Tuesday, October 6, 2009

For God this is possible Mark 10:17-31

This Sunday's Gospel reading has me wondering about the rich and their place in the Kingdom of God. God's kingdom, Luther says, comes on its own, but we pray "Thy kingdom come" in hopes that it comes into being among us. God alone knows the needs of the world today. God alone sees the desperation

It's been trendy, this past month, to make observations about the super rich and their role in our current culture. Michael Moore released a new film and Ralph Nader published his first novel and each of these two appear to be pointing, in their own way, to the unique place that wealthy individuals have in our economic world.

The rich have been present as long as the church has existed. In Jesus days wealth and poverty coexisted, just the same as they do in our days. Questions of God's blessing, human sin, justice, and fairness have been with us all along. A man with many possessions wanted to get into heaven. He came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to get into the kingdom. Jesus response was deceptively simple. Sell everything, give away all the money to the poor, the come and follow. The man went away devestated. Jesus was simply answering the man's question.
The people were stunned. This "good man" was told he had to be even better. Then Jesus told them that relying on human strength alone won't get this man to heaven. "For mortals this is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." This is the gospel plain as it gets. This is hope for the hopeless. This is where turning to God and God's strength matters.


Nancy Marshall said...

Peace Unlikely,
Thanks for your thoughts on this passage. Didn't this passage show up in the lectionary about 9 months ago? maybe more ...

Last time I did the straight telling.

When I looked at this passage this week I had third world eyes. At first it seemed irrelevent. After all, none of the people in our church are rich. I helped move a 21 year old to her new living space and she brought all she had which included a small broken suitcase, two boxes and an over the shoulder bag. That was it. The sum total of all her belongings weighed about 100 pounds. Gee I take that much with me when I travel to the US for two weeks.

The sell all you have...doesnt fit. Now what?

The rich young ruler thought he was "pretty good" at following the commandments. (Although we say "Yeah, right!" and quote Roamsn 3:23, Jesus didn't say that. ) Jesus said, there is still this one thing that prevents you from opening your heart to God's will...it's your "stuff".

We all have stuff that keeps us from following God completely. (The passage says, "if you want to be perfect."Matt 19:21).

Yes, the rich are too tied to their things, their conveniences, their ability to buy what they want, and continue to shore up their funds in stocks and other forms of acquisition. That is in this message too. God has called MANY to walk away from the earn and spend mentality. He is calling MANY to just divest of all the "stuff" and seek the Kingdom...in the US or elsewhere. Although many are called, most walk away "sad, because they are very rich". Every missionary could tell you about other people who they KNOW were called to come help, but who were too tied to their "stuff" to sell all they have and work for the Kingdom. In the US, YES, I think this is a worthwhile message to hear every 9 months when we hit this passage in Luke or Mark or Matthew.

But to us in the "two-thirds world" I think Jesus could have asked: Yes..you go to church, yes, you say you are Christians, but still there is this one thing that prevents you from giving your heart and your very LIFE to the work of the Kingdom." What is that thing...that barrier?

To us, it is probably alcohol or sex. Both are huge barriers here. On Friday at school a boy in the third grade took Sulmi behind the school library and told her he wanted to have sex with her. HUH? It starts early here and doesn't seem to wane as the boys (and girls) get older. Most men are not faithful to their spouses. Some women here would say ALL men are not faithful...it's as if the women are saying "what can you do? It's the way men are." Which of course is ridiculous and the church is trying to change this cultural norm.

Back to the point: So on Sunday I am going to retell this story with apologies to Jesus's original version and with a little fear and trembling with changing the words of the original... hoping that I've hit the mark...

Nancy Marshall said...

A poor young Belizean man heard that Jesus had been in town and was leaving. The man wanted to catch him before Jesus got too far down the road. Approaching Jesus he said, "I go to church, I pray, I give money to the offerring, I even lead the singing...what else do I have to do to have eternal life?" Jesus stopped and looked at this man with love in his eyes. He said, "My friend, if you want eternal life, you must follow me. If you want to follow me, obey my commands. Stop your drinking, stop having sex with people you are not married to, and stop lying. Then come, follow me."

The man's face fell. He went away sad because he knew he loved these things too much.

The story doesnt have to end this way.

I will ask who can help to dramatize a different ending...and see where we go from there.

Note: I know that jesus "meets us wehre we are" blah blah blah. In this passage in Mt, Mark and Luke Jesus said do this first...then come.

Unlikely, I send you a prayer that God will lead you as you plan your sermon and in all of the before church and after church conversations that the people will see the heart of Jesus in you and be blessed, wanting with all their heart to have the same.


Anonymous said...


I do not live in a developing world context at the moment.I have. In the US. But not now.

That said: I think this text is specifically talking about money. I understand the other kinds of bondage that exist. But this text, I think, doesn't get into other kinds of bondage at all. I think this text could be heard as a call to action 1) to rich people (law) and 2) to God (promise). God is going to manage to get rich people to give their stuff, in the end. God is going to get the rich countries and individuals of the world to show up and share their wealth. Somehow, God is going to act for the poor (and for the rich) and bring about the kingdom of God. We'll say it's impossible. The rich won't be able to do it. But God will.

Nonetheless, I think the text can be used in other ways--in the ways God moves us to speak. I'm a coward, Nancy. You are not! I give thanks for your witness and for your proclamation. May God be true to God's promises.


Nancy Marshall said...

You know what, John. You are absolutely right. The Gospel is Gospel and I should not be changing up the story. It really bothers me when people do that. In fact that is exactly why I like and read your blog because you stick to the intent...you dont get political...pretty much straigh, spot on exegis.

I tried to avoid this passage because it seemed irelevent ...I looked into the other lessons for the day but felt God kept sending me back to this one. I journaled about it until it came to me....change it up a bit. (Yikes!)

So although I agree, I think God was leading me this time.

This morning was fabulous. I used the power point slides and told the Biblical Mark story with additional details from the parallels in Luke and Mt.

Then we dramatized it with differnt types of addicitons that prevent us from giving our lives to following Jesus. Talked about how to make the story a "happy ending". It clicked for them.

Our congregation of 15 (today) has only 3 baptized members. At the end of the sermon, two youth (21 and 16) said they wanted to follow Jesus. The boy who was so violent before and a boy who has stolen so much and so often I can't keep track.
They came to the front, got on their knees and prayed. hmm wow! That has not happened for over a year.
The boy who pushed me, threatened me before, and kicked in the van, etc...he said he has been trying for years to keep his life and things he likes (women, alcohol, weed) in his right hand while at the same time keeping God and his faith in his left hand...side by side...together.
He said the two cannot live side by side. And tossing the imaginary contents of his left hand over his shoulder he said he wants to make a choice and leave that other stuff behind.

At the beginning of the service, Manuel, the up and coming leader, told the story of jesus calling Peter, James and john to leave their nets and follow. (He just picked that story without knowing what I was preaching on.) They all sang I will make you fishers of men. Manuel added his own verse which went something like 'Will you follow me? YES..Will you follow me?"

So the spirit is working.


Sherwin, Edgar and I will meet on Tuesday, to pray and talk. I want to encourage him and see how he is doing with the stuff he threw over his shoulder.

Thanks for walking with me.

God is faithful.
Como estas? How did it go for you?

Unlikely said...

Nancy and J-
thanks for the wonderful comments. I wasn't the one to comment on Saturday night. I think that anonymous who signed as J is Jen K---z. She's a pastor I went to seminary with. I haven't seen her in a decade.

I think Jesus' point, however you tell it, is that only God has the power to remake the world and all of us. Only God is in the business of doing the impossible. We need God to pull of the stuff that we are bound to like camels with loads tied on making a long journey.

God's plan to send help has begun. Jesus has died and risen. Now new life begins and all the baggage we can't shed alone can be left as we come to river of baptism again and again.