What Do You Lack? (October 14, 2018)
There are at least a couple of good sermons in today’s readings.
Job and our Psalm this morning remind us once again of the power of lament. Life is sometimes very hard, and the appropriate response of faith is to lament. That’s not the approach taken by our world. Our world says, “Suck it up, get over it, and get on with life.” But not the life of faith. In the life of faith, we lament.
Job takes God by the scruff of the neck, as it were, and demands why God isn’t present when life is so tough. The Psalm continues that theme.
It shocks us a little bit … because we’re not used to talking to God that way. I remember my mother telling me that going to church was like going to see the Queen … and you don’t scream in anguish at the Queen when your life is tough.
But the life of faith takes God seriously enough to demand that God keep the promises and be present with us. Sometimes that means lashing out at God in rage and despair.
And that’s what Job does, and that’s what the Psalm does, and that’s what Jesus does by quoting this Psalm on the cross —“My God, why have you abandoned me?” A rough paraphrase is to ask, “Where in the blankety blank are you when life is so difficult?”
That’s a good sermon.
But there’s an equally good sermon in our gospel reading this morning. Once again, Jesus talks about wealth and money. It’s an important word for us to hear, because even the poorest among us is in the top 12% of the world’s income. My salary puts me in the top 6% of people in the world.
That puts a whole new spin on these words from Jesus about wealth. We have to remember that Jesus was a poor peasant, living with and speaking to other poor peasants. He knew what it was to be at the bottom of the pecking order.
And now, as Jesus and the 12 are journeying to Jerusalem, a rich man comes up to him with a question. “What do I have to do to get eternal life?”
It’s a great question! A preacher’s dream. This man seems hungry to know how he can deepen his relationship with God.
So Jesus responds, “You know the commandments … don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t defraud others, honour your parents.”
The man answers, “I do that! From my youth, I’ve kept them.” Can’t you just see him beam with pride?
It seems a little boastful—but notice that when the man says it, Jesus looks at him…and loves him.
It seems as if this man really does want to know God. He wants to be part of the Jesus movement. He wants to live out his deep trust in God and to deepen his relationship with God. He wants to know how.
That’s when Jesus says the hard thing, the really tough word. Here’s a good sermon for us.
“You lack one thing: sell your stuff, and give the money to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
And the man, whose face beamed with pride just a moment before — now his heart becomes heavy, and his face falls. He leaves, grieving. We find out now that he is rich; he has a lot of stuff.
The irony for the man is that although he is rich, he lacks one thing. That surprises us — we would think that he lacks nothing. He has everything he could possibly need. And if he doesn’t have it, he can order it on amazon and get it in a couple of days. He could even afford Amazon Prime, with next day delivery.
But Jesus sees more deeply. You lack one thing.
There’s a better translation—“You are lacking in one thing.” The rich man doesn’t lack a thing. What he lacks is a way of being.
That’s the difference between a noun and a verb … and this is a verb.
Jesus tells him and us, “It’s not your stuff that makes you rich. What makes us rich is our relationships — with God, with ourselves, with our family and friends certainly, and also with the poor who are at the margins of society, the lonely and anxious, the addicted and abused.
Notice the verbs around this central saying. What Jesus does with this rich man is what the rich man is lacking.
Jesus looked at him. Jesus loved him. And then, following the hard word, Jesus invites the man to come. And follow.
And these actions of looking and loving, of coming and following, they are actions which are all directed towards the other.
Just as Jesus looked at the man and really saw him for who he was and the emptiness he was trying to fill, so we are invited to see all the other people in our lives and connect with them.
And when we see other people in this way, then we also reach out to them in love.
And this is what the rich man was lacking. Life is not defined by what we have. Life is measured in how we connect with others. Life is rich when, in our prosperity, we notice the people in our midst, the people in need, the people whose lives have been damaged. What the rich man was lacking was connection to others, because he thought that by his wealth he could do it all for himself and all by himself.
That’s the danger of wealth … we begin to think we are self–sufficient. We begin to think we don’t need anyone. We begin to think we are self–made men and women. We lose any sense of connection as we stay boarded up in our own isolation.
We see it all around us in the world. The wealthier you are, the more you can isolate and insulate yourself from others. You can afford a car with doors which shut out the noise of the world and black tinted windows so you don’t have to see. You can live in gated communities, in houses with security systems to keep you safe. You can avoid the mess out there, and take vacations in the perfect world of Disneyland.
And that’s the heart of what Jesus is saying. It’s not that wealth is inherently bad. Rather, Jesus insists that wealth without seeing the other, without loving the other, without coming and following and making that kind of connection leads to narcissism and fear. It leads to the kind of apprehension where the most important part of our lives becomes trying to ensure our self–preservation.
If you are wealthy, says Jesus, don’t use your wealth to isolate yourself. Don’t use your wealth to insulate yourself. Use your wealth to make connection with others.
You lack one thing.
What about us? What do we lack?
The rich man walked away sadly, because he couldn’t hear the truth Jesus spoke. The rich man walked away sadly, because he couldn’t do the truth Jesus spoke.
What do we lack?
The gospel of Jesus is supposed to change us. It will change our priorities. It will change the way we look at things. It will change the longings of our hearts. It will change the way we think about life. It will change the hopes we have for the future. It will change they way we live. It will change … us.
If it doesn’t, then we too will walk away sadly.
The gospel changes us … to reach out and make connection … to reach out and reconcile … to reach out and live in the truth that we are all God’s precious people … to reach out and work together with all kinds of others to heal the world.
The gospel changes us. The word is transformation. We don’t conform with what others in this world say. We are transformed by the love of God which we know in Jesus, so that our lives become cross–shaped as we take up the invitation of Jesus to come and follow and walk in the way of Jesus.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
October 14, 2018 (21st Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28)
Mark 10: 17–31
Job 23: 1–9, 16–17
Hebrews 4: 12–16