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Sermon; Proper 23B; Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey . . . This just isn't any journey that Jesus is going on. He's not going to the islands for a getaway. He's not going to the country of the Gerasenes to perform exorcisms. This is really the beginning of the end, so to speak, as Jesus is just a few verses from being on the road to Jerusalem and Holy Week. Jesus is on his way to his ultimate confrontation with worldly powers and his self-sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Jesus was crucified like a lamb being sent to the slaughter. This sacrifice, this crucifixion, this slaughter of the lamb is the mark of his victory. The lamb died to the world and yet embodies the triumph of God's love and therefore he is alive forevermore. That triumph, though, comes with costly sacrifice.

Jesus is now on his way to Jerusalem and his crucifixion, and Jesus is asking us follow him. We must understand that following Christ is costly. It may cost us friendships. It may cost us stability. It may cost us wealth. It will always cost us comfort.

This is where we are today – the beginning of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and his ultimate sacrifice.

As he sets out for Jerusalem a man runs up to him and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I want to tackle a few things going on in this scenario.

I always say that words are important, and the words we choose to use reflect something about us. Notice that the man doesn't ask what he can do to EARN eternal life, but what can he do to INHERIT eternal life. His use of “inherit” tells me that he has gained his wealth not through working or earning it, but through a system of inheritance in which he benefited from the works and generosity of others. It also tells me that he may have been required to behave a certain way in order to receive that inheritance. Consequently, the question to Jesus: What must I DO to inherit?

The answer Jesus gives is pretty basic: Follow the commandments.

I wonder what the man was thinking right about now. When he said, “I've kept them since my youth,” was he thinking he had done it? Was he thinking the inheritance was his? Or was there a, “but” in his voice? “Yes, yes, I've done all that. But what else?” Either way, Jesus responds, “You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” And the man went away dejected, shocked, grieved, or whatever adjective you want to use, because he learns that following Christ, that the path to eternal life, is self-sacrificial and costly.

The road to eternal life is narrow, while the road to destruction is wide. In this moment the man makes his choice. In this moment the man chooses the wider, safe path of keeping his possessions rather than the narrow, sacrificial path of following God. Within this interaction between Jesus and the man are some things we can learn and which we need to pay attention.

The first is what Jesus tells the man to do: go, sell, and give. I want to point out here that, even though we often label this the story of the rich man, Mark never identifies him as such, only that he had many possessions. Having many possessions may mean he was rich, and people have made this assumption over the years. But I have known hoarders who had many possessions and were not rich. So it's not his wealth that seems to be the issue, but his possessions.

This is really the heart of the matter: what do we possess that keeps us from following God because we refuse to part with them? For some of us, it may be clothes. How many coats, shoes, ties, pants, sweaters, watches, or other items do we really need? For some of us it may be gadgets. How many TVs, gaming consoles, stereos, or other things do we really need? For some of us it may be money. How much money do we really need? The question we must face is the same question the man himself had to face: Do we value our possessions more than we value God? As Jesus said elsewhere, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where is our heart and what, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice for God?

A second aspect of this exchange, and one that is just as important, is what Jesus says about the poor, or maybe what he doesn't say about the poor. He says, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Jesus never tells the man to give only to the deserving poor. He never tells him to give only to those who meet federal poverty requirements. He never tells him to give only to those poor who seem to be making an effort to escape poverty. He never tells him to give only in a way that doesn't enable people to remain in that lifestyle. He says to go, sell, and give. As God gives to us from the wealth of his goodness without regard to whether or not we are deserving, we are asked to give to the poor from the wealth we have, whether or not we think they are deserving.

Let us never forget that wealth is a human value which requires us to constantly feed its insatiable appetite. Wealth is a value based in scarcity – the more we have the more we fear losing. We are afraid to give/sell our possessions because we might need them someday. We are afraid to give to the poor because they might become dependent on charity. We are afraid to give because we might not have enough for ourselves. But again, how much do we really need? And is what we give based in scarcity or is it based in sacrifice?

To quote from 1 John 3:17-18 – “How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a person in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

The truth of the Gospel is that it turns the human systems that rule the world upside down: the proud will be scattered, the powerful will be brought down, the lowly will be lifted up, the hungry will be filled, life will rise from death, love will conquer.

For that to begin to happen though, we must act. We are the feet, hands, eyes, ears, and mouth of Christ on earth, he has no other but us. For the kingdom of God to supplant the kingdom of the world, we must begin that journey to Jerusalem. We must be willing to turn worldly systems upside down. We must be willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of the other. We must be willing to see that we aren't settling for a smaller piece of the pie, but recognize that all of God's people are all getting pie.

Today Jesus is asking us if we will choose our possessions over the gospel. He is asking us if we are willing to rid ourselves of those possessions which keep us from following him and give the proceeds to the poor. He is asking us how much we are willing to sacrifice for the kingdom of God.

As we go from here to interact with the world and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, what possessions are we unwilling to give up? What possessions hinder us from following Christ completely? Maybe more importantly, what is keeping us from radically sharing the gifts we have been given with those who have little or none?

Let us never forget that the gifts of the kingdom and of life are gifts of eternal value that cannot be bought; but they are also gifts that come with great sacrifice and will cost us our all. The ultimate question facing us is whether or not we are willing to make that sacrifice.


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