Message for today with the following scripture: Job 23:1-9, 16-17, Hebrews 4:12-16 and Mark 10: 17-31. Title was: What Should/do we give?
This past spring we told ourselves/we promised ourselves this was going to be the summer to re-clean and reclaim the basement, so we can have a family/TV room and an extra bedroom for when all of the kids come home. It was cleaned out and set up at one time, before I moved my classroom back into the house when I quit teaching. But, as you could tell from the opening sentence, the cleaning and finished didn’t happen this summer. I think I will blame the garden.
The items I am storing in the main room would probably make a good opening sequence for a reality show on beginning hoarders. There is no need to have boxes of dictionaries or classroom sets of novels or outdated text books if you are not running a school. And the boxes of clothing and material and possible craft projects is more than one family should have to come across in a life time let alone store for any amount of time. I keep telling myself that “someday” I will do something with these items, but it is starting to become vaguely apparent that someday is not around any corner and maybe, just maybe, I will have to think about letting go of a few things.
If you have ever watched any of the shows about people who hoard things, you learn that for them hanging on to things is emotional. I can relate to that. I have the hardest time giving up things that someone else gave me, even if I never used it or didn’t really like it. Now a real hoarders hangs on to everything, even say, empty pizza boxes or other items of garbage. I realized as I was writing this that I used to have my house filled with plants that I was emotionally attached to. The thing about plants is that at some point they die, and when that happens, you are free. I am contemplating freeing myself of a few this fall by accidentally on purpose leaving them outside when it goes below 30 degrees. Oh, never mind most of them have already been brought inside.
Why is it that some of us have this need to have so much stuff? Maybe the new trend in tiny house living is a good idea. If we had to down size to something super small, we would begin to let go of some of this “stuff” this excess. I know that I have brought this up before in a message earlier this summer, this need for more than we can use at one time, this accumulation of things. I suspect that each of us has had more than one of something at sometime in our lives, and I don’t mean two sets of jumper cables, one for each car or a stack of something so that you don’t have to do laundry every other day. I mean things like two toasters or 4 sets of screw drivers or 3 bulb planters and the list could really be anything. We all have had excess of something even if we don’t at this time. The question why, why do we have this stuff, always has the simple answer, “because we can.” Not because we must, just because we can.
Jesus in the passage in Mark was questioned by a young man about what he had to do to gain the kingdom of heaven. The young, rich, perhaps ruling class man wanted to know have to gain salvation. He was a law-abiding, honest, we could say, God-fearing person. He followed the rules, the customs, the religion of the time, but he felt, he knew that there was something more that he needed to do, to have, to believe in so that he could gain eternity. And as I said in reading the passage, this is the saddest of all stories in the gospels. It is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three synoptic gospels. It is nearly the same in all three of them. Jesus tells him what he wants to know, and the young man turns away. He is not willing to give, to do what Jesus asks. He won’t give up what he has.
The belief at the time was that those who prosper do so because God is blessing them. The young, rich man could have been seen by those around him as favored. He certainly appeared to be a righteous man, a decent person who deserved his wealth, and yet when he came to Jesus, when he asked what more must I do, what formula is there so that I can have that one thing that I don’t yet have, assurance that I am taken care of in the life beyond this one? He couldn’t accept the answer, he couldn’t give the sacrifice that Jesus asked of him. Jesus looked at the young man and initially liked him/loved him, and said, it is just one thing you should do, give up all you have to follow me.
The more I read this passage, the more I think about what this says to us with bank accounts that aren’t’ teetering on default, with houses that hold more stuff than we can use in a lifetime let alone a month or a year. Today, I cringe when I think of the food most of us throw out of our fridges or freezers because it has gone bad because there was too much there to eat it all. I was in my mother’s basement the other day with a plumber who was fixing a leaking pipe, and I realized that one of these days we need to clean out the old jars of canned goods that are full of dust and spider webs. I cringe when I think of the clothes and coats hanging in my closet and how many others, while people somewhere will be cold this winter. I am thankful for the few quilts we were able to finish this fall, and hope we are able to figure out where to send them. Each time I reread the words that Jesus lays out for us, I feel the enormous responsibility we have. We have so much, yet what are we doing to make things better for those around us?
Yes, some of those around us, the “less fortunate” are there of their own making. Maybe some who live in poverty do so because they choose not to work, they are looking for a handout, and yes we have worked hard to get where we are. And, yes it is nice to feel comfortable. But Jesus’ words are still there looking at us, pointing at us and telling us that unless we are willing to be as faithful as the disciples, we are not doing our part. On that day, Jesus told the young man in order to be his disciple, he had to sell everything he had and give it all away then come back and join the group. He couldn’t do it.
In that story, that example with the young rich man, Jesus showed his disciples, he , reassured them that they had done what he was asking. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
So, maybe in reading this today, we don’t want to feel the words looking at us. Maybe we would like to back up just a bit, and ask, what is rich? Is it millions? Maybe we could sneak by and say by today’s standards it should mean billions, so really we should all be pretty safe here in northern South Dakota. Really we aren’t like the big shot jet setters. The more I read this passage, the more I see that it is everyone. Jesus asks us all to turn away from following our own interests, our own desires, our own possessions. We are all asked to give up everything to follow him. To believe in him, we must do everything that we do, as he would do it. Jesus doesn’t ask us to give up a certain portion to be with him, he asks us to give up everything to be with him.
This is a tough story to hear. This is the saddest story of the gospels both in terms of the time it happened and was told, and it is still sad for us today. Yet, even though there is no happy ending for the young rich man, there is a happy ending for those who chose to follow Jesus. Peter recognized that Jesus through this story was acknowledging all that the disciples had given up to follow him. They left their boats and nets and families to be his disciples and present the gospel to the world. Jesus also told them what they would gain in the world in terms of persecution and trials and grief. But their reward would be in God’s kingdom, not on earth. Their reward was assurance of life, an abundant life with Jesus beyond the life on earth.
By ourselves nothing is possible, but with God all things are possible. I have to admit that before digging into this passage this week, I thought it was just another of the stories about people who Jesus met along the way during his ministry. Now I will look at this passage as making a nice, happy Sunday morning turn into a depressing day sort of like a Maundy Thursday. It is a story that points at us with proddings and accusations and judgments. It is a story that makes me know accumulating stuff and more stuff while others around me are in need is not acceptable. It is a story that makes me understand better the idea that our heart is where our treasure is. Let’s make sure our treasure is with Jesus doing God’s work. Amen!