Carolyn’s Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost – 10/14/12

Sermon Pentecost 20 Year B

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus was setting out on a journey.  A rich man ran up and knelt before him. This man interrupted his journey, literally stopped Jesus in his steps.  The man knelt before Jesus.  That’s important.  He knelt. The only other people who have knelt before Jesus did it to ask for healing.

This man knows he needs healing from Jesus.  He knows it.  He feels he is missing something in his life.  Why else would he be there?  He has done what the law says.  He wants eternal life, but he knows he is missing something.

Let’s think about him for a minute.  He is a good person.  He keeps the commandments. In his culture, wealth was considered a blessing from God.  So he is a good man and he is blessed with wealth.  He seems to have everything he needs.

We can’t deny it.  We think of wealth as a blessing, too.  We even tell ourselves that it is a blessing we somehow deserve.  We talk about wealth as hard-earned money.  We talk about the American dream of getting ahead and owning a home, sending our kids to college so they can do even better than we did.

The truth is we are privileged people.  We didn’t earn what we have by ourselves even though we worked hard. We were born privileged – into a place with many opportunities.  We live in a place where we are the dominant culture.   We are so used to our privileges that we don’t even notice them.  We can take them for granted.

We sometimes fail to notice that not everyone shares the same privileges and opportunities. We can fail to notice that some of our neighbors do not have adequate housing.  We don’t see the people who can’t afford to buy food.  They are at the food pantry, not in line with us at the store.  They don’t live on our block.

We fail to notice the poverty in the developing nations.  Those people don’t make it on the news unless there is some political upheaval to bring the cameras around.

My point here is – we are very much like this rich man.  If you go to the website called www.globalrichlist.com  and enter in your annual salary you will find that you are probably in the top 1%.  You probably make more money than 99% of the people in the world.

I know I do and you know what I make. We don’t think of ourselves as rich.  But we are rich by the standards of the world.

There is a lot of talk lately about the middle class.  By the standards of this country, most of us would probably consider ourselves middle class.  But notice that Jesus doesn’t tell the man to use his wealth to provide jobs for the middle class.  He tells him to use it to help the poor.

There is a second way that we are very much like this rich man.  We are good people, too.  We are not murders, thieves, adulterers or liars.  We go to church every week.  We try to live the life that God wants us to live.

We are very much like this rich man in a third way as well.  We know we need healing.  We know we lack something.  We know that we cannot be good enough to earn eternal life.  We know that the money we have won’t help get us into heaven.  We even joke about not being able to take it with us.

Jesus is the great physician.  The rich man kneels before him in need of healing.  Jesus diagnoses the man’s disease.  The problem is caused by his possessions. His wealth become an idol for him.

He has put his faith, his trust, in the fact that he is part of the 1%, instead of trusting in God. His cure requires him to get rid of his wealth, his idol. He must give it all away and follow Christ, the One True God.

Mark tells us that the man went away from Jesus grieving, because he had many possessions.  What Mark doesn’t tell us is if he just went home, or if he did sell his possessions and follow Jesus.

We usually think he just went home because we know how we would feel if Jesus told us we had to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.

But what if the rich man did do what Jesus said?  What if he did sell it all, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus?  Wouldn’t we expect him to be grieving?  Wouldn’t you be sad if you gave up everything, even if you did it for Jesus?

We are like this rich man.  We kneel at the feet of Jesus.  We know we need healing.  We also want eternal life.

We let Jesus, the Great Physician, the Great Healer, diagnose our problems.  Maybe we have the same problem as the rich man in the story.  Perhaps wealth has become an idol for us.  Perhaps we place our trust in money instead of trusting God.  If wealth is our problem, we know what Jesus says we need to do.

Perhaps there is something else in our lives getting in the way of trusting God.  Maybe it isn’t money.  Maybe it is something else.  Only you and Jesus know what that might be for you.

Whatever it is, though, Jesus is telling you to let it go.  He is reminding you that you can’t take it with you.  He is also reminding you that following him isn’t easy.  It does require sacrifice.  It will make you sad, because it leads to a cross.

Following Jesus always requires putting the needs of the poor ahead of our desire to accumulate wealth.

Despite what people believed in Jesus’ time, and what some TV evangelists will tell you today, wealth is not a sign that God loves us more than other people.  It is not a sign that God has blessed this country any more than God has blessed any other people in the world.

Wealth is also not a sign that we are a better Christians than other people.  Our wealth is a sign that says it is going to be harder for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Because it is very easy to let our wealth distract us from our need for God.

“Then who can be saved?  For mortals it is impossible; but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”

Author Max Lucado once put it like this in envisioning what Jesus might say to this rich man:

“What costs far more than you can pay? You don’t need a system, you need a Savior. You don’t need a resume, you need a redeemer …

God does not save us because of what we’ve done. Only a puny god could be bought with tithes. Only a temperamental god could be satisfied by our sacrifices. Only a heartless god would sell salvation to the highest bidders. Only a great God does for his children what they can’t do for themselves.”

(Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God, by Max Lucado)

Peter reminded Jesus that he and the other disciples had actually done what Jesus told the rich man to do.  They left everything and followed Jesus.  Jesus promises them eternal life.

May we like the disciples, leave everything that gets in our way, and follow Jesus.  For he has also promised us eternal life.  Amen.

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