The 10th chapter of Mark tells about a rich man meeting Jesus and asking him how he can enter the kingdom of God. After going through some basics, Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions, give the money away, and come follow him as he travels and ministers to others. The story says that the man is shocked at what Jesus has told him and walks away sorrowful. We are told he has many possessions and the point seems to be that he is so attached to them that he can’t imagine living without them. Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
I’ve never thought of myself as rich. I’ve never had a whole bunch of possessions or money. But I do think the story about the rich man is still aimed at me. And in a good way. Compared to some of you, I’m not only not rich but I’m on the edge financially. Compared to some others of you, I’m more secure financially. Compared to most people in the world I’m very rich but I don’t experience that on a daily basis, only from time to time in travels or through the media. Still, I think I’m invited to put myself in the place of the rich man in this story and listen.
I have possessions. I have income. I have some accumulated money. I have some obligations. I have some debt for which I am responsible. I have things to maintain. They all vie for my attention. They all help me in some ways. In other ways, they are burdens. In some ways everything I have gets in the way of my relationship with God because they all take time and energy.
I have a friend who describes himself as blessed. He has a beach house, a mountain house, a lake house, a farm house, and his regular house. He likes them all but he can’t really get to them all often enough. And he has to pay to keep them all going. All in all it seems to me that he handles having a lot very well. He seems pretty happy. And why not?, you may ask. Well, I bet there’s a downside to having so much.
There’s a downside to having all that I have. I worry about what I have. I worry about what I don’t have. In that way I am attached to possessions, the ones I have that I have to care for, and the ones I wish I did have but can’t seem to get. Funny, you don’t have to have something to be attached to it. The story above is about rich people, but it also applies to poor people who wish they had more. Possessions, money, stuff in general, are all challenges for our spiritual development. Are we more attached to this world or are we aligned with the kingdom? That’s the question Jesus asks all of us over and over again.
The church asks us to give of our resources. Maybe St. John’s is less shy about that than some other places. We don’t suggest that we all give. We expect all of us together to give and we ask that we all give a lot, 10% of what we have to work with. The reason we do that is not just so that we can have the nicest church in town. The reason we do that is because we are greatly concerned with entering the kingdom of God. You may not earn your way into the kingdom by your financial gifts but you won’t enter the kingdom until you learn how to give.
It’s all a matter of surrender and letting go. What Jesus says about our financial actions lines up precisely with what he says about our spiritual pilgrimage: We’ve got to learn how to surrender and let go and trust. We’ve got to learn how to live by faith. We’ve got to learn to allow God to be our guide. We’ve got to learn a healthy sense of dependence on God’s way of providing for us. We’ve got to learn how to give ourselves to God so that he may bring us into the kingdom.
Until we learn to give ourselves in prayer to God and listen for his will, we just keep on willfully pursuing our own path. Until we learn to give up the things that are in our way, we are walking in our ways instead of God’s ways.
Giving money away, to the church, is important. We don’t enter the kingdom without it. Because, until we learn to give, we are clinging to what we have or clinging to the anxiety of not having enough to make do. That’s why the rich man walks away from Jesus, because he is worried he doesn’t have enough.
Rich or poor, the question that the church and Jesus direct to us is, “Are you so worried about what you have or don’t have that you can’t trust God to provide for you.” One big way we learn to trust is to surrender some of what we have. Then we see that God provides for us. Until we surrender some of what we have, we’re stuck in the battle of trying to make it all on our own. And that keeps us out of the kingdom every time.
So give of what you have. The church and Jesus do us a big favor by making such a request.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Family Promise – September 8-14
Family Promise is the homeless family ministry that St. John’s helped get started some years ago and one which we continue to support. Several times during the year we turn a few of our classrooms into welcoming bedrooms for a few families to use for a week. During the day they are at work and participating in a program which helps move them into permanent housing. The families must have children and they must agree to follow our time-tested plan which is designed to help them become self-supporting. Wonderful results have been experienced and we need help for our next week of hosting. Overnight Hosts sleep here one night and are available if a need should arise. Supper Hosts prepare supper for the families (never over 14 people). It’s a simple and pure way to serve. A sign-up sheet is in the Parish Hall or you may contact Diane Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Christian Education for All Ages Resumes September 8
Adult Classes September 8 – October 13
Living the Good News Bible Study
Led by Avis Gunter and Bob Canter
Young Adult Class
Led by Jimmy and Mallory Salter and Daniel Cenci
Liturgy and Good Livin’
Led by Candice Frazer
The Holy Grail in Legend and Literature
Led by Robert Wisnewski