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October 14, 2018

“The Cost of Discipleship” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, October 14, 2018, Year B / 21st Sunday after Pentecost – Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 and Psalm 90:12-17  •  Hebrews 4:12-16  •  Mark 10:17-31

THEME:  Becoming a faithful disciple means putting our money and our lives in the service of God’s Kingdom.

 

Have you ever daydreamed about what it would be like to inherit a fortune?  Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

Most of us, from time to time, have had that daydream, especially when money’s tight.  It just seems like it would solve all our problems in one fell swoop. 

Maybe you’ve even prayed for it.  If so, you’re not alone.  In fact, that yearning is so universal that it became the subject of one of the most famous Broadway songs ever.  

 

We smile about that, because we know it’s not likely to happen to us.  But it does happen to some people.  And the surprising thing is when you talk to those who’ve inherited a lot of money, many of them will tell you it causes more problems than it solves.

For these folks, suddenly coming into large sums of money has had a profoundly disturbing, even life-altering impact.  

The first impact is emotional.  The most common reaction is guilt – knowing that someone they love had to die in order for them to be so well off.

The next thing they’ll tell you is they weren’t ready for the way it changed their identity.  They used to be just like everybody else, but now, suddenly, they’re different. 

They know what people think of “trust fund babies” or, as some call them, “trust fund bums”.  And so many of them simply stop going out in public.  They go into hiding, not wanting to be the one other people point at.

When they do go out in public, they discover that many people now regard them as celebrities because of their new-found wealth.  Family, friends and even folks they haven’t seen since elementary school, come knocking.  They’re looking for a loan, a donation to a charity or an investment in a business scheme.

And when others start seeing you as a celebrity, it’s all too tempting to start acting like one.  They become susceptible to the disease of affluenza.  It tempts them to believe the more they buy, the happier they’ll become. 

But eventually they discover the exact opposite is true.  So, they find themselves in a house that’s too big for them with lots of things they don’t’ need, and few real friends around to share it all with.  And, along the way, whatever faith they had in God, has usually dwindled through neglect.  

That’s when they discover the life they thought they were going to acquire through their wealth isn’t really a life after all. 

This can happen very quickly for those who come into wealth suddenly.  It also happens to many of those whose wealth is acquired gradually. 

Either way, the moral of the story is the same:  wealth can be an obstacle to the full life that God intends for us.  And that is the very point Mark is making in our gospel text.

We don’t know anything about this rich man until he runs up to Jesus, gets down on one knee and asks, with a sense of urgency, what he has to do to have eternal life.

Jesus is startled.  He’s about to head out on a journey with his disciples, and he’s cautious about this man’s motivation.  

He has good reason to be cautious.  He’s been questioned already by the sneaky Pharisees looking to trap him.  But it turns out that this man is sincere.

He is deeply religious.  He’s observed the statues of the law his whole life. Even now, however, he can sense that there’s more to life than what he’s experienced so far.

In order to find true life, he wants to become one of Jesus’ disciples.  Jesus loves him for this.  But Jesus sees a problem.  If you and I were there, maybe we would see his fancy robes or gold rings.  This man is very wealthy.

In that culture, wealth was a sure sign of God’s blessing.  But in Jesus’ eyes, his wealth is an obstacle that has to be overcome before he can become one of Jesus’ disciples.   

“You lack just one thing,” Jesus tells him. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.  Then come and follow me.”

But that hurdle is too high for him to get over.  So, this aspiring disciple goes off in anguish, knowing he isn’t willing to do what it takes to follow Jesus the way he’d like to do.

Jesus looks back at his disciples, who’ve been watching all this.  He says, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  Even harder than passing a camel through the eye of a needle.”

His disciples are stunned.  Like everyone else in that culture, they regarded the rich as those whom God has specially blessed.  So they say to Jesus, “Wait a minute. If this guy can’t be saved, then who can?” 

Jesus’ answer to them is his message to us:  the problem isn’t wealth itself.  The problem is our attachment to wealth, because it gets in the way of our devotion to God.

Jesus isn’t simply seeking to deprive this rich man of his money.  Jesus encounters several wealthy and powerful people in this gospel.  This man is the only one he tells to sell all his worldly possessions.

No what Jesus wants is something more.  He wants this man's very own self – his entire being.  And he sees that the man’s attitude toward money is standing in the way of his devotion to God.  

And friends, that’s the risk money poses for each and every one of us.  When we trust in wealth, we end up serving our money. 

What Jesus wants is for us to use our money – and our very selves – to serve him. The reward is eternal life – full life, life lived in God’s constant, loving presence.

That’s what he tells Peter.  Devoting our lives to serving Jesus yields a one hundred-fold return – not just later, but now:  a host of homes where we’re welcome, and a new extended family of disciples who care about us and love us.

The hallmark of God’s Kingdom is not a life of deprivation.  It’s a life of flourishing in an authentic community.  That’s why Jesus told the rich man specifically to give his wealth to the poor.  So they, too, could have enough food and shelter to enjoy life in the Kingdom.

But be forewarned:  a life of authentic discipleship goes against the world's values.  We can count on facing the world's ridicule.

That is something that Chuck Collins learned first-hand.  You probably don’t know Chuck Collins, but we all know his family business.  He is the great-grandson of the German-born meatpacker Oscar Mayer. 

When Chuck turned 16, his father took him aside and told him he would inherit over a million dollars in today’s money.  Chuck was shocked.   

Sure enough, when he turned 18, the money came, no strings attached.  It was his to do with as he pleased.  He mulled that over for a few years.  Meanwhile, he began working in Massachusetts.  His job was to organize residents of trailer parks to help them pool their own funds to buy out their landlords. 

Chuck loved this work.  And by age 26, he had a clear picture of just how much his money could help others in need.  So, he wrote his father a letter explaining that he was planning to give away the entire inheritance in order to do exactly that.

His father was on the next plane to see him.  Over the next two days, he tried to understand why Chuck would do such a dramatic and seemingly foolish thing.

“Are you a Marxist?” he asked.  Chuck thought for a moment, and said, “No, I’m a Christian.”  And a few days later, Chuck was in the office of his trust officer writing out checks to various charities. 

As he was leaving, his trust officer looked at him and asked the very same question Chuck’s father asked:  “Are you going to be ok?”

And then, a few weeks later, Chuck’s house burned down to the ground.  Everything he owned went up in flames.  Standing outside looking at the charred remains of his home, Chuck began to wonder about the wisdom of what he had done.

But then, in short order, twelve cars pulled up, one after the other.  Out came the trailer park residents whose homes he had helped save.  With casseroles, shovels and garbage bags, they got to work.  As Chuck recalled in a recent interview, “That’s when I knew I would be OK.”       

Friends, that’s how it is when you and I put our money to work serving God’s purposes instead of just our own.  We all need enough to live.  But enough is best.  What we do with the rest is our response to Jesus, when he says “Come and follow me.’

When you and I are willing to hold our money loosely, when we’re willing to use it and our very lives in the service of God, we inherit a Kingdom.  A new family where mutual caring triumphs over isolation, self-giving conquers self-centeredness, and generosity beats back the cultural tide of greed. 

How will you respond in this season of commitment?  Will we grow in our commitment to be Christ’s faithful disciples? 

May we all do that – may we do it together on Sunday, October 28th

And, as we do, may we all know in a new way the joy of eternal life – here, and now.

Amen.

Last Published: October 18, 2018 10:05 AM
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