Invitation to Unload

Mark 10:17-31                                                                    Gratitude Season

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          11 October 2015


Sometimes it seems that every challenging sermon comes down to this one question that Jesus asked Peter before he ascended:  Peter, do you love me?   Really love me?  Love me more than anything else?  “Yes, of course, Peter says.  You are first in my life.”  Then Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”   Every sermon is somehow connected to the great commandment:  Love God.  Love Neighbor.  Every sermon relates somehow to being thankful, putting God first, and being generous, in every way.  Last year, our Gratitude theme was God First.   This year’s theme is “I Like Giving”    And here’s the connection.   The more you put God first, the easier it is to give to others, and the more you are giving, the easier it is to put God first.  

Henri Nouwen says, Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.  The move from fear to love is what the man is this story could not make.   He wanted to secure his eternal life without giving himself completely to God, without fully loving his neighbor.   Many of us are like him.   We like to think we have mastered the commandments by doing no wrong, but we’ve missed out on having a grateful heart and generous spirit.  Hear the Gospel:  

Mark 10:17-31

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.” (NRSV)

No one is good but God alone.   I think Jesus was pointing the man away from his own sense of righteousness.   This man thinks he has lived a good life.   Many of us think the same.   I hear it all the time.   That is a misunderstanding of grace.   None of us have lived a good enough life.   But by the grace of God, we are given the gift of eternal life.   Jesus names some of the commandments, in fact, he names all the commandments having to do with love of neighbor.    But He does not name the first four commandments having to do with love of God, nor the last commandment having to do with not coveting what belongs to other people, a commandment we break all the time without thinking.   He names the commandments that the man has obeyed, but then tells him gently the ones where he has fallen short.   

How does he tell him gently?   Don’t miss it, that little phrase.  Then Jesus looking at him, loved him.   He poured out his love with his eyes.   There is nothing like two eyes to tell you how much you are loved, likewise, you know when two eyes are angry with you or ignoring you, or disappointed with you or looking down on you.   You feel it in the look.  

It does not matter what we say to someone, if our eyes are saying something different.   People read the eyes.   Jesus looking at him, loved him.   Jesus looking at you, loves you.   He’s not condemning you.   He loves you.   He’s inviting you into a deeper relationship with the Triune God and humanity.   You lack one thing.   You claim to have obeyed all the commandments but you have not really put God first, trusted God completely, and been generous with the poor.    Jesus demonstrates for us how all of us should help one another grow.   Begin with praise.   You know the commandments.   You’re doing well with many of them.   Now let me tell you where you need to grow.    And the man could have responded courageously, accepting the opportunity for growth but he shut down.  He closed himself off.  He walked away, sad.

(image of the garage door) When the Gratitude Team met last week, I was reminded of a good image given us by Robin Miller last year during Gratitude Season.   It was of the garage door.   Robin said, she recognized in herself, this tendency to close the garage door.  Emotional, mentally, spiritually closing the garage door is a way of avoiding the challenging call, the uncomfortable encounter with God.  It’s the same thing as the rich man in the story.    None of us wants to hear how we’ve fallen short.   We want to think we’ve kept all the commandments and God is pleased with how generous we are.   But as soon as we develop that sense of pride about God being pleased with us, we are closing the garage door.   We are walking away.   The man was shocked.   What me?   I give.   I give more than the widow.   She only put in two small coins.   I give way more than that.   I give more than my neighbors.   They don’t even go to church.   I probably give more than the person sitting beside me at church.   And the danger for the very few of us who know pledges is that we can congratulate ourselves on being one of the top givers, as if that is what makes God happy.   Check mark.   I kept the commandments.   But it doesn’t work that way with God.

You know I wanted to just pull out an old sermon on this passage.   I’ve preached it many times before.  I was busy this week.   But more than that, I did not want to let this story get under my skin again.   If I just revised a sermon, it would be so much easier.   I could close the garage door of my heart, mind, and soul, and not be affected.   But the Holy Spirit kept hounding me.   Deal with the narrative.   Let me love you again toward liberation.   Allow me to help you unload some of your baggage.

(image of the luggage) We flew Southwest last week-end.   Southwest has my business for three reasons – they are usually on time, they allow you to change flights for no fee, and bags fly free.   Southwest lets me have my bags – anyway I want them, for free!  That’s good, because God is always bugging me about my baggage.   And I cannot take harassment from Southwest and God!    God’s always telling me I don’t need so much stuff, that I really could live without it.   God’s telling me the camel is not going to fit, just like my carry-on bag almost did not fit in the overhead last week.   And why do we act like such little spoiled brats when our luggage doesn’t fit or gets lost or delayed.  Unless it had your computer or your grandmother’s precious ring in it, it is really no big deal in the grand scheme of life.

God is trying liberate us from worrying about stuff so much.   Worrying that someone else has nicer or more than we do.   That’s coveting – commandment #10.   Clinging too tightly to what we have, buying more and more, trying to secure ourselves with material goods, rather than trusting God – that’s idolatry – commandments #1 and 2 –  The Lord is God, the Lord alone.  You shall have no gods before me.  

Jesus is trying to help us here.   Just like a good spouse tries to help you, by loving you and then telling you gently and kindly, “Honey, here’s where you are lacking - -simplicity, generosity.”

Jesus wants to liberate us from our baggage.   We drag it around, buy storage units to preserve it, need larger and large walk-in closets to organize it.   The average closet and bathroom of a 2015 house is the size of a bedroom in 1950.  

Is it progress or problem?   While small can seem confining and large, liberating, there is a sort of reversal that seems similar to the last being first and the first, last.   Sometimes the more we have, the less free we are.   We need to travel light in this journey.  There’s nothing like hiking to teach you how little you really need.  (image of hikers)

Sometimes I think to myself – Wow, we must simplify, but then there is so much to do, I don’t know where to start.   It seems impossible.   But with God all things are possible.   With God I will one day be completely liberated from all the things that encumber me.   That’s right.   There’s no U-Haul trailer behind the hearse.  

So in the meantime, I want to get on with this liberation.   I want to unload the baggage that weighs me down.   I want to get on with putting God first in every way, and being a generous person, especially toward the poor.   I don’t want the nicest house, or the nicest clothes, or the nicest car.   I don’t want to be first.  Except in basketball, I always want to be first in basketball.  No really.  (image)

I want to have enough to be able to love God and love others completely.  Because with the loving face of Jesus Christ before me, I know I have all I really need.   So Richard and I can give to the Peace building fund with reckless abandon, more than we’ve given in ten years total to the operating fund, because we know that building a sanctuary to glorify God matters a lot more than holding onto an inheritance to build our retirement fund.   We can tithe, really tithe the full 10% of our income to the operating fund of Peace, because it takes a load off the camel’s back by limiting our choices, and it brings us such joy knowing that 10-15% of the money we pledge is being used to help people in need and that the other 85% of it is helping to build Christian faith in people like you and me, and especially in our children and youth!   Is there any more valuable way to spend money?   Richard and I like giving.   Do you like giving?   Hear how this woman learned to like giving.

(video from I Like Giving website about a woman who decides to sell her big diamond to build a well in Africa)