Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 14, 2012

2012.10.14 Do We Have to Talk About This? – Mark 10: 17 – 31

Central United Methodist Church

Do We Have to Talk About This?

Pastor David L. Haley

Mark 10: 17 – 31

October 14, 2012

 

“As Jesus went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

He said, “Teacher, I have — from my youth — kept them all!”

Jesus looked him hard in the eye — and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.

Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land — whatever — because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land — but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.” – Mark 10: 17 – 31, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson.

 

It’s October, that time of year when most churches talk about giving and money. Can I be honest? For the most part, both pastors and people hate it.

For pastors, there are several reasons we’re uncomfortable with talking about money. (1) It is a deviation from our normal preaching. (2) It makes us uncomfortable as we put our own giving in the spotlight.  (3) It feels self-serving, in that we derive our salaries from the offerings of the people we encourage to give, namely, you. (4) Add to this, that all that we say seems to make very little difference in most people’s giving; most people give what they going to give, anyway, regardless of how many sermons I preach. Thus, for most pastors, talking about giving and money always occurs with a degree of hesitancy and discomfort.

On your side of the pulpit, you also have your reasons not to like this. Some of you just prefer to give, and not to have to think too hard about it. And especially, not to feel guilty about how much you give, which is the way some stewardship campaigns make us feel. And, truth be told, all of us feel uncomfortable talking about money – particularly our money – and in church.  Is money really something we should be talking about in church? Isn’t – as many of us believe – that something private, between God and us?  Do we have to talk about this?

According to this morning’s gospel – the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus – the answer is: “Yes.”  Because this story about the rich young ruler makes it clear that (1) our faith in God should influence every aspect of our life, and (2) every aspect of our life – and especially our money – influences our faith in God.

This story about the rich young ruler may be one of the most famous – and most shocking – stories in the gospel. It occurs as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to a cross, and, in the light of that cross, discusses with his disciples what it means to follow him. It seems the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the more discomforting and disheartening his judgments. Perhaps it’s as the English lexicographer Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”  So Jesus has little time for nonsense.

Last week, in response to a question, Jesus addressed the difficult issue of divorce. This week he really gets personal, as he moves from marriage to money. We often assume that Jesus spent most of his time talking about God and salvation, but, in fact, the two topics Jesus discussed most were: (1) the kingdom of God, and (2) money.  In fact, what he says in this story alone is so startling and discouraging that he frightens away one potential follower and strikes despair in the heart of his own disciples.

Who was this man who came running up to Jesus, kneeling before him, with the question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?” In Mark, he is only a man. In Matthew, he is young (Matthew 19:20), and in Luke he is a ruler. (Luke 18:18)  In short, he was young, smart, and wealth, and likely would have made a great Christian and an even better Methodist. But it was not to be. After having determined that he had kept all the commandments since Sunday school, Jesus added one more. Looking the young man in the eye – and loving him – Jesus added one more requirement: “Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor . . . and then come follow me.” Even Jesus own disciples must have audibly gasped.

As Fred Craddock once noted in a sermon, you get the idea Jesus didn’t want many disciples, as in this story, where he imposes what seems to be an impossible demand.

It’s like the story of the young man wanted to be a Buddhist monk. He went to Tibet, went to the Master, and said, “I want to become a monk.” “Really?” “Yes.” Well it means seven years of silence, after which you get two words. “Yes,” agreed the young man. So after seven years of total silence the master called the man in and said, “You can now say two words.” The young man said, “Cold Breakfast.” Said the Master, “Are you going to stay?” “Yes.” “Well, it means seven more years and then two words.” Seven more years of total silence passed and then the Master called him in and said, “You can now say two words.” He said, “Hard bed.” “Are you going to stay?” “Yes.” Seven more years passed after which the Master called him in and said, “You have two words.” He said, “I quit.” And the Master said, “Well, it’s just as well; you’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.” (Fred Craddock, “But If the Answer Is No,” The Collected Sermons of Fred Craddock)

As for the rich young ruler, he didn’t complain or protest, but his face fell. “This was the last thing he expected to hear, and off he went with a heavy heart, for he had many things.” Was he sad because he really wanted to follow Jesus, and never expected this?  Was he sad because he did have a lot of stuff, and couldn’t possibly give it up? Or, in a possibility we might not have imagined, was the young man sad because he WAS going to do it, and it was going to be painful? Let’s face it, who of us would be here today, if we had to meet this requirement?

While we never hear what happened to the rich young ruler, Jesus’ words to him have had a great effect on others through the centuries, who did took them to heart. In the third century, a young man named Anthony heard them in church, and took them as a personal and direct command of Jesus to himself.  He left his comfortable existence in a well-to-do family, gave all he had to the poor, and spent most of the rest of his life as a hermit in the Egyptian desert.  A thousand years later, St. Francis of Assisi was equally moved by the same words, and gave all his possessions away, starting with his clothes, which he stripped off in the town square before his family and everybody. In time, he made this rule one of the rules of his order, whom we know as the Franciscans.  And there have been others, not so well known.

As wonderful as such examples are, all we might say is, “Thank God, Jesus didn’t ask this of us, in order for us to follow him?” Or does he?  While I can’t speak definitively for Jesus, who deals with each of us individually (so you’ll have to ask Jesus this question yourself), what I can say is this: “It depends.”

Because our faith in God should influence every aspect of our life, and because every aspect of our life influences our faith in God, it may be something each of us – especially those of us who are North American Christians, and are rich – relative to the rest of the world, including quite likely richer than the rich young ruler himself.

Because despite his impressive resume, the rich young ruler came to Jesus for a reason: he knows something’s wrong. Do you know that in Mark’s Gospel everyone who kneels before Jesus does so to request healing? So when this young man does, he is saying that despite all that he has and all that he has done, something is missing, and he needs to be made whole.

Don’t we understand that? Deep down I think we all know that more money and more possessions do not and will not ensure happiness, despite the fact that our culture bombards us 24/7 with the seductive but false message that they will. At the very least, it’s easy to fall into the habit of buying things to feel better, to fill that same hole in his soul that the rich young ruler felt. Of course we know it doesn’t work, at least not for long, but we’ve been so conditioned to believe that new shoes or a toy will give us a life, that when they don’t we just look for something else to buy that will. BUT IT NEVER DOES.

Really, as shocking as it sounds, when Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away all he had, he was simply speeding up the process each of us must inevitably go through in our lives. We have no choice but to give everything away, because ultimately, we can’t keep it.  I remember standing with a man by the bedside of his wife in Swedish Covenant Hospital years ago, as he looked at his wife of many years and said: “You spend all your life accumulating all this stuff, and then you have to give it all away.”  Sometimes we forget, but it’s the truth.

So maybe Jesus asked this rich young ruler to give it all away, because Jesus knew what we may have yet to learn, which is that what we do with our money and our wealth has a greater impact on us and upon our spiritual lives than we realize. Wealth can mask our dependence on God and upon each other, wrongly convincing us we need neither. Hence the phrase, “self-made man or woman.” And so Jesus calls the young man back into trust and back into relationship, with God and with others.  What was it Jesus taught us to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, even as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  There it is again, trust and relationship.

Or maybe Jesus asked this rich young ruler to give it all away, because Jesus wanted him to learn what many of us have learned, that there are few things more important in life than sharing our blessings. Whether it’s volunteering at the food depository or giving to organizations to make sure fewer people go to bed hungry, every time we share what we have with others, we are blessed as much or more than the recipient of our care. So Jesus doesn’t demand that the young man give away what he has in order to cause him grief or to test him, but out of love.  Whether we hear this as good news or bad news, we need to know that he loves us as much.

Or maybe Jesus asked this rich young ruler to give it all away not only for his own good, but also for the good of others.  After all, he didn’t tell him just to get rid of it; nor did he tell him to give it to church or temple (obviously Jesus wasn’t thinking clearly), what he said was, give it to the poor. In effect, what Jesus told the rich young ruler was what we too, may need to hear: stop being concerned about yourself and your own salvation, and turn your attention to others, especially those in need.

This may put in a different light the question we’ve been asked so often this election year: “Are you better off than four years ago?”  According to the biblical mandate, what we should be asking is this: “Is my neighbor better off?” “Is our community better off?” “Is our nation better off?” “Is the world better off?” And perhaps most importantly, “And what can I do about it, even if it means giving away even part of what I own.” Jesus invites not just the rich man, but all of us to remember that we are stewards of our lives, stewards of our gifts, stewards of our wealth, and are charged to use all we have, the best we can, for all the people, God has given us as our neighbors on this planet. Yes, that’s extreme, but so was Jesus’ demand of the rich young ruler.

So after this service, I’ll be happy to meet with all of you who want to write a check for the value of all your assets, not to me, not to the church, but to any organization who helps the poor. Those of you, who think you are poor, please line up on the other side, and we’ll try to work something out. Of course, those of you were rich will then be poor, and in need of help, so now those who were formerly poor will need to help you. So this wealth redistribution thing may take awhile. After all, as Jesus said, “This is once again the Great Reversal: ‘Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.’”  Which will we be?

Seriously, what we all can do as we move into this season of thinking about giving and money is this: Consider first steps toward giving away more of what we have – both money and things – to benefit others. For most of us, the first steps are always the hardest: the first days of the new diet, attending the first AA meeting, calling the marriage counselor, talking with the out-of-control son or daughter, coming “out of the closet,” or giving away – even a small part – of what God has given us.  But based on our Master Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler, as well as his gracious example, let us begin. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Whales are some of the most amazing creatures on earth. In February 1938, a female blue whale that roamed freely throughout the Antarctic for decades was killed. From measurements taken at the time, some scientists are convinced she was the largest creature ever to have lived on earth – bigger than any known dinosaur.  But the people who had the privilege of seeing her never saw her. They were in such a hurry to harvest her blubber and find other family members that they salvaged nothing, not a single picture, not a single bone. Nothing.

What are we missing in life because of the blubber? What part of God’s kingdom are we not experiencing because of our rush to make a killing?  What good is the stuff of life, without the Staff of Life?  “Give it up,” said Jesus, and “Come and follow me.”

For this sermon, I want to acknowledge my indebtedness to the commentary and insights of David Lose, “Jesus, the Rich Man, and All of Us Lousy Stewards,” posted 10/07/2012 at workingpreacher.org. Leonard Sweet suggested the final story in sermon materials posted years ago.

 

 


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