Oct 7  -Mark  10:1-16    Oct 14- Mark 10: 17-31

Sermon  October 7, 2018  “ View of the Child”  Rev. June Fothergill

Scripture: Mark  10:1-16

Tony attended a men’s prayer breakfast and heard a visiting psychologist speak on the topic of showing appreciation to the important people in one’s life.  He decided to start with his wife.  So that night after work he bought a dozen long stemmed roses, a box of chocolates and a pair of earrings.  He chortled with self satisfaction as he contemplated surprising his wife, showing how much he appreciated her.

He stood at the front door with the roses in his right hand ,the gaily wrapped box of candy under his arm and an open jewelry box displaying the earrings in his left hand. With an elbow he rang the doorbell. His wife came to the door, opened it and stared at him for a long minute. Suddenly she burst into tears.

“  Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” asked the bewildered husband.

“  It’s been the worst day of my life, “ she answered. “ First Jimmy tried to flush his diaper down the toilet. Then Eric melted his plastic airplane in the oven. Then the dishwasher got clogged and overflowed all over the kitchen floor. Then Brittany came home from school with a note from the teacher saying that she beat up a boy in her class. And now you come home drunk.”  Pp. 93-4 An Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker

Everyday relationships are tough! Yet they are the fabric of our lives.  Jesus understood this.  When Jesus wandered as an itinerate preacher and teacher, he didn’t have much normal family life and he suggested that most important for his followers was to be faithful to God, not to family ties. Yet, the gospel of Mark, the first one to write down his story, shows him concerned about marriage and children.

One of the big controversies of Jesus day was how to be a faithful person and deal with the reality of divorce.  Even as far back as Moses’ day divorce was part of the life of the community.  Deuteronomy 24: 1-4  in the torah gives a way for men to divorce their wives. Ever since the rabbis and commentators had been discussing how best to do this and what the rules about it ought to be. There were several schools of thought in Jesus day, so the local Pharisees asked him what he thought, to test where he stood on the question.  Mark reports that Jesus turned the question back to them- what did Moses say. Then he invites them to look a little deeper not at divorce itself but the purpose and promise of marriage. Remember Jesus says back at the beginning of human life as Genesis tells us  God made us male and female and gave us the possibility of coming together to become one in marriage.  The rules about divorce were given later because of your hardness of heart.

Jesus is asking them and us to look not at the rules or the judgment we might make about others regarding marriage and divorce but at the importance of mutually loving relationships; ones where people experience wholeness or at oneness.  God did not make us to be alone but to be connected to one another in mutually affirming and rewarding relationships.  The most important one in Jesus day and his Jewish tradition was marriage and the family or children who came from it. This was the basic unit of Jesus’s society.  He saw that divorce came from people, in this case men not being able to truly care and love, to learn to live in the wholeness God intended.

Maybe on quick way to summarize this passage on marriage and divorce is to say- human relationships are complicated- grace needed!  For interestingly when the families who have been listening in on the discussion about divorce and marriage start bringing their children for Jesus to bless and the disciples try to turn them away- to keep them from interrupting the preaching!  Jesus gets upset.  He looks at the families and the disciples and realizes that here is an opportunity to teach again the words of grace.

He is upset not just because they are turning away the children but because just a bit earlier he has just taught them to welcome the children! ( Mark 9: 36-7) Hardness of heart can mean- not being willing to learn!  Jesus is indignant.  Look, he says,  learn this one! “ let the children come to me for  it is to such as these the kingdom of God belongs!  Truly I tell you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

What difference would it make in our relationships, our marriages, our friendships, our partnerships, if we were to enter them with the openness of a child?  With a willingness to learn about the world and the other person?  What would it mean to receive like a child what  God wants to give us in our relationships with each other?   How could our most intimate relationships  receive the kingdom of God?

1.  We can choose to move from hard heartedness to openness.   Sometimes we get set in our ways.  We decide that the strategies to meet our needs are set in stone. Even when they are not working well or they have proved harmful to others or ourselves.  Jesus invites us with this teaching to open up.  See the possibility of  other ways to meet our needs. Ways that might bring better relationships and closeness.

Example :  I asked us this year how we wanted to shine for Jesus. I thought for myself that I would like  to whine less and laugh more.  This was my attempt to try to be more open.  So sometimes I catch myself when I start to gripe and laugh- whoops whine less laugh more.  Turning away from griping helps me to see the people around me in a different light.  Instead of griping about my son not calling,  I instead realize – oh I can text him and invite him to dinner.  Or instead of complaining about my spouse to someone else, I can choose to talk to him about what’s bugging me.  Childlike openness to learn- to see things in fresh ways can help us grow in love and better our relationships.

2.  We can choose to receive like a child the gifts God wants us to see in our relationships.  Jesus tells the disciples – receive the kingdom of God like a little child.  In other words-  see the kingdom as a gift God has for you.  This kingdom includes God’s desire for each of us to have healthy, loving relationships.  ( that oneness described for marriage) .

Yet, instead often we look at people’s deficits and what we want to change about them?  I know most of us have heard by now that “ You can’t change another person, certainly not a spouse.”  BUT let’s be honest, often we get trapped into thinking that way. If they would only….. think like me…. do what I ask… stop doing this or that.    This is very common way of thinking about other people and sometimes ourselves.  So what happens when we look for the gifts?

Like the story we started with today- the wife couldn’t see the gifts being offered because she thought of her husband as drunk!  Can we change our lenses?  What difference could it make for you if you started looking for the gifts, the assets of the people in your life?    I have a sister who I love dearly but who sometimes drives me a bit batty.  What a difference it makes when I stay focused on what I appreciate about her instead of what bugs me.  I realize that most of the bugs have nothing to do with her but more to do with my attitudes or left over childhood junk.  Celebrating her gifts helps me enjoy her more!    When Jim turned 60, my sons and I sat down and wrote down 60 things we appreciated about Dad. What fun it was to share those things with him!    I think Jesus is telling us- like a child receive the gifts in the people around you! Receive the kingdom of God in your midst.

3.  Finally, how could our most intimate relationships receive the kingdom of God?   Be open to learn.  Receive the gifts.  And finally  know God welcomes you!  You  don’t have to earn your way in, you don’t have to be perfect or never fail,  you like a child just have to accept God’s welcoming grace and blessing!   Let Christ take the little child that is still you into his arms and bless you!  Trust that no matter what happens in your life- God still knows and loves you like a welcomed child.  You are always welcome to  Christ’s table!  Because it is a table of grace.  It is a table of learning and of gifts and of grace.

That’s what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples and us.  In chapter 9 when they got all competitive and petty with each other, he focused on a child and said when you welcome a child like this you welcome me and the one who sent me.  When they got all up tight and wanted to turn away the kids, he reminded them again!   Let the children come to me!  Here with me is the source of grace and love you all need!   You won’t get it all right, you may divorce, you may stumble, you may go down a rough path, you may put other things first- but you can always come back to me!   Like a child- you are always welcome to my table, my embrace, my grace!

Today on World wide Communion Sunday, we talk about the oneness we have in Christ.  And in our scripture today it talked about the oneness  God saw as possible in marriage.  What is this oneness? Is it sameness, is it agreement on all things; is it uniformity?  I would say no. This Oneness is grace.  It comes when we are open to receive it. It comes when we appreciate and honor our diversity of gifts.   It comes when we seek the kingdom of God in our relationships.  I close with another picture of marriage:

Uncle Marty explains his long term marriage in this way, “ My wife and I have very little in common. I’m a big city boy ; she’s a small town girl. I like spicy food; she doesn’t. I enjoy action and suspense movies; she goes for romance and comedy. Nothing in common. Yet, we are deeply in love. It just goes to show that you don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note. (P. 104 Encyclopedia of Humor)

 

Sermon  October 14 2018

Scripture:  Mark 10: 16-31  “ Nothing Impossible”  Rev. June Fothergill

Old Cyrus Barker was the richest man in town. When he became terminally ill, there was much speculation among the villagers concerning the extent of his wealth. And when Cyrus died, one of the town busy bodies made it his business to run to the deceased’s lawyer and ask, “ How much money did old Cyrus leave?”  The lawyer replied, “ All of it my friend, all of it.”  p. 253  Encyclopedia of Humor ed. Lowell D. Streiker

I solemnly promise that I did not choose this scripture today knowing that we could be consecrating our Capital Campaign team on this Sunday.   I must have been a God thing.  Let’s look at the passage together.

The situation of the man who came up to Jesus is rather poignant.  He seems so eager to grow in his spiritual life, asking “ What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He admits to being a good person: he follows all the acceptable rules of life, keeps the 10 commandments.  So we imagine, here just might be someone who would make a good disciple.  It even says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.

To be quite frank I find myself identifying with this man.   Do you?  I think most of us just want to live a good life and go to heaven.  We want to have peace of mind in our relationship with God.  We want assurance that what we do in our lives will be pleasing to God.   This man represents tour longing to be closer to  God.  Jesus loved this guy!  He saw great potential and faith in him.

But Jesus also saw more.  He saw what was in the way of this man being able to follow him on the adventure of a deeper life of faith and hope.  “ You lack one thing.  Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Wow what a radical life changing invitation!

I notice a couple things about this invitation.  First of all it involves how he can use his wealth. He isn’t just asked to leave it all behind but to sell it all and do something significant with it- help our those who are poor. Jesus sees that this man has an opportunity to do something amazing with the resources he has in his life.  He can make a difference in his community. What difference would it make to look at ones possession and wealth as an opportunity to help the poor or to do justice?

The second thing I notice is that he is them given the opportunity to join Jesus and the other disciples.  As Peter brings up later, Jesus gave to Peter and Simon and James and John the same invitation when they left their nets behind and followed him. It’s not so different from the one give to Levi the tax collector to leave his business and take up with Jesus.  Jesus is looking at this man with love! And inviting him to consider the heart of the matter- what will you chose to do with your life and your wealth?    What will you chose to do with the privileges life has given to you?     I invite you to join me on a journey of faith!   When he gives up all his possessions, he will not be alone in the world for he has an invitation to be part of the Jesus community.

For this man, Jesus realizes that it is his wealth and possessions are an issue of faith.  Letting go of them and using them for the betterment of the community will free him to follow Jesus, to find what he seeks.   Does Jesus ask this of everyone?  I notice that he does not.   He does not ask this of  Jarius, the leader of the synagogue or Simon at whose house he eats later on.  We are not all called like St Francis of Assisi to take this invitation literally. St Francis of Assisi famously decided that this passage was talking directly to him.  He chose to give up his life of privilege and plenty in the 12th century and started another life as a monastic and founded a monastic order known for their faithfulness and vows of poverty and community.

Yet, Jesus is inviting all of us to take seriously the role of our possessions, wealth and privileges in our lives and how they hinder or help us live our faith      Of course the situation changes when one has many possessions!   We watch in sadness as the man leaves Jesus.   I suspect many of us understand the man’s consternation.  If you are like me,  I like my possessions.   They make my life comfortable, they remind me of people and experiences I value, they allow me to do things I want to do.   I remember one time seeing  in a genealogy book the list of possessions one old farmer had left when he died about a century ago.  They could list all his possessions at his death on one typed page.  I am sorry to say, unless I change something radically, that would not be the case with me.  Yet, that list made me wonder, what if my life came down to a list of possessions in a genealogy book?  What would that tell about me and what I did with my life?  Jesus helps us see that what we do with our wealth, our possessions is a matter of faith.

Will we cling to our possessions and our wealth and our personal sense of control and security or will we entrust our whole lives to Christ? Will we trust that Christ will enlarge our hearts and provide us with what we truly need in our lives?  What do I trust- my possessions, wealth and privilege or my Savior and Creator  who give me life?   Are my possession, wealth and privilege being used for God’s purposes or are they in the way of my spiritual growth and faithfulness?  This man’s opportunity and decision bring up many questions for those of us with “many possessions.”   We don’t know what happens to the man. We wonder, what if he went away and prayed about it all?

What we do notice is Jesus reaction.   Jesus seems to sigh and say to them- how hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of  God.  The disciples were confused.   They seem to be just a shocked by Jesus instructions to the man as the man was!    Jesus repeats using a figure of speech.  How hard it is,  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples are astounded!   They had heard since they were children that wealth was a blessing from God.  How could wealth keep one from the Kingdom?   They say it right out loud, “ Who then can be saved!”   I imagine Jesus smiling at them and their concern.  “  Don’t you get it yet?  With mortals it is impossible but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Then the light begins to dawn on Peter.  “ Lord he says eagerly, “ We have left everything to follow you! “    We followed God’s call in our lives!  Could we be close to the kingdom of God, as you proclaim.   Jesus answers them that yes, they will have everything they need and also encounter persecutions.  But ( don’t let this make you too proud for)  many who are first will be last and the last will be first.

Part of what’s happening here is that Jesus has what we might call a teachable moment when the rich man turns away.  What Peter and his fellow disciples lived in a culture where riches and wealth meant that God had blessed that person.   It would have been logical for them to think that when they followed Jesus that the kingdom of God could mean they would be so blessed.   So to hear Jesus say that the rich person would have a great deal of trouble entering the kingdom must have been a shock!

Jesus is noticing that wealth and possessions can get in the way of people stepping out with Christ on the way of the kingdom.  Wealth is an opportunity to do something wonderful when it is given and shared with others.   But when it is horded it can get in the way of salvation and healing not just of the person but of the world. It creates barriers to God’s kingdom.    Jesus says to both the disciples and the rich man-  if you want to enter god’s kingdom- put your wealth in its proper place in your life, don’t let it get in the way of your discipleship.

But as the disciples and the rich man realized , this is really hard to do.  Wealth, and the power, privilege, comfort and status it gave people in that age and in every age is a difficult thing to let go.   Jesus recognizes that we cannot do it alone.  We do it only through connection with God and God’s intentions for us and our world.  When we place our wealth and power in God’s hands- as Jesus invited the man to do- then we can discover our way to the kingdom.  For all things are possible for  God!  What may seem impossible to us- is possible for God.

This is an important word from me in this time of my life.  I have been wondering what in the world God is doing in my life lately.  God has given me two dreams- the elevator for this building and Ann’s Heart, a supportive home for unhoused women.  Both of them need a bunch of money to fulfill.   I remember several years ago playing with the idea of suddenly having a million dollars given to me.  I actually had a hard time imaging what I would do with so much money!  Well, today I’d have no problem!  As I reflect on this passage and Jesus words to the disciples about nothing being impossible for God, I am encouraged.

I have a strong feeling that God’s will for our church is to become a more accessible community and an elevator is one of the ways we can commit ourselves to do this.  It’s a lot of money. And when I look at it that way it can feel impossible!  But this capital campaign is teaching me to look at it more like Jesus says-  It may seem impossible for human beings but with God all things are possible.  When we place our money and privilege in God’s hands, when we ask God what do you want to do through me?   Then the need for funds becomes a spiritual adventure!  We have an opportunity to do at least partially what Jesus challenged that man to do- put our wealth to good use for the community.

The second thing Jesus told the man fits for me too.  He invited him to come follow me.  We know that following Jesus meant that the man would become part of a community of followers. I am learning this is one of the ways God does impossible things.   For example, I am learning with Ann’s Heart that we don’t have to do this project all by ourselves, we can partner with other organizations and work together for the sake of the dream of housing for all.  So too, we have this team that we consecrate in our service today to organize and run our capital campaign for the elevator.  This week as we worked on aspects of this work, I realized with joy that I don’t have to do it alone.  This team is amazing and faithful and talented and I give thanks for each one.

I like to imagine that that rich man went home and spent some time praying and thinking about what Jesus had said to him.  I can imagine that he began to see the beggars outside his door differently. Maybe he set up a feeding station for them. Maybe he looked again at the tenant farmers on his property and thought of ways to make reward for their efforts more just.  Maybe he started a fund for the widows of his community.  Maybe by the end of his life, he was known, not for how pious he was or by how many possessions he had, but for his compassion.  Maybe he ended up following Jesus in his own way.  And he found eternal life.

 

 

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