A Question of Priorities: My Sermon from Today

Mark 10: 17-31

Today is a very special day for me. One year ago today, I was ordained into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is hard to believe it has already been a year! From my time here as an intern through this past year as a “Big Boy Pastor”, each one of you have played and continue to play a special part in my formation as a pastor. In addition, you continue to accompany and support my family in ways that I will never be able to adequately thank you. It is a privilege- a true privilege- to serve you all here at Cross & Crown. I’m so grateful God called me here and you agreed!
And to celebrate this anniversary with a baptism! What a true joy. The blessings abound.
So thank you.

Now to the Gospel-

This morning we meet what many of our bibles call “the Rich Man”. He races up to Jesus-the Scripture even says he ran up to him, which in ancient times was not really a dignified thing to do. But in his enthusiasm approaches Jesus asking for his specific checklist of what to do in order to get eternal life.
And Jesus questions him- as Jesus is known to do—pushing back a little. Well, what do YOU think- you know the commandments. And in a bit of a subversive act, Jesus mentions 6 commandments. More on that later–

And this Type A guy jumps at this suggestion, noting that yep, he’s not only done ALL that, he’s done it since childhood! He’s checked them all of his list.
But Jesus, knowing the heart of this man loves him and then drops the challenge: ok, then go sell whatever you own, give it to the poor. Then come and follow me.
Then all that you own, all that wealth, will be heavenly wealth, Jesus adds.
And the man’s face drops. He’s not happy with this challenge. The text even mentions this was the last thing he expected to hear. Because it seems like this Type A guy maybe had expected more of an “atta boy” than a convicting challenge.

And he turned and walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, the text reads, and not about to let go.
Jesus asks us to let go of many things and follow him. That’s the key to discipleship. It’s a surrender.

Maybe that’s what makes it so hard. We want to be in control at all times. It’s about us. We want to set the roadmap, the timelines, set the agenda, set the plan.
Our entire identity gets wrapped up in our achievements.
So it’s only fitting that our instincts will be, “show us what to do and we’ll do it!”

I’m guilty of that for sure. And so is the man here.
If you notice in the passage, it starts with an inquiry of what to do, do do.
But Jesus shifts the direction of the narrative to one of receive.
What must I DO? He asks.
Jesus’ response is –well, “nothing if you think you can pull it off by yourself. But every chance in the world if you let GOD do it.”
If you simply receive.

When asked about what he must do to gain eternal life, if you remember Jesus answers with just 6 commandments. And we know there are 10.
The commandments Jesus left out were the ones involving a surrender of self—you shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make for yourself an idol, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, and remember the Sabbath.
Isn’t that interesting? Maybe Jesus intentionally leaves out those 1st 4 commandments hoping that this devout man would notice that the list was incomplete. How good really is that checklist? But like most of us, it flies right over his head.

It can often be easy to feel like you’ve accomplished a lot—to feel productive and good about yourself–it can often be easy to feel pious—

–when that which you are serving is you.

Jesus is challenging us to step outside of ourselves and to serve God. But he recognizes the challenge. He even says, Look its difficult. REAL difficult. So difficult it might even be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
But the easy path isn’t part of the deal. That’s not what Jesus calls us to. That’s not the life Jesus wants for us.
Even the disciples sort of panic a bit, with Peter asking, “well then who has any chance at all?”

Because it’s hard on our own. But that’s also not part of the deal.
Again it seems like we are encouraged to go it alone. Rewarded, in fact.
So we try to push through our own agenda in life. When what God wants from us is to break free of that.

Like the man in this passage, even when we are offered a better way, a more meaningful way, a more godly way, we too hold tight to a lot of things and aren’t about to let go. We want control, even if it is an illusion.
The Good Soil group is watching and discussing some of the videos from the Nooma series. Many of you have studied these. They have been around a while, but they are so good. Nooma is a collection of creative short films featuring one of my favorite pastors and writers, Rob Bell. Each film focuses on a specific topic or theme usually at the nexus of faith and life. They’re wonderful.
Last week we watched and the discussed the film, Shells.

This one tells the story of how his young son was at the beach searching for seashells. And he was gathering them up left and right. None of them particularly special- most of them just the broken half-shells and colorful shards that litter the beach.
But then as he’s walking in the surf, he stops and spots in the near distance, a starfish.

His eyes light up with excitement. He looks to his parents and dashes off into the surf. Right up to it.

He pauses for a moment, and then turns and dashes back.
He looks up almost desperately at his parents and rushes back toward the starfish, standing there looking at it.
Again, he returns to his parents.
His parents ask him “Buddy what’s the matter? Why aren’t you grabbing that amazing starfish??”
And he responds with exasperation, “Dad, I can’t! Because my hands are filled with shells!”
So often our hands are filled ‘with other things—things we are unable or unwilling to let go of – which prevent us from taking hold of the right things.
Sometimes we need to be able to say “No” to things- even good things– so that we may say “Yes” to the right things.

This passage isn’t just about money.

Jesus isn’t convicting the man for having great wealth. That’s not the point here.
Jesus is challenging the man to examine his heart to determine where his true treasure is. Jesus is challenging the man to focus not on his accumulations- whether its his money, his accomplishments, his status,- but on God.
Jesus is challenging the man to consider his attachments and to reflect on whether these things are keeping him from a meaningful life with God.
So much of our culture encourages us to “have it all” when the “all” that really matters is our faith in Christ. Our commitment to Christ. The rest of it—it’s all trimming.

Our biggest resource is our time.

We are all busy. Really busy. Probably too busy. And it’s become this embarrassing “badge of honor” to brag about how busy we all are. And in our heart of hearts our intentions are pure.
But it seems like this passage suggests maybe we’re missing the point.
We’re saying yes to all these things deep in our hearts-things we believe are the right things. But in reality, we’ve forgotten to check with the true priority, to determine if they’re the best things.

Are we going to that extra meeting, when we really need to be enjoying a glass of wine with our spouse.
Are we pounding away at that laptop, when we should be sharing a story with our kids.
Are we allowing our kids to participate in a million different activities while allowing ourselves to get out of shape with no time for exercise and stress-relief.

Or are we focusing so much on our needs that we aren’t allowing the time and space to serve others, denying ourselves the unique, life-giving energy God offers when he care for others.
It can be a myriad of things. None more important or more common than the other.

But it’s worth taking a look at.

So today I challenge you. Prayerfully look at your commitments. See where you might be saying “Yes” to things which are preventing you from doing the things that closer align you with your faith.

Who are we truly living for? Are our commitments reflective of a life worthy of God’s kingdom?
What are you saying “Yes” to when it’s requiring you to say “No” to something far more meaningful?
What are things you’re holding tightly to that are keeping you from fully entering God’s Kingdom?
What is it that you can let go of?
I know I’ve got mine. I’m sure you have yours.

Let go of some of those shells, so you can grab hold of the starfish.


One Comment

Well said good and faithful servant!


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