a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
theme: The Good Life: Money, Power, Health
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
October 14, 2018
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”
20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
25It 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.”
26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,
30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
What is it you want most in the world? First thoughts might be about the current political reality, then maybe a Jaguars football win [no, I am just kidding, maybe?]. But quickly I think it would move to more personal things. Maybe better health, maybe more money, maybe the power to make a difference in a difficult situation somewhere in your life. Over the next few weeks I want to talk about the things that make for the “good life,” and try to share what the Bible tells us about these things.
So the big question this morning is about money. We have been conditioned to think that the most important thing for the good life, all we really need to be happier, is more money. At one level we all know that isn’t true, but it is a pretty normal “knee-jerk” reaction. We can all think of very altruistic things we could do to make the world better if we had a lot more money, right? Like help people in need, maybe help our kids or grandkids with it, all good right?
The Scriptures tell us a story about a man who has “many possessions,” who approaches Jesus. He has a lot of stuff, he is wealthy. He also is a religious man, a man of active faith. He has faithfully kept all the commandments in his own mind. But he wants something more. He has it all but he wants more, right? For this man, he wanted eternal life, and he knew somehow that was something his money could not buy him. He asks Jesus how to “inherit” eternal life. Like it is something handed down in an estate settlement, that he gets for being family.
Two things to note about Jesus’ answer to the man that you may not have noticed. The first is that Jesus tweaks the actual commandments to add what our version translates as “you shall not defraud.” This isn’t actually in the Ten Commandments. Perhaps Jesus is challenging how the man may have come to have all he has. Many people work hard for their money and do so honestly. But many people also do things that go far beyond honesty. Politicians give contracts to friends, supporters, and family members. Businesses and boards of major companies make decisions that profit their bottom line but take from individuals that don’t have the power to stop them. Powerful people can use the economic systems in quasi-legally or in perfectly legal ways to defraud individuals. We have no report that this man did anything to defraud others, but perhaps Jesus knew something about him or was simply cautioning a man who seemed to have lived a perfect, and perfectly moral life at least on the outside.
The other thing to note is that Jesus, instead of asking the man to take on something to achieve eternal life, he challenges him to sacrifice something, indeed the thing that seemed to be the most important thing to the man, to receive something he claims he wants even more. Once the man has claimed he has done everything to deserve eternal life, Jesus invites him to do one more thing – sacrifice his wealth. What an impossible request! Who of us, however little, or however much, we might have could do this? I don’t hear many who claim we must take the Bible literally, and who say their “literal reading” of the Bible is the only way to be a true Christian, saying they have done this!
The man, of course, turns away and Jesus warns those listening about how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the “Kingdom of God.” They are shocked. First off because we usually believe wealth makes everything easier. Secondly, because we just naturally tend to think, at least subliminally, that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and poverty is a sign of lacking God’s blessing. But Jesus denies this and says it is a burden that makes it harder to enter God’s Kingdom, the reign of God’s love, rather than easier. They ask Jesus the natural follow – up: then who can be saved? And Jesus gives us the punchline, the mike drop of all mike drops: for mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”
Peter speaks for all us when he responds by saying, “we have left everything and followed you.” The unspoken part is what is the pay-off? What is the return? Will we get a reward for our efforts? Wouldn’t we all wonder about that if someone told us what Jesus told the disciples? Then comes perhaps the key to understanding the real answer to the good life we all want, and even to eternal life. Jesus says to them that anyone who has sacrificed anything to be and do what Jesus calls us to be and do will receive a “hundredfold” blessing of what it is we all really most deeply want out of life and out of eternal life.
What is that? Well ask yourself this question, if you really want eternal life what is it you want in eternal life? Do you want all the money in the world? Why would you need that in the Kingdom of God? Would you want to be able to have power to command and control others? Why would you consider that eternal bliss? What could you want that doesn’t include relationships that are blessed with love and compassion? I can’t tell you how many people over the years upon the death of a loved one, or facing their own impending mortality, who have said to me in some way or another, “I hope I will see my loved ones again.”
Jesus tells Peter we will have houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields. In other words heaven – or what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God” is marked by relationships of love and compassion and having all the physical requirements that we need: food, shelter, health. I don’t believe anyone actually wants eternal life to enjoy money, power, fame, or anything else but relationships with others. That’s good news. What’s even better news is that this “Kingdom of God” is not just for the after-life, but for the –here- and –now- life.
And you know what relationships require? Not so much money, not so much fame, or power, or a lot of things we think make life cool. They require sacrifice. They require us to give up something: time, money, effort, those are ways love becomes real. That’s where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Who among us would not be willing to sacrifice everything for someone we love if we thought it was really needed? If a member of your family were sick who among you would not be willing to spend every dollar you had to find a way to heal them? If a friend asked you to do something for them that took time from your plans and effort – if you are really a friend – what would you do? You would do it, right?
What Jesus was inviting the man who wanted eternal life to find, and what he wanted his disciples who had sacrificed everything to be with Jesus to realize is that that very act put them into community with others, into relationships with others that gave them the very family, the very “home,” the very nourishment they wanted most of all. The same is true for us today. To depend on others is not a crime or a sign of weakness, nor does it make one automatically a lazy, worthless human being. When we judge others for having some need that we may not have we fail to see the opportunity for community with others, to find family, brothers and sisters.
The great invitation that Jesus gives the man with too many possessions to sacrifice any of them, and to us, is to find what we really want most through the sacrifice for someone else. On a day when we lift up “access- ability” and “diverseabilities,” we need to remember that caring for others, sacrificing for others isn’t un-American or un-Christian. Our faith calls us to rise up for the one who is hurting, the ones who are suffering. Jesus said, “let the little children come… anyone who does not welcome one of these does not welcome me!” Translation, the most vulnerable, the least “useful,” the ones who don’t “earn” our love, have it because they are vulnerable and we sacrifice for them because we know they need it. And then we find ways to empower them to do for themselves rather than punishing them for being unable to do for themselves.
Jesus offers us a way to find eternal life now and forever. The good news is we don’t have to wait to find it, it is all around us now – it is found in the sacrifices one makes for others that brings us into community to be family, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. When someone has a need and I can help then I am blessed as much as they are, because I discover my sister or my brother in helping, in sacrificing for them. I have older people who say to me, “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone,” so they won’t ask for help, or a ride to church, or a meal or something. I tell them by not asking they are depriving someone the blessing of serving, of sacrificing. This foolishness that we are all supposed to be independent and have no need of one another is just that, foolishness. The gateway to eternal life is the doorway to real community, and we enter that by sacrificing what keeps us from – as “someone” once put it – “loving one another as I have loved you.” If you weren’t sure who I was quoting that would be one Jesus Christ, otherwise known as Lord and Savior.
The balance sheet of life is in relationships not riches. The bounty of life is in community with others not freedom from the burden of serving others. Compassion, caring, serving, are the joy that makes life heaven now. It is in the sacrifice that connects us that makes for a good life in God’s eyes. This may seem impossible to do – it did to the man who came to Jesus long ago. But here’s the good news Jesus shares. With God all things are possible. Why, God is even be able to help us sacrifice what we don’t think we can sacrifice! AMEN.