Scripture: Mark 10:17-31
What could you not live without?
Is there something in your life where you would be completely lost if you didn’t have it?
Let’s make this interactive. Let’s share those things we could not live without. I’m not talking about the basics: food, water, or a house. I’m talking about those “extras” we all have in our lives.
I’ll be honest… I need an electronic device, either my phone or my iPad. Take those away from me and I would be lost. I do rely on them, too much, to stay connected with my friends. I spend too much time on them.
So what are those things you cannot live without?
We all have something, even if you can’t think of it right now, we all have our own “guilty pleasures.” Not that’s there anything wrong with have a guilty pleasure, we all need the opportunity to escape once in a while.
I remember working on papers in university, and you work and work and work on getting it finished, but your brain just gets bogged down and doesn’t want to write any more. When that would happen, I’d take a break for a few hours. Maybe I’d play with the kids or go for a walk, I’d do something to do something to distract my mind and give it a break. And most of the time it would work. After a couple of hours, I’d sit back down and start writing again and it would be so much easier.
But there are also things which inhibit strongly our ability to get actual work done. How many of you have that issue? Maybe you get stuck on Facebook when you should be doing something productive. Or it could be something else, like getting hooked on a TV show or movie, probably one you’ve seen a dozen times before, but it’s just easier to sit there than get up and wash the dishes or something.
We’ve all been there in one way or another. If you haven’t, well good for you, you should be out there getting rich writing books and speaking at conferences about how you’ve managed to overcome the temptation to slack off once in a while. I know I’d sign up for sure!
So now that we might have identified something we think we can’t live without, what if Jesus came along and asked you to give it up? How would that make you feel?
If Jesus asked me to give up Facebook, I’m not sure how I would feel. In some ways I’d probably be relieved, but then I’d be lost. What would I do to fill that time? How would I communicate with my friends and make snide remarks on their vacation photos? But in a way, if Jesus asked me to give up Facebook, that’s an easy one.
What if it was something you treasured? What if he asked you to give up your big comfy house and move into a small apartment? Then how would you feel? Personally, I would be sad. I like living in a house. It’s private. I don’t have to deal with neighbours on the other side of the walls. I’ve been there in university and when we lived in Ottawa, I don’t feel like going back to that kind of living again. I’d have issues if I had to move back into an apartment.
Could it happen? Sure it could. I doubt we’ll live in Sydney Mines for the rest of my life, but then again, who really knows? If we did leave someday, where would we live? It might not be what we think.
Some of you have downsized in the last number of years, and I know what a struggle it was for some of you. You had to purge decades worth of your belongings, some of them maybe even held significant sentimental value for you. I know you felt sadness as you had to let those things go.
Part of the problem is, we like to be comfortable. So we buy things to make our life more comfortable.
This is what Jesus is asking us to wrestle with today. In our reading from Mark, Jesus is approached by a man who has a question. “What must I do to inherit eternal life”
We don’t know if Jesus has ever met this fellow before or not. But he knows him, because he’s Jesus. Jesus knows his life and his struggles, he sees into his heart and knows what it is that is blocking him from having eternal life.
Jesus replies, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:19)
The man looks back at Jesus and says, “Check, check, check. All done!”
Jesus doesn’t dispute this. He knows this guy’s life and knows he follows the commandments. He knows he’s a good guy. But there is still something he lacks, he still has a flaw.
Jesus tells him, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
The guy has a house full of stuff. He’s got a big house, couple car garage, maybe a pool. He’s built a great man cave in the basement with some nice Lay-Z-Boy recliners and a big TV and stereo so he can watch the hockey game. He’s living in comfort.
And Jesus asks him to get rid of it?
He’s spent a lot of money on all of this stuff. His wife and kids are well taken care of. Now Jesus wants him to go home and break the news to them that everything is about to change if they want eternal life! What is he going to do?
Scripture doesn’t tell us. All we hear is that the man leaves sad.
But it sure gives us a lot to consider today doesn’t it?
Jesus was challenging the man’s generosity. He asked the man to sell everything and give it to the poor. The man’s earthly treasures were limiting his ability to serve God.
Is this always the case? Often it is, but not always. In Mark 14 Jesus had this encounter.
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9)
In this case, the expensive perfume was not inhibiting the woman from serving God. She was using it to prepare Jesus for his burial. She humbled herself and used, what was probably her most valuable, and most treasured possession, to serve Jesus.
And there is the difference, the man was using his treasure to serve himself, the woman used her’s to serve Jesus.
So when Jesus challenges the man about selling all he has and give it to the poor, Jesus is confronting his understanding of what it means for someone to get into heaven.
His sadness tells us this is a very difficult decision for him to make.
And this emotion we’re looking at today which limits our generosity. Sadness, or grief.
Grief is a really hard emotion for us to control. When we lose a loved one, our grief, our sadness completely controls us and we are barely able to function for days, maybe even months, afterwards.
But that’s not the grief I’m talking about. That’s a natural grief we all go through in some way or another.
The grief we’re getting to today is the grief associated with our loss of comfort.
Jesus is saying if we want to inherit the treasures of heaven, then we need to stop building up excessive treasures on earth and be completely selfless.
That will cause a lot of people some serious grief. Grief which will limit what we are able to do. It will limit how we are going to serve God, but also how we are going to connect to our neighbours.
It was this kind of grief which took hold of the man who Jesus challenged to examine how he lives.
This encounter between Jesus and the unnamed man is, I believe, left intentionally open. The reason I think this was intention is because I think we’re being asked to put ourselves in the place of the man.
He said right at the beginning he wants eternal life. He wants to be in God’s presence for all eternity, and don’t we all want that? So he follows the rules, he does all the right things according to the Law as was given to Moses by God himself.
Shouldn’t that be enough?
Apparently not, according to Jesus.
This makes sense if you think about it. How easy is it to follow all the laws if you build yourself a nice comfortable home that you rarely have to leave? Right? If you have everything you need to live nice and comfortable, then it’s kind of hard to break the rules. You just do it naturally. It’s hard to murder someone when you’re watching Netflix on a 60” television.
But is that what God intended? Jesus says, “No.”
Jesus intends us to seek to live as he lived. That means we are to serve others. And to serve others means we need to step out of our comfort zones once in a while. It means we don’t build up riches for our own benefit.
You have to wonder if Jesus would have challenged him in the same way if he was running Bible studies out of his living room, or inviting people in for meals in his big dining room.
Grief over our things… it’s not an easy thing to deal with. We’ve been teaching for decades that people need to look out for themselves. They need to strive for the “American dream.”
But the American Dream is not God’s dream. That’s what Jesus is telling us today.
You want eternal life, you follow Jesus and serve God. For some people this may seem impossible because their focus is on their own comfort. While Jesus worked to bring comfort to those who lacked comfort.
The struggle is real. Grief gets in the way of our generosity. It keeps us from fully giving our lives to his service. All our lives. Our possessions, our money, our skills and abilities.
Jesus turns to his disciples and said it’s easier for a loaded camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. (Mark 10:25)
The astonished disciples then ask, “Who then can be saved?”
To which Jesus replies, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)
Peter is shocked, and he blurts out, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28)
Jesus reassures his friends, “… no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…” (Mark 10:29-30)
The treasures on this earth are nothing compared with the treasures of heaven. You give up your wealth, your home, even your family for the Good News of Jesus Christ, and you will receive one hundred times as much in heaven.
One hundred times…. that’s a lot!
But we need Jesus to get us there. We need Jesus to speak to the things we are holding on to in our lives which inhibit our ability to serve God and our neighbours.
Psalm 51 offers us this prayer to God,
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10-12)
We want to be close to God, we want to be generous as Jesus asks us to give of ourselves to serve church and community, so we need God to cleanse our hearts and make us whole.
This is no easy task. We are so attached to our “things” that we often can’t see fully what God is asking us to do. And sometimes, even when we can see, the grief we experience when we know we need to give something up keeps us from actually doing it.
But remember, the heavenly treasure is hundreds of times more valuable than anything we can buy on this earth.
Jesus asks us to not focus on our earthly treasures, but to be generous, and follow him for a far greater reward.
It’s not about checking items off a list, that’s not how we gain eternal life. It’s about our heart and our relationship with God through following his Son, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Let us pray,
We are challenged by you, once again, to rethink our own devotion to following in your way. Help us to not only see, but to know deep in our hearts the incredible treasure you have in store for us when we give our whole lives to you.
Jesus, we know it’s not just about being good people. You ask for more. You ask for our hearts to be fully submitted to you.
So as we pray in Psalm 51, may you create in us a clean heart, and renew our spirits with your Holy Spirit.
We pray this in your most holy name. Amen and amen.