21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B – Mark 10:17-31 - Rev. Aimee Baxter
I’m not gonna lie, when I first saw our Gospel reading for today I seriously considered preaching on one of our other texts. Then, I realized that Job was among those readings and things seemed to be going downhill. So, here we are today – thanks to the gift of our lectionary staring at a Gospel story that I have long wrestled with and perhaps maybe you have too.
What does Jesus mean when he tells this Rich Man to leave everything and follow him? My thoughts immediately turn to my cousin who was raised in an affluent family, had everything he could ever want and a future that was secure. Then, he went to Haiti. The people captured his heart, he left all the comforts of home, and established an orphanage among the people who had changed his life.
His story is both inspiring and overwhelming. It wows but also feels unobtainable. Our practical selves struggle with the logistics. The skeptic in us maybe sees it as too much. And the dreamer probably loves it, but doesn’t quite know how to make it happen.
I hear these stories and I immediately start thinking: What does this look like in my life? What would I have to give up to fully pursue the Kingdom of God? You see I want to have treasure in heaven, but I’m not sure I want to sell all that I have and give it to the poor. Oh Jesus, this feels way too hard and an impossible task.
As we read through this interaction, this is the point where we hope the narrative turns. We hope that maybe Jesus clarifies his words in a way that is easier for us to grasp or handle. It’s like when I watched the movie, Titanic, and I knew the ending but was really hoping for a different outcome. Maybe there would be room on that board for Jack. Surely, Jesus can offer something like that for me here.
But alas, his words almost seem more ominous and difficult. He says, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples are astonished and ask, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus replies, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Maybe that is where we’ve gotten it all wrong. Our way suggests that there is something we can accomplish or do to enter the Kingdom of God. Our way relies on self and treats our gifts from God, as though they are ours and not God’s. Our possessions have a way of making us feel safe and secure, so to sacrifice them feels like we are having to give up a large part of who we are. When we start to fear letting go of the stuff in our life, we begin to turn inward and everything is suddenly all about us.
The rich man demonstrates this well. He speaks of everything that he has done for God. From his youth, he has kept the commandments and lived an upright life. Surely all these things would be enough. The Scripture tells us that Jesus looks at this rich young man, loves him, and pushes him to consider offering more for the kingdom of God. The young man walks away from the request sorrowful for he had many possessions.
This, friends, is the impossible way of humanity. But with God all things are possible.
I wonder if the heart of Jesus’ request was less about the man having to sacrifice everything he had worked hard for, and more about asking him to live out of his abundance. The Kingdom of God is a hands open, freely giving kind of Kingdom. It is not built on all that I can possess and hold onto, but is about giving of all that we have and all that we are.
Rev. Melanie spoke of this understanding as it pertains to sin a few weeks ago. Our sin is a direct reflection of when we are curved inward to ourselves. Look at your hands, when they are closed, our fists are clenched and there is no way to give or really do the things that God has asked of us. Oh but when they are open, there is so much more potential, isn’t there? An open hand can fully embrace and touch someone. An open hand can give and can receive. An open hand can live out of its abundance.
This story isn’t about all of the things we have to sacrifice, but is more about Jesus asking us to live with a hands open understanding of the Kingdom of God. “Here I am, Lord – use me.” You can’t say that with closed hands and really mean it!
When we do proclaim we are here and ready to be used, and really mean it, our lives become less about all the things we can do for God and more about entering into relationship with Jesus. This is what Jesus really wanted. He tells the rich man, one thing is lacking, come and be with me. Can you give it all away in order to be with me? Can you truly live out of your abundance to bless my people? Can you trust that I will provide?
Relationships are complicated. They require work. And often the answers aren’t easily found. I admit my relationship with Christ as it pertains to how to live faithfully out of my abundance has been tricky.
I often feel guilty for the gifts I’ve been given.
A set of honest, hard working parents who always provided for our needs and a lot of our wants.
A closet that has way more clothes than I could ever wear.
Food before me on the table that provides nurture.
Knowing that I am considered among the most wealthy in the world with the daily wage I carry home.
I struggle with what to do with all those things and how I should live accordingly. I have gotten up in the middle of the night before to clean out my closet because of this restlessness in how to live out of my abundance. So, I hear this story and I get a little frustrated and honestly it’s long been a source of guilt for me. It felt like God was saying, it’s not enough. You’ve kept my commands and followed all the rules. But you are so beyond fortunate and I need more from you. It has just felt impossible.
Guilt may seem like a good motivator, but it’s not what God wants for us. There is a difference in responding out of guilt and cultivating a relationship that leads us to a heightened awareness of God and the Kingdom we’ve been called to live into. It’s a hands open approach to the Kingdom that takes what feels like too much to ask and seemingly impossible and reorients us to know that it is possible with God.
Many of you know that our family adopted our youngest son out of foster care. We began fostering in a lot of ways because of this tension in ourselves of having more than we needed and struggling with how we were to be the Kingdom of God.
Shannon and I both felt a nudge to adoption early on in our lives and marriage. We had talked about it as something cool to do down the road. Life was happening for us. Two kids, both working full-time ministry jobs, Shannon in school. We were busy and happy and even bought a house that we loved! We didn’t really have time to enter into that sort of process and it was the furthest thing from our minds.
This house had an extra room. You know that room. The guest room/craft room/junk room that sort of sits empty and full all at the same time. And that room, oh it haunted me because again here I am with this nice, brand new house and there were others with no roof over their head. And God clearly spoke to us that someone needed that room. It made absolutely no sense with where we were in life. It felt a bit crazy, but with God it was possible.
It’s hard for me to tell our story without crying because it was so clearly God calling us to live out of our abundance, with hands open - trembling, trusting and knowing that our lives would change. For the first time in a long time, the guilt I had felt became a calling. Much like the calling that Jesus issued to the rich young man.
Yesterday, at Jason and Rebecca’s wedding, a young boy presented himself at the altar with both his arms out stretched and hands wide open to receive the Eucharist. I had to really think about which hand to put the host in because he was so available and ready to receive what God would give him in this moment.
As you leave today and maybe even as you take the Eucharist, I pray you’ll consider this approach to God and God’s Kingdom. Hands wide open, arms outstretched and ready to receive whatever God has to offer. For with God, all things are possible.