The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (B), Proper 23, October 11, 2015
You and I are on a journey with Christ. For many of us it began early in life with Baptism. Our parents and Godparents made sure we were raised in the church, learning about God through life in the community of faith. And along the way on this journey, you and I hear the Lord calling us, saying, “Follow me.” What a wonderful word! What an exciting invitation to a way of life, to an adventure as we travel with our Lord to new and unknown places. You see, God knows our potential, and God is ever calling us to live into that potential. For as we walk with our Lord, we learn from him. Here in Holy Trinity we learn through worship, prayer and study. Through these practices we are shaped and formed as his disciples. He sends us forth into the world to share the Good News of the Gospel. We reach out to others, bringing healing and hope. Our Lord gives us the vision, a Gospel vision, as we see him kneeling before someone, washing their feet. He calls us to do the same. At the very heart of the Christian journey is love; the love of God and love of others. At the very heart of the Christian journey is sacrifice, seen in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Seeing the cross that reminds me of the hymn we just sang this morning written by Frances Ridley Havergal: “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord, to thee; take my moments and my days, let them flow is ceaseless praise.”
You and I are on a journey with Christ. Along the way on this journey, he will call us again and again into a deeper relationship. We are called to a deeper knowledge and love of the Lord. Along the way, the Gospel will stretch us. At the same time we are challenged by these sacred texts, we are reminded, “All things are possible with God.”
Today we hear the story of the rich, young man who comes to Jesus. It is found in our Gospel reading, Mark 10:17-31. Notice that the text tells us that he runs to Jesus. He is pursuing the faithful life. He is longing to hear the Savior’s words. He, too, has been raised in the faith. He was mentored and shaped. He asks the question, “Good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds to him by telling him about the basics. Jesus talks about God and the commandments. This young man has been faithful in keeping the commandments.
Notice the significant shift in the text that happens next. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “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.” When the young man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Along the journey with Christ, our Lord will call us again and again to a deeper relationship with him. The Gospel will surprise us and shock us. Listen to the sequence of verbs Jesus shares with the young man: go, sell, give, come, follow. These are verbs of the sacrificial life in Christ. We hear them, like the disciples who gathered around Jesus, and we too, can be shaken to the core. We might respond, “Surely Jesus doesn’t ask this level of sacrificial giving from me!” The disciples are astounded when they hear Jesus words, and they ask, “Then who can be saved?”
There is an important paradox to be grasped in this Gospel passage. It is summarized by the words from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “It is in giving that we receive.” Jesus is saying that when we give of ourselves – our life – our time – our talent – our money – then we receive so much more in spiritual terms. God knows our greatest potential. God is calling us into deeper relationship which can be discovered when we give sacrificially.
Here is a quote from Paul Wadell, professor of Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin: “Sometimes we are most afraid of what we most need. It is one of the more perplexing mysteries of the human heart. Happiness, peace, healing, and all the other elements of fullness of life can be right in front of us, but instead of embracing them, we back away in fear. We know what we need to do to have more blessed and satisfying lives, but in the face of something immensely promising, we are too often like the young man in the Gospel story from Mark: we walk away sad. As a result, we exclude ourselves from the life we not only could have, but that God surely wants for us. The unsettling upshot from this Gospel passage is that, yes it may indeed be hard to enter the Kingdom of God, but the source of the difficulty comes not from Jesus, but from us.” (from The Christian Century, October 6, 2009, p.18)
Frederick Buechner says that the Gospel is bad news before it is good news. We hear the challenging words our Lord is saying to us today. We see the young man walk away sad. The Good News is that we have a choice. Jesus calls us on a journey of faith, to give of ourselves for the sake of others. There is tremendous joy in sacrificial giving. Rather than going away sad, we have the choice to say YES to Jesus, and to follow him in a new adventure of mission and ministry. That is exactly where we are in the life cycle of Holy Trinity. We can create new ministries, reach out to people we do not know, and discover ourselves in the process. We can tap into new, creative ideas emerging from the heart of this parish community. We can find joy by giving our time, talent and treasure for the sake of the Gospel.
This morning I hear the voice of our Lord saying to you and to me: “Follow me.” Perhaps this is a turnaround moment in your life. I know it is a turnaround moment in the life of Holy Trinity. There is great window of opportunity for us right here, right now. So let us keep repeating those crucial words that open our hearts and minds: “With God, all things are possible.” With God working through all of us, all things are possible. If you and I give fully now, many new adventures will unfold. And through that, God promises us abundant life.