21st Sunday After Pentecost
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one for whom all things are possible. Amen
There’s a bit of folk wisdom
that I think we’re all familiar with,
the wisdom that prohibits
the discussion of religion, politics and money in polite society.
And while this is probably a smart rule to follow
around the dinner table at Thanksgiving
(because you just never know what Uncle Bob is going to say)
we have taken this prohibition to the extreme,
to the point where we rarely if ever discuss these topics,
even and especially at church- the exception being religion of course.
And this is a problem,
because while we might wish we could separate
each part of our lives into individual compartments and boxes,
the truth is that they are all intertwined,
what we believe about God
should impact how we deal with money and society.
So as disciples of Jesus
we neglect part of our spiritual formation
if we fail to take time to consider how our faith impacts
all the aspects of our lives,
including how we handle money.
In our gospel today,
Jesus teaches about money,
actually, if we look closely as Jesus’ teachings
we find that they are often concerned with economics,
Jesus frequently mentions the poor
and teaches care for the poor,
and not just in a causal here have some sandwiches and old clothes kind of way,
but care that gets at the heart of why people are poor,
care that overturns the systems
that have allowed some people to amass a great deal of wealth
while many don’t have the basics.
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Jesus teaches the disciples.
It is impossible to separate our money/ resources
from our life of faith
and Jesus points to this again and again.
The man in the gospel finds this out the hard way,
he runs up to Jesus and asks him
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
and Jesus quizzes him a bit,
finds out that he’s been diligent about keeping the commandments,
living a life of faith
and we are told that Jesus looks at the man and loves him,
and out of love says “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.”
and when the man “heard this he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
It’s a shock to find out
that even if you’ve lived a godly life
when it comes down to it
you love your stuff more than eternal life.
Then Jesus turns to the disciples
and comments about how hard it will be for someone who is rich
to enter the kingdom of heaven,
it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
that’s how hard it is.
And the disciples look at one another and ask
“then who can be saved?”
Because while they might not be the most well off,
they’re doing okay,
they’ve got enough to eat and a purpose in life,
so will it be hard for them,
followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of God?
And Jesus responds to their confusion “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life,
and Jesus out of love
told him to do something that he knew was impossible for the man,
revealing to him and the disciples watching,
that he was asking the wrong question,
the man assumed that he had the power to achieve eternal life.
if we’re not careful that’s what wealth will do,
it will lead us to ask the wrong questions,
it lures us into believing that we are self-sufficient,
that we do not need God
because we are able to do everything for ourselves,
even make sure we inherit eternal life,
and that Jesus says that is impossible for humans,
salvation is up to God
and we must trust that it is so,
we must have faith.
Faith in God is not about hoarding everything that comes our way,
wealth is not a sign of God’s favor,
but nor is faith about throwing every material thing away,
we heard in our psalm for last week
that God created humans to be caretakers of creation,
food, clothing, housing, meaningful occupation are all necessary for life,
all provided by God,
the key is how we use these resources
in a way that all have what they need as God intended.
But because sin entered the world,
some hoard while others starve.
It is because of sin
that we believe we can take care of ourselves
and I’d say it’s even because of sin
that we don’t like talking about money.
Which is all the more reason to talk about it,
not in the way of bragging
but in the way of working out as a community
how to take care of the resources that God has entrusted to us,
and when we talk in this way,
we keep God at the center of our lives,
we recognize that only God has the power to save us,
to invite us in to the kingdom of God
and because of Christ,
we believe that God has already extended that invitation to us,
we are saved,
it is all God’s doing, not ours.
And because we are saved we are freed from the need
to believe that we can or have to save ourselves.
Now of course, it is always a struggle
to determine just how much is enough,
enough to keep, enough to give
and in this struggle there is grace.
This week I was reading “A Christian View of Money: Celebrating God’s Generosity” by Mark Vincent, and in it he remarked on this struggle
“If we experience the vast chasm between our good intentions and our hopeless inadequacy, we are blessed because we know our need for God. When God’s grace meets us, we realize that salvation means peace and wholeness, and we cannot hoard anything. We cannot be selfish with income or possessions because of the generous God we serve.” (pg 61)
What we need is God.
Everything else is details,
when we realize this
we are freed to follow Jesus rather than money.
We are freed to share what we acquire
because we have all we need,
we are freed to talk about money in community
because it is a tool to be used
not a means of salvation,
a tool to follow Jesus
in overturning the way of the world
that leads to some amassing great wealth
leaving some without the basics,
and yes on our own that’s impossible,
but with God, all things are possible. Amen
19th Sunday After Pentecost
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who shares responsibility for the kingdom of God with us. Amen
The disciples in Mark
are notoriously dense
Jesus spends all this time with them
doing deeds of power and teaching them the ways of the kingdom of God
and yet when a new situation comes along
they almost always react with the way of the world.
This time it’s John
who tries to be teachers’ favorite by tattling on another kid.
“Teacher we saw someone cast out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
I can almost see his chest puffing out
in self-righteous pride
while Jesus makes a gesture of consternation.
Face-palm they still don’t get it…
The disciples have given in to
the all too human propensity
to create insiders and outsiders
despite the fact that Jesus’ ministry
has been concerned with breaking down those barriers.
In fact Jesus’ ministry
has been to those considered outsiders by the world,
just last week Jesus taught the disciples who to welcome
by bringing a small child into their midst.
So, with the patience of God
Jesus tries again to get his message across to the disciples,
Don’t stop people like this guy, he tells them
because no one who does a deed of power in my name
will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Whoever is not against us is for us.
What concerns Jesus the most
is the spread of his message
to as many people as possible
and he will do anything to spread the message,
eating with tax collectors,
crossing the sea to the gentiles.
Even sharing the responsibility with others.
Jesus has commissioned the disciples
to go spread the word,
the silly dense disciples
who are frequently disappointing
yes they have been entrusted with the message-
so it’s little wonder that Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned
about this stranger doing deeds of power in his name,
it means the message is spreading beyond even the disciples
Jesus wants as many people as possible
to hear the good news that the kingdom of God has come near
and that means a variety of ways are needed
to get the message across
because different people respond to different approaches.
For example, the emphasis on the blood and suffering of Jesus
in the African American gospel songs
doesn’t really resonate with me
but it is a source of good news for the African American tradition
because the songs originate in the days of slavery
when it was a great comfort for the slaves
to know that despite what their masters told them about God
wanting them to obey,
they had a savoir who had suffered just as much as they were suffering.
Or, again, the question have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,
this question makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Yet it has led many people to live a life of faith.
What works for me is the message
that we are saved by grace through faith as a pure gift from God
and that is the message that informs all my preaching and teaching
All these approaches have a place in the spread of the gospel
what Jesus reacts strongly against
are actions that lead to the loss of faith
or interfere in the faith of another person,
for example the disciples trying to stop the man they saw
because he wasn’t a part of their group.
And that’s when Jesus starts to sound like an old timey mafia boss, s
peaking of hanging millstones around necks before a swim
or cutting parts of the body off that cause stumbling.
While it seems a little extreme
what Jesus is trying to get across to the disciples
is the seriousness of the responsibility of discipleship,
yes Jesus shares the responsibility with the disciples,
and that is not a responsibility we should take lightly
because while we have the power to help bring people to faith,
we also have the power to cause them to stumble,
to lose faith
and we should take that as seriously as amputation.
Jesus really isn’t advocating self-mutilation
but his point is that if something starts to get in the way of the good news of Jesus Christ
we need to cut it out,
if being right is more important than sharing the love of God
and news of salvation with the outsiders of society
then we might as well go jump in a lake,
Jesus shares the responsibility for the spread of the reign of God with us
it is a serious task,
one that we do not do alone,
it is a task shared by the community of disciples
Toward the end of this section of teaching
Jesus turns his attention back to the community,
the one the disciples were so eager to defend,
in referring to fire and salt
he is drawing on food preparation metaphors,
often for something to become palatable it must be cooked,
exposed to heat.
The community will undergo struggles
but that will serve to make them into the best version of themselves,
and salt, seasoning
is essential to life,
we need salt to live
and it adds flavor to our food,
a community is seasoned by the wide variety of people it encompasses,
it needs the seasoning of many different people
to sustain the life of the community
and add flavor
but when many people gather
there is the possibility for conflict
be at peace with one another Jesus says
and welcome others,
they add to the flavor of the community
even if it’s not an individual flavor we prefer
it adds to the taste of the whole dish.
Discipleship, is a serious business,
like the disciples, we often get it wrong,
we get sidetracked by who is in or who is out,
we give preference to our own tastes,
and yet Jesus still shares the responsibility
for the spread of the kingdom of God with us,
calling us to be at peace with one another.
Offering us grace. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.