Well at least the readings this week (unlike last Sunday) don’t have anything to do with sex, marriage, or adultery. Though the way some parts of the church carry on, you’d think that was the only thing Scripture is about. Maybe the reason that some people in the Church are so preoccupied with the sex-lives of the neighbor is that it’s a whole lot easier for us to mind someone else’s bedroom business than it is to mind our own money business, to look at who’s with whom than to look at our own clutching addictions to money and possessions. It might come as a shock that Scripture has heaps and gobs more, gigantic heaps and gobs more to say about money than about sex – about money being that which we chiefly look to for every good thing, that which we depend upon, that in which we truly trust, money – to the getting and having of money we devote our lives, and the earlier the better because you can never have enough – never have too much. But, yes, an incredible amount of the word of God is a word of Law concerning us and money – and the word of Law being, among other things, that which compels us to do what we otherwise do not naturally want to do – like providing for the common good. Says Amos in this morning’s first reading – “trample on the poor you rich – and you’d better look out – it’s all going to be taken from you, your houses, your vineyards, you name it, none of it will belong to you.” Looking to such words of Law in Scripture, Martin Luther, in a time like ours when wealth was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few, observed that if the masses were to rise up against the wealthy – though neither he nor I are advocating that – but if indeed the masses were to rise up against the wealthy, the wealthy would have none to blame but themselves. Again looking to the Law, Luther also averred that no expense should be spared in educating children. (Anyone here doubt the relevance of any of that?)
And we hear Jesus, in this morning’s reading from Mark, tell the rich man to go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. But what if this morning’s reading from St. Mark really isn’t, at bottom, about money or possessions at all – or if this reading is only tangentially about money and possessions? Rather a disappointment for those of us who would like to use this text to beat up on the rich, don’t you think? A real bummer for those of us who think that the redistribution of wealth – as it is commanded in Scripture – might actually be a good thing.
Oh, make no mistake – we can’t stress enough that Scripture is filled with warnings about hanging on to money – Scripture is quite clear that nothing we say we own truly belongs to us. Everything single cent we have is a gift from God – and while we like to think we’ve earned our money, our very ability to work in order to earn money – that ability is itself a gift from God – that is if we really do listen to Scripture. And that listening, of course, does force us to ask how honestly we come by anything – especially those of us who live in this country, built as it is upon land that was stolen from its original inhabitants, inhabitants who were exterminated in a holocaust surpassing that inflicted by the Nazis. Too, we Americans do have to wonder how much we would have or where we would be had the foundations of this so-called “land of the free” not been laid by those who were not free, but who arrived here in shackles and irons – that is if they weren’t part of the great number who died first in the fetid holds of the slave ships. Thank heavens, that ugly chapter of our history is past. (Isn’t it?) Now, no longer dependant upon slaves, our economy is instead dependant upon a goodly supply of cheap labor, some of whom dare not ask for fair wages least attracting attention they be deported, and others of whom are prevented from having the skills necessary for better paying jobs because they’ve been fed the lie that athletics is the way to get up and out. In the meantime, there are those devoted to the dismantling of our system of public education because, I suppose, public education is just too public, especially in a land where increasingly “equality” is just another way of saying, “isn’t it great that black people, brown people, red people, gay people, and non-wealthy white people can now all go and die for our country.” And we don’t want an educational system that would encourage those people to ask who’s missing in that list of those who get to make the ultimate sacrifice. Of course, when and if those people do come back from the conflict du jour . . . . well, then they’ll be equally ignored by those whose bumper stickers support our troops while ignoring veterans along with military spouses and children. Seriously though, in the interest of equality, I know a whole lot of left-leaning folks – even clergy – who are equally chock-a-block full of tips on how to reduce – and in some cases, even eliminate – their tax responsibilities every bit as much as their next-door neighbors who unflinchingly vote “red.”
… we must heed how the Law tells us that we are to provide for the Gospel, the poor, and the common good. And yes, we must be faithful in our stewardship. But as far as our doing something to become good to God … nothing [of our thoughts and intentions] is hidden. And if that were all there is – we’d all be toast. But Gospel means Good News and it is never, ever, ever about what we must do to be good to God.
Yep. It’s a good thing this morning’s reading from Mark isn’t at bottom all about money – because if it were predominantly about us and our money – or if we don’t have any money, about us and all the ways we want money – if it were all about money – we’d best get ready to die and in great fear – because money and possessions have got us all by the tail, and not this preacher nor anyone else here can get ourselves free of it. No – this text is all about the utter impossibility of freeing ourselves from our turned-in-on-self selves, about the utter impossibility of saving ourselves, about the absolutely ridiculous notion that we can in any way make ourselves good to God. It’s a great wonder that upon hearing the man ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” we don’t hear that Jesus falls to the ground in a fit of uncontrollable laughter at the ridiculous nature of such a question. “What must you do to inherit eternal life?!?! That’s a good one!! Trying to use the law to get in good with God is like trying to crawl through the eye of a needle – I don’t care how svelte you try to get, it just ain’t gonna work. Silly people. Besides, you can’t earn an inheritance; it’s given. You can’t bribe your way in.”
Let us make no mistake, we must heed how the Law accuses us of dishonesty, duplicity, avarice, and greed, how the law reminds us that sooner or later the money and possessions that we temporarily hold will be taken away – by death if by nothing else. No, we must heed how the Law tells us that we are to provide for the Gospel, the poor, and the common good. And yes, we must be faithful in our stewardship. But as far as our doing something to become good to God . . . well, let’s listen to this morning’s reading from Hebrews that tells us like it is – “before God, nothing is hidden, but all [our thoughts and intentions] are laid naked and bare before the One God in front of whom we must enter a plea.” Which, if that were all there is – we’d all be toast. But Gospel means Good News and it is never, ever, ever about what we must do to be good to God – so here is that Gospel, from Hebrews: “Let us,” trusting in the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ crucified and risen, trusting, claiming, clinging to that alone, “let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we there receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And if you want to know what grace looks like – just envision a God whose everlasting delight it is to spend an eternity or two or three pulling camels through the eye of a needle. And of course, my fellow camels, it is we ourselves who are getting pulled through the eye of that needle – through no effort of our own – getting pulled through the eye of that needle today and everyday until that day when all the pulling and squeezing is finished and at last fully through the eye of that needle, we come to that feast where there is no first nor last, no ends nor beginnings, no rich nor poor, but one equal possession, one equal eternity, one equal sphere in the habitation, glory, and dominion of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.