Sermon – November 17, 2013 – Stewardship Sunday

Stewardship Sunday

The Truth

Those of you who have been around here awhile remember my compilation of Pastor Bob’s laws. For example Pastor Bob’s Law number one is always prime before you paint, number three is don’t try to raise other people’s children unless they ask you to. I think number four is a corollary; don’t spend other people’s money unless invited to do so Number six: always, always stop and buy lemonade from the kid on the corner. My favorite is Pastor Bob’s Law number seven; the truth is always the shortest distance between two points. The truth is always the shortest distance between two points. That is because telling the truth takes us on a direct path from one person to another. No contingencies, no side trails, no fudging, no guessing what the person means. Telling the truth respects the other person. Telling the truth acknowledges the other person’s ability and willingness to hear.

I wanted to start with this because the truth is being told in our Gospel lesson this morning. Sometimes in the story of the rich young man, people question his motives. Suggest that he’s trying to justify himself. That he’s trying to pull a fast one on Jesus by his own self-righteousness. That he wasn’t really interested in eternal like, but was looking for a pat on the back. I don’t think that’s accurate or fair.

By the same token, some would have us believe that Jesus didn’t mean what he said . . . that discipleship requires sacrifice. . Some try to temper or soft-pedal Jesus reaction to the young man and to the disciples. I think Jesus means what he says. That too, I think, is inaccurate and unfair.

I think this kid is truly seeking an answer. He seeks out Jesus, kneels before him in a position of deference if not worship, and asks a question that is apparently troubling his heart. What must I do to inherit eternal life? He goes first to to his basic behavior as defined by the 10 Commandments, “don’t murder. commit adultery, steal bear false witness defraud, honor your father and mother.” Jesus throws in fraud, interpreting for the young man, how one requires wealth. In the young man responds confidently, and I think genuinely, “done that.”

Here the young man genuinely comes to the end of what he can do. And still his heart is not at rest. And Jesus looks at him, says Mark, alerting us to Jesus examination, understanding, and knowledge of the young man, and loves him. Jesus responds respectfully. He does not mock the young man or try to shame him. He loves the young man that you take seriously his quest for understanding. Jesus loves the young man enough to take seriously his yearning for peace. Jesus loves him enough to tell him the truth.

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The truth is, young man, is that your wealth and your possessions have gotten the best of you. You are bound and I wish to free you. I want you, young man, to be my disciple.

Sometimes the truth is shocking. It surely was to this young man. And it broke his heart. He went away grieving that the freedom he sought, that the peace he longed for, would cost him his power and his security. He didn’t accept the cure.

Jesus was telling the young man, and all of the rest of us, that discipleship, that following Jesus, will require of us surrender. He is telling the young man, the disciples, and all of the rest of us, that wealth and possessions are insidious. The key threat I think, is that these things blind us to our own need for God. The confirm our self-sufficiency. They become our security. They become our justification. Wealth and possessions become of our affirmation, a promise born by a secular culture whose values often conflict with those of Christ’s kingdom. There lay the problem of the rich young man. His justification is it affirmation, his value, was all caught up in what he had. And the very idea that he would surrender those to follow Jesus created such a profound dissonance that it broke his heart and he turned away, grieving.

Disciples, witnessing all this, were alarmed. In that culture, wealth and possessions were evidence of God’s favor. And here is Jesus saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone like this kid to enter the kingdom of God. “Who then can be saved?” Wonder the disciples.

Jesus answer to them is that same as that impied to the young man. God does this work. This kingdom building, this justifying, this affirmation, this hope building. Jesus is speaking, the truth of the kingdom, is that this is God’s work. This is God’s intention, that his kingdom would be filled with the followers of his Son, and that these followers would receive riches beyond their understanding. That in this kingdom, all things are reordered so that the distinctions of rich and poor righteous and unrighteous would fall away, and all would be caught up in the love of God just the same. These riches.

That is the promise that the truth of Christ bears. It is nothing that we can achieve on our own. That is the first thing that Jesus recognized in the rich young man, his genuine satisfaction and dependence upon what he had, what he had done, and his failure to realize or understand that this was the very barrier the things he sought of our Lord..

So here we sit, observing from a distance this remarkable exchange. From here it is easy to recognize, and maybe even sympathize, with the young man’s dilemma. And from the safety of this distance over time and space we may not think that Jesus is speaking to us, not us with our modest incomes and our limited possessions. He must be talking about that other guy.

Well, he is. So if he is telling the truth, what may that mean to us today?

Having said that, on this stewardship Sunday, I do not expect that we would divest yourselves of all things, deposit them in the offering plate, and move to our basement.

But we come today, just as that young man did, wondering how we may live in God’s favor, how we might know God’s peace. How we may gain greater understanding.

We bring our restless hearts and shaky faith to this place and, as best we can, put them truthfully before God. And, just as Jesus did with that young man, Jesus knows us, hears us and loves us enough to tell us the truth.

And that is that we face the same risks as this young man . . . . that what we have done, what we have attained, what we have acquired, may begin to bind us. May begin to move our center so that we are so confident of our self sufficiency and so comfortable with the status quo, that we would become, frankly, a bit annoyed that Jesus would lay claim to what is clearly ours. But that is surely what he does for those he calls to be his disciples. Discipleship requires surrender on a daily basis so that our center remains true and that our lives remain in balance. That this feels like a daunting, fearful challenge for us to achieve on our own is an accurate response. The truth is that we cannot do these things on our own, but with and in Christ we can.

This is the truth of the Kingdom and this truth opens our eyes to our common humanity, breaking down separation and barriers that wealth and possessions erect. Such truth reminds us of our responsibility to one another, to Christ’s church, and to God’s people across the globe. To surrender our hold on our means is to let loose a possibility that we may participate in bringing wholeness and mercy to places and persons outside of our circles. To live with kingdom heavy values will remind us that our economic choices must be measured by whether they enhance human dignity, bring peace, and contribute to justice. And living with kingdom values will remind us that the poor and the weak and suffering are a measure of how we fare economically. And this truth reminds us that together we can build and sustain a loving, working, worshipping community that bears witness to the suffiency of Christ in all things.

It is good news to us that the things that are impossible for us are possible with God. In that divine economy, our small gifts, our consistent faithfulness to God’s call to share and be generous means that the vision of the kingdom may be made real and tangible among us and in this world.

That is what God intends for you and me . . . that as his disciples we would hear his truth and share it, that the eternal kingdom would be made real in our lives and in the life of the world. . . and that we would be at peace. And that, brothers and sisters, is the truth.

Amen