Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oct. 11 sermon: The Sharp, Cutting Gospel

Hebrews and Mark

Start by describing how I pack. Esp. now that we have 2 kids. Seems like everywhere we go, we fill up the back of our car. Memory of lumbering down 3rd street in our packed to the gills, hugest Uhaul. Image or rolling up to Jesus walking along the highway, and rolling down the window of my stuffed Uhaul, “hey Jesus, I’m going to pastor a church, what else must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?”

Why a camel? A donkey or a cat or even a mouse would have an equally hard time getting through an eye of a needle, right? So why does Jesus say “a camel?”

Camels carry water in their back. So, it is a critique against self-reliance and “earning” your way into the kingdom. Also, camels were used by merchants to haul goods. Jesus most likely didn’t intend for us to imagine a bare camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle, but a heavy laden camel trying to squeeze through

When the man says, "Good teacher," is he
not asking for privileges from a privileged broker
of the Kingdom?
Jesus turns him around about that, too. "Why
do you call me good? No one is good but God
alone." Yes, Jesus is the one through whom we
gain the Kingdom. But he refuses to be treated
like someone you can bribe to let you in. If you
do not perceive it breaking in upon you (and not
just you, but the little, powerless ones) in his
very presence, what's it going to take to open
your dead eyes? Something divinely impossible!

The young man wanted to know what he lacked, he
wanted to add what was missing. Instead Jesus told
him to subtract from what he already had, he
already had what he needed, but all that money was
getting in the way. It was what stood between him
and God.

Potential of the man. Willing to come to him reaching out for more. Good material for a disciple.

But, what he says. “What must I do?” Do. The word “do” represents one of the greatest and most persistent fallacies in religion, from the power of which, with its crippling effects, Jesus sought to release people.

Eternal life, the kingdom of God, cannot be won by “doing.” It springs from one’s relationship with God. God offers the man personal relationship, the opportunity to walk with Christ, and the man walks away sad.

But perhaps this isn’t the end of the story for the rich man. Sadness and “Shock” as the NRSV puts it, are sometimes the beginning of a new journey. The story doesn’t say that he hasn’t resolved to sell his things. He doesn’t “scoff” at what Jesus says like the Pharisees do. The question of his reliance on his things has been put to him.

Perhaps Jesus looked inside him and told him to do something he knew he could not do so that he would begin to question his reliance on wealth.

Do we see the “other” in this story, or ourselves. I don’t know if any of us would consider ourselves “rich,” but if you went to the global wealth indicator on the website this past week, you see that the vast majority of us are in the top 3-4% globally when it comes to wealth. I’ve heard it said that if you have enough money to worry about what would happen if you lost it all, then you are rich. Certainly, this is the symptom that Jesus puts his finger on with the rich man.

Jesus knows that “abundance” is an enemy to the “abundant life.”

Our scriptures offer a mixed view on wealth and abundance. In much of the old testament, wealth and abundance is described as a display of the favor of God. This is one reason the disciples are so surprised by Jesus’ teaching here. Jesus is offering a new teaching.

The conventional wisdom was that it was easiest for the rich to inherit the Kingdom of God like they inherited everything else. They had more time to spend with purification rites, they had the means to make better sacrifices. They had the access to the education that bestowed the wisdom of God.

Jesus offered the view that wealth was an obstruction to a person inheriting eternal life. In fact, wealth made it impossible.

The rich man is liable to become like Gulliver: he wakes up on the beach on the island of Lilliput, huge among the pygmies, but bound to earth by a multitude of little strings.

But Jesus offers eternal life with “no strings attached.” Jesus wants to free us from the things that bind us to the earth so that we can jump up and follow him.
Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews described the the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Salvation will not be accomplished by any mortal.
It will be accomplished for all mortals by God.
"Unfair!" Said the firstborn son to his
father who welcomed his prodigal brother.
"Unfair!" said those who were called to
work since morning and will get paid the same as
those who were called at the 11th hour.
"Unfair!" said Peter and those who feel
they have given up and sacrificed families and

Stop thinking of the kingdom of God, salvation,
eternal life in terms of fire insurance. In the
age to come, God (who is not willing that anyone
should perish) will accomplish what is impossible:
Give eternal life to undeserving mortals.

But when we participate in God's kingdom building,
when we seize the kingdom of God which is at hand,
when we don't wait for the age to come, we can,
over and above eternal life, have this most
wonderful reward: God's provisions for one's needs
and the most rewarding relationships.

I had a thought last night. What if Jesus was
saying to the man, "to earn your way you have
to give EVERYTHING you have, and still that won't
make it. It's impossible for humans. This is
only possible by the grace of God. There is no
squeezing by." And "There are no
minimum requirements that you can meet for entry.
Following Jesus takes/requires our maximum

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