My second sermon at Bethany Village, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:17-31. Those of you who were in my preaching class last year might recognize the beginning, lol.
A woman is in line at a department store, her purchases in tow, during the Christmas Rush. The line is going by quickly, and the woman is happy—maybe she’ll be in home to catch her favorite television show, and even relax before her children get home from school. She gets to the cashier and pulls out her cash, and realizes that she does not have enough money to pay for the dresses. The line comes to a screeching halt behind her and people become angry as they are forced to wait while the woman fumbles around, trying to find out what item to take off of her total. Suddenly, a voice from the heavens sounds down “What’s in your wallet?” And then the logo for Capital One credit cards appears across the television screen.
I’m sure you have seen commercials like this one on your television in the past five years or so for Capital One Credit cards. It seems that in every commercial, you have to have this special card or you’re a nuisance to those around you. If you have this special capital one credit card, life will somehow be easier.
The Bible passage also makes me think of the pyramids in Egypt. These great big tombs which are full of gold and riches. You ever hear the phrase “You never see a U-haul behind a hearse?” Guess the Egyptian pharaohs of old missed that memo. Maybe a voice out of the heavens should have asked “What’s in your pyramid?”
Well, in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is approached by a rich man. We know the story—the rich man asks Jesus what he can do to get inherit eternal life. And Jesus asks if he’s followed the commandments—the rich man says yes—and then Jesus looks on him with love and says then give away all your possessions and come follow me. The rich man, probably with head hung low and tail between his legs, probably mumbling and grumbling to himself, goes home sad because he had many possessions. Jesus tells his disciples the famous saying: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get inherit eternal life. This makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Let’s let this sink in for a little bit… count to five…
Hmm… So, apparently Bill Gates does not have a place at the great banquet, huh? Just kidding, it’s easy to point the finger. But what about us? Is this lesson supposed to be a warning for us? Well, I heard earlier today that if you make only $1,000 a year, you are richer than over fifty percent of the world. Can you imagine? Only $1,000 a year and you are already sitting pretty compared to some of our brothers and sisters around the world. Even in an unstable economy, we are still one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I think this is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. Like the disciples said, “Who can be saved?”
In the words of a friend of mine, “Oh Lawdy, this passage is makin’ me sink! Let me up for some fresh air!”
But Jesus answers them, “For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Jesus is saying, with love—remember, he looked at the rich man with love, not with anger—Jesus is saying that we can’t do it without God. God has to be present and active in our lives, because if we want to inherit eternal life on our own we’d never be able to do enough. So often we can be like the rich man, saying “Well, I follow all the rules, I got to church every Sunday, I read my Bible every day.” Jesus points out that we can do more. But with God, all things are possible.
I think Jesus is telling us to be responsible with our resources. It certainly is impractical in this world to give up everything. We would not survive. To purposefully give up our house and all our money and all our family and all our possessions, to become a homeless person, wondering the streets is to be irresponsible of what resources we have, and to become a burden to others. But we can be more intentional about where we spend our resources.
What’s in your wallet might be a good question for us—we could take out our bills or maybe our calendars and see where most of our time and money is going. For instance, I love reading and books. I love spending time with my friends. Maybe next time I’m at Borders and I want to buy a book, I’ll stop, and I’ll give the money that I would have spent on that book to an organization designed to help illiteracy rates. Maybe next time I plan on spending time with friends, maybe I could invite them to go to church with me instead. Maybe next time I plan on watching a movie I’ll pray or read from the Bible instead. What can we do in our lives to be better stewards of our resources?
Well, I would like to say in my short time at Bethany I have had and continue to have the privilege and blessing to work alongside and with many of you. I have seen people give up their time and their talents for the good of this community and use their resources in ways which blow my mind, sharing with one another the good news and helping one another. The seeds have been planted here—wondrous seeds of truth and love and hope. But the road still stretches out before us, the journey is not over until it’s over, so let us continue to grow in the rich goodness God has given us. Let us continue to look out for our sisters and brothers around us. Each and every day we are given the choice to use our richness—the blessings God has given us, friends, family, time, and talents, and so much more—to give to others and by giving we are following Christ. In uplifting the poor and weak and last among us, we are doing the work God commanded us. And even when we do not feel good enough, God is good enough. Through God all things are possible, and through God even the rich can pass through the eye of a needle.
Jesus tells them that the last will be first, and the first will be last. Jesus looks on the disciples with love; and tells them that when things are given away, or even taken away, that we can rest assured in the promise that one day will come when all things will be made right again, where things are not taken, but are given, where illness fades away and wellness blossoms, where loved ones and old friends who have gone will welcome us home, and where the last among us and the least among us will be first, and where our broken bodies will be made whole and one again. And we will be met with the old and beautiful words, “Well done, good and faithful soldiers, well done.”
Let us pray: Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.