A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho October 14, 2012.
Before we get into this text this morning, I want to make sure we are clear about how we fit in this passage. It is easy, I think, from the stresses of our own lives, to not feel rich. None of us, to my knowledge, have the income of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
The economy is still tight. Many of our investments haven’t fully recovered from 2008. We don’t feel rich. And judging by the standards of American culture, we aren’t. Whether we’re the 1% or the 47%, we are not the people who have 5 houses and drive Lamborghinis. We worry about paying the bills or paying for college. We wonder what will happen if we suddenly have to pay for a new roof or a water heater.
And this leaves us feeling poor. As if the people on TV or the people in politics are the only ones who are rich. So when we hear Jesus telling the man to get rid of his possessions and sell what he owns and give it to the poor, we think, “yeah, Richie Rich! Take that! Jesus wants you to get rid of your yacht!”
And that may be true. This passage is certainly for the 1%.
But it is for you and I too.
While we may not be the $250,000 “middle class” that some politicians talk about, we are still rich.
Because we all slept in our own beds last night and were warm and out of the elements, we are rich. Because we know where our food will come from, we are rich. If you still don’t believe me, because I see a few of you out there thinking, “well some people might be rich, but I’m not….”, I want to show you a video of people in Haiti. These people are reading comments that people like you and I posted on Twitter or facebook.
Yes, friends. Compared to people in Haiti, compared to a large number of the earth’s population, you and I are rich. We have access to health care, and clean water, and food, and shelter, and safety from war. So, when we talk about this passage, I’m sure Jesus is talking to the 1%, but in the scope of the earth’s population, we are the 1%.
And so a man like us walks up to Jesus and tries to suck up. ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus gives him an answer: “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.”
And this is where I get confused. Because the man answers Jesus with ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ And I wonder, “all” of them? Really? Most days it is easy enough for us to not murder or commit adultery. But has he really honored his mother and father since his youth? Really? And is claiming that he’s never lied not a lie in itself?
Who knows. Maybe he truly never violated a commandment. So I’ll doff my cap and give him a ‘huzzah’. In any case, Jesus doesn’t get hung up on that. He just looks at him, loves him, and says, there is one more thing.
‘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.”
At this point, our friend who had managed to keep all of the commandments from his youth decided that this was more than he could handle. He is shocked and walks away, leaving in mourning, because he had many possessions.
The man can follow all of the commandments from his youth. But there is this one thing in the way. His stuff. So he walks away from Jesus.
And Jesus turns to his disciples and says ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.’
I don’t think Jesus is categorically saying we rich people, we people who like our stuff, can’t go to heaven. But he is saying that the way we choose to value our stuff over other people, over our love for God, keeps us from living a Kingdom of God kind of life.
There is a cartoon strip I enjoy called Coffee With Jesus.
I love this cartoon. Because it reminds me to re-orient myself toward God.
Like Ann, there is so much we want. We look at these shiny new things as if they have the power to finally make us happy or complete. If only our house were bigger. If only I had a new car. If only I had these new shoes, my life would be perfect.
But as Jesus tells Ann, as he tells his disciples, the Lord is my shepherd, I’ve got pretty much everything I need. Our ultimate satisfaction won’t come from our relentless pursuit of stuff. It comes from resting in God’s provision.
So when Jesus tells us how hard it is for rich people to enter heaven, he is reminding us that if we put our faith in either the possessions we have, or the possessions we think we need to have, to save us, then we aren’t relying on God, we aren’t trusting in God.
Like us, the disciples freak out a bit. ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
We can’t save ourselves. Not by following all the commandments from our youth. Not from our relentless pursuit of more. For mortals it is impossible. But for God, all things are possible.
Today we are beginning our stewardship campaign. From now until the first of November, we’ll be asking you to consider how God is calling you to share your resources, including your money, your time, your gifts and talents to contribute to the work we’re doing here at Southminster.
And I don’t think this passage from the gospel is telling you “give us your money because you can’t get to heaven if you’re rich.” I mean, we’ll take your money, don’t get me wrong. But this isn’t about threat or coercion.
This passage reminds us, instead, that we can’t save ourselves. It is impossible. We can’t store up enough anything here on earth to change the fact that we should, instead be relying on God. The Lord is my shepherd, I’ve got pretty much everything I need.
So stewardship, then, becomes a reminder to re-orient ourselves. To reconsider where we will put our trust. We can either keep a tight grasp on our stuff and on our desire for more stuff. Or we can trust that if we let go of it, if we each contribute to the work of God here in this place, God will do amazing things through us.
We can either choose to go it alone, pursuing our own individual wealth and success, like the man who walked away from Jesus, or we can trust that it is better to work together for the common welfare, bringing our resources together.
Peter, at the end of the passage, reminds Jesus, “hey look at me! I did that! I gave it all up to follow you!” Bless his heart.
And Jesus says that all who have left family and homes and fields to follow him will receive hundredfold in this life and in the life to come. And I don’t think Jesus is saying you’ll have extra families and more houses, maybe even one in Sun Valley.
I think what he is saying here is that when you trust in God rather than in your own pursuit of wealth, then your brothers and sisters in Christ become your family who will look out for you and provide. Their homes become places where you are welcome and have shelter and fellowship. Their fields become places where your food is grown.
Maybe coffee fellowship is the modern equivalent of the fields. Most of us don’t have a farm, but we take turns contributing to the fellowship hour after worship and all of us end up being fed.
So, as you consider what your family can contribute for the coming year’s stewardship campaign to support the budget, I invite you to hear Jesus saying to us all, “the Lord is my shepherd, I’ve got pretty much everything I need”. Because it is out of that place of abundance that we can generously contribute to God’s work in our midst.
The man walked up to Jesus and asked him, good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
In one sense, the answer is nothing. We can’t earn, buy, or wish our way into salvation. It is a gift of grace to which we respond with abundant gratitude. For mortals it is impossible. For God all things are possible. The Lord is my shepherd, I’ve got pretty much everything I need.
But in another sense, the answer is everything. We have to give all we are, we have to trust all we have, into the keeping and provision of God, from whom all blessings flow. Because the life God envisions for us is better than anything we can dream up. The Lord is my shepherd, I’ve got pretty much everything I need.
So, as we live into this time of stewardship, I invite you to prayerfully consider how you can contribute to God’s work in our midst. Can you live into the truth that the Lord is your shepherd, and you’ve got pretty much everything you need? I pray that we can all help each other live into that truth.