Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 11, 2015

2015.10.11 “What “One Thing”?” – Mark 10: 17 – 31

Central United Methodist Church
What “One Thing”?
Pastor David L. Haley
Mark 10: 17 – 31
October 11, 2015

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” – Mark 10: 17 – 31, the New Revised Standard Version

If we had to name “one thing” that we feel is holding us back in our spiritual growth, and as a follower of Jesus, what might it be? A past sin? A present weakness? A troubled relation- ship? How about our possessions?

In honesty, I would have to say, if there is “one thing” that weighs me down and drives me nuts, it is the stuff I have accumulated in life. Compared to some, I don’t have a lot; but what I do have drives me crazy. I try to take time occasionally to get rid of some of my papers, books, clothes, tools, odds-and-ends, and while I get rid of some, I usually wind up sighing in defeat, shaking my head and asking Michele, “How do people do this?” My ideal would be a “Zen house” (like a Zen garden), without piles of stuff everywhere. (Although Albert Einstein supposedly once asked, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk the sign of?”)

HoarderNationSince we are all at various places in the life cycle, permit me to remind you what we’re up against. Usually, we leave our parent’s house (often to go to school) with what we can load into our car. By the next step of the journey (when we leave school or move to another place), it’s time for a U-Haul. When we get married, we advance to the small truck stage. When kids arrive, before long we need at least a minivan or SUV just to haul all their stuff, in addition to our own. Needless to say, future moves involves a semi. Or two. If you’ve ever moved or helped someone else move, I think you know what I’m talking about.

The ironic thing is, after the kids leave (if they ever leave), the cycle begins to reverse. We downsize, find a smaller house, and begin to get rid of what we have accumulated throughout a lifetime, until we are back to a small apartment or room in assisted living or nursing home, not to mention a 3 by 8 foot plot in the cemetery. All across America, people are going through this cycle. It is never easy.

In fact, did you know what one of the biggest growth industries is, what one of the biggest sectors of the real estate market is: self-storage. Self-storage is driven by what are often called the four Ds: death, divorce, disaster, and dislocation, America has become a hoarder nation, groaning under the weight of the stuff we can’t bear to toss but don’t want to see.

Believe it or not, there is a story in the Bible, specifically the life of Jesus about this, not about self-storage but the “one thing” that gets in the way of spiritual growth, and guess what it is?  Surprisingly, it does not involve sex or personal morality, but  wealth and possessions. But the critical question is, does this story offer caution or comfort?  It depends; let’s see.

It’s about a now famous young man known as the rich young ruler, who came not walking but running up to Jesus. “Good teacher,” he said, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”  Jesus rehearses Religion 101 and says, “First of all, why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the rules: “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

The young man said, “Check! From my youth –Sunday School to Youth Group – I have kept them all!” I bet he was an Eagle Scout, too.

Jesus LOOKED at him (what kind of “look” that must have been), because he liked him, and said, “There’s “one thing” left: “Sell whatever you own and give it to the poor, and then come and follow me.”

Has Jesus lost it? Is he crazy? According to modern standards, here’s a enthusiastic, accomplished, promising young millennial wanting to sign up, who would not only be a good Christian but an ideal Methodist, and Jesus raises the bar not only a notch higher, but to an impossible height. As the late Fred Craddock once said, “In this story you get the idea Jesus didn’t want many disciples, when he imposes what seems an impossible demand.”

Fred Craddock went on to say that this story is like the story of the young man who wanted to be a Buddhist monk. He went to where the Master lived, 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 young 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 two more words.” Seven more years of total silence passed and then the Master called him in and said, “You can now say two more words.” The young man 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 more words.” The young man 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 what happened to the rich young ruler, you can imagine; I mean, after all, how would you feel? You just offered to sign on the dotted line, and were rebuffed. The text says, “He was shocked, and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” What it does not say is whether he was grieving because he really wanted to follow Jesus, but never expected this; or because he had a lot of stuff – good stuff – and couldn’t possibly give it up; or what about this possibility: he was grieving because he WAS going to give it up to follow Jesus, and it was oh so difficult? Let’s face it, who of us would be here today, if we had to meet this requirement?

Even Jesus disciples were shocked; shocked, I tell you. I am surprised some of them didn’t go running after the young man, saying, “Look, he just having a bad day; he really didn’t mean what he was saying, please come back and reconsider!”

And so, to make it perfectly clear, Jesus turned from the rich young ruler, walking off in the distance, and LOOKED at them (there’s that look again) and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth and possessions to enter the kingdom of God.” It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

They gasped and asked the question, which, upon hearing this story, we still ask to this day: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Now Jesus turns and LOOKS at us, with that look we have heard so much about, and we say: “Jesus, if you thought that guy had a lot of stuff; look at this?” And Jesus shakes his head and says, “Yep, it’s gonna take a miracle.” But all things considered, between God and that camel we got through the eye of a needle; I think we can do it.” But the Beanie Babies have got to go.

So while the story contains EXTREME DEMANDS (sell everything, give to the poor, and follow me); as well as EXTREME JUDGMENT (it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God); it also contains EXTREME PROMISE (with God all things are possible.)

While we never hear what happened to the rich young ruler, Jesus’ words 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. Might we be the ones, in modern times, to take serious the spiritual advice of Jesus, to get rid of wealth and possessions and all that clutters our lives, and give what we have to the poor?

Because, deep down, I think we have learned that more money and more possessions – not one more thing – can ensure happiness. In fact, their effect may be just the opposite, as we citizens of a hoarding nation are finding out.

Deep down, I think we know that the greatest joy in life is not getting, and certainly not keeping (there is no self-storage in the graveyard), but giving, not only to those we love, but to those in need, and to causes that will outlive us.

Deep down, I think we know that what Jesus asked of the rich young ruler and of each of us who would be his disciple, is really only a speeding up the process each of us must inevitably undergo through in our lives. We have no choice but to give everything away, because ultimately, we can’t keep it. I will never forget standing with a man by the bedside of his dying wife in Swedish Covenant Hospital many years ago, when he said: “You spend all your life accumulating all this stuff, and then you have to give it all away.” The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can turn from all that clutters up our lives, to that which is really important: experiences and relationships, and especially our relationship with God and with each other.

Personally, I look forward to heeding the advice Jesus gave the rich young ruler, and – if not getting rid of everything – at least getting rid of that clutters my life and weighs me down.

As with any endeavor in life, the first steps are always the hardest, but let us begin, remembering not just the story of the rich young ruler, but the story of Jesus. As St. Paul said in his Letter to the Corinthians: “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)  As Jesus’ contemporary followers, so may we do for others. Amen.


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