“Responding to God’s love”

Mark 10: 17-31

As a pastor, whether officially on the clock, or not, you are charged with the responsibility of meeting people where they are in their journey of faith. This is something that I have seen from the time I was little through the work of my mom and dad, growing up in a house with two pastor parents, but really began to experience for myself at the onset of my seminary education. People find out that you are going to be, or as is now the case, are, a pastor, and they instantly become filled with the urge to tell you what they think about faith, the church, and “the whole God thing”.

Much like our covenants throughout the Old Testament, this “pastor reality”, is one made up of both blessings and curses. On the one hand, these times of sharing provide an opportunity share the Good News of the Gospel and Jesus Christ in the midst of a world filled with so much bad news and personal hardship. On the other hand, some use these times of sharing with the sole goal of diminishing the church and of expressing their animosity towards it.

This past weekend, I watched happily, as one of my best friends married his longtime girlfriend, then fiancé. It was a great day. I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in way too long, ate good food, and even got to dance with my beautiful wife. Towards the end of the evening, in what appeared to me to be completely out of the blue, one of my good friends leaned over the table and told me that he no longer believes in God.

While, like many, if not all of you here this morning, I certainly have people in my life who don’t believe in God or don’t actively participate in a community of faith, but this was one friend, that I would never have expected to hear a lack of faith from.

His dad is a pastor. He grew up going to church just about every week from the time of his birth. He participated in youth group with me from the time we were in middle school. And in many ways, he was the friend I had, who, out of all my other friends, modeled a life reflective of the Christian vocation the most.

In today’s Gospel text, we meet a man, who, like my friend, is struggling with his faith. We read that as Jesus is walking on his way, he is approached by a man, who falls on his knees, and asks Jesus the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In response, Jesus quotes from the second table of the law of Moses, found in the book of Deuteronomy, these commandments related to human interaction, “do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your mother and your father.”

A faithful Jew, the man tells Jesus that he has kept all of these commandments from the time he was a young boy. Jesus doesn’t rebuke or question the man. Instead, we read, he “looks at the man and loved him”, and then goes on to ask the man to take his faith one step further in a way that if we are honest, few, if any of us here this morning could do ourselves.

“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and your reward in heaven will be great.”

In knowing that he couldn’t do what Jesus asked, the man turns and walks away… his head hanging, and his face to the ground… With this, Jesus looks to his disciples and begins to teach about the dangers of wealth.

In traditional piety, that which was present throughout the ancient near east, great wealth equals God’s blessings, but here, as he so often does, Jesus’ teaching flips the worlds understanding on end. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

As maybe we would expect, the disciples are left confused. The world they live in, all that they have seen and been taught, has shaped their understanding that wealth is associated with honor, status, and divine favor. Great wealth equals God’s blessings… If those who on the surface appear to be the most blessed have a virtually impossible time getting into heaven, the disciples are left wondering, “how could anyone earn eternal life?”

One of the many blessings that I have in being a pastor here at St. James, is in participating in Children’s Chapel for the childcare program on Wednesday mornings. Because of this, alongside of Sally Christ and Jane Eiker I get to share Bible stories and listen to 30 plus little kids sing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” every week.

This past week, I choose to read the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, disliked by everyone in his community, who after meeting Jesus and experiencing Gods love, chose to change his ways and give back the money he took from those in his community and more.

As with Zacchaeus, the man in today’s Gospel text comes face to face with the love of Christ and is left with the same choice. The choice, which each and every one of us face every day in our own lives.

Does the love of Christ lead us to live out our daily lives in a way that is reflective of that love, as it did for Zacchaeus? Or do we find ourselves in the place of the rich man, experiencing Christ’s love, yet failing to respond? Do we allow the free gift of eternal life, rooted in God’s love, to transform our lives? Or do we receive it, and do nothing with it? Can we unburden ourselves from the things of this world that keep us from relying on God? Or do we remain trapped by the world we live in that calls us to love our possessions above our neighbor? Above our family and friends? Above God?

In the end, this passage isn’t just about wealth and possessions. They are just the illustration used to get the point across. Jesus’ message, the point of today’s Gospel text, and the Good News for us this day, is that on our own, we are completely unable to achieve salvation, leaving us fully dependent on God in Christ. It isn’t on us. “For humans it is impossible, but all things are possible with God.”

As I sat and listened to my friend discuss his lack of faith and tell me that God doesn’t talk to him anymore, my response was that I think God does talk to him, he just isn’t listening hard enough. We have all found ourselves in times when life has caused us to ignore Christ’s call.   The truth is, that no matter how hard we try, on our own, we will always fall short of the glory of God.

Through Christ, we are given the gift of eternal life and a place in the kingdom of God, no matter how much we fail in our humanness. It isn’t about what we do, or what we fail to do. It isn’t about how well we follow the law, but rather that we are freed to do so because of all that Christ has already done for us.

We will fail to live in the way that Jesus calls us to, just as the rich man and the disciples. We will fail to give of our wealth, our time, and our resources in the way that Jesus proclaims. We will fail to leave behind our homes and our families in order to live as faithful disciples and to spread the Gospel.

But one more time, hear Jesus’ words, “For humans it is impossible, but not with God, for everything is possible with God.”  As it was for the disciples, our world and our lives are filled with impossibilities. But not with God.

With God, doubt is transformed into faith. With God, we are able to follow Christ, serving those around us and loving our neighbor in a world that teaches us to love only ourselves. With God, we are given the love of Christ regardless of how much we fall short. With God we come broken and leave transformed. We come hungry and leave filled. We come face to face with death and are given the promise of eternal life. May God’s promises made true in Christ fill your hearts this day. May it lift your up in times when life gives you too much to bear. And may it guide you to proclaim the Good News in all that you do. AMEN.

 

 

 

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