by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Yesterday, many of us spent some time in the rain at the Walnut Family Festival making and selling hamburgers as a church fundraiser. Many thanks to all who cooked, set up, sold, cleaned up, chatted with members of our community, laughed and worked hard in the rain.Thanks especially to Jeff Chamlee, our Trustees president for his leadership and perseverance.
I am told this was the first time in recent memory that it rained all day at the Family Festival. Most years it is sweltering hot, the ice melts quickly and big sellers are ice cream and lemonade. Yesterday, because of the rain, the electricity went out, but our propane grills worked and so we were one of the booths with anything hot – so we were blessed.
There was a point during the morning when we were setting up the booth – puddled water was pouring off the roof of the Easy-Up, it was raining consistently and June and I were standing in the rain, talking. I introduced June to Miss Elizabeth – the asst. director of the Preschool, and I told Elizabeth that June was new to the church; she’s been with us for about a year. And as we were standing there getting soaked by the rain, I suddenly felt guilty – as if a requirement for being in the church is to be willing to work hard all day selling hamburgers in the cold windy Walnut Family Festival.
When we are making a change in our lives- moving, joining a new church, starting a new job or a new relationship-one of things we does to count the cost. If I adopt this new job, this new relationship, this new church, what will this cost me emotionally? physically? financially? Will this cost my comfort? my status? my security? What sacrifices will I need to make?
Let’s look at our scripture from the book of Mark 10: 17-31, as Jesus tells a young man what is the cost of discipleship. It begins like this in verse 17:
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that this young man was not just a random person, not just an anonymous nobody; he was a follower of Christ, a self-described student of Jesus, and he shows the respect due to God himself, when addressing Jesus. And Jesus noticed this respect.
18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. (Then he goes about addressing the man’s question…)
19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’
The young man, this student of Jesus and impassioned follower, asks “What more can I do? I have been following the Commandments, but I want to be a more devoted follower of Christ. What more can I do?” He asks Jesus.
21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘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.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.23
Mark writes in verse 21, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus looked into his heart, and saw his love of money, his dependence of money, the value he placed on his own wealth. And Jesus loved him – wanted the best for him, cared about his well-being…. And he said, “Get rid of it.”
“Sell your possessions and give that money to the poor. Then come and follow me.”
This seems like an easy thing. Have a few garage sales, and get rid of it all. We dream of simplifying our lives so much, with this romantic notion of the ascetic life: the lives of monks and nuns who renounce possessions, ownership, wealth – those who give up much to follow the will of God. Asceticism – giving up worldly wealth to gain a life with God – is a noble calling, one that not all of us have. But the life in itself is not noble … but the REASON behind the decision is.
The Apostle Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts given to us by God in the First Letter to the Corinthians and in chapter 13, he explains the motivation behind the action that means something:
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing.
This is exactly what Jesus is asking of the rich young man. “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” But Jesus does not ask the young man sacrifice his wealth for the sake of sacrifice…. Jesus looks into our hearts – and sees what we love… and for our sake and for the sake of others, Jesus asks us to LOVE. Love is the reason we give to others, because we love them and because we love God. In the case of the rich young man described in the book of Mark, Jesus looked into his heart and loved him and said, “For your sake, and for the sake of the community, this is what you need to do… an act of love for your neighbors and for God.”
But what if Jesus accepted the rich young man as is? What if, upon hearing the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Nothing, my friend. Just come and follow me.” Let’s imagine this rich young man, this young man from a well-respected and wealthy family, joined the small group of fishermen, tax collectors, carpenters… these working-class men. What would have happened?
Imagine, for a moment, the impact on the others. Would they have become jealous of his status? Would they treat him differently because they knew of his wealth? Even if he never used it, even if he kept all the money in a bank account back home, would they treat him differently than the others?
Perhaps during their travels, when they were faced with hard times; nights when they went to bed hungry, days when their travels brought them face to face with poverty and hopelessness and desperation… would the group turn to their new friend, knowing his wealth could save them… or would they turn to God?
With money comes the illusion of comfort. With money comes the illusion of safety. With money comes food, lodging, parties, decadence, wasteful spending, and unnecessary luxuries… Perhaps Jesus turned the rich young man away, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of the community. For the good of them all: this man’s wealth must not be the source of their power.
Instead….. we must turn to God and discover the true source of our power. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, reminding them to rely on God:
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
God is the source of our power – God provides what we need to survive in this world, and by caring for one another, by loving one another, we can survive in this world, even with limited wealth.
When I was a missionary in Germany, I was delighted to visit the Bethesda Guest House in Wuppertal, the home of the Order of German Methodist Deaconesses. These 80 Methodist sisters have vowed to commit to a life in ministry: caring for elderly patients, children, alcoholic and addicted women. And they’ve commitment to a communal life: a life lived for and with their community. Among other vows, they commit to a common purse, pooling all their resources – pensions and salaries – to share. It is an admirable life, not for the act of common living itself, but for the love the show one another in their sacrifice.
But not all of us are called to be Deaconesses, renouncing the idea of personal wealth to live a communal, shared life.
And not all of us are called to be monks or nuns, spending hours in quiet reflection with God, nursing the lepers and fighting for the rights of the poor.
Not all of us can sell all our possessions and give the money to the poor, but we can emulate the LOVE behind such an action. The reason for the choice is more important than the choice itself. The reason we sacrifice, the reason we give is more vital to our Faith, to our souls, to our discipleship, than the actions themselves.
Do we care enough about others to – for example – sacrifice the ease and convenience of shopping at Costco, in order to pay a bit extra for Fair-trade products, or go out of our way to buy items from small, local shops and markets… How far would we go, knowing our purchase will help others?
Do we care enough about others that we would forego something we WANT to provide something that our neighbor NEEDS?
Do we care enough about our children to put our lives on the line to ensure they have the opportunities and blessings that life has to offer?
Do we care enough to risk our own discomfort to provide comfort for another?
Like the rich young man, Jesus looks into our hearts and loves us. Jesus wants the best for us, for OUR sake and for the sake of our community. May we follow the God who so willingly provides for us by caring for our brothers and sisters. May we risk our own comfort to love and protect and nourish others. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, reach out to others with mercy, justice and compassion and may we love others and God loves us. Amen.
Image: “Treasurefield #2” by James Janknegt, 2001