May the words of my mouth and the mediations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, a man with many possessions encountered Jesus.
His wealth of possessions is central to the story.
Which leads us to ask.
Are possessions good or bad?
Blessings or hindrances?
And like many aspects of life: it all depends.
But maybe the more important questions are:
What is this story actually about?
How does Jesus use possessions to teach his disciples about God?
What does any of this have to do with finding meaning in our lives?
So lets look back at the story,
The man with all of the possessions started off with a question:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Notice the word INHERIT.
He was looking for an inheritance:
Not a gift, or a payment, or even an allowance or reward.
Which would lead us to ask:
Did the man with many possessions see himself as a child of God,
Who was due a birthright like one might expect from a parent?
The conversation that follows seems more like an exercise in earning something rather than inheriting it.
Which is it?
Is eternal life earned?
We have to dig pretty deep into the story to find out.
To answer the man’s question,
Jesus refers to the ten commandments.
Jesus offers a list of what the man must do to qualify.
But when the man with many possessions says he has done all of these things,
Jesus pushes him further:
To a whole new understanding about eternal life with God.
“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.”
Eternal life doesn’t mean life until the end of time.
Because there is no time in eternity.
Eternal life is not about quantity,
But about quality.
Eternal life means a deep connection with God and God’s kingdom.
Eternal life describes the QUALITY of relationship between human beings and God:
Bringing us into a present knowledge and experience with the loving and living spirit of God.
The man had followed the specific, outward regulations that were spelled out in the Bible,
And we might imagine that Jesus took a good look at the man’s heart and soul:
To see if that was enough.
And it seems as if Jesus perceived that something was still keeping him from complete relationship with God:
And for this man, that happened to be his possessions.
Material belongings stood in the way of his following Jesus:
And we have proof of this,
Because having heard Jesus tell him that he needs to give them up,
The man went away:
Shocked and grieved,
Stunned and defeated:
Maybe even with a broken heart.
He could not meet the ultimate measure of full relationship with God.
His love of possessions blocked him from totally loving God and following Jesus.
And Jesus, peering into the man’s heart and soul, knew this would be the case.
Over the years,
Scholars have generally thought that this story is not necessarily a teaching against a Christian having material possessions.
Instead, its a reminder that the crisis for the man with many possessions was not how much he owned,
But that his possessions owned HIM:
They blocked his way to unity with God.
What blocks it for you?
What OWNS you?
Would Jesus have said to another person, “One thing you lack,”
And then listed something totally different from selling possessions and giving the income to the poor?
What is the one thing that we each lack?
What do we need to give up,
What do we need to put behind us, in order to completely follow Jesus?
What is it that blinds and defeans us from connecting with God?
What stands in our way of becoming what God intends us to be?
Most of time, its selfishness, in one way or another.
Because putting ourselves first puts God second, or third, or more like tenth.
And when we do that, we become separated from the resources of the Holy Spirit.
What is it that we need to give up in order to gain what is much more valuable?
Is it greed?
It might be pride, or anger,
Or the need to control.
The possibilities are endless,
And certainly aren’t limited to our material possessions.
And most likely, it’s the thing that would be most difficult for us to give up.
If giving up possessions were easy for the man in today’s story,
Jesus probably wouldn’t have suggested that it was what he needed to work on.
What was truly keeping the man from God was not the things that were easy for him:
Like practicing the ten commandments,
Or perhaps even prayer, and worship.
It was the thing he couldn’t give up.
The thing he couldn’t let go of.
If you can easily give up your possessions,
That’s probably not where you’re lacking in your relationship with God.
If you can easily give up anger,
That’s probably not it for you either.
It’s most likely the thing that’s the hardest to let go of,
That is separating you from inheriting eternal life.
At the very same time, there’s a deep irony.
The man with many possessions asked about INHERITING eternal life.
And the truth is,
He HAD already inherited it:
As a beloved child of God.
Like each of us, he was created in the image and likeness of God.
He had already inherited God’s spirit.
But he didn’t know it,
Or at least didn’t believe it.
Jesus tries to open him up to understanding that reality:
To instruct him in how to break through what blocked him from recognizing and utilizing the very spirit of God that he already had:
If only he could put it before all else in his life.
May we learn from the man with many possessions,
May we discern what we must do,
And what we must give up,
In order to recognize and put to use the eternal life that we have already inherited.
Do you ever feel like your heart is heavy?
In today’s world:
There’s a lot going on:
And a lot that can make a heart heavy.
We’re still living in the midst of a world-wide pandemic:
One that we thought we’d get through:
But every day, we are reminded that we’re still in it.
The political landscape of America seems to be more polarizing than ever.
Misunderstanding, finger-pointing, and sometimes down-right hatred,
Is boiling all around us.
It’s enough to make a heart heavy.
And today, despite it all:
I’m grateful that we’re together.
That we’re here to pray with one another.
Because this is what a heavy heart needs to do.
Our Collect today, is timely:
As it says: “God, you are always more ready to hear:
than we to pray.”
And here we are:
Coming together to pray.
To the God who is ALWAYS waiting to hear us:
No matter what is going on around us:
No matter what virus swirls,
Or what political disagreements arise,
God is ALWAYS, ALWAYS ready to hear:
In the midst of heavy hearts:
And in the midst of moments of Joy.
And its fitting:
Because that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel Reading.
He’s talking about the importance of relationships:
Of being with one another,
And united to God,
Despite our heavy hearts, or disagreements.
We hear from Jesus two teachings today:
An uncomfortable teaching against divorce:
And a quite comforting teaching on the welcome of little children.
And we might feel this tension:
The uncomfortable and the comforting.
Like many of the political issues surging up all around us.
We might be quick to get up in arms:
About Jesus’ words against divorce.
(or at the very least, feel quite uncomfortable.)
Instead, we might listen a bit closer:
We might look a bit deeper:
And see that Jesus’ concern here is not on judging:
But on valuing community:
Valuing our need to be in relationship:
Valuing our need to be healed.
Jesus: always more ready to hear:
Than we are to pray.
And then there’s that teaching about little children.
We’ve talked about this for the last few weeks.
And today it comes up again.
Rather than seeing Jesus' welcome of children as some sweet adorable story that we’ve come to expect:
We might see the real implications of this teaching:
The shock of its counter cultural assertion that God’s kingdom belongs to its weakest members.
That even children have something important and meaningful to both say and offer.
So maybe: We should listen to them….
Unlike God: who’s ALWAYS more ready to hear:
We are often: quicker to speak:
Than to hear….
Or to pray….
I’m sure you’ve noticed:
In the turmoil of today’s world:
That many people are far too quick to judge.
That many are refusing to listen.
That many—especially on social media--
Are shouting at each other:
In pain and in anger.
I’ve also noticed that tragedies that can make are heart heavy,
Do NOT always bringing people together:
As so many often claim.
Sometimes tragedies can separate us even more.
The strong feelings,
And the unwillingness to listen:
Are breaking relationships:
And putting up roadblocks against forming new ones.
And this is exactly what Jesus is warning against:
Warning us against broken relationships:
Against turning others away:
Against “speaking sternly” as the disciples did to the children.
Yet even in Jesus’ warnings:
He welcomes us anyway.
This, too: is our task:
And a hard and difficult task it is.
Because, as humans we are prone to break relationships:
We are prone to be quick to anger:
Prone to be quick to judge.
And in today’s world of fast paced news:
And instant declaration of our beliefs and political viewpoints:
We are more prone than ever to broken relationships.
We are more prone than ever to hurt one another through our words:
And Jesus knew this.
Jesus KNEW how easy it is for us to break relationships:
To refuse healing:
To refuse forgiving:
To refuse to listen to one another.
But Jesus names this brokenness:
And willingly associates with us:
The hurting and the vulnerable of all kinds:
And the unjustly wronged.
And as the Letter to the Hebrews says:
Even in our brokenness:
“Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.”
Even in our brokenness: God is ALWAYS more ready to hear:
Than we to pray.
DESPITE our brokenness:
DESPITE our broken relationships:
“Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.”
How can we, too, live unashamed:
Unashamed to call one another brothers and sisters?
Whether we agree or disagree?
Even if we have been hurt or wronged?
Jesus’ teaching on divorce is not merely about divorce.
Marriage is just ONE place where humans have the OPPORTUNITY to live out their baptisms:
To serve God and God’s people in meaningful relationship:
To speak truth:
But to speak it with compassion.
Jesus is talking about much more than divorce:
He’s talking about ALL our relationships.
And ALL relationship failures are hurtful tragedies:
Spaces of unrealized hopes:
Whether its friend and friend,
Husband and wife,
Child and parent…
Because our relationships are meant to be the places where we live out God’s mission:
Where we live out the Good News:
Where we honor the Creators image in ourselves,
And in each other.
God has given us the gift of community:
The gift of being together.
And this gift is one that humanity longs for:
That humanity desperately needs.
But we have to say yes to that gift.
Today’s world and its turmoil is proof that the human life is too hard for us to live alone.
And God knows it.
We do not need to agree.
But we do need to find those places:
Where we can be unashamed to call one another brothers and sisters.
Whether we’re in crisis, or in blessed joy.
And if that’s not enough:
May we remind ourselves that God is ALWAYS more ready to hear:
Than we are to pray….
Even in our brokenness:
Even in our failures:
Jesus is not ashamed, to call us brothers and sisters:
May we strive for the same.
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