Lectionary Reflection for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B October 11, 2015
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.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Mark 10:24-26
The disciples are clearly confused and on the verge of despair. The rich man had come to Jesus in seeming good faith to ask how to inherit eternal life, and he went away full of grief at Jesus’ answer. Then there’s talk about the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God–so difficult, in fact, that it would be easier for a camel to breeze through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom. What about them, they wonder? The young man rejected Jesus’ answer because he has much. The disciples have given up everything to follow Jesus. Did they have hope? Who can be saved?
Actually, this lesson has less to do with how you respond to that question than with where you put your trust and hope. Yes, it is a stewardship lesson, but it’s a faith lesson first. When we become obsessed with how good we are at following the rules– at crossing every “t” and dotting each “i”–then we’re relying too much on our own actions.
Somehow this lesson reminds me of Smeagol from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Smeagol’s one precious possession was the ring. It cost him his friend, his name, his life. He gave up everything worth anything for the one “precious” that he could not release.
We all have something “precious” to which we cling. It’s the thing that separates us from God, from our full potential as faithful disciples. In order to see and experience the truth found in Jesus that leads to real life, the rich man has, to turn from his “precious” thing (money/possessions).
The disciples, on the other hand, experience Jesus day to day. They live with him, eat with him, walk with him, minister with him, and are taught by him. Yet even so, they don’t really see him for who he is–God incarnate, pure love, grace and mercy clothed in flesh. They see him in their image of who they need or hope he is. Oh, occasionally there is glimpse, but their “precious” gets in the way — their need for a savior to cast the Roman occupiers out of their land and restore Israel to its rightful place.
Maybe it’s not all that different for us. Like the disciples we catch glimpses of Jesus, but most of the time we’d rather keep our eyes on our “precious” trappings of consumer culture. Or, like the young man, we know the answers to our own questions, we do try to follow Jesus, but in our insecurity, fragility, and brokenness we fail to see the precious gift of grace and the way of truth right in front of us. Still, Jesus keeps on looking at us through the eyes of divine love, never giving up on us because, truly, for God all things are possible.
This lesson is often used for the annual stewardship sermon or consecration Sunday, and it is a wonderful passage for this purpose. Just be sure that it isn’t reduced to a message about simply giving more money. That’s a sure recipe for folks to turn like the rich young man toward the precious baubles and trinkets of this world rather than the needle’s eye path of faithful discipleship. We cannot work or guilt ourselves into giving everything up. For humans this is impossible.
Instead, focus on the faith lesson that leads to the discipleship journey from which generosity springs. Remind people to be trusting, to be bold, and to believe Jesus’ words about the nature of God. Help them to see that Jesus loves them. We are all works-in-progress, and by faith we may grow grace-fully into generous people who do love God with all we have. Then the miraculous truth comes to light: It is in the giving that we receive–daily bread, all that we need, and all that our God-filled hearts desire. Who can be saved? Everyone can, by the grace of the amazing God of possibility, the author and perfecter of our faith. What good news this is to hear and share!
Consider a “Mission Possible” theme for worship today because as our gospel lesson reminds us, “for God all things are possible.” Invite congregants to ponder their fears, their concerns, and their worries for the future–individually, in the faith community, in the greater community. Construct a short litany or a prayer that states our human inability to save ourselves and to control our lives, invites us to lay aside the illusions of control and need, and instead set our sights, our hopes, and our faith on the God of possibility and love. Then invite congregants to write their one “precious” that separates them from full connection with their faith and discipleship walk (or to write a prayer request for help to let it go), and come forward with the offering or at communion to leave that thing and/or prayer with God. For indeed, for God all things are possible.
How can God’s word be sharper than a two-edged sword? That’s pretty sharp! True, words can sting and bite and hurt, but this image of the word of God cutting away and separating “soul from spirit” and “joints from marrow” is pretty harsh. Invite youth to ponder how spending time with and dwelling in scripture can hold a mirror up and cut away all of the fluff and nonsense.
You may even have older members of your congregation who grew up in non-Lutheran settings where the Bible was routinely referred to as one’s “sword.” How does that image sound? What does it make the youth think of when they hear it? Is it surgical precision or violence? It is helpful to cut away what is not of God in order that the good may heal and grow?
Focus on verse twelve of the Psalm for this week (Psalm 90:12): “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” We use Advent calendars to mark time until Christmas. We use calendars to check off how many days of school are left, how many days until a big event like a birthday or vacation. Why not craft a simple calendar (either four weeks or 30 days) with a special Bible verse for each day that will impart wisdom and help cultivate a wise heart? Invite parents and church leaders to share favorite verses that they would like to hand down to the children. Call it a “Wise Heart” calendar. Tell the children that in counting the days on the calendar and reading the short scripture passages they will begin to develop a “wise heart” that follows God, rejoices and is glad in God, and does God works through which God may be seen. Finish with a short prayer, commissioning the children to use their “Wise Heart” calendars well.
Photos: Martin Cooper, Jeff Hitchcock, and Stuart Cale, Creative Commons. Thanks!