Mark 10:17-31 • October 14, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.
The devil was on the prowl one day. He was out to get a Christian who’d been hanging around his neighborhood. The devil saw the Christian coming close. He shot one of his fiery arrows. It struck the Christian in the chest. The Christian wasn’t harmed. He had a breastplate of righteousness on to protect him. The devil took another shot. This time at the Christian’s head. That didn’t do anything either. He was protected by the helmet of salvation. The devil figured everyone has an Achilles’ heel. That will do the trick, so he shot at the Christian’s feet. The feet were also protected – by the gospel of peace on which the Christian always stood. The Christian smirked and turned around to walk away. The devil had one more arrow though. He fired and the arrow hit the Christian’s wallet that was in his back pocket. That arrow worked and instantly brought the Christian down.
OK – I’ll admit, that joke is a little shocking. Maybe mildly offensive. But I think it’s also truer that any of us care to admit. Although, I believe it’s not nearly as shocking as the gospel reading we just received from Mark.
On the surface, this gospel reading of the rich man or the rich young man or the rich ruler depending on which gospel you are getting this story from, on the surface I suppose you could say it’s about stewardship. And maybe it is…but is stewardship really only about our wealth or our possessions? What’s in our wallet so to speak?
Stewardship, as defined by Luther Seminary professor Rolf Jacobson, is “believing that everything you own actually belongs to God.” [Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, pg. 168]
By taking Professor Jacobson’s definition into account, stewardship is not just about the things that we own or the tight grasp we have on our bank accounts or investment portfolios. At the heart of it all, being a steward of God, claiming to live out our faith as a reflection of stewardship, stewardship isn’t only about our stuff. It’s about being humbled to the point of not letting our stuff get in the way of being in relationship with God – who is the real owner of all our stuff and our entire life in the first place. Not just the parts or times when we want God to be around. Our entire life and all that is in it. Always.
Stewardship then, has to be about humility from the very beginning. Being humble enough to know that everything we have and everything that we are, is God’s first, not ours.
The Urban Dictionary’s definition of humility is helpful here. “True humility is to recognize your value and others value while looking up. It is to see there is far greater than ourself into who we can become, who others can become, and how much more we can do and be together. To be humble is to serve others and be for their good as well as your own.” [https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Humility]
The rich man’s challenge in today’s gospel is not in his inability to let go of his things. His challenge and problem is the way his possessions, which also have a lot to do with his status in the community, are blocking him from being concerned with anything else in his life or anyone else around him. He is unable to humble himself to a point where Jesus, and being in relationship with Jesus first and foremost, is more important to him than his possessions or his status in the community.
“Jesus will accept nothing less than our very selves. He wants us, and therefore also wants the things that keep us from him; he gazes upon us in love, even as he calls us to leave behind our false sources of security…eternal life (it) is a gift that claims the entirety of our lives and therefore reshapes our stewardship of whatever earthly goods we do have.” As one pastor shared this week, “Following Jesus is about loving others beyond the rules, beyond the hierarchies, beyond familial loyalty.” [www.sundaysandseasons.com]
During a speaking event in Indianapolis this past week, another pastor, Pastor Andy Stanley, said “People outside our community (of faith) should be envious of how well we treat each other and stunned by how well we treat them.” [http://deepandwidetour.com]
Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that even though we claim to keep the commandments all the time, we cannot actually do that. Get over yourself if you think you actually can keep all the commandments all the time.
Like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, you and I know that we identify ourselves by our possessions and our status in the community more often than we will ever admit.
Faced with the reality of our own sin, the grip of our possessions and our unending quest to be placed upon a pedestal of greatness, just like the rich man in today’s gospel reading, instead of humbling ourselves before Jesus, we relentlessly cling to our human illusions of power, wealth, and control.
Former President Jimmy Carter, in his book Sources of Strength, said that “God creates us with a variety of needs, desires, interests, talents, and opportunities. But these things don’t define what we’ll be. They’re like the bricks, lumber, wallboard, shingles and tiles we might see piled on the road near a construction site. It’s what we make from the raw elements of our personalities that defines who we are; and this is where priorities and choices are crucial.” [pg. 230]
Do we choose to hold tightly onto those things which keep us away from being in relationship with God through the savior of the world? Do we choose something different, even as Jesus looks upon us and loves us?
Episcopal Priest Heidi Haverkamp offers a final thought I’d like to share as today’s sermon comes to a close. “Inheriting eternal life in Christ is not about checking off boxes, not even the boxes of the commandments. It is not about achieving extreme-sport levels of prayer or atmospheric levels of spiritual wisdom. Whatever we think eternal life means, perhaps its first lesson is that we cannot earn or create it ourselves. Perhaps the eternal life that Jesus offers means emptying ourselves and our lives rather than accomplishing anything.” [Christian Century, September 26, 2018, pg. 20]
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our culture and the world in which we live today, bombards us with the message that we will find life and eternal happiness in the things we own or the social statuses we achieve. Our life of faith, as people who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus, calls us into something in complete opposition to that. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live in ways that always bring life to our neighbor. Which will in turn, bring life to us. I hope and pray that you and I who make up the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, will not walk away from that opportunity. Amen.