Imagine, for a moment, that there was a great big wall in front of you. You could hear the sound of laughter and joy on the other side. You wanted to be a part of it -- you could not get there. You could not see over the wall. You could not see under the wall. You could not see through the wall… You tried to walk around it. But there was no way around the wall. You hear a voice calling to you, saying “Come!”
Suddenly you realized why that voice sounds familiar. It’s Jesus. Now you wanted all the more to get there. But the only way to Jesus was through that wall. So what is that wall made of? What was getting in your way?
For the man in the Gospel, it was his money. He came to Jesus to find out what he was lacking, wondering: what was he missing? He comes to Jesus and our narrator Mark tells us, “Jesus loved him.” He doesn’t say, “Jesus condemned that greedy man.” He says, “Jesus loved him… and then Jesus invited this man to follow him. What an honor! But then Jesus told this man what it was that was getting in his way. Jesus 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."
The wall, for the man in the Gospel, was his money. He had been invited to follow Jesus. But he went away sad, for, as the Gospel tells us, he had many possessions.
Money and love of possessions can get in the way of following Jesus. It’s a challenge for us too. In our consumer culture, money and possessions give status. We are urged to buy – bigger, better, more. In my neighborhood I watch in wonderment as house after house gets torn down and rebuilt into mansions. I read recently that storage lockers are on the rise because people can’t fit all the stuff that they buy into their homes. That may not be you. But it’s easy to fall into the consumer culture – even on a smaller scale. Many of us spend money on things once considered a luxury – Caribou coffee, cable TV, internet access, cell phones. These are products and reflections of our culture – and they are not necessarily bad in and of themselves.
But it is important for us to remember that we are a wealthy people. It doesn’t always seem that way because we can always point to someone else who has more. I can look at my neighbors in their 750 thousand dollar homes with landscapers working on their yards and say, “I’m not wealthy!” But I am – and most of you are too. In the eyes of the world, anyone who has enough food to eat and a roof over their head and access to health care is wealthy.
Is it wrong to have money and possessions and wealth? Let’s look at what Jesus says and does. Jesus loves the rich man in today’s Gospel and invites him to follow him. Jesus goes to Zacchaeus – you remember the rich tax collector who was sitting in the sycamore tree? He invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house, which was a huge honor for Zacchaeus. It was only after the invitation that Zaccheaus proclaims that he will give away a portion of his wealth and repay those that he had cheated fourfold. It was a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea who cared for Jesus’ body after he died. Jesus does not condemn money. He did not tell everyone to sell everything they had. But he does tell this rich man to sell everything because this man’s money and possessions were getting in the way of his relationship with Jesus.
Is this still a challenge for us? Can our money, property, stuff get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? A professor of mine quoted the saying: "It is not wrong to have wealth, but it can be dangerous." It can be dangerous because it is easy to forget that it’s entrusted to our care – that we are to care not only for ourselves but also for the world around us. Besides, as another saying goes, “You can’t take it with you.”
When we forget that everything belongs to God – and that God has entrusted us to be stewards of the earth, of our relationships, of our resources, of our time, of the talents that God has given us – then it is tempting to use them not like a steward would use them, always thinking how the owner, the master would want these gifts used – but instead thinking of our own benefit. That’s when we can get into trouble, because that’s when something else gets in the way of our relationship with Jesus.
Jesus is calling on the rich man – and us – to put our relationship with Jesus as our first priority in our life.
Wayne Muller writes in his book, Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal and delight in our busy lives, that according to our society, “A ‘successful’ life is one in which one is always terribly busy, working hard, accomplishing great things, and making a great deal of money.” But this is not the mark of success of a follower of Jesus.
Muller’s own life – before he wrote this book – would have fit the earlier definition of “successful.” He was a psychotherapist with lots of clients, ran a non-profit, traveled around the country lecturing and teaching, served as a chaplain, writing a book and trying to be a good father and husband. His life, seemingly successful, landed him in the hospital – exhausted. He let the busyness of his life – all good stuff – get in the way of taking time for Sabbath – time to follow Jesus.
For us, as followers of Jesus, a “successful life” is simply one in which we put following Jesus first in our use of ALL the gifts God has entrusted to us. Putting Jesus first in our use of time means spending time worshiping God, spending time listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading, taking time for Sabbath rest. Putting Jesus first in our use of treasures means using wisely the resources God has entrusted to us both for ourselves and for the sake of our neighbor. Putting Jesus first in our use of our talents means letting our hands and feet, voices and abilities be used for the glory of God.
Jesus’ disciples thought that this would be hard. Since their culture valued rich people as the ones who must be doing the right things to have received a blessing from God of riches, the disciples were quite anxious when Jesus said that it would be difficult for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom. They asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus responded, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
That’s the good news. While always putting Jesus first in the use of our time, our talents, our treasures is hard – Jesus even calls it impossible for us on our own. But, Jesus also says, “For God all things are possible.”
Jesus did more than declare it possible - Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to lead us-- and also gave us one another to support each other. I saw that happen this past week. Some of you shared financial gifts to buy food, others used your talents of baking and cooking and others used your time and talents to serve a meal to the families of children in the hospital at the Ronald McDonald house. There was an abundance of funds, talents and people to share the load. Some of you shared your financial gifts to fund Kidpack. Some of you gathered together to sing and prepare for worship today. An elevator task force gathered because providing access to ministry to all people is what Jesus would have us do. You all prioritized worship today. That’s what putting Jesus first looks like.
Money does not make the world go around – God does. And, for God, all things are possible. So, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and trusting in God’s grace, may you seek to follow Jesus every day and in every way and may God give you the courage and conviction to do so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran