Owned by Your Stuff?
Proper 23 B
21st Sunday of Pentecost, 14 Oct 2018
Michael struck Florida a few days ago and wiped out the town of Mexico Beach. The hurricane, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was incredibly destructive, with people all along the Florida panhandle losing much, if not all, of their possessions. Some lost their lives. In late September an earthquake and tsunami struck parts of Indonesia, destroying the city of Palu. Thousands have lost their lives. Wars around the globe have displaced millions of people, leaving them with nothing and with the very real knowledge they could die from starvation, violence, or disease.
It still seems removed from our everyday lives. What I do day to day seems not at all impacted by what happened and is happening to all of those people. A disconnect exists. Yet each one of us is one disaster away from losing everything we own.
Jesus, however, gives us some instructions about what is important and, I dare say, most folks who have been through a disaster would say it was not the “stuff” that they lost that was important, but that those they loved and cared for were safe. Safety is, however, elusive and Jesus says as much. In fact, he has some very strange words for his followers.
The story we hear today is found in all three Gospels. In Mark the young man is neither labeled as rich nor as a ruler. He simply is a decent and devout Jew who has a lot of “stuff.” Apparently he is really attached to his “stuff.” But when the disciples, who lived in a society where property of all sorts was a sign of being favored by God, remind Jesus that they did give up all they owned to follow him. He gives Peter a very strange answer:
Jesus said, "I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.
He is talking very much about the here and now, not just the future. If you choose to follow Jesus you are part of an earthly reign of God. Paradoxically you become extremely wealthy: houses and farms and family one hundred times more than you had, but you have it all in community and most of the so called world will like not you for it. But what on earth , or heaven, does he mean by harassment? It is not at all easy to be part of the reign of God, is it? It is all very, very confusing. Or maybe not. Where do you place your love? What is your god? Is it really Godself or is your god those things you possess or those other things you worship, such as power over others?
Come on. This has never been a message that really resonated with most people. Not really. We all have selective hearing when it comes to the Gospel. What did Peter and the first disciples hear? For sure they didn’t expect to be rich. Well maybe not. They did argue over who was the greatest. But they all had given up a lot to follow this man. What do you hear when Jesus speaks of the reign of God? Do you hear Good News? Do you hear that you must give up everything and be in poverty and need? Or do you hear that something entirely new has happened, is happening, with Jesus Christ?
Let us look around at one another. We are a community. We do not live in the same house or eat or even work together, but we are a community. We are a community of faith, not belief, that desires a world where love and mercy and justice are the cornerstones of our very existence. What should we do?
What did the man with many possessions do? We don’t know but what if we follow him when he walked away from Jesus? What if we become that man? I turn from Jesus with my heart torn in two. I have a lot of stuff. I have things that came from my great grand parents and grandparents. It has sentimental value to me, as do a lot of things from my childhood. My book cases are full of books; in my basement are things I haven’t used in forever but think that someday they may be of use to someone. I go to the closet and count how many pairs of shoes I have I can count at least four tents in my camping equipment. My step daughter has enough fabric to make ten quilts. Our tool area has at least five or six electric drills. The list goes on and on. We have too much stuff. I am lacking in one thing: truly relating to Jesus and to the commonwealth of God.
The rich man left and went home. I would like to think he looked around and saw that he was missing something. Maybe he realized he was alone and that being in community was where he needed to be. He longed to be connected to something beyond himself and he saw something in Jesus he had never seen. I hope that he took all the things that he had and sold them, knowing that being in community was far more important than sitting at home, alone, among all the things he owned.
Jesus loved that man, just as he loves each and every one of us. We are loved no matter what. I hope that the man with many possessions was at the foot of the cross. I think he got it.
In the end will we get it? Will we realize that what it is all about is love, that love that tells us to step out of our comfort zone and to give all we have for justice and mercy. Love is all we really have, and you cannot put a price on love. God is love before God is anything else and whenever we show true love for another human being or for anything in creation we are showing what it is like to be divine. Love God with all your soul and all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.
The Gospel of Mark invites us, week after week, to step out of our comfort zone. It shocks us and amazes us and unsettles us. Mark is a communist and a radical and a subversive and that is how he sees the commonwealth of God! He does not settle for the cheap grace that means we worship God in form but not in function. Unless we are out there with those that need us the most and unless we turn to each other in our own need, we will miss the boat.
I have not walked away from the things I own in this world, but I have started to say no and to reduce my own foot print. I surely identify with this man of many possessions; in our society he is one of those who is leaving a large carbon foot print.
If you are comfortable when you leave church I have not done my duty as a preacher. I need you to squirm just a bit. But I always want to leave you with the hope that comes to us from God. Hope when the world seems to be nothing but chaos. Hope when we deal with death and illness. Hope when we seem to find nothing to bring us hope.
We hope because we know that God is love and God is with us in the person of Jesus the Christ, bringing a message of truth and light and love that, while it at times seems to be hard if not impossible to handle, brings us out of the seeming randomness and chaos that is life. Job could not fathom God; God was seemingly absent. Well we cannot fathom God either, but that is not our job as humans. We are here as co-creators and children of the most high. In the end all we really need to know is that whenever we love, whenever we pour out ourselves to another, we are being exactly that to which God calls us.
Like the motto of sustainable living: reduce, reuse, recycle, we need to change our lives to live in love as God intended. Then we will be filled with that peace which passes all understanding and live lives that are holy and true to our calling. No longer will Jesus say to us: you are lacking in one thing; we will have treasure in heaven.