Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
What must I do?
Mark 10: 17-31, November 15th, 2015
In verse 21 we read these words: 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.” If we take this scripture literally, or if we believe that we should, then we will have failed to have considered this passage – in the ‘context’ in which it was intended. If we believe that the only way to understand this lesson, is in actually selling every single thing we have and give it away to the poor, we literally will not have anything left to fulfill the commitments that we have made, to support the full range of ministries that we, as a church, support! At the very least, we would no longer have a place to gather and worship as a fellowship. Surely, this is not what Jesus expects of us! Therefore, let us look more closely at this allegory that Jesus has put forth for our ears to hear.
This story, this metaphor was not meant to be taken literally. Yes, Jesus may have said something of this nature to the man that came to him on that day, but it seems to be clear Jesus was more interested in making a simple point. That point is summed up by one theologian with this explanation: “The issue here is not so much the acquisition of riches as the attachment to them.” /Fr. Gerry Pierse/ The man that came to Jesus, we are told, had many possessions inferring that he was wealthy. In verse 17 we read this about the man: As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before “Jesus’, (him) and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The thing that Jesus saw in the man was his over attachment to material things; he had many tangible assets.
Let me illustrate this point for us to consider more fully.
While I was in seminary I acquired a wooden cross that was hand made. I purchased it in the context of a church fundraiser. The craftsman had heard me preach on this passage the Sunday before. Thus, when I asked him the price of the cross, he simply quoted back to me from my sermon. “Pastor, I will only accept all that you have.” I literally, emptied my wallet for that cross. I wore it, every day and everywhere for many years. It was only when my grandson was in a tragic accident, and left in a comma, back in 2006 that I came to understand how attached I had become to that wooden object. Before Lois and I left Vermont, to facilitate my call to ministry here in Florida, I hung that cross on the hospital bed where our grandson, still in a coma, remained. I am painfully aware of how hard it had been for me, to part with that small wooden cross; I idolized that cross. Our grandson came out of that comma; truly, a miracle. For me, it warms my heart that he still cherishes that cross; however, I have done some soul searching in regard to how I had allowed that symbolic object to become overly important to me. My God is far more than any material object, no matter how significant the symbolism. And yes, the gift of that cross, to my grandson, had a lot of meaning and was done out of love and had merit, yet, God did not want me to make an idol out of it.
After Jesus had responded to the wealthy man, by telling him to give all his possessions away: “When ‘the man’ (he) heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” /verse 22/ It was only then that Jesus begin to teach his disciples, about the deeper meaning, of what he wanted them to learn from this encounter. We can rest assured that Jesus did not mean for this to be a condemnation of those that have many possessions or whom have achieved financial wellbeing in their lives. Rather, Jesus was pointing out the danger that material wealth poses for folks, as they journey ever forward, seeking to follow in a virtuous life that will ultimately get them an invitation into the eternal. Jesus was telling them, telling us: “don’t make idols out of your possessions, thus placing them before your relationship with God and the people of God!”
If we simply go back to the First Commandment, of which Jesus never rejected but affirmed, we shall find the simple answer. “You shall have no other God’s before me.” In the book of Exodus, chapter twenty, verse 4, this commandment goes on to say “we shall not make for ourselves an idol, and we shall not worship such symbols.” So, simply put, the man that visited Jesus that day, despite the virtuous life he was living, had made an idol of his possessions, and could not or would not set them aside to follow the teachings of Jesus.
I think we all know the story of Scrooge as portrayed so eloquently in the “Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, a story that will certainly be broadcast a number of times as we get into the Christmas season, portraying “a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation.” /Wikipedia/ Prayerful, none among us portray scrooge before his conversion, believing that “the poor have received their due for lack of hard work!” Again, let us stress, the point is not the condemnation of those with wealth; it is the condemnation of making idolatry of our possessions, above the love of God and neighbor as one self. The lesson really is quite simple to grasp. It is only hard, if, if we have made this error, and now are struggling with how to correct it.
Let all of us be reassured that God, though Christ, has not rejected us or condemned us, simply because we have accumulated possessions and secured a solid financial life. Let us be affirmed by the words put forward by this theologian who says to us: “God’s special friendship with the poor is not a rejection of the rich, but an affirmation that life is not in riches. Life is in God’s grace. It is this grace that gives us identity and worth.” /Kenneth L. Carder/ We just need to stay humble, realizing that our success came to us with the assist of our God given talents. We have not come as far as we have, unaided by the grace of God. We need to simply acknowledge this through our actions, our acts of kindness and charity, and through our commitment and our support of the mission and ministry of the Son of God. We have an opportunity today to affirm our faithfulness as we bring forward our offerings and pledges. Let us be sure we have taken this opportunity to clarify where our priorities in life are.
There is a short ‘sound bite’ that I have heard over and over again throughout my life; perhaps many of you here this morning have also heard this said: “wealth equals power.” In many areas of our ‘all too real’ social system, and the structures of society throughout the world, this is true. But, wealth of material things and earthly social power are not the keys to heaven. In the spiritual realm, of which heaven belongs, all power comes from the realm of God! Clearly, the man that came to speak to Jesus that day, he knew or he felt, that he was lacking something as he asked of Jesus: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” /verse 17b/ He was lacking in his understanding of the difference between ‘earthly power and wealth’, verses that of the spiritual realm.
I have yet another sound bite to share with you today. Personally, I was pretty far into my life journey before I heard and understood this one. My prayer for us, is that everyone here has heard this said – before today. Thereby having had the opportunity to consider it, and have come to experience the humility that comes with an in depth response to it. It is an easy set of words to remember. It goes like this: ‘remember where your power comes from.’ Now if you are sitting here thinking ‘I don’t have any power, therefore this does not refer to me,’ you are wrong. Just because our lesson today was about a man of wealth with many possessions does not mean that those of us with few possessions and poor finances are lacking in power. Remember that our strengths, our abilities and our life opportunities whether we achieved wealth or poverty, come from our Creator! We still need to understand, true power, spiritual power comes from God and is available to all. Therefore, we cannot ignore the lesson being put forth! Being humble, is also for you. Consequentially, we all need to “remember where our power comes from!”
Likewise, do not forget: with power comes responsibility. Life is not meant to be lived in isolation; it is not all about oneself. No, life is meant to be lived in relationship to others; life, it is about us. A God centered life is not just about our own needs, it is ‘also’ about recognizing and responding to the needs of others! In my personal story about the wooden cross, which I had come to idolize, I was able, through God’s grace’ to pass it on, ‘out of love for my grandson’ thus fully living into my personal relationship with him. My relationship with God, however, was not meant to be in a wooden object. Rather, my relationship was and is a spiritual bond with God, portrayed through that special cross which I gave away. My ultimate responsibility was to do just that: give it away, pass it on!
Each of us have responsibilities. Through our God given gifts we are meant to live productive, useful lives. We are meant to do this in relationship with others. To do this successfully, we must be in relationship with God. If we identify ourselves as being in relationship with God, through Christ, then we ought to respond to the words of Jesus. These are our responsibilities! In verses 29 and 30 of our lesson, Jesus makes us a promise and let me sum it up for you: Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who… ‘Gives up anything’, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold… and in the age to come ‘shall receive’ eternal life.”
Rich in worldly goods or poor in financial security, we all find ourselves standing on the threshold of our futures. We, by our presence here today, we have chosen this church as the faith community that we are in fellowship with, at least today. By our very natures, as humans, we are here seeking a relationship with the God of promises. We want to be a part of those promises. As we conclude our service today, we shall have the opportunity to express our faith and our commitment, as we come forward offering our gifts. We shall then each light a candle, illustrating together, that we have made a promise, a faith promise. Amen.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament, the Gospel according to Mark, chapter:10, verses: 17-31”
17 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?”
18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
19 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.’ ”
20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
21 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.”
22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 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!”
24 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!
25 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.”
26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
29 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,
30 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.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
“Allow God to move us to a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”