Editor’s note: This is probably the third time I have had a guest blogger whose ideas I wanted to share. The first was Joe Roberts and Cathi Chapin-Bishop on saving energy. The second was Liz Solomon Wright’s story about a Veteran who couldn’t get aid due to a policy. This is the third.
Rev. Todd Farnsworth is the pastor at Hamden (Mass.) Federated Church, UCC. One of the most kind and friendly people I have ever met, his preaching style is –and always has been — experimental. While I try to be serious and loving in my writing, Todd just tries to be well, Todd. He just loves his people, and his message here shows that. I am posting this sermon — preached last Sunday at his church for two reasons: 1) It’s a different take on the subject than mine and 2) to point out that great preaching happens in just “regular old” UCC churches all the time. I don’t know anybody at a BIG church like Riverside in New York. Generally — though there are some jerks among us — if you go to UCC church, you can find preaching like this. OK, not like Todd’s preaching, but of similar quality. May you be fed by this sermon, and may you consider any UCC church where you can be fed… [The sermon is printed in its entirety here, as it should be].
Title: Perks of Faith
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 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, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] 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.”
I’d like to begin with vs 21 of today’s text. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
It’s important for you to know that the rich man in today’s story was not a bad man. He wasn’t a haughty man. He wasn’t a man trying to make a name for himself. He was a good guy. Tried to be faithful to the Law of Moses. Tried to follow the rules of his day. He was a decent guy. Even his repartee with Jesus was sincere. It was the kind of conversation that students and teachers had all the time. A little give and take discussion to clarify, to crystallize one’s thoughts. Probably similar to the questions and answers you would hear at a Bible study or during a children’s message. Perhaps a little bit of cheekiness thrown in on either side to keep things lively…but all done with respect and a desire to learn…to grow in one’s awareness of faith stuff.
So this beloved man runs up to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” He sincerely wants to draw closer to God. He really desires to “make the grade.” Jesus parries with a teasing comment about only God being good, and the young man replies that he has done his best to keep the law…keep the rules….do what is right!
And Jesus looks at him and loves him.
What happens next is remarkable.
Jesus invites the rich man to “draw closer.”
Jesus offers the rich man a way into the “perks of faith.”
Jesus says, “do this, and you will receive:
peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships,curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety, a leaning toward justice, and love.
Not a bad list. Notice, it’s not things that can be purchased; it’s not things that can be forcibly taken; it is the stuff of heaven, it is the inheritance of those who follow Jesus…and this guy seems like a good candidate.
Jesus does all this by giving the rich man a directive designed to set him free so that he can really experience what it means to be part of the realm of God.
Now, I’ll confess that I am not a rich man…young, old or somewhere in the middle. I know that probably comes as a shock! But the point of Jesus’ words are not targeted at wealth or age, so in light of recent events in our country, I’m going to paraphrase Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
I could have said, “Go, sell your cell phones…or Go, sell your tablets….or Go, sell your Hummel collection….but I’d like to stick with “guns” for the moment.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.
We have many guns in our culture. We have come to treasure them. To stockpile them. To rely on them to keep us safe and secure. To protect us. To do our talking for us. To resolve our differences. To make our statements of dissent. They have become, like cell phones, tablets, or Hummels…our treasure; a distraction to our faith…and when I say, “distraction” I mean, “they stand between us and the realm of God.”
When we keep guns to do the work that God is capable of doing, we lose focus on the Holy and become obsessed with the mini god at hand.
I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other with guns on college campuses. I believe that happens in situations where people are killing each other in the streets of our community or in local homes. I believe that happens where people are going into schools and movie theaters and claiming a godlike power over people who may or may not have done them wrong in the past. I believe that happens when we fool ourselves into believing that if we wake up in the middle of the night and find someone stealing our stuff, we will have the presence of mind to shoot the invader before he or she shoots us…or, before he or she wrestles the gun from our sleepy, frightened hands, and then shoots us.
These uses of guns do not point us toward Heaven. They lead us toward fear, and anxiety, and distrust, and anger, and retribution, and hatred.
This is different from the gun owner who uses guns to hunt their dinner, or practices a steady hand shooting targets. That mental and physical challenge can give us an awe of the power and the responsibility inherent in gun ownership. It can lead us to a life of discipline; a life that points us toward the realm of God; a study that leads us closer to the stuff of healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, and hope.
Please hear me clearly: Guns are not inherently evil...but a reliance on them that surpasses our reliance on God, can be a distraction…and Jesus understood that…and Jesus knew that rich man was a good man…and Jesus believed that rich man really wanted to get closer to God…and Jesus loved that man who was coming to him seeking a deeper relationship with the Holy…and Jesus advised that man to “Go, sell your guns and give the money they raise to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had many guns.
We have many guns. We have many cell phones. We have many tablets. We have many Hummels. We have lots of stuff that is drawing our attention away from the remarkable perks of faith God has in store for us!
And we can go away sad. Or we can go away mad, claiming that Jesus just doesn’t understand! Or we can go away and later, change our minds and come back.
At the end of the day, no matter how far we go, no matter what we decide, we need to remember, that Jesus loved that man. He was not trying to hurt him. He was not trying to deny him something important. He was not putting the man in jeopardy…in harm’s way. He didn’t chastise or begrudge the man for the decision he made or the decision he couldn’t make at that moment.
At the end of the day, the truth is, Jesus loved that man….like he loves little Madison and little Wesley. Jesus loves us, and he wants us to experience all the perks God has to offer. He wants us to know: peace of mind, healthy respectful relationships, curiosity and humility, wonder about the world, hope, healing, compassion, joy, a sense of safety, a leaning toward justice, and love, without distraction. He wants us to experience the kingdom of heaven…the realm of God…In this moment. like Jesus experiences those things in this moment.
The choice is ours. To hold onto what we have, or let go and receive something far more valuable.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record, that As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
What will we do? In Jesus’ name. Amen.