10/11/2015 Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 10:17-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It happened in the late 1970s. Some of us who have been around long enough may even remember it….the ad campaign launched by Campus Crusades for Christ which celebrated the third-person singular pronoun. It appeared on billboards and bumper stickers all across the country. And what were those familiar words? They were, “I found it!” These words probably don’t even jog your memory any more….I know they don’t jog mine. But, at the time, they caused a great deal of controversy as mainline churches were almost unanimous in their dislike of the slogan. It wasn’t the depersonalization of God, who was relegated to being an “it”, which caused the uproar. What caused the problem was the feeling that the slogan promoted works righteousness and somehow denied our being chosen first and foremost by God. It gave humans the initiative in salvation. So, of course, the mainline churches countered with their own billboards and bumper stickers in an attempt to correct the theology. They read, “It found me!” Well, so much for grammar and the depersonalization of God! And yet, God was never in question. What mattered in both campaigns was the question of what must be done to inherit eternal life. Does God seek us or do we seek God? This was the question at the heart of the controversy and sides were drawn as though it was an “either/or” rather than a “both/and” question.
Today’s gospel puts that question squarely in the “both/and” category as it seems to encourage people, like the young rich man, to seek the kingdom of God, while at the same time, makes it clear that our salvation is not dependent on how well we keep the commandments or how much we strive. It is as impossible for us to earn our way as it is for a camel to make its way through an eye of a needle. Our salvation is up to our God, who is a jealous God, a God who wants us put our trust in him.
When the rich man, in today’s gospel, seeks out Jesus, he is clearly seeking an eternal relationship with God. He is sincere in his question of “what he must do to inherit eternal life”. Jesus responds to the young man in as clear and straightforward a way. Jesus asks him about his adherence to the faith and laws passed down through the generations, purposely leaving off the first three commandments and reciting the rest rather randomly. The man replies correctly as he has kept these teachings from his youth. And yet, more is needed as God is the giver of eternal life and what the man seeks only God can give. So, Jesus, out of love, leads the young man to complete what is lacking.
“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me.” By telling the man to do this, Jesus is not adding anything to be done by a man who is already doing his religious best. He is simply calling him to cast aside all other dependencies and in radical trust, to stand bare before the God who gives. By handing over the one thing in which the man has placed his trust in this world, he is putting God where God belongs – in the center of his life. This, my friends, is an invitation to discipleship. There is no praise of poverty or attack on wealth here. But, Jesus makes it clear, if you’re going to follow him, you must give your all and withhold nothing.
Now, all of us have areas in our lives that we are content to give to God. The man in Mark’s story was willing to conform his life to the Ten Commandments. Yet, there was one thing that he was not willing to do. He was not willing to give up his reliance on money. He was not willing to let go of the things of this world and grab hold of the treasures of heaven. He was not willing to fully trust in the Lord as he had put his faith in what his earthly wealth could provide.
It is trusting in the Lord, our God, who seeks us to be part of his kingdom and calls us into a relationship with him, and not in renouncing wealth, that we find eternal life. And, my friends, you can show no greater trust in God than to cast aside all other dependencies and to stand bare before your Maker. But, as there was one thing which the rich man could not let go of, each of us may have one or more things that we will, by no means, surrender to God. It may be ambition. It may be a deep-seated hatred for someone. It may be authority or power. It may be a loss or a pain so deep that we carry. It may be our fretting and worrying over each new challenge. God can have everything else in our life, but this one thing, God cannot have.
God can have my service and sense of duty, my neighborly love, my time and talents. But, this one thing, God cannot have! Yet, it is when we offer God this one thing that is the hardest for us to surrender that we find God. The uncertainties, doubts and struggles with which we torment ourselves, that rob us of our peace with God and hopelessly block our ability to follow Jesus, do not lie in intellectual difficulties, but at this one point in our lives that we refuse to give up. For, the man in Mark’s story, it was his money. For us, it may be something very different.
What is necessary for me to do in order to follow Jesus? For some, it may be giving away possessions. For others, freely giving of self and time. For others, it may be going on the wagon or doing rehab. It may be learning to love yourself and others or controlling anxieties. But, for all, it involves breaking the crutches we use in this life and standing bare before God.
Riches can be a formidable obstacle to us who have so much, but it is not the only obstacle. And even if we remove each and every stumbling block which we have put in the path to Christ, we still cannot enter eternal life on our own any more than a camel can make it through the eye of a needle without God. It is not humanly possible for us to enter the kingdom of God, but for God all things are possible. Through Jesus, God has made the door to his kingdom in the shape of the cross, the cross of our Lord’s suffering and death, the cross of the crucifixion and the barren cross of the resurrection. For the obstacles in our lives are not the only things that stand between us and our heavenly Father. Jesus also stands there…beckoning to us to come and let go of our dependencies in order that we can grab hold of his hand and the treasures of eternal life.
God has done everything that is needed for us to inherit eternal life. Christ has laid the path before us. In what shall we place our trust? In the treasures and experiences of this world, or in the Lord who seeks us and invites us to seek life in him? The choice is yours, my friends.
May you have the courage and faith to choose wisely and to give up all other dependencies but God. May you never leave the Lord with a heavy heart, as you hold onto the things which have no lasting value. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.