A Sermon for 11 October 2015 – Celebration Sunday
A reading from Mark 10:17-31. Listen for God’s word to us.
“As Jesus 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?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You 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.'” The man said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, 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.” When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus 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, who 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. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.””
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I heard a story this week about the ruins of the nunnery on the island of Iona in Scotland. (John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts, “Prologue”). Though the walls of the nunnery have been fallen for years, at one time the edifice stretched to the heavens to house a community of women who had devoted their lives to God through life together in that convent. I don’t know much about how life unfolded for those who once thrived in that spot. The storyteller mentioned the joys of communal life: catching up with each other as they peeled potatoes for the community dinner. Finding one another in corridors when news from home came that broke their hearts in two. Strolling together beside the sea on Iona to tell of their latest insight. There in that nunnery, disciples had worshipped God and opened their hearts to the beauty of the Psalms and diligently prayed for a world at peace. They had welcomed guests and shared what they could with the downtrodden and sought to live out their lives in obedience to God alongside one another. Long have the ruins of the nunnery on Iona gone unnoticed, the storyteller explained. But in the past few decades, the spot has become one of the most hallowed on a weekly trek around the island for pilgrims that have come from all over the world. Something about the ruins of the nunnery speaks to seekers’ deepest desires for community. For expressions of Christian faith that know we need each other – that we are dependent upon each other if we’ve got any shot at living faithful to the gospel. Something about that spot that marks the place where women once lived in devoted relationship together – well, something about that spot calls to the places in pilgrims that long for similar connection with God and one another.
At first glance, the ruins of the nunnery on the island of Iona may seem to have not one thing to do with the gospel text before us today. It begins with an eager man coming to Jesus to know what to do to get eternal life. We immediately may think of the afterlife – as this man may have been considering as well. But Jesus clearly has a different notion about inheriting eternal life. . . . This is a good, God-fearing man who has done all he can to keep the commands of God. “Since my youth,” he says, “I have followed God’s law” (Mark 10:20). No murder, no adultery, no stealing, no false witnessing, no defrauding, and dutifully bringing honor to his mother and father. In a look of love, Jesus tells him one thing more: “go sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then come follow me” (Mark 10:21). After the whole exchange about camels going through needles’ eyes, Jesus disciples start to wonder. What about their reward? If the man with many possessions wants to know about inheriting more than he already has, then what about them? They had left everything to follow. They committed themselves to being Christ’s disciples. As if the adventure of all those miracles wasn’t enough – seeing him feed hungry crowds, and heal broken bodies, and turn lives around with the good news of God’s unmerited love – as if all that wasn’t abundance enough, Jesus’ disciples start wondering what they might inherit for all their trouble.
It’s how we know Jesus isn’t talking just about some distant future after our days on earth are done. You see, what God’s up to never has been just about some day by and by. It’s so easy to forget. As we’re out here on the road of discipleship, how often do we stop to take stock? How often do we pause to see the ways our lives already overflow abundantly – eternally – because of our inclusion in the body of Christ? . . . He’s telling his first disciples they’re surrounded now with brothers and sisters on the journey. All sorts of opportunities to exercise the message he’s teaching them. They’re encircled by the joys that come from life together in Christ’s name. The ways we know love and mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness from our lives intertwining with those in this sanctuary and beyond. . . . Think for a moment how your life would be if you had nothing to do with the ministry of this church. What would vanish – who would vanish immediately from your life if you weren’t a part of this congregation? . . . From my own, I know I’d be missing out on a whole lot of laughter and love and care. Without one another, you just might not have made it through that last family struggle. Would you have been able to fend for yourself through the illness that nearly took you under? Would your worldview be as big as it is because of the insights you’ve heard in Sunday School, or the stories you now know from those coming for help from the food pantry? Would your spirit have had that moment of connection with God’s Spirit without the inspiring music of the choir? Would you know people who do pray for you and listen to you and are ready to help you in times of need had your life never come into the presence of Christ living through the people of this church? . . . It’s easy to focus on what we hope to get one day at our end; but Jesus won’t let us get stuck there. He’s among us to let us know that each day, as a part of the family of God, is our reward – our blessing as we share our lives with one another and with all in need who cross our path. . . . Somedays it might be like iron sharpening iron – the rough edges of ourselves getting smoothed out in relationship with one another. Somedays we might more fully know our convictions – the truth God has put within us because of some other message we hear from another. I heard from a homebound member of this congregation this week – even though they can’t be present right now. They said that just knowing you all are here, the love of God continuing through you in this place – well for that homebound member of this congregation, that is comfort enough.
It’s what the man coming to Jesus will miss. It’s not that Jesus wants us all to give up everything we have to come after him. Unless like that man, we’re locked in an isolated circle of our own wealth. The man can follow all the rules all by himself. He can’t know love, however; he can’t know the kind of pour-out-your-life for the benefit of another which is God. He’ll never experience that all on his own. None of us will. . . . We can possess all sorts of stuff in this life, and let it possess us. Or we can hold on loosely in order to have hands open, ready, willing to be with another. Reaching out in relationship to experience today the hundredfold wealth of community in Christ’s name. It’s a simple choice when we get down to it: for what reward will we toil?
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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