The Chasms That Can Be Bridged
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, November 5, 2006
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen
Glory to Jesus Christ!
“...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.”
The question is: who fixed this chasm? Most of us, when we read this Gospel passage, tend to believe that the chasm is fixed by God and is the symbol of the permanence of eternal damnation. The Gospel does have a note of finality to it since it is dealing with the condition after death, but I think there is another helpful and practical interpretation for those of us on this side of death. I think we need to understand that we, not God, are the chasm builders.
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you," - Nietzsche.
There is a Gary Larson cartoon that shows two old women looking out of a window at a monster. One says to the other, “Calm down, Edna. Yes, it is a giant hideous insect, but it may be a giant hideous insect in need of help!” At least Edna and her friend were enlightened enough to look out the window. The Rich Man was too wrapped up in himself to look outside his gate. The chasm he was building for himself was already becoming impassable.
Think for a moment. What did Jesus say would happen to us if we call our brother or sister a “fool”? He said that we would be in danger of the fire of hell. Does that refer to a punishment waiting for us in the life to come? Perhaps, but I think it also means that whoever hates or abuses another human being is already in hell and the danger is that one might choose to remain there. Clearly, in this case it is not God who creates the chasm. When a person is angry it is almost impossible to communicate with them. Only when the fire of anger dies down is effective communication possible . The chasm can be bridged when the hellish fire of the anger, or jealousy, or hatred, or vengeance that created it is removed. It is our choice.
Jesus also teaches that before we go to the temple we need to leave our offering at the door and forgive our neighbor. Unforgiveness creates an chasm between people and God and one another that is unbridgeable unless forgiveness is given. To bridge the gap the hellish fire of unforgiveness must be quenched. We need to forgive. In this case, too, it is obvious who creates the chasm. It is our choice.
Practically speaking, “chasms” make prayer impossible. As long as we refuse to forgive, we will not be able to be fully present to God, our minds will be working overtime on the anger and hurt . We cannot develop the essential attitude of silence and waiting in openness before the Lord if our minds are engulfed in the fire of hurt feelings. So, before we approach God we need to be sure that chasms are not present within that will keep us out of the Kingdom and the Kingdom from revealing itself in us. Jesus says that we must “forgive from our hearts”, that is, to make sure when we forgive our forgiveness includes letting go of all the stuff that comes with being hurt and angry. Then there will be no chasm and no hindrance to the recognition that God is within us.
We need to stop ascribing the suffering of hell to God who desires that everyone be saved and who is not the author of pain, hell or death. It is we who choose not to be saved. The gates of hell, writes C.S. Lewis, are locked from the inside. Only those who desire to be there will be in the same way that only those who hold on to anger will be angry and those who refuse to forgive will never experience the joy of forgiveness. Sadly, we can come to love the chasms we build and when we do even God cannot remove them because he will never abrogate the freedom he has lovingly and wisely given us.
The Rich Man was attached to his ego, wealth and power. He was so attached to them that he would or could not see the poor man starving and sick lying at his gate. This is a picture of what can happen to us if we are unwilling to face the truth about ourselves. We think we are the Rich Man dining sumptuously when in truth we are poor and sick and the tasty meal we are eating is poison to our souls and bodies and we are afraid or unwilling to do anything about it.
Our lack of peace internal peace proves it, our sad, bitter lives prove it, the way we treat ourselves and others proves it. We can get attached to harmful ways of life, to destructive habits, to dark theologies and philosophies disguised as truth, to fear, to passion, to people, to things (even things that in and of themselves are good) and every one of them creates a chasm that keeps us from the joy of the Kingdom of heaven. We begin to see suffering and pain as “normal” and inescapable. We learn to live with bad situations and never seek to find a way out and then, through direct action or simple indifference we project onto the world the hell that is in us.
There will be those on the day of judgment who will cry, “Lord, Lord” , but who will discover that the chasm they fixed in life follows them after death. To those who choose the chasm over Christ, the words of Abraham from today's Gospel will echo across the abyss, “We cannot cross over to you and you cannot cross over to us.”So, now, while the light is shining, while it is still day, let us call upon the Lord to direct his light into the dark corners of our lives, to give us the courage to face the truth, the grace to live without chasms. Show us, dear Lord. the way to freedom, joy and peace in this life and the next.