Grace to you and peace from God, our only Source and Ground. AMEN.
“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Ouch! In one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
“Easier for a camel…than for a wealthy person...” How would you explain this...say, to children? How do you explain it to yourself? (Actually saw the eye of a needle in a museum in Rome…but, not much help...) What’s Jesus really getting at here? This is worth our reflection, and we’ve gotta wrestle with this. But let’s start by acknowledging “Jesus loved him” (vs. 21). In fact, that’s the only instance in all of Mark...
A couple years ago, I participated in a Gathering confession, like we here at the beginning. But these words, I’ve never been able to forget: “God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist. We cling to our riches and our earthly things as if you’re not even real.”
I think what Jesus is saying to the rich man in the story -- and to us who have money and things too -- that’s it’s even harder for us because we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can really secure and protect ourselves. With pension plans, and insurance, with airbags, and security alarms, with a strong military and police force, with trusted financial advisors and back-up plans, and investments and security cameras, with brilliant doctors and nurses, plenty of warm and rainproof clothes and roofs over our heads…[pause] and with a clean record to our name: “I’ve kept all the commandments, never broken the law, if I did it was so minor and wasn’t even a big deal. I pay my taxes, and I even go to church.”
So, I really think I deserve all this...that I’ve worked for! I can at least totally justify why it’s OK for me to have it all…
“With all our stuff, with all our money and privilege, who even needs God (except as maybe a sweet grandpa in the sky, who benignly loves us and throws a few reminders at us once in a while about how we better behave)?” The poor and sick need God, they’ve got nothing else. But the healthy and the wealthy? “Who even cares if God’s even real or not?” Are you getting the energy around this confession?
“God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist.”
And today we hear Jesus sigh: “How hard it will be for those of us with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
Our possessions and our money become like a blanket that shields us from the deep truth that all we have and are comes from God, belongs to God, and returns to God at the last.
Truly trusting in God is even harder when we’re wealthy (and I’d add in healthy). This is what Christ was getting at: Entrusting ourselves to our Source and Ground, even now...
So what might this all look like for you, as you use and share and spend money? As you make decisions about the future? How are you doing these days with trusting in God? Does your bank statement reflect that too? “Lord, I’ve kept all the commandments!” He’s fishing for that pat on the back.
But Jesus doesn’t give it so easily. Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook. The rich man in the story went away sad. And he didn’t get to hear what Jesus said next…
We do: Jesus sighs and comments for a moment on how hard it is for people how have a lot of stuff now to trust God. Then the disciples — namely Peter — takes his turn at fishing for a pat on the back. “We’ve left everything and followed you!” Nope. He doesn’t get it either:
Finally, we can’t rescue ourselves...
Friends in Christ, this is about God doing the rescuing. God being the final provider of shelter, security and eternal safety...even now. God’s the ultimate security guard, security system, God’s the ultimate nurse and doctor and advisor, the true back-up. For us it’s impossible, but for God, sisters and brothers, even we can be saved. Even we can live free. Open and trusting. Peaceful and honest. Naked before God.
Luther’s definition of sin was the self turned inward. Suspicious, anxious, scared, protective, paranoid...and then all the behaviors that come as a result of that deep-seeded fear.
I love to compare that with our little lab-mutt, Chloe. She embodies trust. Chloe rolls over on her back, fully exposed, naked and entrusts her whole little life to me! For a while there, we had an issue with peeing on the floor, and we have a dear friend who is our personal dog-whisperer. Andrea, told us that especially with her breed, these accidents are actually communication: her way of telling us that we have her absolute submission, “I’m all yours, here’s everything I have. I am literally emptying myself for you.” [too much?]
How would that look for us? What if that was a metaphor for how we worshipped God and served our neighbor? Go in peace, serve the Lord…[empty]! What would that look like?
“How hard it is” even to imagine, right? I mean we’re so much more guarded and controlled than Chloe. So much more turned-inward and blanketed with stuff, I’m afraid, too.
[open hands] “God, how can we trust you with the same self-emptying as a sweet, loving and submissive dog? Help us to use and release money and handle our affairs as if you really did exist, as if you really are real!” That’s our prayer.
And sisters and brothers in Christ, I hope you know — and if you don’t, I’m going to tell you now — I hope you know that God does love us and forgive us, even us wealthy ones! Just as we love and will do everything we can to protect and shelter and save our little Chloe, so God loves us even more! You know that, right?
God loves us and grieves to watch us live all clenched and curled up. God graciously waits for us to roll over, even today, and entrust ourselves, into Christ’s everlasting providence and forgiveness. Because the sooner we do that, the happier we’ll be: that’s when we enter the kingdom! It can happen even in this life, even on this earth, even amid these headlines and developments and struggles. That kind of love, that kind of grace, that kind of rescue, can only come from God -- who is for you, who forgives you even when you struggle to surrender, even when you’re ashamed to be naked, even when you can’t let go or roll over, even if you go home sad. Remember, Jesus looked and the rich man, and loved him. He loved him...and then invites him to trust even more.
Our journey continues, friends in Christ, and we are not alone. Our journey continues together, and through it all, God stays with us...always. Peace amid the storms. AMEN.