Hi friends! Here is my sermon from this past Sunday, February 10th. For the first time, Bruce said to me after church, “I like the whole Year of Mark thing and I get why we are doing it, but I kind of miss the Old Testament.” A year is definitely a long time to preach through one book! I’m already starting to think about what I want to do next. Any favorite sermon series? Things you’d like to hear my thoughts on?
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 10, 2019
When The Gospel Sparks Joy
Marie Kondo probably loves this passage.
For those of you who do not know, Marie Kondo is an organizing consultant who has written several books and now has a very popular show on Netflix called, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” Her whole theory surrounding organizing has to do with whether or not your things spark joy in you and so her method involves you taking out all of your stuff, deciding what brings you joy and getting rid of the rest.
This method has led to many conversations in my house that end with, “But my fishing rods bring me joy!”
So I will get back to why I think she might appreciate what Jesus is saying but let’s back up for one minute. We know from last week that Jesus is traveling to Judea. We have passed the halfway point the Gospel of Mark (we took our midterm exam a few weeks ago) and so now the stakes are higher, right? The cross is on the horizon. This message about the Kingdom of God is growing increasingly relevant, critical and challenging for people.
Take the man in this morning’s scripture, for example. He runs up to Jesus and kneels before him and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. After Jesus reminds him of the commandments, the man affirms that he has followed these commandments since he was a young boy.
But then Jesus says there is more:
You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
In other words, Jesus is saying that you can follow all of the commandments, but if you really want to inherit eternal life, you have to get rid of your stuff.
You can understand why I think Marie Kondo probably appreciates this story.
Alas, though, Jesus is not talking about minimalism here; Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus goes on to further explain this to his disciples:
How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
Then he offered an outlandish metaphor:
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.
Now, for those of you currently listing off all of the things in your head that you really do not want to get rid of in order to get into heaven, know that you are in good company. Jesus’ words were not exactly well-received. The rich man? Well, scripture says this makes him sad and he walks away.
When [the man] heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The disciples seem a little frustrated. Peter says to Jesus:
Look, we have left everything and followed you.
It is almost as if he is saying, Jesus what more do you want from us?
I suppose we could ask that same question today. We are here, are we not? We come to church, we participate in the life of the community, we pledge our money, we volunteer our time, we care for one another, we donate to collections taken for those less fortunate than us and we even give MORE money when our team wins the Super Bowl!
What more does Jesus want of us? Can’t we at least keep our stuff? I like my shoes!
There are some really important lessons in this passage about the kingdom of God and how we live out our faith, lessons that go beyond de-cluttering. The first lesson is something that we sometimes miss because it is at the very beginning of Jesus’ exchange with the man (and by the end, we might be too focused on getting rid of our stuff) and it is that this is about God and not about people or even about stuff.
The man says to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and right off the bat, Jesus knows he is missing the point. Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
In other words, our focus and priority should always be first on God.
Do you remember the children’s sermon I did a few years ago where I talked about how we should prioritize our lives? I had one tennis ball, a few golf balls, a handful of rocks and sand and tried to fit it all into a jar. I explained that the tennis ball represented God, the golf balls represented the important things in your life, the rocks represented the quasi-important things in your life and the sand represented the unimportant things in your life. If you try to fit everything into the jar but start by adding the sand – the unimportant things in your life – you cannot fit everything in. But if you start by adding the tennis ball, then the golf balls, then the rocks and then the sand, everything fits perfectly.
The same is true here. God should alwaysbe our first priority; even Jesus says, don’t call megood, God is good! First and foremost, when we talk about the kingdom of God, we need to glorify God. We need to remember that God is good! We need to think about the ways that God has blessed our lives and touched us with grace. When we think about our lives and our faith, we need to put God at the center; when we think about the church, we need to remember why we gather in the first place; when we enter into relationships with other people, we do so remembering that they are holy and sacred covenants.
No one is good but God alone.
This is what it means to enter the kingdom of God.
The second lesson in this passage is that the kingdom of God is not about rules that we are supposed to follow along a clear trajectory to get to heaven, but about our core values and who we are as human beings and the world we are creating here. The man in this story is very proud of himself for following the commandments in his life – he even added that he had kept these commandments since he was a young boy; but Jesus says there is more to it than that. Jesus says that it is not just about following the commandments, but about how we live our lives and the intentions behind every decisions we make.
And also – are we supposed to be concerned with what is to come or what is happening now? I do not know if this was intentional or not, but the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (meaning, what do I need to do here to make sure I can get into heaven after I die) and Jesus uses this exchange as an opportunity to then teach the disciples about entering the kingdom of God and I do not think he necessarily just meant heaven; I think he meant the kingdom we are creating here one earth.
Because otherwise, what is the point? Are we just supposed to aimlessly follow rules so we can get to heaven? Or are we supposed to live our lives with meaning and purpose and intention so we can both strengthen our faith and also serve others in the Body of Christ?
This is not just about the commandments; this is about the kingdom.
And here is where the stuff comes in.
The third lesson I am drawing out of this passage comes back to Marie Kondo.
Now, if you want to prooftext and nitpick Jesus’ words here, in this particular translation of this particular Gospel’s telling of this exchange between Jesus and the rich man, Jesus does not tell the man he had to sell all off his stuff; he says, “go, sell what you own,” which I guess technically could mean some of your stuff.
(Although there are other accounts where Jesus says to sell everything, so I would not recommend avenue of exegesis.)
I do think this Marie Kondo method of, does this item spark joy in my life, can actually give us a really good starting point when we think about the stuff we own and are surrounded by and whether or not it distracts us from our core values or hinders our ability to deepen our relationship with God, strengthen our faith and serve others.
And I think this is sort of twofold; first of all, the less money we are spending on our own stuff, the more we have to give to others. But even more than that, when we stop and ask ourselves if we really need either what we are thinking of purchasing or getting rid of, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to calibrate our priorities.
What really matters?
The stuff we have accumulated? The stuff we want? The stuff our consumerist society is telling us we need? The stuff somebody else has that we are now coveting?
Or our relationship with God? Our faith? Our ability to serve others? The kingdom of God that we have the capacity to create right here on earth?
The metaphor about trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle is ridiculous and it is ridiculous because it is meant to make us think and, quite frankly, it is meant to make us a little bit uncomfortable.
Because it is meant to make us pause and reflect and think about what we truly need to be fulfilled, to strengthen our faith and to enter the kingdom of God.
So what does it take? What does it take to enter the kingdom of God? What is Jesus asking us to do? How are we going to follow through? Are we even going to come close to living up to the grace that has been given to us?
As you think about these questions, you might think that you are being asked to do the impossible; that there is no way you can give away all your stuff in order to follow Jesus and create the kingdom here. Not today, Satan!, right? Stay away from my shoes!
It is okay to feel this way, to be uncomfortable with what you are being asked to do. But our faith is supposed to make us uncomfortable; because that is when real transformation happens, the kind that can change the world and bring the kingdom of God here, in our midst.
And so as you leave church today and reflect on these exchanges between Jesus and the man and Jesus and the disciples, I want to encourage you to give this back to God.
After the camel and the needle metaphor, the disciples are so confused as to who would even qualify to get into heaven at this point and do you know what Jesus said?
For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.
For God, all things are possible.
We were not meant to figure this all out by ourselves. And so as we try to prioritize God in our lives, as we look at the kingdom of God as something that is happening and that we can help create here, in our own lives and as we start to weed through some of our own stuff and try to decide what we really need, we need to ask God to help us; to open our eyes, our ears our minds and our hearts.
For God, all things are possible.
Thanks be to God!