St. Paul’s 10-14-2018 – Proper 23
Then who can be saved,they said to Jesus. How often we ask ourselves that very question. Oh yes, day to day we put on a good face and project an image of confidence to the world around us. Like the man who seeks Jesus out to ask how he might inherit eternal life, we like to believe we know all the answers and have done all the right things.
When it comes to where the rubber meets the road, Jesus asserting that one must give it all away and follow him strikes us as simply impossible. And like the man in the story, we are shocked and go away unhappy at best, frustrated and defeated at the worst.
How true are the words from Hebrews: God’s word is alive and working and is sharper than a double-edged sword. It cuts all the way into us, where the soul and the spirit are joined, to the center of our joints and bones. And it judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts. Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. Everything is clear and lies open before him, and to him we must explain the way we have lived.
Deep down inside we know this to be absolutely true. We just wish Jesus, the Word made flesh, would save his ability to judge our thoughts and intentions for someone else. Anyone else. Anyone else but me. Anyone else but us.
Can’t it be enough simply to love Jesus? The disciples thought it was enough to simply follow him around – to have left home and all that means – family, friends, support, a bed of one’s own, the means to make a living.
It is curious, isn’t it, how Jesus is always upping the ante! And yet, from beginning to end his program hinges on the foundational belief that in God’s reign the last will be first and the first will be last.
Now if Bill Gates with all his billions represents the first in this world let’s say at number 10, and the poorest of the poor are at number one on a scale of one to ten, can we even begin to imagine, as Jesus urges us to do, what it would look like if this world were turned upside down?
Try to imagine what it is like to live at number five? Why number five? Because those who live at number five will likely feel the least disruption in their lives as the Kingdom of God turns everything upside down!
So the ultimate question may be, How do I get to number five? How do we as a society get to number five? What does the journey to number five look like?
Now most of us, not all of us, live somewhere nestled in around number 9, except on April 15th when we all argue ourselves down to an eight-point-five or eight! This is something to think about right there – this massaging of numbers, financial casuistry if you will, to pretend we are not as affluent as we are one day of the year.
So what does an individual and a society need to do, need to change, to scale things back to number five?
This may be where the power of the word of God comes in: time spent reading, listening to, and meditating on the Word of God will work like a two-edged sword, dividing soul from spirit – judging the intentions of our hearts. As the author of Hebrews observes, Jesus has in every respect been tested as we have, and is willing to offer us grace and mercy to find help in making this journey from nine to five.
One suspects it will be a journey that once and for all chooses to be about the common wealth, rather than individual wealth – the salvation of the whole world, rather than individual salvation.
The man before Jesus evidently felt his salvation was in all that he had – not all that he was. At the end of the day, says Hebrews, and Jesus, it is who you are that matters more than what you have.
This is so difficult to grasp in a culture that urges us to grasp for all the gusto we can get! We place so much of our identity in the things we have, the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the house we live in and so forth. We consume and acquire so much stuff necessary to who we see ourselves to be that we run out of space and have to put it in self-storage – where we store our excess self! It is so difficult to grasp that letting go may be the most important lesson of all on this journey from nine to five.
If so, we just might discover as we read, listen to, and meditate on God’s word, that God’s own economic plan, a plan that revolves around The Tithe and The Sabbath, is truly the meaning of life we have been looking for. There are at least Four Holy Habits: Tithing, Weekly Corporate Worship, Daily Prayer and Study with God’s Word, and Keeping Sabbath. In the Way of Love, which the National Church is encouraging every Episcopalian to follow, these four Holy Habits have been expanded and enhanced to be:
Turn: Pause Listen, and Choose to follow Jesus
Learn: Reflect on Scripture each day
Pray: Dwell intentionally with God each day
Worship: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise and dwell with God.
Bless: Share faith and unselfishly give and serve
Go: Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus
Rest: Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace and restoration
These habits enable us to draw near to God, and as the Letter of James urged a few weeks ago, Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. James 4:8 Which leads us to a closer understanding of what Jesus answers when they ask, Who then can be saved?
For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.Drawing near to God seems to be the best way to make the journey. In the end, the meaning of life cannot be learned or understood. What is needed is fidelity to a way of living that transcends understanding. The Four Holy Habits is a good place to begin a way of living that transcends understanding, placing us, as they do, before the Word of God, living and active!
Now at this point, maybe you feel like the disciples when they cry out, Who can be saved?
If it’s so hard to let go of wealth or whatever else it is that bonds us, then what in the world are we to do? I don’t want to make this too simple. C.S. Lewis once said, All things are possible. It is even possible to get a large camel through the eye of a small needle, but it will be extremely hard on the camel.
Let’s go back to the original question asked of Jesus…What must I do to inherit eternal life?
The answer is hard and simple: Don’t disappear. Be present.
You see, the inheritance is given at unexpected times. And it’s not given to rich women or rich men, because they cannot receive it. No, it’s given to people like Mary Magdalene. After the crucifixion, all the rich folks are far away in their safe houses. No one is clamoring after Jesus now. No one is coming to him to flatter him with Good Teacher now.
Mary goes to the tomb without her good deeds. She doesn’t have a ten commandments merit badge. She goes because her Lord’s love commands her to go. hat must she do to inherit eternal life? Don’t disappear. Show up. Be where Jesus is.
Eternal life doesn’t come from us, our money, or our deeds. It comes from Him.
Who then can be saved? As the late William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury once put it:I have been saved. I am being saved. I hope to be saved. It is a journey, a process, shaped by the Holy Habits that draw us closer to God, closer to others and closer to ourselves. It comes by living out a Way to Love. Amen.
Let us pray:
God, You heap your love upon us
like a parent providing for a family’s needs,
embracing a child with tenderness.
when, like spoiled children,
we treat Your generosity as our right,
or hug it possessively to ourselves.
Give us enough trust to live secure in Your love
and to share it freely with others
in open-handed confidence
that Your grace will never run out.
We look in the mirror and what do we see?
We see people who try to be faithful,
even as questions and struggles challenge our faith.
We look in the mirror and how do we see?
We see with hearts which are open to God’s love,
with lives which seek to trust when all the evidence
tells us not to be so foolish.
We look in the mirror and who do we see?
We see Jesus, the One who struggles with
the questions we raise, who models faithfulness
for all who would follow.
We should not forget that our offering should be
the first fruits of our labors
which we dedicate to God.
Not only do we honor God by this offering,
but it also helps us not to keep the best
of what we have for ourselves.
By giving our first fruits to God,
we help to ensure that those who have little
will receive something
and we who have much
do not keep it entirely for ourselves.
May the God who formed all things in Love,
draw you near to God’s own heart,
empower you by the power of the Spirit
to live the Way of Love with fellow travelers,
and send you to participate in the resurrection
and healing of God’s world.
And may the blessing of our Lord – loving, liberating and life-giving –
be with us ….