"Every Gift Matters, #2"

Date Sunday October 14, 2018
Service 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Text Text: Mark 10:17-31
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Every Gift Matters, #1"

     “You lack one thing.” That’s what Jesus told the man in the Gospel lesson who knelt before him with a genuine religious concern. What about you … us … are we lacking anything? I would like you to pause for a moment and think about this … perhaps even write responses on your bulletin as I ask a few questions. I promise, I’ll share my responses, but you do not have to share yours’.

      You’ll notice that I’m repeatedly using the word “ONE” to remind us that this is the most significant item we lack, perhaps the only important one. So … in terms of material possessions, what one thing are you lacking? What about personality, what’s the one thing you lack? How about physical or emotional health, what one thing are you lacking? When it comes to abilities or talents, what is the one thing you are lacking? And, finally, your faith, what one thing are you lacking?

     When I asked myself these questions I realized that while there might be things or characteristics or abilities that I wish were mine, it was not necessarily true that they were important, or I needed them or suffered because of lacking them. For example, I lack a smart phone, but I do not need it (as is attested to by the fact that I’ve done without one until now.) I’m lacking optimism, but that probably bothers other people more than me, and it means God gets to prove me wrong over and over again.  In terms of health, the only thing that is lacking is what I call my “wonky heart valve”, but no doubt that will be fixed or replaced someday, and it doesn’t really bother me. I’d love to have musical gifts, but I don’t, which should be a problem for a pastor, but I’ve discovered a multitude of people around me who have these gifts and have the opportunity to use them more because I can’t, so that’s a plus.  And, when it comes to faith, I struggle to let go and let God, an ability I know God would supply if I asked. So, the long and the short of it is, I’m not really lacking anything. Or, am I?

     What if Jesus was answering that question for each of us, would he say that we lack one thing, as was the case of the man in today’s account? Commentator Karoline Lewis points out that by material standards, by society’s standards, by measures of the world that determine who is blessed, this man lacks nothing. Yet, Jesus says he lacks one thing. And, it seems that deep down inside he may be aware of that; there he is kneeling before Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel everyone who kneels before Jesus is making a request for healing. So, what is it that needs restoration in his life?

     The cure Jesus suggests is one that make us uncomfortable. Listen to verse 21 again, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” YIKES! REALLY? Yes, really.

     Please note that Jesus looked at him, really saw him, deep inside, and loved him, wanted what was best for him. And then he offered his prescription, which was to become a disciple, to put following Jesus above all else, to trust God more than he trusted himself or his possessions and to serve others. Remember…the key to being first in God’s eyes is being last of all and servant of all.

     This man’s “stuff” is getting in the way, Jesus says, as may the case for all people who have a lot of stuff, which is the reason for his comment that it is easier for a large animal like a camel to go through a tiny place, like the eye of a needle, than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples are astounded at Jesus’ words and wonder, “Then who can be saved?”

     Before we address that question, let me share Episcopal priest Heidi Haverkamp’s story about the one thing she lacked. She writes that she went to a local Christian spiritual center seeking direction, somewhat like the man who went to Jesus, and was assigned a spiritual director who was an elderly Catholic sister. She listened to Heidi and then told her two simple things: First, that God is love. Second, while pointing her finger at Heide with firmness and affection she said, “Remember, you are poor.” (Perhaps another way of saying you lack one thing?) Then she explained, “You do not have the resources to save yourself, fix your problems, or change the world – only God does.”

     Heidi reflected that perhaps the Sister saw her temptation to believe in her own ability, in no small part because of her may possessions: great education, successful work life, health insurance, retirement savings, and a house full of stuff. “I’m tempted, she wrote, to believe that, based on my own efforts and knowledge, I could achieve a spiritual life, a godly life, eternal life. We are used to trusting in our own wits, work and will to get things done and bend the world to our control. (2)

     Like the man that knelt before Jesus today she, and we, suffer from the disease of lacking one important thing – the ability to trust God above all else and to live our lives as disciples of Jesus. Ultimately, we all – those who possess more and those who own less - have the same problem earning our way into salvation. Thankfully, Jesus provides an antidote to our disease. Look long and hard at verse 27, Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about who can be saved.

     “Jesus looked at them (really saw them deep down inside) and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.’” We cannot save ourselves, but God can, and does. And, God even gives us the gift of faith so that we can believe, trust and commit ourselves to following Jesus.

     It’s interesting to me that the very thing that often is an obstacle to trusting God – money – has a message on it reminding us to do so. In the United States all currency has “in God we trust” printed on it. No doubt someone here knows the origin of that reality, but what I want to consider is this: Do we trust God with our money? And, if we do, how does that impact how we spend/use it? What would we buy? What would we refrain from buying? What would we save, and for what purpose? What would we give away? (3)

     Those are all questions to prayerfully consider as we prepare for Commitment Sunday next week. Those of you who are members will have the opportunity – I call it a privilege – to be intentional about how you express gratitude to God with your giving of time, talents and money. And, as we’ve been saying for several weeks now, EVERY GIFT MATTERS.

     Please take time for this spiritual exercise, ponder your priorities and blessings, pray, complete the Commitment Card and “Sharing Our Time” forms that have come in the mail, and bring them back next Sunday. This is just one way we notice and give thanks that the God for whom nothing is impossible has blessed us and has even taken care of the one thing we lack – the ability to save ourselves.

     You see, God’s grace fills in where we are lacking so that the words proclaimed on that icon of false security (known as money) ring true: in God we trust. AMEN

 

(1)   “The Thing You Lack” by Karoline Lewis, October 4, 2015, www.workingpreacher.org

(2)   “Living by the Word” by Heidi Haverkamp, “Christian Century”, September 26, 2018, pg. 20

(3)   “Jesus, the Rich Man, and All of Us Lousy Stewards,” by David Lose, October 2, 2012, www.workingpreacher.org