Sunday Morning Message by Rev. Heather Weaver-Orosz Trinity United Church, Beamsville
Sunday, October 14th, 2018 21st Sunday after Pentecost
” When it’s all been said and done, there is just one thing that matters. ..” (Robin Mark)
Scripture Mark 10: 17-31 (The Message)
17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?” 18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.” 20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!” 21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.” 22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. 23-25 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.” 26 That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked. 27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” 28 Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.” 29-31 Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land— whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”
Message “The Great Reversal”
I’m going to begin by doing something that I don’t usually do. I’m going to invite you to listen to what I’m about to offer, even as I also say that an even better use of your time might be to read this article that I will post on my office door for your ongoing thinking and responding. I warn you though: this little article isn’t so little. Even with a fair bit of space in the formatting, it runs 6 ½ pages, but it is worth every moment it takes. I also warn you: it will shake you a little; maybe more than a little. It will leave you thinking long after you’re done. In preaching, we talk about the slow-burn of ideas; about the balance between inspiration that can be immediate, and inspiration that acts more like a poking of the embers, allowing for oxygen to flow into spaces from which the flames of response don’t erupt for a little while. This article is that, in a good way.
What is this article, you ask patiently? It is by Leah D. Schade, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and also author of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit. The latter in particular might give you a clue as to what you’ll find on her blog, Eco-Preacher.
Back to the article: if I were bolder, I would hold up this piece, invite you to read it instead of hearing a message from me, and off we go. It’s that good. However, I know you rightly expect me to bring some original material to this space, and you should rightly expect some theological reflection that is relevant to this time and place. Forwarding an article doesn’t meet either of those criteria, but I still lift it up. And here’s why…
Rev. Dr. Schade’s piece is called ‘ I Want Jesus to Let Me Of f the Hook: The Rich Young Man and Me’ . It is a detailed and honest wrestling with the text that we have before us today, and it pushes many of my spiritual buttons. It feels like one of those moments when the daily comic strip lines up so directly with my life that I swear there are cameras installed in our house. In case, this is where I wonder if Leah Schade stepped into my head and heart and yanked out the various pieces that leave me saying, in relation to Mark 10: 17-31, that I find it very difficult to preach on this text with any integrity. With rapidity and
wit, she lists off all the ways she has tried in the past to use what she quotes Sarah Hinlicky Wilson as calling “time-honored strategies of management”; strategies that attempt to reason away what Jesus means when he says that she is/I am to do these 5 things, in this order: go, sell, give, receive, follow. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21, NRSV). Her reasoning away of this rather unimaginable sequence includes everything from historical contextualizing; to the use of hyperbole or shocking rhetorical devices to get
everyone’s attention; to reversing the order of the sequence. But, she concedes, Jesus seems rather specific about it all. And, she notes, “The rich young man only got as far as the first verb, “go.” He left. And (Leah Schade says) I walk away with him every time.”
In the words of Walter Brueggemann, those of us who want Jesus to let us and the rich young man off the hook spend a whole lot of time looking to “tone down the radical material specificity of Jesus.” (Money and Possessions) That’s another nice way of saying that plenty of folks, myself wildly included, feel rather uncomfortable in the face of this text. I read it in the comfort of my suburban home, not far from my overflowing closet, on the laptop that allows me to call up Mark 10: 17-31 in all sorts of versions… as if one of them might give me the theological management strategy for which I search in vain.
In theory, one of our/one of my responses to this text could be to leave it alone altogether. You know, just treat it like one of those awful Biblical texts that call for the silencing of women, or anything else abhorrent to my world view. I could also politely ignore it because I also know that this radical call for sacrificial giving doesn’t sit comfortably or at all with those who genuinely have nothing more to give. And I know that I don’t want anyone to give out of guilt. All of which is to say that I could conveniently dismiss this text as crazy talk and walk on back to my comfortable life that stands in stark contrast to most of the
rest of the world. But I know, most of all, that’s not the way through this.
In the grander scheme, I’m not sure where I sit on the scale of figuring all this out. I’m not quite a half century in to my life. I’m just past 33 years of making conscious, intentional claims to be a follower of Jesus. I don’t know if that means I’m just getting started or I’m way behind schedule in reorienting my life.
In truth, I think I’m still back at that place of reorienting my thinking. In spiritual terms (and inevitably also environmental, financial, social, political), I’m beginning to come to terms with the implications of my choices and changes (or lack thereof). Economists in particular have called this ‘intertemporal choice’, and they use terms like ‘discounted utility model’. I don’t really understand all that, but I do understand that intertemporal choice is a process for decision making, where apparently you and me decide what and how much to do, or to give, knowing that our choices at one moment in time influence the possibilities
available at future points in time. We do our best with what we have in front of us. Texts like Mark 10:17-31 are part of expanding what and whom we see in front of us.
So this is that part of the message where I might invite you to a grand conclusion, after which you will rise from your seat and make intertemporal choices of an entirely different sort. Maybe that will happen, but it won’t be because of clarity on my part. My life doesn’t allow for that, because in terms of selling all one’s possessions, that would just be a big pile of hypocrisy. However, I can invite you to keep wrestling this through with me; to think and respond, even if it is in incremental ways. Even more importantly, I want to invite you to do this spiritual wrestling and thinking and responding with Mark 10:21 clearly in
front of you. It is that moment in Mark’s account, immediately after the rich young man has summoned the courage to ask Jesus, straight up, what he really has to do to faithfully follow – for the present life, and whatever may be in the
next. He’s keeping the commandments, he’s doing his level best, but he’s also got this nagging feeling that there’s more. I suspect he knows that Jesus’ answer isn’t going to be easy to swallow, but he asks him anyway. And while Jesus might have chosen to pat this young man on the head, or rail against the economic injustice and disparity between what he had and how it could be shared with those who don’t, or those who might not, Jesus responds with a look of love. The Message says, “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him!” Leah Schade calls it the “fierce, not-letting-go-of-me-until-I-let-go kind of love.”
Jesus loves you, this I know… and not because of what you give, but because you are you. Jesus loves that you are you and you are here, to wrestle with the hard questions of what can be different in the rest of the world because of who you are. Jesus loves us into that place of The Great Reversal, where there is no longer first and last. Jesus says, with love, that maybe that day
doesn’t have to be so far away. To God alone be the glory! Amen.