Sunday, October 14, 2018
Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Turn from injustice to the poor, that you may live
Hebrews 4:12-16 Approach the throne of grace with boldness
Mark 10:17-31 Teaching on wealth and reward
Title: Letting Go, Moving Through
We have been witnessing some very devasting storms over the past few weeks. So much destruction in the wake of Florence and Michael. Our hearts go out to the people of North and South Carolina, the residents of Florida’s panhandle, as well as the many other places facing damage from the very powerful storms, too many locales for the news crews to visit them all. The pictures are nothing short of shocking as we look on at people who appear to have lost just about all their material possessions. Houses flattened, goods destroyed. People being interviewed on the news trying to stoically say that its just stuff and at least we are alive. But, when we put ourselves in their place and we know this has got to be so hard.
But our hearts went out to them even before the storms hit, as we watched people pack up and evacuate. Even with Superstorm Sandy, we didn’t face that. Imagine having to go through your house, and with no time to think, decide what you will hold on to and what you will leave to the merciless power of the wind and the water. What valuable items will you take with you? What sentimental keepsakes will you keep? What family treasures are just too precious to surrender? And what will you just let go of?
And while I certainly hope it does not sound like I am trivializing the pain and loss of the folks down south, there is a theme of letting go in the lectionary for today.
Amos – that fiery prophet who brings strong words of judgement to the northern kingdom of Israel who think they are enjoying a golden age. Amos shines the light of truth on their fools gold and tells the people, especially the rich and the powerful, that there is much that they need to let go of. He tells them that they are ignoring the warning cries coming from the ones who stand at the gate, the prophets who are speaking the truth. And though they have turned deaf ears to these warnings before, he tries again. He challenges them to let go of injustice practiced by the power brokers, let go of the greed that is causing people to selfishly hoard, to let go of the unfair treatment of the poor that keeps them poor and subjugated to the powerful and wealthy. He holds nothing back when he labels these daily practices, these ways of doing business, as evil. He cries out to the people to let go of what is evil and take up that which is good, that which God wants of them. Historical footnote: they don’t listen again and their kingdom is destroyed by the very powerful and destructive Assyrians, and we never hear from those ten tribes that make up the northern kingdom again. So much for being great and holding on to power and riches at the expense of others.
What might Amos say to us today? To our country? What might he call us to let go of? What changes would he call for in the name of justice, general welfare, and common good? What would he be challenging us to let go of?
Letting go is also at the heart of Jesus’ conversation with the one who is identified as a rich man in today’s reading from Mark. In this passage, we are just steps away from that Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem and the final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And here comes this rich man. He comes not to test like so many of the religious leaders have been doing as they try to trip up Jesus so that his words and teachings will give them cause to shut him down. No, this guy seems very sincere. He even kneels down before Jesus. Calls him good teacher. Jesus acknowledges his well-meaning by looking at him with love and compassion. But even though he is sincere, the question that the rich man asks is in a way loaded, or maybe better put, he doesn’t ask the question he should be asking. Listen again. He asks: What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do. And because Jesus answers this wrong question, he ends up sounding like a legalist. He quotes the law, the ten commandments. Obey them, he tells the rich man. I have, says the rich man. Well, if you’re looking to make yourself perfect, Jesus says, then sell everything and give it to the poor. Let go of it all, Jesus is saying. The man knows he can’t do that. In his earthly possessions he has found comfort. Think how hard it would be to leave that lovely house of his and sleep with the great unwashed. In his earthly possessions he has found identity. He is even referred to as the rich man. His neighbors know him as that rich guy down the street. He is what he owns. And in his earthly possessions he has placed his trust. His wealth is always there for him. Well, for today anyway. He can’t let go of all that. And so he walks away grieving. He was grieving. He really wanted to get this right.
Now as good Lutherans, we know the answer to that wrong question: What can I do to inherit eternal life? is NOTHING. There is nothing that we can do. We are saved by grace through faith. We will fail to keep the law every time. We just can’t let go of our sinful self, and it is God’s mercy and grace that steps in and saves us. We can do nothing. God in Christ has done it all.
But there is more that this encounter with the rich man has to teach us. Because, though we may know the right way to phrase that question, there is still more that Jesus has to say to us regarding holding on to not just material wealth, but also whatever we think might bring comfort, identity, whatever we might think is worthy of our trust.
In this context of letting go, hear it again the most famous line from this passage. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” First of all, Jesus did not say “get into heaven.” He said “enter the kingdom of God.” The first line spoken by Jesus in Mark’s gospel is: the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus is bringing the kingdom. The reign of God is unfolding around us, in us, through us. Jesus is calling us to let go of everything else, so that we might fully enter into it. Because if we keep holding on to that which is less than, that which we think will comfort us, that which we think gives us identity, that which we think is worthy of our trust, if we clutch and drag all that we think we need, we’ll be like some very large beast trying to make its way though a very small hole.
We first entered into God’s realm with nothing, for some, as helpless infants, naked and powerless. But all entered God’s realm drowned in the waters of baptism and rising to new life in Christ. There was nothing we brought to those waters. There is nothing we need bring as we venture deeper into God’s reign. It is in God’s realm that we find true comfort, security and peace. Comfort even beyond the pains of life and the fear of death. It is in God’s realm, living as God’s children, that we find our true identity, purpose and meaning for the living of this life. It is in God’s realm that we can put all our trust. Stock markets crash, fires devour goods, storms destroy houses, friends turn their backs. But God will not fail us. So let go, and enter in to God’s domain of peace empty so that you might be filled.
Hear the good news – we don’t enter God’s domain through a needle’s eye that demands skill and precision on our part. For we enter through a cross shaped hole in God’s heart that requires Christ – the one who has taken hold of us with love and will never let go.
The Rev. Mark Erson,