Bulldozing Our Stumbling Blocks
20 Pentecost B
October 11, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I'd think that a lot of preachers would love having this gospel fall into their laps during stewardship season--as it's doing for us this year. But I think there are 2 big issues cooking in this text that are a little distracting and perhaps disappointing.
First of all, the story starts out with the man coming up to Jesus, kneeling before him, and asking him what is it that he must DO to inherit eternal life. It's the asking about the DOING that’s the problem. Many of the stories we have of Jesus and much of the theology we have from St. Paul stress that it's not the DOING but the BEING that are most important. That was one of the key issues in the Protestant Reformation: the teaching that Martin Luther highlighted and what became a key element in the Reformation: we are saved by faith and not by works--not by what we DO.
It took me years to learn it: we are God's beloved children--every one of us. And by our faith in Jesus we are made whole and we enter into eternal life. We don't earn our way into heaven. We can't earn our way into heaven. It’s a free gift we receive, by the grace and mercy of God.
So that makes this man's question problematic right from the start. He wants to know what to DO and Jesus gives him an answer.
OK, that's the first issue I have today. Here's the second: It's so easy for us to read that what Jesus told this guy is what's true for us, too. In other words, it's so easy to think that Jesus would want us to sell off everything we own and give it to the poor, then go and follow him--just change our lives around in a heartbeat. And that is, in all practicality, impossible.
We hear that the man went away sad, because he had many possessions. And that makes sense, too. We'd all be sad if we were ordered to sell off everything and adopt a new and radical way of life, with radical trust and transformation. What about our kids, our homes, our work? What about them?
But wait a minute, isn't that what we ARE called to do--to be radically changed by Jesus and to trust him for everything? We even celebrate it this year with our stewardship theme—Changing Lives Together. So aren’t we called, at the heart of it, to lead changed lives? Yes, indeed. We are called to be changed and formed more and more into the image of God.
So--how can we find a message for ourselves in this gospel?
It seems to me that what Jesus did was to tell this man to get rid of obstacles in his way--things that got in the way of his making a wholehearted commitment to live the way Jesus would have him live. And because he was rich, and apparently controlled by his possessions, Jesus suggested he get rid of them--so that they wouldn't be in the way anymore.
It seems that not only did the man have many possessions, but the many possessions had HIM. In other words, the managing of his possessions was all-consuming and he had no time left for what really mattered. He was owned by his stuff. He had no room left to do anything else well. That’s the point of the story.
SO--Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
How is our relationship with God, Jesus, Holy Spirit? Could it be deeper?
And of course the answer for each and every one of us here is YES, it could be a deeper relationship. Of course.
Next question--what's standing in the way for us? What are our own stumbling blocks?
For some, it may be a fear of getting too close to the Holy. For others, maybe it's a whole lot of doubt. For others of us, perhaps other things are getting in the way of our growing closer to God. Things like:
you name it: busyness, others’ expectations that we cave into, exhaustion, the demands of young children, or even too much wealth. I wrestle myself with the "busy" thing. I allow the demands of the everyday ebb and flow of events to commandeer my attention and pull me away from prayer--from time with God. What's your biggest stumbling block? (I will leave a little time here.)
And the last question: now that we've named some of our personal stumbling blocks, then what might we hear Jesus telling us about them? What might Jesus be suggesting to US about clearing the way to go deeper with him? (Leave a little time here.)
Remember, God yearns for relationship with us. That's why he created us in the first place. And so, he wants us to work on removing the obstacles that block the way to deeper relationship. When the rich man asked Jesus what he needed to DO to inherit eternal life, Jesus looked at him and LOVED him. Then he told him to sell off all his "stumbling blocks" and come, follow him.
And so Jesus wants the same for us. God so yearns for relationship with us--that relationship IS eternal life. It is happening NOW, and we don't have to wait to die to enjoy it. God wants to give it, as long as we are receptive.
So what will you "DO"? Not to earn your salvation, but to respond more wholeheartedly to God's call to closeness? It's the most fundamental relationship we'll ever have. What does Jesus whisper to us about how we might enhance it?