Sunday, October 11, 2015
Seek good and not evil
Scripture: Amos 5: 6-15 and Mark 10: 13-27, NT pg. 46 Sermon Title: “Seek good and not evil” Sermon There were people bringing little children to Jesus, and when the disciples tried to stop them, not wanting their leader to be interrupted as he went about the important work of teaching and preaching, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Now what Jesus means here is up for interpretation. The exact quality of children that Jesus sees as vital for entering the kingdom of heaven is not clearly stated, so today we tend to read these words and get some idea of what Jesus must have been getting at based on the qualities of children that we admire. Some would say that children, unlike adults don’t see race or nationality, and so aren’t susceptible to the prejudices that afflict their older counterparts – so it could be that in seeing all people as equal children are to be emulated. Others would say that to enter the kingdom of God you must become innocent like a child, able to trust or believe in ways that jaded adults cannot. Then others would look to some instance of children sharing toys and come to the conclusion that you must become selfless like a child, sharing what you have. But before you decide which quality it is that Jesus is talking about, let me remind you that there’s a word to describe people who use words like “without prejudice,” “innocent,” or “selfless,” to describe children: “Delusional.” As far as prejudice goes, if you believe that children look into the heart of people without judgement based on appearance, then you have never seen a child terrified by the sight of a bead. Baby Margaret Hill for one, during the first year and a half of her life has run away at the very sight of me, she has never liked me, but I don’t take it personally because neither does she like the image of Abraham Lincoln printed on the five-dollar bill – she is one of many who has come to the early conclusion that men with beards are not to be trusted. While some would say that children are without prejudice, I disagree, and I also disagree with those who say that children are born innocent. Some will say that they are, but if you have ever witnessed how early an older sister masters the art of manipulating her little sister then you might say they are naturally crafty, more like the wise serpent than the innocent dove. And would you say that they are selfless? I don’t, knowing that before any of us mastered the art of language, our parents knew what we wanted through our high pitched squeals and cries, not understanding but comprehending none-the-less for in the language of infants we made our demands, “I want my bottle and I want my bottle now! Not in 5 minutes – not when you’re done with what you’re doing – NOW!” Therefore, I claim that the quality that Jesus points to as the little children rush to his side is not the absence of prejudice, innocence, or selflessness – for while children are many wonderful things, above all else, what children really are is dependent, completely and utterly dependent on those bigger and more powerful for their well-being. I believe that dependence is the quality that Jesus is pointing to. Not one of those qualities that children seem to lose as they become teenagers but that parents wish they could keep, rather it is the quality that we all want children to lose as soon as possible but some seem to keep to the disappointment of their parents. So often we think we know better, so we try to instill in children the qualities we think they should have – while failing to value the quality that they actually do. It is interesting that Jesus would urge his followers to emulate children, and countercultural that he would celebrate their dependence, for we think they should be independent and self-sustaining. Be like children, he urges, and we are prone to believe he’s not all that serious, so the lesson must continue. 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?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except 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.’” “Teacher,” the rich man declared, “I have kept all these since my youth.” Did you hear that? Before scripture tells us Jesus’ response to this statement, the author of the Gospel of Mark wants you to know that, “Jesus looked - at this rich man who has apparently never sinned in his entire life - and loved him.” Now the writer of Mark wrote in Greek about a Palestinian Jew named Jesus who spoke Aramaic, a language that never developed its own literary tradition, but remained an oral derivation of Hebrew only. So these words, first retained as a spoken story told in Aramaic, then translated and written down in Greek, were then translated into English to form the words, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” So it’s possible then, that the description we have in English fails to capture fully how Jesus actually looked, how Jesus actually felt. In fact, I’m confident that what the author of Mark meant to use to describe Jesus here is an expression Grandmothers in the South say often when their grandchildren do something stupid but they’re too naive to know any better – if this event here with the rich man were taking place in Columbia, Tennessee, and Jesus were not a Palestinian Jew but a Maury County Grandmother then the words would not be, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” but, “Jesus looked at him and said, well bless your heart.” What the author of Mark didn’t take the time to write down, I assume he just ran out of parchment, was that, “after looking at the young man and loving him, Jesus said to Peter under his breath, this guy thinks he’s never sinned! Can you believe that? Well bless his heart!” This rich man goes to Jesus asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” What must I do? As though this rich man could pull himself up by his bootstraps right up into the kingdom of God. As though he didn’t need anyone to help, as though he could do it all himself, as though he were all grown-up, self-sufficient, and self-secure. But here is an independence based on an illusion – an illusion provided by the perceived security of affluence – for wealth convinces us all to believe the lie that we are not children dependent on God – we are not dependent on anyone or anything. Wealth closes our eyes to the insecurity of human existence. The rich man can’t seem to face this fact – that those fields that provide him so much income would be dry ground, if it were not for the God who provides the rain. That his property would not be nearly so beautiful and valuable if it were not for the God who prevented the river from rising above her banks – at least most of the time. And that his life would not be so pleasurable if it were not for God – who keeps that heart inside this man's chest beating – if it were not for God who provides him air to breath and eyes to take in the majesty of creation. So Jesus asks him to give up his wealth willingly that he might figure it out. There is danger in wealth. Some feel safe in their nice houses – but then the water rises and they face the fact that they are victims to the whims of powers bigger and stronger than themselves. We feel secure with money in the bank – but should the job market dry up, stock values drop – should powers out of our control choose to shift the winds of favor - how self-sufficient do you feel now? We feel as though we may just live-forever – but who knows when the heart that beats in our chest might just stop beating? So Jesus addresses the disciples as children, not because they are innocent, kind, or unblemished by the prejudices of the day, but because we are not in control of our lives. Though we are often blinded to it – we are more like children then we care to admit. And the rich man isn’t ready to admit it. He isn’t sick – so he doesn’t need Jesus to heal him – and so he walks away. He isn’t poor – so he doesn’t need Jesus to feed him – and so he walks away. He hasn’t hit rock bottom – so he thinks he can make it without a Higher Power – and so he walks away. He came to Jesus looking for some wisdom – calling him “good teacher” – but when Jesus couldn’t offer him anything, besides urging him to face his own limitation – he just walked away. “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.” How hard it is – but it’s not just hard. It’s impossible. It’s impossible for you to do it on your own. But the rich man thought otherwise – Good teacher, what must “I” do to inherit eternal life. So you see - the rich man who went looking for a teacher wasn’t looking for a savior either – so he walks away. Some would say he walked away doomed – but he’s no more doomed than any of us. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It’s impossible in fact. “But not with God; all things are possible with God.” So give thanks for the one who interceded when you couldn’t do it on your own. Who grants you the salvation that you cannot earn. Praise God for the high priest – the one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart and exalted above the heavens. For he is no good teacher – he is your savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.