Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Wealth

The Rich Man and The Prodigal Son

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “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 he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”


I hope you’ll bear with me today, because this might be a stretch and a little bit strange and it’s something I’m still making sense of myself, but this week I feel like I learned a new thing - or noticed a new thing - and I want to share it with you. I found myself drawing connections between this morning’s gospel story in Mark and the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as most people know it, in Luke’s Gospel.

I think most of us know enough about this one without having, even, to break out our Gospels of Luke – the only place in Scripture where Jesus tells that particular parable. There are a million details that matter in this oldy but goody, but the short of the long is this: there’s a father who has two sons, the younger of which comes to his dad and asks for his inheritance, even before his father has kicked the bucket. And the generous, loving father gives the young son half of what he might inherit when the time comes – presumably no small amount of money, stuff and valuable things – and the kid hits the road, spends, uses, and wastes it all on “dissolute living,” as the story goes. (In other words, ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ kind of living.)

And when he can no longer take care of himself – when he’s out of money, things and stuff – when he’s as broke as can be – when he finds himself slopping it up with the pigs – the young son comes back to daddy, broken… ashamed… empty in every way – and asks to be let back in to the family’s good graces. Which happens, because remember the young man’s dad – who plays the part of God in that parable – is a generous and loving Father. It’s a beautiful story about the nature of God’s abundant grace and mercy, love and forgiveness. It points to a vision of what life in God’s kingdom is like, or can be for us.

And, if Jesus is anything like the rest of us, he knows a good story – a good sermon – a good lesson – when he hears one. So I have to think, even though we only hear him tell this parable one time, in Luke’s Gospel, that Jesus probably told that story and taught that lesson more often. And even if he didn’t, Jesus had it in his back pocket and he knew the power and impact of the lesson it held.

All of that to say, I couldn’t help but imagine that this oldy-but-goody is swimming around in the head and heart of Jesus when this strange, rich man interrupts him as Jesus is apparently packing for his next road trip. “Good teacher,” he says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “How do I get my cosmic inheritance.” “What do I need to do – what’s the silver bullet – what’s the magic pill – is there a BuzzFeed list of 12 things that can tell me the way to eternal life?”

Of course, there is no list. Even the 10 Commandments wouldn’t cut it, according to Jesus. The man implies that he’s kept all of those his whole life long and Jesus says, “You still lack one thing. Sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and you will find treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

Do you see the connection to that other story?

Something about an inheritance, and then “take what’s been given to you. Unload it. Be rid of it. Empty your coffers until there’s nothing left. And you will find treasure in heaven. THEN come back and follow me.”

The solution is the same for both the Rich Man this morning and for the Younger Son in the parable: we will find out what really matters when we stop pretending that what really matters is money, wealth, things and stuff. We will find our way to the Kingdom – we will inherit eternal life, in this world and for the next – when we stop valuing the things of this world, when we lose our attachment to them, when we remove their power over us, and when we, instead, leave ourselves no other option but to follow and rely on and trust in the ways of Jesus.

(And it’s important to notice that it doesn’t matter one bit that the Prodigal Son lost his wealth to dissolute living and that the Rich Man was commanded to give his wealth to the poor. The common ground for them was not in their righteousness, in their good works, or lack thereof. It wasn’t about whether they did the right or wrong thing with their money. Their common ground – their way to the Kingdom – as Jesus sees it, is found in their poverty, plain and simple, however they accomplished it. Their way to the Kingdom would come through their loss of what they valued most; through their giving up of what they thought would save them.)

See, the power and challenge for me, then, in recognizing that both of these stories come from the lips of Jesus lies in the hard truth that, the more money and things and stuff I have – and whatever safety and security and status they afford me … along with the striving I do to get and hold onto them – all of that actually keeps me from the Kingdom; it removes me from the fullness of joy God intends for me; it limits my access to eternal, abundant life as God hopes I’ll experience it on this side of the grave – not just the next – which is the other reality check for me this morning.

Because, I wonder, when you think of eternal life, what comes to mind? When you consider the Kingdom of God, what do you imagine? When we hear the rich man in this morning’s Gospel ask about how he can inherit eternal life, what do we presume he is asking?

(My hunch is that most of us – like the guy who asks about it this morning – think about eternal life as something we’ll experience or be assured of after we’re dead and gone. My hunch is that most of us think about the Kingdom of God as having an address somewhere up there and out there and on the other side of our tombstone.)

 But, we’re meant to believe, with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has already broken ground on the establishment of heaven’s kingdom, right here on earth as we know it. And if that’s the case, we don’t have to wait to experience the joys of that kingdom, until after we’re dead. And we don’t have to wait to start sharing the joys of that kingdom with the world around us until this life, as we know it, is over, either.

So all of this is about getting rid of our money and being generous. It’s not about works righteousness or buying God’s love or earning our way into heaven. This is about going without, doing without, becoming less and relying more on God’s provision than on our own. This is an invitation, if not a command and a double-dog-dare from Jesus, to experience the joys of selflessness and generosity – to practice poverty, if you will – in order to trust in God’s abundance and to experience the very Kingdom of God in our midst – on earth as it is in heaven, you might say.

I think one of the reasons our work in Haiti is so compelling for me – and to anyone who’s been there – is because we get a glimpse of the Kingdom in Fondwa, where possessions are hard to come by; where wealth and riches aren’t even a possibility; and where we are reminded about what we can live with and what we really can and should live without more often than we do.

I think the Kingdom comes to earth for those who participate in our Agape Ministry, too, because when our people serve and sit with the prostitutes on the city’s east side, what we think matters so much about our identity on this side of the tracks – what we do for a living or where we live or what kind of car we drive – couldn’t mean much less on that side of the tracks.

And I think the Kingdom is alive and well in the midst of our SonRise Bibe Study ministry, too, because none of the measuring sticks that matter to the rest of the world mean a lick to those adults with physical and intellectual differences and disabilities, who share in and celebrate the grace of God, just as fully, if not moreso, than you and I are able to a lot of the time.

Jesus dares us to rid ourselves of whatever the world tells us is valuable – our money, our things, our stuff, and our status – and to rest in and rely on what God can accomplish through all that we give up, give away and do without. Jesus invites us to follow him toward this kind of selfless generosity. And Jesus promises us that when we do, we will experience the Kingdom of God, here and now, where less is more; where the last are first and the first are last; where death becomes life, even, in this world and for the next, thanks be to God.

Amen

"One Master, One Mission" – Luke 16:10-13

Luke 16:10-13

[Jesus said,] “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. And whoever is dishonest in a little is dishonest also in much. If you are not faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you are not faithful with what does not belong to you, who will give to you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters. He will either love one and hate the other, or despise one and be devoted to the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.”


I’d like to thank Kaitlyn Ferry and Lisa Smith for the inspiration for today’s message. When we talked this week, Kaitlyn pointed out the connection between the Pet Blessing service and the notion of what it may mean to “serve two masters,” like we just heard from Jesus. And Lisa posted the perfect video illustration of it all on Facebook the very next day.

(Rather than read my description of it, you can watch the video here. Since we worshiped outdoors, for our annual Pet Blessing service, I couldn't just show the video to the congregation this time around.) 

In this short, sweet little video, a runway that looks to be about 15 feet long, is lined with cones and toys and treats other canine temptations. A dog is perched at one end of the runway, with his/her human standing at the opposite end. On the human’s signal, the hounds are supposed to walk/run/trot their way to their master without being distracted or stepping off the path. A guy in a black-and-white-striped referee shirt, a whistle around his neck, is timing their progress.

A German Shepherd goes first – very serious and all business – she runs straight to her master without missing a beat. Next goes a little Australian Shepherd – very anxious, but quick – who pauses halfway down the runway to sniff something, but doesn’t let the temptation get the best of him and continues on to the master who was calling his name. And finally, the video cuts to the happiest looking Golden Retriever you’ve ever seen, sitting like he should be at his end of the runway.

When he gets the command, though, the Golden Retriever takes a couple of steps and mouths the very first tennis ball along the path, takes a few more steps and gobbles a couple bites of food in the bowl he finds, jumps to the opposite side of the path to sample some food from another bowl, trots a few steps forward to toss a stuffed animal in the air, then he goes backward, to the start of the runway, and cleans two plates of some other tasty treats – all while the referee and timers smile and laugh, and while his poor, embarrassed master charges backward down the runway calling and pleading and begging for him to follow; which he does, sort of, while stopping at every other distraction and temptation along the way to lick plates, gobble kibble, and scarf down some hot dogs until his master has to grab him by the collar and drag him to the end of the course, to finally stop the clock“No one can serve two masters.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth.”

The truth is, when it comes to money and things and stuff, we are all more like the Golden Retriever on the obstacle course of life in this world, than we’d like to admit, right?

Here we are, here we sit, with God calling to us in ways we have been trained and instructed to go – to be faithful; to be generous; to give more than we take; to use only our fair share; to sacrifice, even, for the sake of others – with the example of Jesus shining like a beacon at the end of the runway.

And since Jesus does, we have to consider that it’s wealth and money and everything they represent – that tempt us and distract us and steal our attention from following our master as faithfully as we could. Like the tennis balls and stuffed animals and bowls of kibble that golden retriever couldn’t resist, we do our thing in this world tempted by too many things and by so much stuff – taking what we can get, whenever we can get it; gobbling up more than we need; ignoring the call and command of our master, too much of the time.

And all God wants for us is to keep our eyes on our master. With our attention focused there… With our eyes trained on Jesus’ example… And with our ears listening for his call and instruction, we will put God first – God’s ways, God’s wishes, and God’s will, I mean.

Because God knows it’s exhausting to have and to manage so many things and so much stuff, when we don’t do it well. It’s tiresome that so many of us in this culture live to work, rather than work so that we might live more fully. It’s debilitating and dishonest to keep up with the Jones’s at every turn. It’s a drain on our psyche and our spirit to serve the master of debt the way too many of us do or have done.

(The average household credit card debt in the U.S. is $5,700.00. For households that carry a credit card balance from one month to the next, that average debt climbs to over $16,000. And for households with the lowest net worth – for people with the least amount of money – the average credit card debt is something like $10,300.)

When we’re forced to service that kind of debt – or any desire, really, that feeds our greed (this isn’t just about credit cards) – we can’t possibly pretend to also serve God as fully as God calls us to, or as fully as we would like. We can’t give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or water to the thirsty. We can’t give as much to the church or to charities that do God’s bidding. We can’t be a blessing for the world around us the way God has blessed us to be in the very first place

There’s hope here, of course. And an example of it shows up in that video with the dogs, too. That sweet, selfish, squirrely Golden Retriever gets pulled across the finish line, not to be beaten or punished or shamed in any way. He’s made to sit, still smiling when it’s all said and done. He’s patted and stroked and loved by his master, anyway, embarrassed though she may be. And I imagine he has some more lessons and training and second-chances in his future.

And so will we, by the grace of the God who loves us no matter what, until we learn to love and to serve and to give in response to that kind of provision; when we recognize that God’s grace is more valuable than anything our money can buy; and that our wealth is only worth a thing when we learn to share it in the name of the master who gives it all in the first place.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.