Sunday, October 10, 2021

Year B Proper 23 2021 "More than 'Just Enough'"

 Year B Proper 23, 10 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“More Than ‘Just Enough’”

Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

As a middle school teacher I got so tired of the question, “Is this going to be on the test?” It was another way of saying, “What is the least amount I can do and skirt through?” It is much the same way we set up our relationship with God, at times.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

A strange response from Jesus. If Jesus, as I envision him, is not good, what hope do I have? Hold that thought, put a pin in it; we are going to come back to it.

And then Jesus goes through the listing of the commandments. Some of the biggies of the Thou Shalt Nots. Murder, Adultery, Bearing False Witness, Theft, Defrauding, Not Honoring Your Parents. These are still so important that we still use and teach them. We have them inscribed on the wall for all of us to see every Sunday. 

The young man said he had done all of these things since his youngest days. And then comes one of my favorite verses in Scripture.  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” That is what Grace looks like, my friends. Whenever we do a ministry, we need to do it through love. Jesus loved this young man. He wanted him to succeed.

The young man was so fixated on doing things right that he had missed the whole point. He had done right, but he wasn’t right, and he knew it. God obviously wants us to do good. That would be silly to think otherwise. But VASTLY MORE IMPORTANT than doing good, is being right with God.

Whenever we learn a new skill, we focus on getting the details right. We obsess, or at least I do. Did I do this right? Did I get that okay? Should it be this way or that. I get so intent on the steps that I often have to take a step back and see the big picture. What is the point in the first place?

Over COVID, I learned to make sausage gravy for biscuits. An occasional treat, and it was and is comfort food. I would get it when I would go out. But during our isolation Stephanie found a recipe, and after hesitation (because I wanted to get it right, notice that AGAIN!) I tried to do it myself. After a few times, it was starting to get pretty okay. And then after a while I noticed that I did not look at the recipe any longer. I had it in my head. And then I noticed that I started picking up on the nuances. I went off the recipe because the things I was doing and the stuff I was adding made it better! At least better in my opinion. If you put a bit of red pepper flakes in the browning sausage you get the flavor without so much heat, but add the black pepper at the very end. Little things like those I learned in the doing, over and over again, but these little things I had picked up had a big impact on the final outcome.  The goal was a delicious, hearty, not-too-thick, but not-too-runny sausage gravy worthy of any Southern kitchen. The goal was the gravy. The steps were the things I needed to make it innate, a part of me, so that I could do the steps but the real focus is, and should be, on the end result. I needed to trust the process.

The Young Man was still following the recipe. The recipe had not become a part of him yet. It was in his head, but it had not made its way down into his heart.

We learn and teach our children the 10 Commandments, not as the end game, but for the end result of loving God and respecting and loving each other and ourselves. This man loved God, but he thought that was reduced to the recipe. His final outcome, as it came in the very question he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do, do, do. He was still stuck in the steps.

Jesus shows his answer to this question by reframing it. He models it for us. “ Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Friends, loving not doing is the end game. God does not want just Obedience, God wants Relationship. Now Obedience is obviously tucked into Relationship, but once again, not the End Game. So Jesus started with the Young Man with what he loved.

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

The young man loved his stuff. It was his reward for all he “did.” The problem was not that he had money or that he had stuff. It was his LOVE of it that was getting in the way. Since Jesus’ day, this Rat Race has only gotten worse. And the problem with the rat race is that to be in it you have to be a rat. Jesus wanted more for him than that, and he wants more than that for us.

What Jesus called upon of the young man WHOM HE LOVED was to get his heart right, and everything else would be taken care of. The other way we say that more often is “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The consistency of Jesus’ message is being played out right here before our eyes. And Jesus goes on to say how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. It is not about the money, it is about the heart. As we live lives of comfort and lacking any needs, it is easy to be relaxed and complacent to the lives of those around us. And he tells his disciples that the stuff is going to be more than taken care of, and by the way, it is not about the stuff.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

I told you we would come back to that. God is not worried about us being good. One of our key problems is that we make equations in our heads. They are unconscious. They are unconsidered. They creep into our psyches in subtle and pernicious ways.

We might think, “Good is equal to Holy,” but Jesus says No one is Good, because no one is like God.

So often people think “Being Rich is equal to being Blessed,” but Jesus says Seek God’s Kingdom first, not wealth.

This young man with all the stuff thought of eternal life as something else he could add to his long list of things he had earned, or that he deserved because of his status as “good” because of his meticulous rule-keeping. But we all know folks who follow all the rules but are stinkers that no one wants to be around. They did “right” and did things which might be good, but they are so very wrong. Hateful, petty, controlling, it could be a bevvy of things, we all have encountered the type.

But when we are in relationship with God, it comes out in who we are. St. Paul listed the characteristics of what that type of God-Life looks like if we are right with God. It comes out in our interactions and it is how people think of us when we walk away. “Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and self-controlled.” St. Paul called these the fruit of the Spirit. Notice that that list did not include, “Ambition, Winning, Wealthy, Driven, Successful, or Superior.”  Those are very different lists. The Fruit of the Spirit or the virtues of the Rat Race.

God does not want us worried about doing good. That will come. We need to look to being Holy. The world Holy means to be set apart. We need to set ourselves apart from the ways of this world and focus on God’s dream for us and the world, God’s Kingdom. Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, and we cannot forget that Mark begins his Gospel with this very clear statement of what Jesus was about. It starts with Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, and then in verses 14 and 15 it says this: 

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom near, he put the possibility in our hands. Will we seize it? Good is not equal to Holy. Rich is not equal to Blessed. The only way to win the Rat Race the world tries to force on us is TO NOT PLAY.

This week in our Book Group, we have been reading Father James Martin’s book, My Life with the Saints. One of the chapters this week was about the Jesuit Minister General Pedro Arrupe. I knew little of him, but in it he said this about Loving God:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute final way. WHAT YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH, WHAT SEIZES YOUR IMAGINATION, WILL AFFECT EVERYTHING. [emphasis mine] It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. FALL IN LOVE, STAY IN LOVE, AND IT WILL DECIDE EVERYTHING.

Quoted in My Life with the Saints, p. 117

WHAT YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH, WHAT SEIZES YOUR IMAGINATION, WILL AFFECT EVERYTHING. This young man loved his stuff, and thought that eternal life was something he could obtain. Jesus loved him. Jesus invited him to follow him in his way of loving God. Jesus loves us and invites us, too.

I close today with a prayer from Pedro Arrupe: 

Take, O Lord, and receive: all my liberty, my liberty, my understanding, and my entire will. All I have and possess are yours, Lord. You have given it all to me. Now I return it to you. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and grace, and I want nothing more. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock