Traveling Light

Mark 10:17-31
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Emily called while she was traveling through Europe in August. She said, “Mom, I hope you don’t mind but I had to unload some things because I was traveling by bus, train and plane, and my luggage was just too heavy for me to get around. So I got rid of some of my clothes, and you know that computer bag of yours that I borrowed, your portfolio, it was really nice to have it, Mom, but I found I could simplify and it was much easier to get from one place to the next without that extra bag.” Why did I think it was a good idea to give her my portfolio for this trip?

I suppose because I needed to learn a lesson and so did she about the value of traveling light. You know how foreigners can pick out an American in any airport? By the size of our luggage. By the stuff we drag around with us on trips and in life.

We know we got ourselves into this mess of an economy by over-consumption, by being too enamored with possessions. The average us home in the 1950's was about a thousand square feet of space. People thought nothing of having one bathroom and of kids sharing bedrooms. The average home size of our day is pushing close to 2500 square feet. While the size of the family has shrunk, our homes are two and a half times larger. In 1950 there were no storage unit companies at all. Now there are 45,000 companies with 2 billion square feet filled with things we cannot fit into our larger homes, but cannot part with either. In 1950 only 60% of American households owned a car. Among the our households with cars today, the highest percentage of us have three or more vehicles. 35% of car owners have at least three cars in a household.

And we are pressured to keep up with all the latest gadgets. Of course we cannot turn back the clock, and we wouldn’t want to do either. To return to some of the attitudes of the 1950's would not be good. It would be quite an adjustment to live without the conveniences of computers, cell phones, color tvs, digital cameras, and microwaves.

But here’s the good news, we are beginning to slow down our use of plastic cards to pay for what we cannot afford. Consumer credit has dropped 118 billion since it peaked in July 2008.

Well enough statistics. It’s time to hear the story of the rich man who lives according to the commandments but is told by Jesus that he lacks one thing – he has not given enough away to the poor. He has too many possessions.

NRS Mark 10:17 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."

Okay, this story packs a punch. Yes, we are all wealthy by the world’s standards. We have far more than we need. But rather than dwelling on the guilt and the bad news, instead of trying to wiggle out of this text by thinking of someone who is richer and more extravagant than us, let’s look for the good news in this passage.

The first bit of good news is that Jesus loved the rich man. Before he ever tells him, “Sell your stuff. Give more to the poor", our scripture tells us, Jesus loved him. He loved him enough to know that it was in his best interest to get rid of his abundance, to learn to let go, to be happy with less. After all, it is not going with us when we die. Someone is going to have to sort through your stuff. Someone is going to laugh about the things I kept and wonder why. Jesus loved the man and knew he would be freer to be the person God intended him to be if he was liberated from his possessions and able to be a blessing to others. It’s Love calling us to simplify, calling us to a responsive stewardship.

You know most people see stewardship conversation as heavy, the giving of money to the church as a difficult topic to address. Many pastors avoid talking about it. They wait until early November and preach the obligatory stewardship sermon. But we forget that learning generosity frees people, helps them to be happier. That book by Richard Foster which a group of you studied over the summer was called “The Freedom of Simplicity.” Freedom, liberation .

I remember a single mother who was an early founder of the Immanuel Presbyterian new church in Montgomery, Alabama. She worked for one of the phone companies and gave to the penny an exact tithe -- 10% from every paycheck. If her paycheck was $1997.82, the church would receive a check in the offering plate for $199.78. She set an example for Richard and me in our early adulthood because she acted out of principle, without regard to circumstances and she was willing to talk about it. “This is what God asks me to do. I do it and trust that God will bless me.” And God did. She lived comfortably and with great stability.

So the first piece of good news is that it is because God loves you that God asks you to give more away.

The second piece of good news from this passage is that when the rich man goes away sad because he has so many possessions and Jesus says, “It’s hard for rich people to enter God’s kingdom – harder than a camel to get through the eye of the needle.” And the disciples, “Who can be saved then?” Jesus offers good news. With you it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

It is possible to change, friends, with God’s help. Little by little, we can make big changes. Just like with losing weight or learning to exercise or building prayer and worship into our lives, we can build responsive stewardship. Figure out what your unnecessary items are and cut them out, little by little. We Deiberts hardly ever buy bottled water or soft drinks, unless we’re out somewhere, and cannot wait until we get home. The portions of meat we eat are fairly small. We’re working to buy less processed food and more fresh – much cheaper and healthier. New clothes –rarely. Look at these shoes! I could have replaced them a year ago with justification, but they are still working. Only the kids really need new clothes, when they outgrow them. Eating out – only occasionally and I always order water unless it is a special occasion, with wine. New items for the home? Don’t really need them, need to get rid of some of the knick-knacks we have. Living with the British taught us that unless something is terribly old and dysfunctional, there’s no need to replace, just for aesthetic reasons. There’s lots of free or inexpensive entertainment. Some repairs can wait.

Let’s look at a pie chart which represents the typical spending of a US household. One-third of the pie is discretionary. Ideally, a third of that third would pledged to God, a third is put into savings, and a third remains to cover college tuition or extra medical bills or a fun vacation. If you cannot run a marathon, it doesn’t mean you don’t exercise at all. If you have to clean the whole house, you do it a room at a time or a task at a time.

So it is with disciplined spending and benevolent giving. Responsive stewardship is we call it at Peace. You decide what matters and you commit to it. You decide to give a half tithe (5%) and stick with it. Start at some percentage. Don’t just give as you can. That requires no trust in God. Write the check every time you get a check. Or if you have investments, think about an starting endowment or giving a gift of stock. Some people give a tithe of their estate to the church in their death, a wonderful thing to do. Some give more. In a recession, life may feel less secure, but the principle stands. The more wealthy we are, the harder we will have simplifying to the point that we can really live the life God intends for us.

But it really is God’s money, not mine. So there should be no agonizing over how much money I have left to give. We agonize in the store whether to we really need those shoes. We agonize over vacations. Those are optional. We shop less because desires decrease when we’re not looking. When Richard first lost his job, I thought to myself, we have to adjust our pledge to the church. But we were nudged by the Spirit to just keep giving at the same level, not to make a quick decision, and then we got some help to make it through this time. Thanks be to God.

With God, all things are possible, even big camels going through eyes of needles. In this journey of life, this path of grace, (image) leading us toward an eternity with God, we learn to let go and trust.

The third piece of good news in this text is the promise to the disciples, who have given up so much – family, careers – for the sake of the gospel, Jesus promises that they will receive
a hundred times in return for their sacrifice both now and in eternity. Those of you who at Peace have given up lots of time and no small amount of money to get this church started, can you not see the blessing of it now multiplied.

Who would have thought that a group of six around a kitchen table in 2003 would be 135 people officially forming a church next week. Who would have thought we’d have a ten member children’s choir and a twenty member adult choir for the charter. When Peace started we had two young children and now there are fourteen. Even more amazing is that we now have an active youth fellowship with fourteen youth.

Who would have thought that a small church like Peace, learning to survive, would be the largest percentage giver in the whole presbytery? There are several churches that give a half tithe back to presbytery, but we more because we know what gifts to presbytery mean. We have benefitted from those gifts. We would not be here, apart from those gifts. With God all things are possible.

And so we are the newest church, a small but growing church with no building yet but with a big heart, giving away 20-25% of our budget because we know Jesus calls us to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and then all the other things will be added to us.

With God all things are possible. So let us travel light through this life and give generously as the Lord asks of us, and we will discover life eternal, the peace that the world cannot give.