Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost
October 14, 2018
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15, Psalm 90:12-17, Hebrews 4:12-16, Mark 10:17-31 (Read these texts before reading the sermon. J)
Belonging to Jesus, we are recipients of a wonderful freedom. We can totally be ourselves before God, before the throne of grace. Belonging to Jesus, our minds and hearts are set free each new day to dream “wild and crazy” dreams, and to be radically generous in expressing our love for others. With the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts, we can be almost reckless in our acts of love for others. Free to be ourselves before God the Father with our brother Jesus, our “great high priest,” at our side means we can, each day, express our fears, our worries, our failures, our weaknesses, our shortcomings to him without fear of judgment. [Hebrews 4:10]
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom… [Psalm 90:12] If I were in AA or NA, I would know about this intimately. I remember the joy I shared with a member in another congregation who had received his sixth month medallion, six months without a drink, one day at a time. Six months…182 days. Living one day at a time, not too proud or too afraid to reach out, each day if necessary for support, to find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:16]
Sometimes I think about what I would do if I knew this would be the last day of my life on earth. When I think about this, my mind goes to love: to whom should I, could I show love and compassion or generosity this day (before I die)? But the Psalm for today also invites me to think about more than just today, this one day. What if God grants me another year or another five years or another 20? Wisdom about another year or even 20 would mean my openness to God’s direction, listening to God’s unfolding game plan for the long haul.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today are both hard to hear and incredibly hopeful about living with hearts of wisdom the rest of our days on earth. Both Amos (in our first reading) and Jesus speak about what may be the biggest obstacle to living wisely and joyfully and generously. That obstacle is our grasping, our holding fast to our material possessions. The wealthier we become, the more money or things we accumulate, the more likely we are to define ourselves by what we own.
As Jesus 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, 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.”
Did you hear that…Jesus, looking at him, loved him...? Jesus knew this man was sincere, that he had an honest heart. But Jesus knew too that this man, whom he loved, lacked one thing. His “stuff”, his possessions, which were considerable, prevented him from living with the wisdom, joy and generosity God meant for him to “own.”
Between now and November 11, I invite you to think often about your life and your relationship with your possessions, including your money. The 11th is for Grace this year our Commitment Sunday, a day when we will commit or re-commit our lives to following Jesus as members and friends of Grace Lutheran Church. Part of that commitment is offering up a significant portion of our time and possessions for what we will do in Jesus’ name for the world. When that commitment comes as the fruit of prayer and, appropriately, conversations with someone we deeply trust, it will lead to an abundant life wisely, joyfully, and generously lived. It will lead to a life more consciously dependent on Jesus for our well-being then on our money or anything else we possess.
[For Phylis and me, the money part is to tithe of our income for the ministries of both Calvary and Grace. Over the 46 years of our marriage, and in many of the years before we knew each other, tithing to the ministries of the churches of which we were part has always felt right to us. The only negotiating was about how much and where we would give in offerings beyond the tithe. But each person, each family has their own history. Each of us needs to listen to God and trust the inner voice of the Holy Spirit in deciding how much to give. Each of needs to know and trust that Jesus loves us, loved us well before we decided how much we would give.]
The man who came to Jesus asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Ultimately, I think Jesus’ response was mostly about wanting this man to have a very rich life, not just in the eternal life to come, but also right here on earth. Only it would have almost nothing to do with material riches. It would have little or nothing to do with opulence, with “houses of hewn stone”, nor “pleasant vineyards.” [Amos 5:11]. It would have everything to do with a multitude of brothers and sisters who loved him through thick and thin, of homes to go to when he was lost and homeless. Jesus wanted above all that this man would be incredibly rich in relationships, in companions who would faithfully walk life’s journey with him even on the darkest of days, and with a God who would carry him through the last day of his earthly life into a beautiful fellowship with Jesus and all for whom Jesus died.
For this man, receiving this inheritance, this heavenly treasure, would mean letting go of his considerable possessions. This was really hard for him, maybe too hard. But the writer of the pastoral perspective you received this morning, suggested that maybe he went away sorrowful (“grieving”) precisely because he had decided to sell all he had and follow Jesus. “Joining Jesus in kingdom activity and behavior is not easy and often it is excruciatingly painful.”
Belonging to Jesus, following Jesus, is not without pain or sorrow or difficult decisions. But it does lead to a very rich life, rich in loving relationships, rich in the daily experience of God’s steadfast love even in the saddest, darkest days. Belonging to Jesus, following Jesus means being set free from our bondage to possessions. It means a life, whether one day or 20 years, of being daily renewed with a heart full of wisdom, with an abundance of joy, and with acts of almost reckless generosity, all born of the One who looks at each of us and loves us. Amen.