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September 25, 2022, Proper 20C: Minding the gap, by the Very Rev Dr Amy D Welin

Sep 26, 2022

Once upon a time, traveling on the Underground in London, I noticed that nearly every time we stopped at a station the conductor would announce its name and then call out Watch your step. Mind the gap. Although we passengers were crammed into the train way more closely than the standards of ordinary, polite English culture allow, there is a well-designed and intentional space between the train and each concrete platform. It would be easy to trip in that space, or to fall down and get hurt. The wise traveler minds the gap in order to avoid physical danger.

Our lessons this morning are all about the gaps in human connection examined from a spiritual context. In the Bible, there are gaps between people which are neither good and nor useful. The economic, social, and spiritual gaps we build between us and the rest of our community are a moral issue. These gaps – devised by us  – are all unholy spaces, which ultimately lead to our separation from God.

The readings from the Hebrew scripture give us the traditional religious interpretation of economic and social gaps. The gap between the rich and the poor is unjustifiable. Amos actually says that those who do not work to decrease the gap and who do not serve the poor with kindness will be punished for their lack of compassion. The psalm teaches that God takes the side of those who are outcast, while frustrating the wicked whose primary interest is only their own well-being.

The readings from the Christian scripture focus on economic resources as they reflect our relationship with God: we can use our resources to do holy work, and through that we can grow more connected to God and neighbor, or we can use our resources to chase earthly gain, through which we shall grow increasingly isolated and selfish. Paul’s Letter to Timothy points to the Great Commandment as the standard of behavior: Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as your self.  There is both danger in putting our hope solely in money, and there is blessing and contentment in putting our hope in our unity with God.  In fact, Paul says quite explicitly connects the life of faith with generosity and willingness to work as part of one Body.  And the gospel story of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man illustrates the eternally catastrophic consequences of remaining ignorant of God’s call to us to love our neighbor.

These lessons could morph into a stewardship sermon. Today I think we need to focus primarily not on our work with God through financial commitment. There is something deeper we need to consider: the spaces we have put between us. These gaps take many forms. The way we consider others is a moral issue. As a community of faith, we can and we must set the example. Have we paid more attention to the funeral of the Queen of England or to the dire conditions of people living in Puerto Rico or Pakistan? Is gun violence an issue because it has expanded to Pine Street or because it is taking the lives of our neighbors’ children?

The gaps loom large even in a generally healthy parish such as St Stephen’s. We have the Old Guard and new leadership. Members who are affluent and not.  Republican or Democrat or Independent. Musical or tone deaf. Public or private. Ivy League or state college. Happy or disgruntled.

We like to tell ourselves that we are not really like the rich man, who has convinced himself that he is better than the poor unwashed man dying at his doorstep. If we are called to be united as the Body of Christ, joined to one another by our baptisms and part of one another just as we are part of God, what does it mean when we choose to focus on the negative ways in which we perceive that the person across the aisle or in the seat beside us is somehow different?

What Jesus is saying to the good people who follow him week by week, who listen to his teaching, who are struggling with everyday difficulties and challenges, what he is saying is,  Mind the gap! The distance between you and your neighbor is growing wider every day! The gap has become so enormous and so deep you can’t get over it or around it. What are you going to do about it?

He says the same thing to us today. Jesus tells stories for everyone who has ears to listen. “Mind the gap,” he says. In today’s story Jesus issues an invitation to narrow the gap by opening the gates of our hearts and stepping forth to extend our hand to people Jesus loves and cares for, who are somehow different.

Do you know: One of the key learnings from the Human Genome Project  –  an international research enterprise sequencing and mapping all of the genes of our species  –   is that the genetic material that gives us our identity is 99.5 to 99.9% identical from person to person.[1] Individual ethnic, racial, and national identities have virtually no scientific distinction from one another. The genetic material that makes each of us unique could fit inside a quarter cup measure. Our “differences” are minimal. We really are kin, a wonderful and amazing truth, which is maybe a little scary. If we really are connected, we will succeed or fail together.

My friends, now is the time to mind the gap: the gap between us and God’s expectations for us. We need to be wary of the gaps we construct  –  and we need to consider how we can cross them. We have just come through a series of Sunday readings that teach us about giving to God all we have and all we are, because we are the called to take part in the building of God’s Kingdom. Today we hear that same message again, this time in the context of our fundamental unity. In the Kingdom of God, we are all connected, we really are family  –  and if there is an Original Sinfulness, it is rooted in the idolatrous claim that one of us is better than or more important than another. That is the Great Lie.

Jesus is not one to separate out the realities of our life.  He always connects the material and the spiritual.  He tells us that the way we think and behave has an impact on our physical and spiritual lives.  Our use  –  or misuse  –   of our connectedness affects our relationship with God and the quality of our life.  If we are like the rich man in today’s parable, forgetting our fundamental unity as a people of God, the spiritual well-being of this parish is in serious jeopardy.  If we work to support one another generously and faithfully, we will experience joy and gratitude and trust. Our faith will deepen and the life that really is life will begin to take shape in us  –  the life of God incarnate in our lives.

[1] National Institute of Health. “Frequently Asked Questions About Genetic and Genomic Science.”

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