Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon: October 11

Take our lips, O Lord, and speak through them; Take our minds and think through them; Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“You are the best dad in the world.”

I know when my kid is saying this, as much as I love them, they are buttering me up. I know they are about to ask me for something…

In today’s Gospel, kneeling before Jesus as Jesus prepares to make one last journey to Jerusalem, is a rich young man. So many have knelt before Jesus asking for healing, but this young man asks "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus does not like being called good teacher. Only God is good. What must he do? Jesus asks the young man about the commandments…

He has obeyed the commandments but Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "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." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Whenever I read this passage, I think of an image from the Steve Ross graphic novel about the Gospel of Mark. Ross has brought the Gospel to modern day and from today's reading, he has this young man moving a wheel barrow full of stuff to see Jesus and asks what he must do to get to heaven. All the things in the wheelbarrow includes cars, TV’s, homes, jewelry, radios, tablets and it reaches to the sky.

Jesus sighs when he sees the man coming to him with all this stuff... that image for me, reminds me that the rich young man could be any of us, for we have all that stuff too. In that graphic novel, just like the Gospel, the young man leaves grieving, he could not let go of all of his stuff, his wealth, his riches. They helped define who he was. And what could have been a blessing in fact becomes burdensome.
Then Jesus looks around and says to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples are perplexed at these words.
Are we perplexed? Is Jesus really giving the young man and us a herculean task? Give it all away! Impossible (well except for God!). Or rather is Jesus inviting the young man to let go of the possessions, the wealth, all the stuff he has, to truly find the meaning or healing he searches for in his life?

Jesus loves the young man. He fulfills the commandments and that is good, but for this young man to truly follow him then he must let go of what is holding his life back and that is his wealth. So Jesus asks him to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Without judgment, without control, give it to the poor. Go, sell and give away.

So what holds us back? Do we give freely or does our stuff keep us from being free to follow Jesus? And how will our giving help others?

We think of our possessions, our money, our wealth as the most private aspect of our lives. Talking about it makes us very uneasy. But our money and possessions and how we use them are a window into our souls – for they often tell the story of what we believe.

Jacob Needleman observes that "money can buy almost everything. The only thing it cannot buy is meaning. The ultimate source of every human activity, every human function, is something, some force, beyond the ego. Money can't touch that - but it can touch everything else."

Or to say it another way, “Money can’t buy you love.”
Arlene and Willis Hatch lived simple lives on their farm near the tiny town of Alto, Michigan. Until their retirements, Arlene taught seventh grade; Willis raised beef cattle.

They never had children of their own; to them, their neighbors were their family. They invested in friendships and in their little church community. Arlene and Willis loved their town - and the feeling was mutual. During their lives, the Hatches quietly paid for local children to attend summer camp when their parents couldn't afford it, and they made certain no child went without warm clothing when winter came to the farmlands of the Grand River.

So the town was devastated when the couple died within days of each other, the result of a traffic accident. Both in their 90s when they died, the Hatches had been married for 57 years.

A few weeks after the funeral at their small Methodist church, the letters started to arrive. More than 70 neighbors were informed that they had inherited money from the Hatches. The amounts ranged from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000; the church received $80,000 for its building fund.

Simple, unassuming Arlene and Willis Hatch had amassed a fortune of almost $3 million in CDs, stocks and the assets of the farm. Both children of the Great Depression, Arlene and Willis were known for their frugality - but no one was prepared for this.

The money helped families make it through job losses, pay for college tuitions, and cover medical bills. Many of the recipients who were able have given the money to several local charities, including food banks, the ASPCA and services for seniors.

That was the legacy Arlene and Willis Hatch wanted - a legacy of kindness as much as one of dollars and cents. The Hatches wanted to enrich the lives of not just a handful of family members but the community they loved and who loved them in return. With kindness and caring, one elderly couple taught younger generations about investing in what matters most - each other. [ABC News, October 12, 2008; Reader's Digest, October 2008.]
The question is not whether money or wealth is good or bad; the Gospel challenge is what we do with our wealth, our sense of responsibility for the many blessings God has given us for the benefit of all. The rich young man can't embrace Jesus' call to let go of his stuff & share it. Wealth should enable us to live life to the fullest; but too often what we have can weigh us down, preventing us from moving on with our lives - the prosperity that should enable our journey becomes much more important than the journey itself – our possessions become more important that other people.

While the rich young man is entombed by his possessions, Arlene and Willis Hatch realized that what they have should be the tools for building lives of purpose and meaning. May we have the spirit of compassion not to become possessed by our possessions and the vision of faith to distinguish between the things of our world and the things (and the gifts!) of God. So we too can go, sell and give. Amen.

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