Grace and peace to God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
When was the last time you took a trip? Think for a moment about what you usually pack.
So, confession time. I tend to pack way to many books. For example, in preparing to travel to be with my family in Wisconsin to celebrate my brother’s wedding, this is what I’m thinking about bringing with me.
Rising Strong…. I can’t put it down, so good, but I’m almost finished….
Accidental Saints… Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s newest book, can’t wait to start it.
Jane Eyre – rereading this old favorite
Texts from Jane Eyre… when I want something a little lighter than 18th century romance on the gloomy English moors…
Complete Psalms – modern translation, try to read a psalm every night…
RISE UP Bible…
A book on writing that my friend recommended to me…
A novel that Karen Repka lent to me that I haven’t started…
Seriously these are all books that I have sitting next to my bed. Because I never REALLY know EXACTLY what mood I will be in and what book that will require. And though I probably won’t bring ALL of these with me, I will still probably pack MORE than I need, and will end up regretting it when I am dragging my luggage across country.
Speaking of luggage, when I was a camp counselor back in Wisconsin, we had to pack everything we needed for an entire summer and make it easy to take to a different cabin every week.
Some of these campers we had, though, in packing for one week rivaled what we counselors brought for the entire summer. Curling irons, , hair dryers, running shoes, baseball cards, sugary snacks, both girls AND boys were sometimes guilty of this …and I can’t even imagine what camp counselors of today have to deal with - iPhones, iPads, tablets, and all kinds of electronics.
I think we might be surprised at how few things we need when we are focused on what is right in front of us – making new friends at camp, or spending time with family, noticing what’s happening on this journey we call life, rather than worrying about what to pack in order to be ready for whatever might be around the corner.
Jesus was setting out in a journey. Maybe he was in the middle of packing, though I can imagine that Jesus probably packed pretty light. Perhaps he was just stepping out the door of the house he was staying, or had just left the city limits. In any case, he was not long on his trip when a man runs up to stop him. And the last thing Jesus must have wanted was to deal with more questions.
In a graphic novel version of the Gospel of Mark, the rich man is actually carrying everything he owns on his back – toasters, bowling balls, golf clubs, a swimming pool, a couch, flat screen TVs, signs of the “good life.” As he talks to Jesus, he is literally sinking into the sand under the weight of all his stuff while he asks Jesus his burning question.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What an odd question. That’s like me asking my parents, what must I do in order to be your daughter? Or my cats, if they could talk, asking me what must we do in order to belong to you? Or perhaps like Syrian refugees might say to all the countries that refuse to give them asylum: what must we do in order to be treated like human beings?
These refugees shouldn’t have to ask this question. They already are human beings and deserve to being treated as such. My cats already belong to me. I am my parents’ daughter.
What do you do to earn an inheritance? What an odd question. Because the answer is simple: nothing. YOU YOURSELF do absolutely nothing to receive any kind of inheritance that you have coming to you. The only criteria is that you are yourself, the receiver, the child to whom your benefactor is leaving their legacy.
So what then, can we do to inherit eternal life? It is to be who you are. It is to be a child of God.
THIS is the inheritance that we all have received at our baptisms, as we were washed with water and with promises from God. At that moment, we were claimed as God’s own beloved children and received God’s mark as belonging to God forever. And nothing can ever change that, not success or failure, not perfection or mistakes, not wealth or poverty or anywhere in between.
But BEING a child of God also means we pack for this journey we call life in a particular way, and we travel together on this road in a particular way.
We, as beloved children of God, are called to follow Jesus, and as we have heard in the last few weeks, this call to discipleship really hard. Following Jesus means that we take up our cross. Following Jesus means that whoever will be first must be last. Following Jesus means welcoming the vulnerable and undesirable among us. And sometimes, following Jesus means letting go of what causes us to sink.
This is not what the rest of the world wants us to do AT ALL. According to this country and this culture – the more you earn and the more you can buy, the more you are worth. And the more stuff we have, the more prepared we feel we are for whatever this scary world throws our way. “I need this, and this, and this, just in case.” Those most prepared, with the most stuff, are admired and revered. And that means we need to get more stuff. And this is how our possessions come to possess US.
We try to buy our way out of our fear of the unknown. It is must easier to calm our anxiety with a few more things than it is to trust in a vague eternal something that can’t be bought or earned. It is much easier to try to fill the empty void in our hearts with stuff than it is to put our trust in a man who the world never understood.
In the world’s eye, this Jesus was a loser – hung out with working class guys, never owned a house, or much of anything for that matter. No clothing lines or fancy buildings were named after him. He was a poor peasant from the wrong side of the tracks who DIDN’T “pull himself up by his own bootstraps,” get rich, and write a book. He died at the hands of his enemies without fighting back, leaving no earthly possessions, and left his disciples – who abandoned him - with no legacy to speak of.
No legacy to speak of, that is, except the promise that eternal life is ours. And the promise that Jesus will be with us to lead us there. Even if we are still possessed by our possessions. Even if it’s like getting a camel through the eye of a needle.
Does this seem impossible? Perhaps. But God has never let the impossible stand in the way before. The losers of this world are actually winners in God’s kingdom? Impossible. The poorest and the least served first at the heavenly banquet? Impossible! The refugee and the stranger given premier status? Impossible. Giving up everything which results in receiving even more? Impossible! Death? Defeated? Impossible. Eternal life is really ours? Impossible!
For us, if we were to try to do all this on our own, it WOULD be impossible. But we were created by a God who laughs at impossible things. A God who welcomes rich people into heaven but gives poor people a place of honor. A God who gives the powerful a place, but not the place of honor. A God who demands everything of us while at the same time freely gives us everything. For us, this would indeed be impossible. But for God, the possibilities are endless. AMEN.