Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
August 26, 2018
Mark 10: 17-31 (CEB)
As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
18Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.
20“Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
21Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
23Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
26They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”
27Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”
28Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”
29Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”
Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.”
The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go, the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.”
But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”
We’ve heard it said often, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!” As with that nobleman, even when our actions seem right, our motives often put us on the wrong path.
Today, as we continue to consider our stewardship of God’s gifts and blessings, we have a stark reminder of one of the major and most common roadblocks that can keep us from experiencing fully the abundance of Jesus’ resurrection life. Just like the rich young ruler, even when it seems that we are doing everything right, God sees through to our heart, our true intentions. And more often than not, God finds in us exactly what Christ found in that rich young ruler – an unbreakable desire for goods and possessions; a greed so deep that it is like a great canyon separating us from God in Christ Jesus.
Here’s the thing about money and possessions. Possessions can either rule us, or we can rule possessions. And today, as we study this story of the rich young ruler, we are going to consider how, in our own lives, we might put money and possessions into proper perspective so that they don’t rule our lives and get in the way of a healthy, growing, and life-giving relationship with God.
There’s no contesting the fact that possessions ruled the life of the rich young ruler. As pious as he seemed, the young man was after one thing and one thing only: more. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, his goal was to find out just exactly what he needed to do so that his inheritance in the life to come might be even greater than his possessions on earth. Which makes Jesus’ answer to him seem quite ironic, and it was certainly very shocking to this rich ruler. “Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.” But the man couldn’t do it, and he went away sad. Possessions so ruled his life that he couldn’t give up what he had, even with the promise of a greater inheritance in the life to come!
I suppose the rich young ruler was a good and decent man; a fair ruler. It would only seem logical considering his self-proclaimed faithful adherence to the Jewish law. But adherence to the law does not gain salvation; only devotion to Christ can do that! And this is precisely why it’s so important that giving be a part of our spiritual life just like worship, and prayer, and study. Giving generously, according to God’s call, forces us to purge our lives of those “things,” possessions, goods, money, bad habits, whatever, that disrupt our devotion to Christ. Our greatest weakness as individuals and as a church community is that fact that “we can be upright, decent citizens of society without ever going on to become disciples of Jesus Christ, with his peculiar flavor of love and costly self-giving.” We have a choice. We can devote our lives wholly to Christ, putting aside all that hinders our devotion, giving of ourselves and our resources freely and fully, or we can be “decent citizens,” never quite able to go “all-in.”
That rich young ruler needed something far more than affirmation of what he already knew, or even instructions on how to inherit eternal life. He needed the blessing of God that only Jesus Christ can give, and he missed it. He missed it! It’s so easy to do. There it is, the blessing of God, in a simple call to put aside that which absorbs our attention and to follow Christ whole-heartedly. Why did he miss it? The same reason we do, he’s too rich; too self-sufficient; too proud; too self-absorbed; he didn’t need anybody or anything, and he walked right out of the presence of God.
One day a pastor was called to the house of a church member who was having financial difficulties. The pastor counseled him for a while and then stopped. “Let’s have a word of prayer and while I pray, you make a commitment to give one-tenth of your income to the Lord.” Thinking about his income, the man thought to himself, “That won’t be difficult. That’s only $1,800 a year—only about $35 a week.” They prayed, and the man promised to give back 10 percent to the Lord and to the Lord’s work.
Years passed and the man’s income had increased to over $200,000 a year. He called for the pastor again. “Pastor, I’d like to be released from that 10 percent I promised the Lord several years back. A tenth of my income is now over $20,000 a year, and I have some plans for spending that.”
“That’s no problem,” the pastor replied. “Let’s pray.”
As they bowed their heads, the pastor began to pray, “Lord, You know what a problem this bigger salary has been to my brother here. I’m asking you to reduce his income, perhaps to the original $18,000 a year, so he’ll be able to afford his tithe once again…”
“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The rich young ruler did not want to hear these words, and I don’t think we much want to hear these words either. Yet our promise from Jesus is that what we can put in God’s hands, we will still possess. When we give what we have in God’s name, eternal life is offered in return. But we cannot miss the opportunity that is right before us; we cannot walk away from the offer that Christ makes to us. If we want to truly experience the eternal life that Jesus Christ has made possible for us, then we have to focus beyond ourselves, to take control of our lives and all that entails, and to use our God-given resources in a way that is consistent with the life of God’s kingdom.
I don’t want to just beat around the bush this morning. Christ certainly didn’t beat around the bush with the rich young ruler. We have to be generous with our gifts, our graces, our monies, our possessions. We have to be as generous with all that we have as God in Christ Jesus is generous with us. We have to give sacrificially in the same way that Christ sacrificed for us. If we don’t, I think that is something we will regret every single day.
In a sense, God is like a Father receiving a simple hand drawn birthday card from a child; God is always thrilled by our gifts, however meager, as long as he knows they are given from the heart. In another sense, though, God is quite different from a doting Father because God is discerning; he knows when we’ve given poorly out of selfishness; God knows when our gift is an afterthought—a leftover—and such gifts are an affront to him. In other words, God is not concerned primarily with the gift, but the giving. He is grieved and angered when we give reluctantly from our surplus. But in his great mercy, the Father celebrates when we give generously and sacrificially, even if that gift is small.
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, once said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I placed in God’s hands, I still possess.” Like the rich young ruler, we can hold on to what we have, and spend our lives full of regret and guilt and grief, or we can let it go, and we can turn and follow Jesus. When we let go of all the distractions that control our lives; the possessions, the money, the pride, and we can put that over in God’s hands; when we can take control and devote our lives wholly to God, then we will know blessings beyond measure. We will know what it is to have life abundantly. What an opportunity! Don’t miss it!