October 11, 2015: Let It Go


Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

He’s anxious to have a word with Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Many Christians think he’s asking Jesus for a roadmap to heaven. No – more precisely, he’s looking for the kingdom Messiah brings to earth, transforming now, not future life in heaven when you die, though I imagine he’d take it if offered.

“You know the commandments.” “Know ‘em? I keep them all. What else?” he asks Jesus. Jesus smiles, “Since you ask, yes, one more thing for you.” That one more thing is a deal breaker. “Sell your possessions. Give the proceeds to the poor.” He’s wealthy. “Wait, Jesus – wealth is God’s sign of favor and blessing.” And Jesus says, “You’ve got it wrong.”  What if Jesus is wrong?

I get nervous when I hear this story. Do you? I have more than enough, but not as much as I might like. Maybe Jesus means people like Bill Gates or Donald Trump need to downsize, not us. Jesus is pretty clear – says wealth can prohibit one from gaining God’s kingdom. “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “For you, impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

Do you believe that? You can’t inherit the kingdom by birth or joining a church. You can’t strive to be good enough, or buy your way into God’s kingdom. Jesus wants our hearts, not our assets. Breaking News: God sends the one who ends up with the most toys to the back of the line – part of the transformation of this world’s values Jesus the Messiah brings.

Is it so wrong to live comfortably and pay our bills on time? Where does Jesus draw the wealth line in the sand? Sounds nigh impossible for the wealthy to get into this God-breathed kingdom on earth. Poor and downtrodden folks would AMEN that. However, I’ve known wealthy folks who are generous. Some of them are you. My dad worked for a man who made loads of money in the soft drink industry. He and his wife gave loads of money back to the city, to struggling seminary students like me, to educational endeavors and feeding the hungry. His life turned out very good. He lived comfortably, but not extravagantly. He generously shared his abundance. L. P. Frans was a churchman. He followed Jesus. God shaped his values. He trusted that for God, nothing is impossible, so he trusted God more than his possessions or money. That’s how he lived his life and followed Jesus.

Nothing beats a story like this one to kick off stewardship season: “Sell all your stuff and give the money to the church. Do this, then come, follow me.” Following Jesus won’t solve our problems. Sometimes he adds new ones. Living by faith and Jesus are not for the faint-hearted.

What’s the new problem Jesus creates? The pile and excesses of possessions and how much wealth we accumulate are not the point. It’s what we do with what we have. Which kingdom are you working harder to build – yours or God’s? Some trust their wealth. Their denial systems have to work overtime. They deny that their lives and their wealth are temporal, or that’s how it appears. Spiritually, they are dead – selfish, caring little for God or others. When you leave this world what will you take with you? A rabbi observed at his dad’s death: He left his car, check book, and clothes behind. But people visited the family saying how he’d lent them money; helped a guy when he was sick; stories of dad’s acts of kindness. That’s what lasted and made the world a better place. We manage what God gives us – how we live our lives with and for others. We don’t own our lives – they’re God’s. If you truly want to inherit God’s life get used to abundance, generosity, sharing, and also receiving back more happiness than you ever imagined in this world. How can you inherit what you don’t value?

Can we ever have or own enough to secure and save ourselves? For us – impossible, but not for God. It’s not what we own that secures us. Who owns us and who we serve does. Jesus merely asks for everything – all God gives, be returned – so God can give it back to us: “Here, use this to build my kingdom on earth.” We worship the Giver, not the gifts. As we do we grow into becoming people of gratitude and generosity. That’s how God has made us. That’s how we inherit eternal life. Do you get it?

Learning to let go and follow Jesus is the only way I know to inherit eternal life. Jesus invites us to step into a larger place – with a longer view – that includes this temporal world, but is not the final destination. Too many live as this life is all they have – afraid of what they’ll lose. Others live as if only getting to heaven matters, not much good for living in this world. We do both.

Stewardship is not a pledge campaign, or supporting the church with a few bucks every week or so. It’s about cultivating a life turned fully toward God – a life lived in gratitude and expressed by generosity. In these next few weeks, set aside time to reflect on a blessing you receive that day. Say a simple prayer: “Thank you, Lord.” You’ll notice we gripe less about what is wrong and what we lack. We begin to see God’s love reaching to us in so many ways we’ve missed.

What we fix our hearts on matters. Stewardship to me is simply this: the practice and discipline of raising up followers of Jesus, not raising funds for a budget – learning to fix our hearts upon God. You see, without God’s abundant love and grace for us, nothing is possible.


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