I’ve got some bad news and some good news. Let me give you the bad news first—for that is the order that it comes to us through this morning’s scripture lesson. The bad news comes early. The very first line sets the ominous tone: “As he was setting out on a journey…” And we all know where that journey takes Jesus, don’t we? The betrayal, the denials, the condemnation, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on, the crucifixion, death.
The bad news is that the journey we are on as followers of Jesus leads us to the cross. It leads us to places that we would rather not go. It leads us to sacrifice and self-expenditure. It leads us down a road that turns our world upside down. To be first, we must be last. To be great, we must be a servant. To save our lives, we must lose our lives. To live, we must die.
Furthermore, this morning’s lesson teaches that the really bad news is that this journey is especially difficult for certain people.
“A man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him and asks a very good question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replies: “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.”
“Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth.”
Jesus, I have been going to Sabbath School since I as a little boy!
Mark says Jesus then looked at the man, and loved the man and said, “But you lack one thing. Go sell everything 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 he went a way grieving, for he had many possessions. Can the news be any worse?
This is bad news because here we have a very good man, a law-abiding man, a frequent synagogue goer, a religious man, a sincere seeker, who is unable to answer the call of Jesus to become one of his disciples.
In fact, I believe this is the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus calls someone, and that call is rejected.
And here is the really bad news for us. The reason the call of Jesus is rejected is wealth. He is unable to follow Jesus, unable to experience, life, abundant and eternal, because he has a lot of stuff.
This is a discouraging teaching for those who live in a culture that believes wealth is the answer to all of life’s problems. It is no secret that the voters of this country elect their leaders based on what? The leader’s IQ? Nope. The leader’s moral values? Oh, heck no! The leader’s sense of compassion and empathy for others? Ha! The leader’s anti-racist, anti-sexist sentiments? Lord, have mercy!
It was the campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign who answered that question most clearly when he said, “It’s the economy stupid.”
What our nation values the most is wealth. And we seem to be willing to sacrifice everything that is good and decent and holy to achieve it.
And look where that has got us as a nation today. Bob Marley knew what he was talking about when he said: “Money is numbers and numbers never end. If it takes money to be happy, your search for happiness will never end.”
The spirit of greed that possesses and guides this nation is bad news when we realize that people with wealth, folks with lots of stuff, do not fair very well in the Bible. Jesus said it is as harder to get someone like that saved than it is to get a camel through an eye of a needle.
That’s the bad news. Now, are you ready for the good news? The good news is that this is not the end of this morning’s lesson.
Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible [for someone with lots of stuff to receive eternal life] 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.
The good news is that with God all things are possible. And the good news is that this is one of the few times in the gospel story that ol’ Peter opens his big mouth and blurts out something without getting pulled aside and rebuked by Jesus.
Peter says: “Lord, we have left everything—homes, family, friends, jobs—and we have followed you!”
Peter is saying we are not like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by your strange answers. Although you turned our world upside down, although you said things to us like the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and to be the greatest we must be a servant, to save ourselves we must lose ourselves, to live we must die, when you called us, we dropped everything.
We let go of a lot to follow you. And although we do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things you teach us, although you scare us to death when you talk about being arrested, tried and crucified, we’re still here. We didn’t walk away. We’ve stayed the course and kept the faith. We may not understand everything, but we listen! Well, every now and again we might fall asleep, but sometimes we take notes.
The good news is that our lesson this morning does not end with the rejection of one greedy man. It ends with a promise from Jesus:
“I promise you, for everything you have given up, I will give you much more. For everything you have turned your back upon, I will give you a hundred times more.”
Now, are you ready for the really good news?
None of you in this room are like the one who came inquiring about eternal life, only to be shocked and grieved by Jesus’ strange answer. Although Jesus turned your world upside down, although he said things to you like the first shall be last and the last shall be first and to be the greatest you must be a servant, to live you must die, when Jesus called you, you answered the call. You let go of a lot to follow him. And although you do not understand half, a third, ok Jesus, one fourth of the things Jesus teaches you, although most of you don’t even remember last week’s sermon, although Jesus scares you to death when you read of him talking about being arrested, tried and crucified, you’re still here. You’ve not walked away. You’ve stayed the course. You’ve kept the faith. You may not understand everything you hear, yet you come to this place week after week after week and you listen. Yes, sometimes you fall asleep. But sometimes, some of you even take notes.
Although every muscle in your body aches and your knees and hips are worn out, and it hurts to walk and it hurts to sit, and it hurt to stand, you somehow make it to this place every Sunday you can. When you wanted to pull the covers up over your heads and sleep in on this cool Sunday morning, you got up. You got yourself ready and you came. You are here.
And not only are you here to listen to these strange teachings of Jesus, you have decided to follow him on a journey that leads to the cross. You have decided to follow Jesus on a journey that leads to sacrifice and self-expenditure.
Some of you have given up wealth as you decided to work only part-time so you could spend more time with your children at home.
Some of you have turned down job promotions that would have brought you untold riches so you could stay here and take care of family.
And many of you, although you don’t have to, and really don’t want to, have made commitments to be selfless servants. To prepare and serve sandwiches to the food-insecure. To prepare and serve meals at Hope Campus. To visit a nursing home. To advocate for someone with special needs. To volunteer at the hospital. To be a deacon, an elder or a Sunday School teacher. To work with our children and youth. To give to a hurricane relief fund. To do whatever you can, and whatever it takes to make this world a better place.
And even those of you who feel like you do not do that much in the church, you still contribute something that is very precious to all of us. Something that only you can contribute. The greatest gift of all. You give us the gift of yourself. You contribute your presence. You are here. And I know I am speaking for many when I say, “I am a better person because of it!”
The bad news is the story of this man with a lot of stuff ends with grieving and rejection. The good news is that his story is not your story. For even when you were shocked by Jesus’ teaching, you dropped everything and followed him nonetheless. And your story ends with a promise from Jesus. Thanks be to God.