Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Poor Young Ruler

Golgotha Fun Park
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Excerpts from a recent sermon by our pastor, Cindy...

You get the feeling from reading the Gospel of Mark that the man was very earnest. He really wanted to know what it would mean to turn his life around, to live differently, to be a part of Jesus’ movement. He wasn’t trying to test Jesus or to trick Jesus. He came to Jesus with a real question, with a real need. But Jesus, in typical Jesus-fashion, didn’t try to coax him along. Jesus just laid down the truth, and it was too much for him. “Go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you’ll have treasures in heaven, and then come, and follow me.”

Once when Clarence Jordan and his wife, Florence, and a few others were trying to get Koinonia Farms off the ground, that was an interracial community down in south Georgia in the 1940s, this rich woman came to him. She was very rich, and she wanted to give all her money to the community, and then to come and be a part of it. He told her that they’d love to have her, but that she needed to give all of her money to someone else. They couldn’t afford, you see, having the burden of all that money along with the person who ‘used to’ own it.

The woman went away sad. She was ready to part with her money, you see, but only to a point. Which means, of course, that she wasn’t really ready to part with her money.

But Clarence knew that it would be hard to live in community with someone who had donated that much money. No matter how hard they tried, they never could have been on level ground with one another.

Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind with the rich young ruler. You want to be a part of my movement, of my little ragtag, outcast community? Then come empty-handed, come and learn to depend on God and on one another just like we do, come and learn to depend on the mercies of strangers.

The man went away sad because he knew, he knew that Jesus was right. But he just couldn’t give up his stuff. And so it was his stuff that would keep him from being able to fully embrace his brothers and sisters, to fully live into God’s realm.

And, says Ched Myers, that’s what’s this story is all about: God’s realm. He says that while the Gospel of Mark never definitively tells us what God’s realm, or Kingdom is, there is one point at which Mark tells us very clearly what it is not. And it’s found here, in this story... Not with their wealth intact.

In Jesus’ day, as in ours, people owned stuff at the expense of others. You couldn’t be wealthy without directly or indirectly exploiting others. Some of us watched the movie, “Flow,” on Thursday night. It’s about the water crisis around the world, and it was pretty sobering. I had never so clearly realized how my water consumption effects people in so many other places. I’ve given up bottled water as a result, and if you ever see me drinking it, you can remind me of this pledge.

I already knew, you see, that plastic bottles were bad for the environment. What I didn’t realize is how these water companies, huge companies like Nestle, for example, go in to other countries and other states here in the US, and deplete the water supply for everyone else. They say that if they own the land, they own the water, too. So down in Zephyrhills, Florida, where they have one of these huge bottling plants, houses are being swallowed up by sinkholes, they’re there one day, and then, whooom, gone into the ground as the water supply dries up below. But they say that they own the land, and that they own the water.

Of course, my giving up bottled water doesn’t amount to much. But it’s s little something that brings me into a more honest relationship with those kids in developing countries who are dying for lack of water, those little Bolivian children, of whom, one out of ten die before age 5 due to lack of clean water. It’s not much, my giving up bottled water. But I realized that it’s part of my own salvation, a little bit of leveling in which I can be a participant.

Jesus was asking the rich young ruler to come and be on level ground with his little dispossessed community. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it.

Jesus looked at him with love, Mark tells us, nevertheless, looked at him with love, and that’s my favorite part about this otherwise difficult story. One of the authors of Texts for Preaching says,

“Seeing him clear through, Jesus does not rebuke or discipline him, but loves him. It is more than admiration or respect or sentimentality. It is the gut-wrenching concern one has for a loved one about to take his own life. All that is important in a moment like that is to get the gun out of his hands and help him discover a reason to live. ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ Wholehearted discipleship cannot take place until the ties to the man’s possessions are broken, ties so intense and so enslaving that he can only hang his head and walk away grieving.”

It seems to me that Jesus didn’t really care so much about whether the man was good or not, I mean, he’d been good all his life, kept all the commandments. What Jesus wanted him to be was alive, What Jesus wanted him to learn is that you’ve got to lose your life in order to gain it.

Myers says that when he said, “Go, and sell everything that you have,” that the word that he used for ‘go’ was the same word he used when he healed people. ‘Get up,’ he pleaded. ‘Get up. Be healed. Live...’

Jesus couldn’t save the rich young ruler... But he can save us. Will we let him? And what will that salvation look like for you today? This week? This year?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Light in the Window

A Light in the Window
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
A writing from Roger, in preparation for Advent...

You need a new moon and its darkness blanketed around you to make it to the Ohio River and to freedom. You need a clear, cold, dark night so you can follow the stars. You see, a runaway slave in 1857 knows to follow the drinking gourd. A runaway slave knows to look for that big dipper in the sky that points the way north to the Ohio River, to the Jordan River and the Promised Land of freedom beyond its stormy waters.

But as you make your way from station to station along Kentucky’s Underground Railroad you worry about that river. Sure, it means freedom if you can cross it, but how will you cross it? The river is wide. The river is cold. The river is deep.

You hear of a place, just downstream from Maysville, Kentucky, where the river’s not as deep. It’s dangerous, though. The slave catchers know of it, too, and patrol the borderland along the shores. The dreams of freedom for many runaways are dashed on there on the southern bank of the Ohio River.

But on the northern shore is the town of Ripley. A local pastor, John Rankin, and his sons are all abolitionists and have had more than one close call with the slave catchers. It’s against the law to help runaway slaves. The law says slaves are property and must be returned to their masters.

The Rankin family and the other few abolitionists in the area do not believe a person can be considered the property of someone else. The Rankin home is on the hill high above Ripley and can be seen from the Kentucky shore. When it is too dangerous for a runaway slave to try a crossing, the windows of the Rankin house are dark. But if it is likely you might get past the slave catcher patrols, Mrs. Rankin will place a single candle in the window.

And on that cold, dark night, when you finally make your way to the Ohio River, that border between slave states and free states, you can see Ripley across the water and you can see the Rankin house and you can see the candle in the window beckoning you to freedom and safety, to liberty and a new life.

As you approach the water’s edge, you hear the slave catcher’s hounds baying. They’ve caught your scent. The patrol is on your trail. Your fear rises from the pit of your stomach and threatens to overwhelm you. To have come all that way only to be caught and beaten and sent back into slavery.

You are desperate to escape. But it’s a dark night and you can’t see if anyone is there to help you make the crossing. As you frantically search the waters for a sign of hope, you hear a call, almost a whisper. You respond and a small boat with oars like angel’s wings emerges from the darkness. It’s one of the Rankin boys and John Parker, a freedman who owns his own house at the river’s edge in Ripley. They’ve come to carry you across the waters of the Ohio River like they’ve done for so many so many times before.

But for you…what words can describe it? Hope and relief and dreams and longings of freedom and liberty, of safety and a new life swirl through your heart as you climb the hill. And as you rise over the crest of the hill, you see it – the light in the window – beckoning to you, calling you home.

And as you approach the threshold, you begin to sing…
“I looked over Jordan, and what did I see Comin’ for to carry me home?
A band of angels comin’ after me, Comin’ for to carry me home…”

This Advent, may we be a band of angels for one another as we help each other along the long and dark and weary road – moving away from those things that bind and enslave us and moving toward liberty and freedom and safety. And as travelers, may we find comfort and strength from the light in the window calling us onward, calling us home.

Wow, Roger. Amen.