Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, October 15, 2012

"If I were a rich man...deedle deedle dee...."

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

What would make you get up and go? To make you get up out of your seat and leave, right now? Or what would make you leave work in the middle of the day, or to immediately scoop up your kids and pack them into the car, or to just get up and walk out of class?

Would you do that for a family emergency? Of course you would. Would you for the chance to meet a really famous person? Hmmm, Maybe?  Or for a really short but awesome sale at your favorite store, or for the chance to get free tickets to your favorite show? What if it was for the chance to see a person who you KNEW was from God and could tell you if you were going to heaven when you died? Would YOU drop everything and see this person? And more importantly, would you leave everything you owned, leave everyone you loved behind, in order to follow him? Not exactly an easy decision, is it?

We’re just past the midpoint in the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus is about to set his sights toward his final destination: Jerusalem, where rejection and death await him. Jesus has been trying to clue in his disciples that this is where he is headed, but so far they haven’t been very quick on the uptake. But Jesus knows what he has to do, and he is going to carry out his mission all the way to its conclusion, no matter what the cost.

So Jesus is about to take the first step toward his death and resurrection … when this rich guy flags them down before they've even left the city limits. A man, probably well dressed, ran up to Jesus, knelt down, and asked about the one thing in his life that he had left to worry about - the one thing that we all have wondered about, at one time or another: he wanted to know about the state of his afterlife. Had he, by his good deeds, in fact, been able to secure his place in eternal life? Inquiring minds want to know, Jesus.

After Jesus quizzed the man about the 10 commandments section of his confirmation exam, the man assured Jesus that he had kept all that since he had been confirmed. He had not stolen or defrauded, killed, or committed adultery; he had honored his parents, gone to church every Sunday, and often left a large check in the offering plate. He may have even been serving on a committee or two.

But in order to go to Jesus, the man must have felt that this was not enough. He might have felt a growing sense, deep in his heart, that there had to be something more to this “eternal life” thing than doing good deeds and avoiding evil ones. Even though this man had done everything right in the eyes of the world by becoming a rich, successful, church-going man, he still felt that something was missing. And he was right.  His abundance had become his lack.

In middle class, suburban America, I would guess that most of us could sympathize with this man’s quest. Most of us do not want for enough food or sufficient shelter, as most of the people of Jesus’ time did. Yes, these recent times have been rough, but I doubt that most of us know what it feels like to have gone hungry for more than a meal or two. For the most part, we’ve made it. Good houses, good cars, good jobs, good vacations. Life is good.

An yet… you have a nagging feeling that this can’t be all there is. Otherwise you would not be here today, in this place, at this time. Life can’t just be about the commutes and the carpools, the endless meetings and tournaments and bills. There has to be more than the endless traffic and long lines at the grocery store. There has to be more than the exhausting cycle of church, work, school, homework, dinner, practice, burping, changing, bedtime… and doing it over and over again, week after week.

We’ve done everything that we feel we’re supposed to do in this life, and yet… has it been enough? Have we been good enough people? Is God pleased with who we are and how our lives have turned out to be? This is what the rich man wondered – has it been enough?

It wasn’t enough for the man who had everything he needed and had done everything “right” in his life. Jesus, though he loved him, demanded something more. And if the life of this man was not enough, then whose life is? If this man did not get the divine stamp of approval, then who can?

The rich man left in despair, grieving for what he could not do on his own, and we will never know what became of him. But we at least have the benefit of hearing what Jesus said to his followers, after these hard words. Jesus did not end his tough teachings on the note of impossibility, to leave us in a place of despair. Instead, he gives us hope: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.”

For God, all things are possible!

With God, it’s possible for the blind to see and the hungry to be feed and for the demon-possessed to be healed. With God, it’s possible for a poor teacher and healer from the middle of No-Where’s-Ville to be the face that God chooses to show us. With God, it’s possible that his oblivious students would become the mouthpieces of a movement that changed the world. With God, it is possible that thousands of years later and thousands of miles away, people like us can hear the same good news that those disciples preached.

And with God, it is even possible to find new life out of something as impossible as death.

The rich man despaired, because he knew that he couldn’t do it by himself. But he did not know that he wouldn’t be going it alone. He did not trust that all things are possible for God. He did not see what Jesus saw: that he was enough – a created, beloved child of God.

WE trust this God who knows what it’s like to struggle and to suffer. Jesus has felt what it’s like to be homeless and misunderstood, to be tested and mistrusted, to be abandoned and friendless, to be tempted to take the easy way out. Jesus gets it.

And Jesus gets that is a hard thing to ask when he calls us to follow him. He knows that it is a hard thing to follow him every single day of our lives, not just for one hour on Sunday mornings. He knows that it is a hard thing to give up the stuff we cling to, though we know they will just get in the way. He knows that it is a hard thing for us to follow Jesus on HIS terms, not our own.

But what if we really did live as if “for God, all things are possible”? What if we saw that we are part of a new family of faith that God is creating here among us? Take a look around you – see your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters in this community of faith. Go ahead, take a look. These are your companions in Christ, here to persevere by your side, shoulder your burdens with you, and to do the impossible when we all respond to God’s call.

Responding to this call is not easy. To be here today, you may have had to leave nice warm beds or leisurely Sunday breakfasts or soccer tournaments. A life following Jesus will not be without challenges, but it will not lack in rewards. A follower of Jesus will gain much more than these things back – we will receive eternal life itself. For God, all things are possible. AMEN

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