Monday, November 16, 2015

So that No One Might Have Too Much

Sermon for November 14, 2015
Mark 10:17-3117As 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?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You 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.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, 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.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It 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.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus 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, 30who 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. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

This isn't me but my bags looked a lot like this
When I was 18, I volunteered to serve for the summer in Brazil. As I packed my bags, I had no idea what to expect, so I tried to anticipate what I might need. I put everything on the bed, removed half, and then stuffed the remaining half into a backpack and duffel bag. At the end of the summer, as I repacked my bags for the trip home, I remember taking my duffel bag out, realizing I had used less than half of what I had brought and how I really didn’t need most of the things I had brought. I tried to remember my things at home but I had a hard time visualizing my possessions. I left a lot of things with my host family and traveled home with a much lighter bag and a radically different relationship with stuff.
A simple hammock like this and about 3 outfits were all that I really needed. Oh, and a toothbrush. 
Before that summer in Brazil, I had never seen myself as rich. My mom was a single parent of 4 girls and a teacher in a small town. In my private high school, which I attended with scholarships, I had some classmates who lived in houses with marble floors and received brand new Range Rovers for their birthday. If you had asked me before Brazil if I were rich, I would have said no. But ever since that summer, I know that the story of the Young Rich Man has something for me to learn, too. Because even if I don’t drive an expensive car or live in a mansion, I have more wealth than many, and how I use or do not use that wealth is part of my faith life.

One of the places Jesus speaks most clearly to those with wealth is the story we heard today- the story of the young rich man. He’s a good and righteous guy, but he lacks one thing: treasure in heaven, which he can get, not by selling and trading, but by selling his possessions, giving to the poor, and then following Jesus.  And the guy goes away “shocked and grieving”, for he had many possessions. He realizes that he can’t do it. He can’t give up his stuff, he can’t go follow Jesus. He misses the opportunity of a lifetime because he can’t give up his wealth. The young rich man had too much stuff, and it kept him from following Jesus.

I wish I could say that this story doesn’t apply to me because there are other people who are richer. But through this story, I hear asking me hard questions, too. Am I living generously and trusting God? If not, why not?

For me, it’s fear that holds me back, fear that I won’t have enough, fear of scarcity. What if my spouse lost employment, what if there were an accident and a ton of medical bills, what if, what if, what if? Most of the “what ifs” aren’t probable. I suppose they’re possible, but they probably won’t happen. Fear isn’t logical but it is powerful, and my fear keeps me from fully trusting God. It changes my money from a tool into a security blanket- and security blankets are hard to let go.

Regardless of the amount, anytime money becomes something other than a tool- whether it’s a security blanket or a symbol of power or status or a way to gain acceptance, it changes from something that can be used into something that we want to hold onto.  It can become more important to hold onto it than to use it to serve God or our neighbor. But this is how I understand the scriptures and God’s call on our lives: God calls us to follow, to love God and neighbor more than we love our money or our possessions.
So what to do when we realize that, like the rich young man, we are unable to let go? What do we do when we know we have fallen short?

We trust in the grace and mercy of the God who loves us no matter what. We rely on God’s love, which is unceasing and does not depend on how much or how little we give. This story doesn’t just show us the rich man who fails, it tells us that Jesus looked at the young man and loved him- even as he saw his imperfections. Jesus loves us, too, so we can put ourselves right into God’s hands, asking that God free us from fear and teach us to live with trust.

Image result for break chainsI want for us all to find deep joy in following Jesus, living generously, and growing in faith and trust. So even if we’re not there yet, we can practice and we can learn to trust God more. I believe that when we give, we are chipping away at bonds that chain us to our fears of not having enough, to our expectations about what we or others are worth, and to our need to have control of tomorrow.

Jesus is our freedom, and when we give, we take one step of leaving behind our stuff and one step toward Jesus, who calls us to come with him on adventures of a lifetime.

Following Jesus will take us on priceless adventures, and for me, there is no amount of money or any possession that would make up for missing traveling with Jesus. In the long run, possessions and wealth are of less importance to me- stuff is just stuff.  That rich young man’s wealth is gone. All our possessions will be gone. We’ll be buried on the hill, our bones turned to dust and ashes. We can live life as if we have nothing to lose, because in the long run, we’re going to lose everything except our life in God. So we can let go of all those things which surely perish and participate in making God’s kingdom here on earth- where all have enough and no one has too much. Amen.