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?


At 12/15/09, 1:16 PM, Blogger Jerry Nelson said...

Great mention of Koinonia and a great blog! I spent a year at Koinonia and here's a link to some shots I took while there: http://www.journeyamerica.org/Places/Koinonia-Farm/6894022_viji6/1/528664307_5VLgh

Blessings and keep up the good writing!

Jerry Nelson

At 12/16/09, 11:59 AM, Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Thanks, Jerry. We think Cindy does an amazing job nearly every week (okay, EVERY week).

Clarence Jordan, who founded Koinonia, played a part in our church's history, back in the 1940s, when he was in Louisville.

Good to hear from you.


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