Proper 23b 2015: The Way

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Psalm 22:1-15 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31
The man was on a journey, “the way,” meaning he was a follower, or joined the followers of Jesus. He was on “the way.” Like others we have heard about, this man knelt before Jesus; kneeling is a posture of humility of self and respect toward Jesus. His question was not one aimed at tricking Jesus. The man doesn’t mean to make a mistake when he calls Jesus “good teacher,” but Jesus comes back to him with words of correction: only God is good. Although the words sound a bit harsh here, we’ve heard Jesus take this action before. Jesus turns our attention away from himself and toward God. Look to God, it is through God that goodness comes … not law, not action, not, as the man says “whatever can I DO,” but that all things come from the goodness and mercy of God. Once again, even when we are on “the way,” even when we kneel in just the right way, address Jesus in an appropriate manner, everything good is of God.

Jesus frames his next, difficult words in the context of God’s love for us. Jesus looks at the man and loves him. Jesus looks at each one of us and first loves us, no matter what. There is no one better to look at us in love. As the writer of the book of Hebrews shares: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We are reminded of God’s deep love for us, from our Lord who endured the cross. We are not alone in any suffering. We are loved. But how hard it is for us to hear the next words: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then, come follow me.”

The man is a good man; we have encountered him on his path to follow Jesus. The man was obedient to the law; he did many things “right.” Jesus looks at the man, looks at us, and sees so much more than the words of law. It is not the man’s possessions that are bad, but the man’s devotion to them; his many possessions are unwieldy. Jesus knows our hearts, and so hefty were those possessions that they were blocking the man from his walk with Jesus. Mark tells us that the ruler had many possessions. He couldn’t leave his “stuff” in order to follow Jesus. We notice that the man was not grieved because he could not follow Jesus, but “because he had many possessions.” The man was grieved about his “stuff” instead of his life, his eternal life that could come through Jesus. That is one understanding of this story. The man was counting on something that we might call “not Jesus.”

Our task becomes to ask ourselves the question what it is we are holding on to, counting on, devoted to, that is not Jesus. I’d like to go home and clean a closet. Find a homeless person, make a meal for someone else. Give something away. And I still might be missing the message.

Think about Job, who wanted to argue his case before the Lord. This is Job-who-lost-everything Job:
3Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

We will be reminded of God’s answer to Job in a few weeks, but I will say that Job is left with holy mystery and a deep knowledge that God is God and we are not.

We are asked again to turn ourselves to God’s grace, to rid ourselves of whatever it might be that stops us from taking our own walk with Jesus. We are not the unnamed man in Mark, we are not Job, not Peter, but are who God uniquely created us to be.

We ask ourselves the tough question about what it is that might be keeping us from following Jesus fully, more completely. We (presumably) pay attention to our physical well-being and the measures of the world (did I pay my taxes, follow the traffic laws). We are also called to pay attention to our spiritual health. In looking after our spiritual health we recognize that we can be rich in faith, love, hope, generosity, and hospitality, as many of us are. Jesus looks on us “with love” and tells us how best to attend to our spiritual riches, how best to get rid of that which is blocking us from Jesus.

And our earthly riches – wealth, money? [And in the United States, we are wealthy almost beyond measure in comparison to world wealth, health, and money.] With our earthly riches, let the Holy Spirit enter in and set those riches on fire for the work of our Lord. Come, Holy Spirit, and set our hearts on fire! That is what Jesus asks of us: that we worship what is meant to be worshipped, and that we follow him, our path to the riches of our God in heaven. Amen! (With me: Amen!)

Here is our challenge, to look at our spiritual health. In baby steps as a congregation, we are doing this work with intention. Your brothers and sisters along “the way” need your help and participation. Let none of us walk alone. Pray for St. Peter’s and its place on “the way” with Jesus. Pray every day. Talk with one another about the story of your faith – how did you get here, what keeps you here, what brings you joy? Do more of what brings you joy in Jesus. How many participated in the race event last week (show of hands)? See? What a great day – and a celebration of our life together. We have stories to share … of God, of faith, of losing faith, of coming home. Help one another come home to joy in our Lord. We are sharing such stories in our bible study; we are sharing faith stories in Daughters of the King, at coffee hour, at community breakfast, in pulling weeds, by showing up and being present to one another in the old words of our confession: in thought, word, and deed. We are the body of Christ in this time and place.

Our presiding bishop-elect Michael Curry brings to us contemporary words to this ancient movement called “the way.” He says: “This is God’s movement and we are part of it, the Jesus movement. We are moving and living on the power of God’s love, and nothing can stop the power of God’s love.”

We are invited to God’s movement, the way, the Jesus movement. Let our journeys not be a secret, our joy not contained. Let go of what is “not Jesus,” and Holy Spirit, come, set our hearts on fire!

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