October 24, 2010 Mark 10:23-31
A few years ago, it was a big thing to wear bracelets that had the initials “WWJD” on them.
Those letters stood for the phrase “What Would Jesus Do”.
It became popular because of a Bible study that was really popular in youth groups at that time, and so it became kind of a cultural phenomenon.
The idea was that those initials would remind you throughout the day to make the same decisions that Jesus would make, or at least to live in such a way that Jesus would approve of your actions.
It wasn’t a bad idea.
It’s not a bad idea to carry a physical reminder of your faith with you if it helps you on your path of discipleship.
But as with any fad, people can get carried away with it and the original intention can be forgotten, lost in the noise of everyday.
It’s a good question to ask ourselves… “What would Jesus Do?”
It’s a nice thought, to imagine that we’re going through life making our decisions according to a higher purpose.
I like to think I’m doing the kinds of things that Jesus does.
I’m all for the bracelet when it means I’m gaining prestige or status or becoming better known in the community. I’m all for it when it means I’ll be more successful at work or a better spouse, when it means I’ll tell the truth and pay my taxes and generally be a good, respectable guy.
But the main reason I personally don’t wear the bracelet is because Jesus was crucified for doing what He did. I’m pretty sure I’ll never live like that, you know?
But maybe that’s not a fair comparison.
After all, ‘Here and Now’ contains a whole different set of circumstances than ‘Then and There’.
We don’t do crucifixions anymore.
But that doesn’t let us off the hook. We still need to keep asking the question–what’s the gospel of Jesus Christ look like today? What’s it mean to be faithful?
What’s it mean, when many have turned their backs on a church they’ve come to see as irrelevant, detached, or manipulative?
What’s it mean to be faithful when people have become disillusioned with a faith that makes such high claims of us, and yet seems to be reduced to a couple of hours of expression once a week?
What’s it mean, when people are more compelled to sleep in than they are to come to church?
It just doesn’t add up.
So many people love what they see in Jesus, but they just don’t see how that translates to church on Sunday morning.
It’s like the story right before the scripture I picked for today–where the rich young man comes to Jesus after keeping all the rules and obeying all the right commandments and collecting and maintaining all the right possessions (after all, he was wealthy, right?)
After all that, he knew he was still missing out. He still sensed that need for meaning.
So he came to Jesus and asks “what gives?” “What do I still need to do?”
His old assumptions about living the right kind of life, they were failing.
We’re kind of in a similar situation. Our old assumptions just don’t hold water anymore.
*Christian faith can no longer be assumed–not even in Holmes County!
*Familiarity with Bible stories or Biblical references can no longer be assumed.
*Regular attendance at a local church can no longer be assumed.
It’s a whole new world, changing even as we gather.
So, what’s the gospel look like today?
What “marks” a faithful community of God’s people in 21 Century North America?
Last month I talked about relocation. I talked about the need to move away from the center, back to the margins of society.
I talked about how this movement has been happening by no choice of our own, and how just maybe that’s a good thing.
So I encouraged us to consider ‘relocation’ from the center of power back to the margins where we outcasts find our home. I suggested that sometimes it’s a physical move, other times it might be an adjustment in attitude.
That was last month.
This month I want to talk about sharing.
Not just our possessions–if you come here regularly you’ve already heard me preach about sharing our possessions a lot.
That’s been a main theme of my preaching because I think it’s such a hard thing for so many of us to do! But what’s easy to lose sight of is that sharing our lives comes first! Otherwise, the church becomes just a brokerage; a place of exchange where the rich come to give stuff and the poor come to get stuff.
Both go away satisfied; the rich because they gave something and the poor because they received something.
The problem is that in that brokerage model, neither party is transformed!
There’s nothing really “Christian” about providing a place for the exchange of goods, you know?
That’s what the department of social services does every day.
Sure, it’s part of what Christians ought to be doing, but only because of a deeper meaning and attitude towards life!
It’s not the church’s job to be merely a broker between the haves and the have-nots.
It’s the church’s job to be a community of transformation!
Let me say it like this: If you’re the same today as you were a year ago, there’s a problem.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian or how much of the Bible you know.
It’s not just a matter of strapping on a bracelet, deciding what Jesus would do, and it’s not just a matter of following the rules as best you can.
If that were the case, I think we’d read a much different story about the rich young man.
The truth is, he followed all the rules, gained a fortune, and still felt the lack of meaning in his life.
What did Jesus do?
Well, let’s start by asking what Jesus didn’t do.
Jesus didn’t tell the guy to give Jesus all he had so that Jesus could give it away.
He didn’t put Peter and James and John in charge of a charity committee to decide how to use the rich man’s wealth.
He didn’t tell him to start small because it would be painful, or to exercise caution because people would take advantage of the system.
Jesus didn’t do any of that, because he wasn’t interested in creating the first Christian non-profit!
What Jesus did was invite the guy to be transformed. He wanted the guy to be changed.
And the kind of Change Jesus wants for everyone who comes to him is the kind that costs everything we have, every time.
It’s about more than sharing stuff. It’s about sharing our lives!
You know, I can almost hear the disciples slapping their foreheads when Jesus let this guy walk away. You don’t let rich donors walk away when you’re building a movement or starting a revolution.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did.
And I’d like to suggest that we often read this story and make an assumption that isn’t necessarily true. We assume the rich guy walked away because he chose maintaining his wealth over following Jesus.
But the text never comes out and says that.
Did you know that if you were trying to get rid of a million dollars today, and you could succeed in dumping a dollar a minute without sleeping, eating, or taking a break it would take almost 2 years?
The command Jesus gives this guy isn’t something that could be done overnight.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. Change is hard, and it takes time.
Now, after that interaction, Jesus tells his disciples that no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for him and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.
I never understood why we should give it up then, you know? It seemed like a kind of mysterious thing to say.
It never made sense to me why we should give everything up if we’re just going to get it back again anyways. Why not just make life a lot simpler and keep it to begin with?
See, in a brokerage mentality it doesn’t make sense.
*But like I said, we’re not a brokerage--we’re a community of transformation!
Jesus wasn’t being mysterious. He was talking about the nuts and bolts of discipleship.
When you join the fellowship, you give up your rights to everything.
It’s not really a choice, and that’s why it’s so hard.
Maybe it took the rich guy the rest of his life to sell his possessions and give it all to the poor.
On the other hand, maybe he did decide the cost was too high.
Either way a decision was made. The lesson is that Jesus refused to be that place of brokerage, that trusted 3rd party who made sure everyone was satisfied.
Sharing our lives requires a lot more than giving away possessions.
We are a people of God, a community of faith. We are a new creation, restored, reclaimed, and re-created into the image of the Creator.
But we’ve tried to tame it down too much.
I can tell you if that rich guy came here to church and asked me what he asked Jesus, I’d be tempted to say something like “why don’t you start by giving 10 percent of your wealth to the church.”
I have a feeling that would make the treasurer’s job a little easier.
But Jesus does something completely different.
And his disciples are left scratching their heads.
Through the years we’ve come up with a whole list of checks and balances to make sure people go away satisfied, to make sure we’re being fair to everyone.
But remember, people aren’t crucified for being fair.
They’re crucified for living as if the last will be first and the first will be last.
The title of this sermon is “theology of enough”.
I chose that name because what I’m talking about is deeper than how we act with our time and resources. It has to do with how we view God, whether there is enough, or not.
There are plenty of voices saying there isn’t enough.
There’s a real economics of scarcity going around, that you better get what you can and hang onto it, because there just might not be enough.
This has to do with money, time, and even Christmas toys.
It makes us selfish, making sure we’re served first.
But when you live with a theology of enough, you start to understand life differently.
You start to believe and live like there is enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.
God didn’t create poverty. We did.
But the answer is much deeper than giving stuff away.
It’s in building relationships across the lines of rich and poor.
That means sharing more than just our food–it means sharing our stories, opening up, trusting other people to hold your story gently and forgiving them when they trod upon it, after all we’re clumsy people.
It means extending an invitation to know and be known, to trust that others are doing the same, that’s what Jesus meant when he said we would receive a hundred times as much in this present age!
We are a community of faith–these are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Our homes belong to each other, not just ourselves.
It’s a whole different economics based on a whole different set of assumptions.
If that seems idealistic or down right impossible to do, it’s because it is! It is impossible
But like Jesus said, with God all things are possible.