20th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/11/15)
first reading: Amos 5:6-15
second reading: Hebrews 4:12-16
gospel reading: Mark 10:17-31
We live in a broken world. We live in a broken society. We live broken lives.
We spend a great deal of time running away from this simple fact. We spend a lot of time trying to deny it. We spend a lot of our resources trying to fill the holes in our souls. We do this to our detriment, because the denial makes it hard to truly heal.
Our readings today speak to this reality, and what we can do, and what God DOES, to bring that healing to us.
The main example of our collective and individual brokenness given in our readings today revolve around money and/or possessions. This is a very touchy subject for many of us, which is why the prophets and Jesus himself spoke so frequently about it.
In Amos, the people are told to seek the Lord and live. But seeking the Lord involves caring for neighbor, which the people have NOT done. They have been most concerned with storing up treasures for themselves – building houses and vineyards, and they “trample on the poor.”
In Mark, we have the famous story of the man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus’ classic line: “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.”
Jesus challenges the man to give up everything that’s important to him in order to follow – and the man just can’t do it. He, like most of us, is very attached to THINGS, and the security that finances provide.
These readings point to one of our main weaknesses in life – the power of money and possessions. We are more tied to our stuff than we are to God.
It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t quote the first commandment to the man – “You shall have no other gods,” because as it turns out, THAT is the one he couldn’t keep.
I don’t know many of us who can. It’s human nature, sinful nature, that we are driven to accumulate. But in the act of our accumulating, we end up depriving others. As Amos writes, we trample the poor.
But we need to be careful when we look at these passages.
My aunt Helen loved the camel saying, mostly because she grew up poor, lived with not a lot, and worked hard till she was in her 70’s, being a housekeeper for rich people. She loved this verse because she envied rich people. She loved this verse because it somehow made her feel better about herself for NOT being rich. She loved this verse because she saw it as an equalizer. And that’s too bad. SHE MISSED THE POINT.
But just like Jesus looked on the rich man and LOVED him, Jesus loved my aunt too, despite her misunderstanding – because with God all things are possible.
What I see God doing in these readings is challenging us to examine our priorities – to find what it is within ourselves that keeps us from giving ourselves completely to God.
Money is easy. It’s easy for us to say these readings are about money. And they ARE about money. But they are also about the first commandment, the one the rich man couldn’t keep – all the “other” gods we put before the Lord.
They are about anything that leads us to be shocked and leave Jesus grieving, because we cannot give up what we value over him.
Money/wealth/possessions are just the easiest to talk about because they’re the easiest to see. But our readings are also about the things INSIDE us that hold us back from a full relationship with God – things like:
- hatred and prejudices, or envy or holding grudges – all the things that keep us from loving our neighbors,
- things like finding our self-worth through our jobs,
- or from who we associate with,
- judging ourselves based on how many facebook friends or retweets we get,
- or how beautiful or “in shape” we are.
Jesus tells us to give it all up. All the outward worldly signs of blessing or success, all the attitudes and feelings we use to judge ourselves and others. They mean nothing to God.
They mean nothing because they cannot get us ANYWHERE in our relationship with God. Because “for mortals it is impossible.”
We’re stuck. Each and every one of us. Thanks be to God, Jesus didn’t leave us with the impossible task.
For while Jesus said it’s impossible for us, he added, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Thanks be to God!
It IS possible through Jesus to inherit eternal life, and not only that, to have God with us here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God looks on us and loves us, even while we cling to our worldly stuff. God looks on us and loves us, even while we grieve our inability to love God, one another, and ourselves as we should. Praise God that God doesn’t hold it against us when we fail – because we fail all the time.
This is why it’s so comforting for me to soak in these words from Hebrews – “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…” We “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
God who loves us KNOWS we are broken. God who loves us UNDERSTANDS our brokenness. God who loves us gives us grace for healing that brokenness.
There are times in our lives, when even the thought of that healing seems too far off, but remember – for God, all things are possible.