By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
October 11, 2009
Read: Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Mark 10:17-31
Today’s readings are centered on our relationship with our Creator God. We hear from Job in his distress because he cannot sense the presence of God. The psalm is that one we also hear in Lent, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. Again the sense of hidden, absent God. In our gospel reading from Mark we hear how difficult it is for us to enter the kingdom of God. There is an example of a man who comes to Jesus seeking eternal life, but he is asked to give up his possessions and he turns away shocked and grieving.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the gospel story. First of all, we need to understand that at the time Jesus spoke these words, the idea was that if you lived an obedient life, God would reward you, or bless you, with material possessions, with wealth. A sign of wealth, was a sign of a well lived life. So think about the shock that would be very real, if everything you ever learned about how to live, was turned upside down.
I want to take us back to Job for a minute, because the point of the Job story (I invite you to read the entire book of Job – it’s not that long) is to show that things happen in life that are beyond our control. In other words, “crap happens”, regardless of how carefully we have tried to live according to the commandments.
So, back to our wealthy man and Jesus. Here was a man who had found the emptiness of success. Yes, I said the emptiness of success. He had the very things that most of us think will bring us happiness. Most of us yearn all our lives for the very things this man enjoyed. First of all, he had a lot of money. That one gets most all of us. Our idle dreams of being rich and famous fuel the spate of lotteries springing up in almost every state of the union. We sit around trying to figure out how we would spend our millions if we could just win the lottery.
But here is a man who had all that, and his life was still empty. How many times is that story repeated? We could point to countless individuals like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, who had all the money imaginable, but were miserable all the same.
This young man also knows success in religious circles. He proves that even obedience to the law leaves life empty and meaningless. He has kept all the commandments from his youth, but he still has not found eternal life.
Most of us think that wealth and obedience will bring us happiness because we don’t have either one. But here is a man with both, and he has found the emptiness of such efforts. He is still searching, so he comes to Jesus looking for answers and for real meaning in life.
That’s when Mark gives us a touching picture of Jesus, who really understands this man. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”
Perhaps, the opposite of rich is not poor. The opposite of rich is free. He was not free to take the hand of Jesus because his hand was too full of his things and his love of things. He might as well have had a ball and chain around his leg. He was not free to follow Jesus.
In fact, the meaning of “rich” may have less to do with how much money someone has as it does with what our attitude is about the money that we have. Some people have a lot of money but they are not enslaved by it; others have very little but they cling to it with desperation.
I read in a book some time ago something about the art of trapping monkeys in India. One technique is to drill a hole in a coconut and place rice in the coconut. A monkey will come along and stick a paw into the coconut, grab a fistful of rice, and then be unable to pull its paw back from the coconut. He is trapped by his greed. All he would have to do is turn loose of the rice, his hand would be free, and he could draw it out. The problem is that he places greater value on the rice that he is holding than he does on his freedom (Raymond Bailey, “Do You Want To Be Healed,” Best Sermons 3, Harper & Row, p. 6).
And Jesus uses the example of a camel going through the eye of a needle. Why is it so hard for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? Think of the image of a camel. Perhaps, because the hump gets stuck. The hump is where all the extra stuff is stored, the fatty tissue that makes the camel self-sufficient enough to make it on its own through the arid places. The young man’s money was his hump, it was what he relied on to get him through his own desert, and once it was gone he would have to rely on God instead and he would be streamlined enough to slide right through the eye, with no hump to hang up on the way.
Jesus’ point is that we need to give up whatever it is that keeps us from a closer relationship to God. We need to let go and rely on God, trust in God, instead of in our own strength. And, it’s not an easy thing to do. As Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible”.
A dear friend of mine recently took a camping trip, something he does regularly. But on this particular trip he shares a profound and deeply moving experience, he writes:
“My canoe trip north this year was wet and cold. It rained hard for the first two days, and then the temperature dropped and hovered around freezing. It began to snow on the evening of the third day. As I lay in my tent that night with waves crashing on the beach only thirty feet away, the howling wind was so loud that I couldn’t hear the waves. The cloud cover alternated between grey and dark grey. Much of the trip could be described as damp, cold, alone, discouraged.
The trip also had its profound, beautiful moments, including one I’d like to share. After miles of paddling, interspersed with muddy, hilly portages, I sat down beside a large lake for an hour or so and watched big whitecaps race across the lake toward me. In order to reach the campsite I had in mind, I would have had to paddle a bay about three quarters of a mile across. That was not feasible. As far as I could tell, I was the only person on that fairly remote lake. The waves crashing on the shore, the dark cloudy sky and the wild fury of nature combined to create a surreal scene in which my insignificance was contrasted with the vast power and dark beauty of the unfolding weather.
Years ago, a guide said to me that wilderness trips are a great equalizer. The strong, the confident, get cut down to size. The forces of nature are infinitely more powerful than the strongest among us. If you don’t respect them, adapt to them, they can destroy you. At the same time, the weak build strength on these trips. They discover inner strength, and they discover that the ability to think things through, to maintain perspective, is more important than physical strength”. (from Heron Dance website – Rod MacIver’s October 9, 2009 Pause for Beauty)
My friend came through his camping trip with a new insight. He emerged from the ordeal a slightly different man. Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Upside down is a theme. Remember Job and his suffering. Job emerged from his ordeal transformed – read the book. There is no indication that he ever discovered the reason for his affliction, yet he seems satisfied. He had been treated insensitively by his visitors, yet without a word he intercedes for them in their need. Here is a man who has risen above egocentric inclinations. He understood his relationship with his Creator God.
May God help us to remember Job as we enter our own times of orientation, disorientation, reorientations when the traditional wisdom just doesn’t work. Doesn’t make sense. And may we also, like Job, draw from a deep place in our soul, when we don’t have all the answers and God is seemingly hidden, and have the courage to say, “yet shall I trust him.” Jesus, looking at us, loves us. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.