A sermon preached at Southminster on February 13, 2016
We talked about questions the other night on Ash Wednesday. Jesus’ disciples had questions for him. But they were too afraid to ask them.
Here, it is a whole different story. We have questions all over the place.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Do you get the sense that the man thought he knew the answer to that question before he asked it?
Jesus gives him a list-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 the man says “super! I’ve kept all of those rules since my youth. I’m golden! I win!”
Every time I read this passage, I think, “liar. I haven’t even kept all of those commandments since breakfast, there is no way you’ve kept them all since your youth.”
Luckily, that wasn’t Jesus’ reaction to the man. We’re told that Jesus, looking at him, loved him. He saw the insecurity, the anxiety, the worry, that leads someone to delude themselves about their own ability to save themselves, and he loved him.
Lent is the time to acknowledge our dust-ness, our mortality, our inability to be our own saviors.
No matter how many rules we have kept since our youth.
Jesus, looked at him, and loved him, because he got how hard it is for us humans to acknowledge our own limitations.
And then I wonder if Jesus wondered if the one thing that might shake him out of it might be money. ‘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.’
It is easy to preach this text as a warning against accumulating wealth. And I know it is a sermon I need to hear as much as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton needs to hear.
But in this context, I think it is also a bigger statement about how we use money as a savior. We think that if we just have enough money to do X, Y, or Z, we’ll be saved from our fears and worries.
The man, hearing that, was shocked and went away grieving, probably regretting his decision to open his big mouth to ask the question in the first place.
And we don’t know what he finally decided to do once he got over his grieving. He may have given it all away and followed Jesus.
Do you think he did?
I want to believe he did. I know there are people who have done that, given up earthly treasures and wealth, to follow Jesus.
The disciples, who overheard the conversation, don’t seem to have very high hopes for that man’s chances, or for theirs.
‘Then who can be saved?’
At least they aren’t afraid to ask Jesus questions anymore, right?
Jesus says, “wrong question, mortal. You are still dust. This isn’t about your own ability to save yourself. And your money wasn’t going to be the agent of your salvation anyway. Who can be saved isn’t the question.”
For mortals it is impossible. For God, everything is possible.
It sounds so simple.
It is simple, actually, but it is not easy.
“Look, Jesus. We’ve done that. We’ve given up everything and followed you.”
Peter may not be wrong about that. I’m sure the disciples’ friends and family were questioning their decision to follow an itinerant preacher around the dusty countryside, and the truly financially questionable decision to set aside their fishing nets and their commercial fleet of boats.
We’ve given up everything and followed you.
What Peter is missing in this conversation is that even giving up everything doesn’t keep you from thinking that it is the giving up, as an act, that saves you.
Peter and the disciples have done well to give up everything to follow Jesus. And it still won’t save them.
Because even enlightened disciples who do the right thing are still dust, are still mortal.
For mortals it is impossible.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow Jesus’ instructions and try to let go of the things that keep us from God and each other. We are called to do what we can do to follow him
It just means we need to be clear that all of those good works, practices, and renunciations will not save us. For mortals, it is impossible.
For God, nothing is impossible.
Because God is not dust.
I’ve not been a huge proponent of giving things up for Lent, and maybe just because I’ve not been terribly successful at it. But if giving up something like chocolate or caviar is a helpful spiritual practice for you, then great. But if giving up something gets in the way of remembering to trust in the possibilities of God, as it did for the disciples, then maybe reconsider.
Giving up chocolate will not save you. For mortals it is impossible. For God, nothing is impossible.
Maybe the journey of Lent, as we walk with Jesus as he makes his way to the cross, is the slow process of unmaking God in our image. The god we make in our image is limited, and weak, and very mortal.
This week, an Idaho State Senator introduced a bill that would make sure the Bible is taught in public schools. We don’t have time to go into all of the concerns I have with such a piece of legislation. But at its root, I think, it is a situation of making God into our mortal image.
If God needs the protection and the defense of the Idaho legislature to make it in this world, what kind of a god is that?
If scripture proclaims “for God, nothing is impossible!” then why would we act as if it would be impossible for God to be known by public school kids unless this bill is passed?
For mortals, it is impossible. For God, nothing is impossible.
In Through the Looking Glass, Alice, while in Wonderland gets into a conversation with the Queen of Hearts. And Alice doesn’t believe something the Queen tells her.
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
As we journey to the cross, let’s spend thirty minutes a day practicing in believing in impossible things. Rather than limit God to our own image and understanding, what if we truly stepped out on faith and trusted that with God, nothing is impossible?
What could the future hold for us here if the mortal impossible became the divine possible?
May it be so.