assuage our guilt by giving £2 a month to the most unfortunate in our world, often the victims of past and present western exploitation and excesses.

Andy Mitchell in his book ‘Whose wealth is it anyway’, reminds us that Jesus did not come from a wealthy background. Born in a manger in Bethlehem, when he was circumcised on the eighth day in Jerusalem his parents seemingly could not afford the usual ox or sheep as accompanying sacrifice, just a pair of doves. But Jesus lived life to the full in selfless agape love. We need a new moral and ethical code. In his book ‘Good for the poor – Christian ethics and world development’, Michael Taylor warns against Christians giving easy answers to difficult questions and argues that a faith-driven morality should seek to be and to do good to others for good’s sake (p. 6). This requires each of us to take a hard look inward, instead of pointing a finger of blame at others. Mind the gap!

 

Consequences of the gap

Amos warns that our neglect of the principles of God to love and care for the poor in our lifetime can result in the bondage of exile. It is possible to be in exile right where we are! And beyond this life, none of us really knows what happens. The Bible offers a few glimpses and one of them is in our Luke’s Gospel text. Ignoring Lazarus in life landed the rich man in the torment of hades. The poor man Lazarus ended up in Abraham’s bosom, paradise. Eternal reality may be a little more complex or simple, but the warning is clear. Love your neighbour or you risk a miserable eternity.

Today’s call to mind the gap points us towards those we wittingly or unwittingly allow to fall into dangerous gaps: women, ethnic minorities, those without education, those on benefits, those with disabilities. Or those we simply don’t like or don’t get along with; those who are not our kind of people. Mind the gap!

 

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, we have been called by God to model minding the gap of disadvantage and inequality in our shared humanity. God in the incarnated Jesus models this for us and we must make it happen now. As we recognise the gaps in life let us remember that by the power of God we can help others mitigate them for human flourishing and to the glory of God. Mind the gap.

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