Dear Spirit, inspire the hearts of all gathered here this day with your presence and your wisdom; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
One of my co-workers at Menucha forwarded to me a lectionary resource this past week that I’d not seen before. Presbyterian Outlook magazine writer Jill Duffield has a weekly reflection on lectionary passages. This week she tackled the Mark passage, reflecting on how in our context in the United States, “money and possessions matter a lot. They are symbolic of success, power, intrinsic worth, security, comfort, and more.” Identifying what challenges us, she then went on to describe the good news of the passage:
“Many possessions or lack of them mean nothing in the eyes of God. Eternal life is not inherited, it is freely given by God through Jesus Christ.”
That is good news, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but it would be hard to actually go and do what Jesus actually asks the wealthy young man to do…”go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then follow me.” Aren’t we following you already, Jesus? We’re in church, right? And yet, are we doing all we can possibly do aside from being penniless members of a Christian commune?
Keeping in tension the fact that by the very definition used in the original writing, we are the wealthy, Jill interprets this passage for us. She suggests we simply view all that we have as God’s gifts, not our own possessions. She urges us to not let anything, no matter how seemingly important to us – or the world – get in the way of accepting the unfathomable gift of God that is before us. I wish it were that easy…but I’m struggling with that.
How do we, in today’s world economy, in a country where more than 70% of the world’s resources disappear into the vast maw of American consumerism, respond to this text? In a sense, it is a text of liberation. Perhaps a part of how we best respond to “go, sell, give and follow” from where we stand in our given global economic strata, would be to free ourselves from the unnecessary encumbrances that we tie ourselves down with. The bottom line is, we are the wealthy. But how do we accumulate wealth? Use it? Share it? Steward it? Are we keeping in mind that it is all God’s and not our own? In light of that, do we utilize all the fair trade, socio-environmentally sensitive resources that we can or do we buy cheapest from whatever source and who cares if it was either a product made in a sweat shop by children or the result of a Costa Rican jungle clear-cut?
I am reminded of the chains of Ebenezer Scrooge’s partner Marley from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Perhaps, as the Holy Spirit speaks the words of Jesus to us two thousand years after Mark’s text was originally spoken, it is the chains we tie ourselves down with that we must let go of and sell, in order to give and follow.
Let me give you an example. A high school student, deep into the realm of video play stations, woke up one day realizing that most of his time was being spent glued to the screen playing video games. That was tying him down in such a way that life was slipping past him, homework was sliding deeper into mediocrity instead of being his best effort, and he had stopped giving of his mind and intellect or even relating to people in meaningful ways. When he woke up and realized he was wasting his mind, his time, and his connection to other people and the natural world, he flat-out sold his equipment and all that went with it. He started biking and fishing again, he started doing his homework and reclaiming his grades in preparation for college entrance exams. Perhaps it was his turn to go, sell the chains that gripped him around his neck, give his mind over to the work before him, and follow a higher calling in life.
Did he hear that call? Did he, like the wealthy young man, go away sad because of his possessions lost? No, he rediscovered the joy of life, the pursuit of wisdom, an authenticity of relationships formed person to person. Perhaps in time, just perhaps, the path will be open for him to find a greater contentedness in the life God has given him again as well.
Now it is your turn. What in your own story is similar? Do you cling to things that suck your life away? Can you let go, sell, give, and follow? Or, perhaps more importantly, dare you afford not to?
Some of you may be thinking, or perhaps asking yourself, “What then, would be gained in this late a stage in my game, if I actually took the advice of Jesus and acted on it?” Or, you may be thinking, “How in the world can I let go of anything that is mine at this point? I have worked too hard to take my laurels off and succumb to that “give away all that I have” pap. I deserve what I have and where I am in life.” The letter to the Hebrews might have something to say about that.
“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Are the thoughts and intentions of your heart pure? I know I have a way to go working on that. The letter to the Hebrews goes on to give us this hope: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are… Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Let us pray:
Savior Jesus, lead us to the life you promise, lifting us up, even when we stumble, seasoning our lives with your grace and peace, in your name we pray, Amen? May it be so.