A sermon from Mark 10:17-31
So. How rich do you think this guy was?
This is not a rhetorical question.
Seriously, how rich do you think this guy was?
When the scriptures tell us that this man had many possessions, that doesn’t tell us a whole lot. Because there’s rich, and then there’s *crazy rich*. And by crazy rich, I just mean there is always someone who is a lot richer than you are.
Here’s a fun fact from a New York Times survey http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/17/upshot/definition-of-rich-changes-with-income.html?_r=0: the more money you make, the more money you think it takes to be “rich.” It’s an almost universal tendency to think “If I made this much more money, that would be good enough.” And here’s the thing, you may be right. But here’s the other thing, if you are lucky enough to ever have that amount of money, it probably won’t feel “good enough” for very long.
This isn’t news to you, I’m sure. And it’s not a phenomenon isolated to money. When you’re hungry you think 5 potato chips will be good enough. But when you’ve eaten them you think, "oh, well, the next five, then." When you are binge-watching a fantastic television show on Netflix you think, “One more episode, that’ll be good enough.” And if you are laughing with the people who delight your soul, you think “just 10 more minutes will be good enough.” When the gospel tells us today that the man who came to Jesus had many possessions, that doesn’t tell us much in absolute terms. It doesn’t say exactly how much he had, only that what he had was what most people would have considered good enough.
And maybe it was good enough for him, too. There’s certainly nothing in this scripture that suggests he was greedy or arrogant or ambitious for power. The rich man comes to Jesus and kneels before him. He is in a humble posture. He calls Jesus by a title of respect - “good teacher.” If he is ambitious for anything, it seems to be the right sorts of things. Maybe there is a little bit of pride in his voice when he say “I have kept all of these things since I was a boy," but there’s no reason to believe that he is lying. I don’t about you, but I have been blessed enough to know lots of people - Christians and non-Christians - whose lives are very good by the standards Jesus lays out here: They don’t murder, they don’t steal; they don’t lie about their neighbors; they honor their parents; they don’t cheat in their marriages, businesses, taxes, or board games. I wouldn’t say that such people are the majority, but I’ve known plenty of them. So, I don’t know about you, but when I hear the man, kneeling before Jesus, say that he has kept all these things since his youth, I believe him. I believe he is ambitious for good things. His word is good enough for me.
And then there’s this: Jesus loved him. “Jesus looked at the man carefully, and he loved him.” In the gospels we see so many powerful people who come to test Jesus. The rich and the powerful come and kicking Jesus' tires to find out if Jesus believes the right and safe and appropriate things. This man is different. He comes kneeling before Jesus and asking earnestly “how can I inherit eternal life?” And the answer he receives makes the man think “Is that it? Could it be that I am good enough?” There’s no test, no challenge, no argument. Just plain, honest, earnest questions at the feet of the Lord. And Jesus saw this. And Jesus loved him.
Jesus loved him.
And that wasn’t good enough.
This meeting, which began with such promise, soon turns toward disaster. This good man who bows before Jesus soon walks away speechless and grieving. The disciples who watch the scene are astonished, and they wonder “who could possibly be good enough?” Their questions are just as sincere as the rich man’s, and just as sincerely wrong.
Because when Jesus comes, he does not come to find out which one of us is good enough.
Jesus comes asking "What would be enough for you?’
When you discover what is good enough for you, then you have discovered your idol.
Whatever it is that you couldn’t give up for God is your god - whether it is your security, your reputation, your favorite hobby, or a national championship for your favorite team.
This last week in my Wednesday small group, we mentioned that God’s superpower is that there there is nothing so evil that God can’t redeem it. And then we said our superpower seems to be the opposite - that there is nothing in the world so pure and holy that we can’t turn it into an idol. Even Alabama football can become an idol, if you can imagine.
And i suspect that one reason Jesus talks so much about money in the gospels is because money can be so many things for us; it can become any number of idols. We can mean so many different things when we say that we just want enough money. We all know the saying “time is money” and in a very real sense that is true. Some of us want to spend our money on anything that would save us just a bit of time each day. For others of us, money is security - we only want enough to know that we’ll be ok if the worst happens. For some of us, money is laughter and fun and memories with our friends - and if you don’t believe me you should go check out Taylor Swift’s instagram account, and reflect on why it's so popular. Money can mean freedom ("No can tell me what to do!") or status ("I can tell people what to do!"); it can mean comfort or our basic needs. It can buy gifts to delight the people we love and it can get them through a difficult time. It can buy life and health from a doctor or a gym.
Everyone with half a soul knows that money isn’t everything, but most of us don’t want to have everything. We only want to have enough. And if our definition of enough is subject to change? Well then it’d be nice to have enough to account for that, too. That would be really good.
No wonder that wealth is the second-most common topic Jesus discusses in the gospels. He mentions it more often than sin or forgiveness, more often than sex and marriage, more often than love or prayer or what happens when we die. And it wasn’t because Jesus was asking his followers to finance his vacation home in Capernaum or a personal jet with 6000 camelpower engines. Jesus traveled light, living on the hospitality of others. But still, he continually challenged his hearers to think about their relationship with money. Today, when he met this man who by every standard is a good enough neighbor, good enough citizen, good enough human being in the world, Jesus looks at him, and loves him and says come with me. But the man walks away. No wonder it is hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven; it’s so easy for them to say “this is good enough.”
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, once inherited £1,000 from a relative https://books.google.com/books?id=xCH6LoDd-akC&pg=PA167&lpg=PA167&dq=john+wesley+%22lest+it+find+a+way%22&source=bl&ots=A__04Pp0xZ&sig=uuBTSfr-oxFWofSN714CSSVj27U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDEQ6AEwBmoVChMIkvKR0YjXyAIVSs-ACh2TeQ6X#v=onepage&q=john%20wesley%20%22lest%20it%20find%20a%20way%22&f=false, which is a lot of money now, and was a whole lot of money then. Soon after, his sister Martha asked if he could spare some of it. But the money was already gone. Wesley said, “Money never stays with me; it would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible lest it find a way into my heart.”
And that, it seems to me, is the tricky thing. To learn how to accept accept every good gift that God gives us without letting it capture our heart. How can we make sure that we aren’t settling for something less than what God intends?
Well, being Methodist, you might guess, we have our methods. One of those methods is called "the tithe, which means "the tenth." Whenever someone becomes a member of this church, I tell them “You are promising to support this church with your gifts, and that means you are promising to make progress towards giving a tenth of your income to God through the church.” This is a method that we borrow from the our ancestors in the faith, the Hebrew people. There’s nothing magical about the tithe. We don’t tithe out of fear of disappointing God or because we think 10% is good enough. We tithe for the same reason that even friendly nations have borders - the tithe is our way of saying to money, "Your power in this relationship only goes this far." It’s our way of saying - "that is far enough."
Once we've developed the habit of tithing, we have other methods of checking in on our relationship with money as well. John Wesley’s own method for checking the power of money in his own life was more comprehensive, but harder to measure, than simply tithing. In his most famous sermon on money http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon%E2%80%9350-The-Use-of-Money, John Wesley said that using money faithfully basically boiled down to three rules.
*Gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbour; *
*Save all you can by cutting off every wasteful or foolish expense; *
*Give all you can, or in other words give all you have to God. *
Give it all to God. Every good thing that we are, and every good thing that we have is a gift from God, which is to say, it is grace. God lives to give us grace, and when everything in our lives is a gift back to God, then there is nothing lacking.
After the rich man left, Peter checked in with Jesus. “Hey, Lord, have you noticed everything we have sacrificed?” It was as if Peter was saying "Is that good enough?"
Bless him, Peter didn’t get it either. Peter thought that Jesus had been testing the rich man. All he heard was what Jesus asked the rich man to give up. Both he and the rich man missed what Jesus was offering: "come, follow me." Jesus was offering himself - which is to say, Jesus offered everything.
I mentioned earlier that money is Jesus’ second favorite topic. Do you know what the first is? The kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God is like this,” he says - again and again and again. “The kingdom of God is at hand,” for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. When we see the rich man, all Peter or I can think about is how much Jesus might have been asking him to give up. Meanwhile, Jesus is saying if you could see the faintest hint of what God is up to, then anything less just wouldn’t be good enough.