Sermons

"The 'M' Word...and Transformational Giving": Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

"The

Oct 14, 2018

Passage:Mark 10:17-31

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Grace, Kingdom of God, Stewardship

Keywords: giving, grace, love, stewardship

Summary:

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus seemingly says harsh words about money (the "M" word) and wealth. He tells the young man to sell all he owns, give the money to the poor, and follow him. This sermon takes a look at Jesus, money, and transformational giving to the church.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Today's Gospel from Mark presents a pretty fascinating episode between a young man, Jesus, and the disciples. The young man eagerly asks Jesus: "what  must I do to inherit eternal life?" We see that the young man clearly knows and abides by the laws of God. But that's not enough. Quite shockingly, Jesus tells the young man he must sell what he owns and give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus.

Jesus then goes on to explain to his disciples: "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” After which he boldly states: "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.”

So what are we to make of these proclamations from Jesus?

Is money evil?

Is wealth forbidden to us as Christians?

There've been attempts for centuries by preachers to soften this language from Jesus. They'd say: "Well, actually, when Jesus says, the 'Eye of the Needle,' he was talking about a gate in Ancient Jerusalem.

But these preachers would explain that this gate was "smaller-than-average." Camels, therefore, usually had to duck to go through it. So these preachers would conclude that when Jesus said "it's easier for a camel to go through" that gate "than a rich person to enter the kingdom," Jesus just meant, "well... it takes a little effort."[1]

But I'm pretty sure Jesus said what he meant... and meant what he said...

So this is still a pretty stark passage for us to be hearing--especially this month here at St. Andrew's. In addition to other things, this month for us happens to be St. Andrew's Annual Fund Stewardship Month. We've been talking quite a bit about money long before we heard this scripture today.

For the last two weeks, already, we've been asking everyone in the parish to pray about their money and think about their money. We've asked that everyone prayerfully consider giving a pledge of financial support to the church's annual budget.

And speaking of our Church Finances, St. Andrew's has an annual budget, which covers mission and ministry programming, outreach, clergy and staff compensation, building and grounds maintenance, and other necessary expenditures. This budget is more than $950,000. That's not what you'd call "poor."

So where are we left after hearing this scripture?

First, we have to remember that Jesus is focused on the Kingdom of God.

Money in and of itself is not really an issue for Jesus. It's neither good nor bad. Money is neutral.

The problem comes for Jesus in how people use money and how they see money as it relates to the Kingdom.

In the ancient world, it was accepted that wealth and material goods were a sign of God's blessing and God's favor.

In other words, if you had money and wealth, people believed that God had approved of you and your methods of acquiring wealth--no matter how you went about doing so.

Conversely, this also meant that people believed if you were poor, it must mean that God DID NOT favor you. Somehow you must have DONE SOMETHING to upset God and caused this situation in your life.

In other words, you are not GOOD ENOUGH for the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus turns this whole concept upside-down. Jesus is clear in his teaching to the young man and the disciples. Jesus is clear to us!

There is NOTHING we can DO to be saved on our own. Blessings are not about our ACTIONS.

Rich or poor. Powerful or weak. Liberal or conservative. Republican or Democrat. We can't save ourselves. God does the saving.

But we have to admit that the issues presented here aren't just about first-century attitudes. They are concepts we still find a bit confusing and hold onto today.

We do say that we are "blessed" when we have any material goods.

And part of that comes from our real and earnest belief that God is the ultimate source of all good things--including our wealth, our happiness, and our generosity.  

But there's a fine line between that belief and the idea that God provides our material well-being in order to bless us.

Because if we believe that, it would justify what we sometimes do...sometimes we look down upon those without material goods... And we wonder what they've done to "deserve" their plight.  

The young man asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.

That Eternal Life is not just about going to heaven when we die. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven--which is here and now.

This Eternal Life is a life of living with each other NOW in God's abundance, God's wholeness, God's fullness, and God's love. It's what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls living in the Loving, Life-giving, and Liberating presence of God. It's being in relationship with each other, knowing you are a beloved child of God.

You see, God is always calling us... Bringing us to God...offering us that eternal, abundant life. But sometimes we let things get in the way. There are so many things that we might put first instead of accepting God's free gift of love. These things may hold us back from being who God intends us to be:

Our shame. Our comfort. Our selfishness. Our jealousy. Our anger. Our pride. Our greed.

All of these, and many more might be the thing that stands in the way of us accepting God's gift.

They hold us back from the fullness of who God intends us to be--Loving, Life-giving, Liberating... whole.

So Jesus identifies in the young man that it might be his connection to his "stuff" that's holding him back from accepting God's fullness.

Jesus invites us to examine ourselves as well. What's keeping us from being the love of God in the world? What holds us back? What keeps us from being whole?

And then, we must also examine our response to God's grace.

We generously give our time, talent, and treasure to build the Kingdom. This is not a transaction. For example, we don't make financial payments to the church in order to receive "Grace packets" from God. We don't give in order to be blessed.

Instead, we give our time, our talents, and our financial gifts to the church and the rest of God's great creation, because we know of God's blessings in our lives. We do this because it transforms us. We do this because it's a response to who God calls us to be. Our giving is not transactional. It is transformational!

And because we are transformed, we are called to proclaim that Loving, Life-giving, and Liberating message of God's abundant grace to all the world.

Amen.  

 

[1] "'The camel and the eye of the needle', Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25," Hebrew New Testament Studies, available at http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm