Saved – October 11, 2015

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Mark 10:17-31
In our well-to-do American culture we tend to be more interested in economic success than in excelling in discipleship. Most Christians do not accept for themselves…Jesus’ command to the rich young man…that one should sell all that one has in order to be a disciple. Few Christians…just over 5% in the U.S…..perform the basic of tithing to their churches. And…there are churches that sit on wealth rather than using it for discipleship activities. Many believe that sacrificing just one thing should be good enough. Today…many people would be more likely to ask Jesus how to get the highest return on their investment rather than how they can serve God. This kind of attitude sabotages serious commitment and leads many Christians to a dangerous laziness about their faith. More than one minister has turned a blind eye to Jesus’ teaching on possessions. Some even use religion to make greedy appeals to fatten their own bank accounts. There are ads and messages that tell us we can receive a hundredfold more. All we have to do is send a large contribution to a post office box to learn the secret they have discovered in some remote Bible verse or some ancient writing. The values of our materialistic culture seep in and can undermine the spirit that should fill a follower of Jesus. In the first century A.D. the Roman satirist Juvenal made an observation that is still true today. “majestic mighty wealth is the holiest of our gods.” Many people ask why they should give up for others what they had worked so hard to get. Some might even feel that the rich man did the sensible thing in walking away from Jesus. They think that religious commitment should cost something but not that much…not everything. Jesus said that the rich man lacked one thing…though he did not specify what it was. It makes sense to assume that he lacked the very thing that our culture might lack. First…the man lacked for nothing. He had too much to give up. Money brings people many things. That’s why it is so attractive. However…wealth cannot make a person holy or purchase eternal life. It does not offer any deep happiness…even when people get more than their fair share. Many people in our culture have plenty to live on…but little to live for. Doubling one’s income and having more things does not make for happiness. Many people…those in church and those not in church…sense that something vital is missing in their lives. Material success allows them to live in comfort but fails to meet their basic spiritual needs. Their spiritual emptiness becomes a gnawing hunger when they have to confront the reality of death and bereavement…the anxieties and stress of personal relationships…or the tenacious down drag of evil in their own souls. They wonder if there is something more to life and something beyond this life. When confronted by Jesus’ invitation to sell all and follow him…however…the world usually counts possession more dear than the hope of eternal life and a meaningful earthly life. They lack for nothing. Sometimes…as a result they lack everything. John Wesley wrote and preached…”earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.” The key verb for Wesley was “give”. There are those who are wealthy and give. There are many more…at all levels of earthly wealth…who find excuses to not give. The second thing the man lacked was trust. God requires something more than simple reverence for Jesus and zealous attempts at obedience. God requires radical trust. Like so many people today…this rich man wanted to serve God on his own terms. He obeyed all the commandments that suited him but resisted giving his whole life over to God. He was afraid to expose himself to the uncertainties and insecurities of the future or to make himself as vulnerable as a child. He accumulated possessions to secure his life in this world…and he accumulated obedience to selected commandments as a way to secure his life in the world to come. In a culture that has grown wary of commitment and risk…few people want to bet their whole lives on Jesus. They want to keep a material safety net and refuse to disentangle themselves from something that brings status…influence and privilege…beyond the safety net. Few are willing to trust that there will be other brothers and sisters in the faith who will watch over them and care for them…partly because we know we do not sacrificially watch out for them. To have life…one must trust God and give up the quest to create our own security…give up holding on to earthly treasure. Third, this man lacked compassion for others. Origen…one of the early fathers of Christianity… cites an excerpt from “The Gospel According to the Hebrews”: “…the rich man began to scratch his head, for it did not please him. And the Lord said to him, “How can you say, I have fulfilled the law and the prophets, when it is written in the law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself, and lo, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are clothed in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?” What has changed in the 19-hundred years since Origen wrote this? Wealth can blind our moral judgment…harden the arteries of compassion…and lead to spiritual bankruptcy. The man was unable to give what he had for the benefit of others because he cared only about himself and nobody else. Remember…he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was a prisoner in a dungeon of concern only for his own welfare…his own wealth. This attitude contrasts starkly with the Son of Man’s self-giving love. Jesus had compassion on the crowds and fed them and eventually gave his life for the many. How can someone like the rich man live in luxury and be complacent about the needs of others…while professing discipleship to the one who gave his life for others? Have you looked closely at the arguments being offered by today’s political candidates to pander to certain groups of people? They are appealing to this attitude of caring only for oneself…the attitude of the rich young man who questioned Jesus. During our study Wednesday we heard a young woman tell how she had come to rely on Jesus as she escaped tyranny in the Sudan…alone and with nothing more than the clothes she wore. Our study leader asked this question. “Do we dabble in discipleship?” Do we…dabble in discipleship because…like the rich young man…we are fearful of losing our earthly treasure? Possessions pit humans against other humans and against God. A recent survey of Americans showed that a significant percentage would still buy clothing even if they knew it had been produced by slave labor in a sweatshop. The cheaper cost would override their compassion or desire for social justice. Jane Goodall’s study of chimpanzees reveals a surprising trait about their life in community…a trait that humans share. The chimps…who were normally placid and cooperative…changed their behavior when she gave them bananas. They immediately began to fight. The new surplus of food caused the dominant chimps to try to keep it all for themselves and to chase the others off. The less dominant ones had to come begging. In our own lives we see evidence that the more we have the more we want and the more jealous we become of those who have a little bit more. Jesus tries to free us from these desires to accumulate…which ultimately destroy fellowship and a sense of brotherhood. In his book…Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger…Ronald Sider argues that we need to distinguish between necessities and luxuries…and we must reject both our desire for luxuries and our inclination to blur the distinction. Expenditures for status…pride…staying in fashion…and keeping up with the Joneses are wrong. From God’s perspective they are foolish. Teaching a Stone to Talk is a book written about 30 years ago by Annie Dillard. In this book she writes of the Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845. It was such a well publicized failure that it became a turning point in Arctic exploration. The preparations that were made were more suitable for the Royal Navy officer’s club in England than for the frigid Arctic. The explorers made room on their ships for a large library…a hand organ…china place settings…cut-glass wine goblets…and sterling silver flatware instead of additional coal for their steam engines. The ornate silver flatware was engraved with the individual officer’s initials and family crests. Search parties found groups of bodies of men who had set off to walk for help when their supplies ran out. One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform edged with silk braid…hardly a match for the bitter Arctic cold. Another apparently chose to carry with him the place setting of sterling flatware. What must he have been thinking to take sterling silver tableware in a search for help and food? It’s hard to imagine that any of these sailor adventurers would have said…as they neared death on the frozen landscape…”I wish I had brought more silver place settings.” Our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish. Many people cannot envision life without things they cherish. The more they possess…the more they are possessed. Lacking for nothing…do we lack full trust in Jesus and compassion for our sisters and brothers? Like the failed Arctic explorers…the rich young man…do we…hang on to the earthly stuff so we can just dabble in discipleship and thus become in danger of losing the only life that counts?