Sermon: What’s holding you back?

This homily is my first effort at lectionary preaching (though I often look at the lectionary for inspiration in my preaching). The text was Mark 10: 17-31, which is probably worth reading so that you know what I’m talking about in the homily. It was delivered at King’s Chapel’s midweek service on Aug. 10, 2011:

A man named Shane Claiborne wrote something interesting a while back. Actually, he’s written a lot of interesting things. It probably helps to know a little about Claiborne. He’s part of a movement that’s been called the New Monastics. They have moved into poor communities, they live in communal dwellings, serving the poor and trying to make things better. They have renounced worldly wealth and are, well, trying to be the best Christians they can be.

So, I think Claiborne has some credibility when he says this thing that’s been on my mind. He titled an article, “What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?” Wow. There’s a question. What if Jesus really meant all that stuff he said, the things that Mark and Matthew and Luke and John say he said?

We know one thing right off the bat. Don’t suck up to Jesus. “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.'” So, right away, the rich young man is off to a bad start. But he has plenty of time to recover and become a real follower of Jesus.

And this is when I think of Claiborne’s question. Reading this passage, it’s hard for me not to think of that question: What if Jesus really meant it? Because, well, it’s easy to go right to explaining what this passage really means. It doesn’t really mean the rich man is supposed to give away his wealth. It’s a metaphor, right? It doesn’t really mean we should give away our wealth. It’s a metaphor. It means we’re not supposed to let that wealth get between us and Jesus. And none of us ever do that, right?

So the question hangs there: What if Jesus really meant all that stuff? What would that mean for us, if we take what Jesus says here seriously. It’s serious stuff: “But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.”

How hard it is. It’s so hard that the rich young man doesn’t even bother trying. Jesus, I’ll do anything, you could imagine him saying. OK, Jesus says, just do one more thing for me. Uh-oh. It’s never gonna be easy when Jesus just has one little thing to ask of you. And it is certainly not easy.

The minister Andrew Warner says Jesus is calling the young man to a different sort of life. It’s not merely that he must follow one more rule. It’s that he has to completely reorient his life and his view of the world. Warner says this:

“Jesus called the young ruler to a new kind of material life, a life given to serving the poor with the ‘materials’ of tears, blood and sweat. Clearly, this life is not marked by the kinds of happiness used to sell goods. But we do honor Jesus’ call in our culture when we honor volunteers and all those who serve others. Jesus was not calling the rich young man to an esoteric spiritualism, a gnostic abandonment of the physical world. Instead, he was calling him to move from one kind of materialism, the self-absorbed variety, to one that focuses on others’ needs, including their material needs.”

This new materialism, one that is concerned with seeing that all people have the materials they need, is a radical departure for the rich young man, and why shouldn’t it be. It’s stunning—the riches he so values are what Jesus asks him to give up. Jesus called his bluff, finding the one thing in the man’s life that was more important to him than anything, and it wasn’t the right thing. He loved his possessions more than he loves Jesus, more than he loves himself, more than he loves his neighbor, more than he loves anything.

This man is not going to give this up. Jesus knows this, but he’s giving the guy a chance. And maybe, just maybe, the rich young man does give up his wealth and follow Jesus. We never hear more of him, but I’d like to think he saw the light.

Rob Bell—you’ve heard of him?—says something about this, too, something that my wife told me about a while back that’s stuck with me ever since. Bell says God’s love might just be so great that all people will be saved, not because of what they’ve done, but in spite of it. So imagine that. All those people who valued the wrong things are going to be gathered into the Kingdom of God. It won’t be easy, as Jesus says. But perhaps the difficulty isn’t in getting into the kingdom, it’s in being there. The rich young man, sitting there with all his possessions in this world, is suddenly going to be in a place where none of that matters.

Can you imagine?

It’s a wakeup call for all of us. What in our lives is preventing us from following the big commandment: to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? Because if the Universalists are right, maybe we should start trying to live better lives now. Maybe Jesus really did mean all that stuff, including his words to the rich young man here. “‘One thing you lack,’ Jesus said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”

Go, clear your lives of all that’s holding you back, and then come follow me, Jesus says.

What is holding you back, friends? What is standing between you and what’s really important?

Leave it behind, and come follow.

And let the people say, Amen.

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