Today in honor of Rev. Eugene Peterson who is approaching the final transition from this life to more life with God, we used the The Message.
Scripture from Mark 10
17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”
20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
23-25 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
26 That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”
28 Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”
29-31 Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”
I have been very preoccupied this week with the news coming out of South Dakota of the Standing Rock protest. Those of you who are not on my Facebook feed or who have not seen it in the news, the Standing Rock protest is the largest group of Native Americans who have gathered in the history of the United States and they have gathered to protest the placement of an oil pipeline through their lands and to protect the waters of the Missouri which provides clean drinking water to thousands of people.
I have been aching to do something, to give, to participate to be a part of and support the brave men and women who are fighting for the health of our nation. I believe that those who call themselves water protectors are fighting for the spiritual health of our nation just as much as they are fighting for our physical health, our environmental health so it is no accident that the tools they are using are song and prayer, and it is no accident that they are confronting worldly powers, powers which threaten them with physical harm, with shame and humiliation, which seeks to break their spirit with unwarranted strip searches and physical violence.
I want to stand beside them and acknowledge that I, like the rest of America, am addicted to oil and gas and I know it isn’t good for me, it isn’t good for us. Our dealers, those big oil CEO’s and big oil companies might punish us for supporting Standing Rock and raise the price of gas, but in my heart of hearts I feel called, impelled to give to Standing Rock, to support them in any way I can. I want to send them warm blankets and cold weather gear because I know the cold of winter they will face in their tents and tipis. ,I want to visit and stand with them if only for a few days. I want to purchase water filters so they will always have access to clean drinking water, and when those who serve and protect big oil come at them with weapons and mace, I want to stand in front of them.
I am a little fired up and impassioned about this. So it is no accident that I feel called to give and to be in action. The fruit I long to see ripen in my lifetime is one of justice and equality. It is one which will lead a cultural shift away from consumerism and our addictive lifestyle to a life of purpose and meaning. Recently at a Madison’s pastors gathering I listened as one pastor expressed a longing to bring community to all of those young professionals living in their high rise condos who struggle with finding any meaning or purpose in their lives beyond consumerism. I could hear how fired up and passionate he was about reaching those people, how called he felt to give of himself, his time, his energy and resources. The fruit he was longing for was healing, was meaning and purpose in shared community.
The fruit we want to ripen in our life, what we want for our life, can’t be bought in a store, no matter how often consumerism promises us it can. We are a very addicted society and our addictions tell us that we don’t have to give anything up or work hard to get what we want, that there are quick fixes out there, but in our heart of hearts, we know better. In our heart of hearts we know that we must dig deep and prepare the soil, we must plant the seeds and tend them with loving care, we must nurture the crop through all the seasons if we want the fruit. We don’t get to jump ahead and forgo the work, and still get the fruit. It just doesn’t work that way, not that we don’t tend to try. We cannot reap what we do not sow, no matter how much we might want it.
The question I want to ask you today, is what fruit is your soul longing for, burning for, calling out for? What injustice, pain, lack of connection, poverty, loss, is pulling at your heart, pulling you into action and into outrageous acts of love and giving? Is it nearby? Very close even, perhaps in the loneliness of elders at nursing homes, those who are feeling forgotten and who so need a visitor, who so need to know that they are loved even when they can’t do anything for you? Is it the youth who we keep so preoccupied with one activity after another who you long to see find purpose and meaning in their lives? Who you long to see grow spiritually? Are you called by those who have little opportunity, who live in poverty or who lack schools, such as the young people of the Yucatan? Or the young people in Kokomo? What fruit is your soul longing for? Is it justice? Is it peace? Is it community?
God will not leave us alone, but continues to extend these invitations to our heart’s longing. We are not forced to give of ourselves, we are not required to give, but we are not free from the consequences of not giving. We are not free from the bitterness and hardness that results when we close ourselves off and God wants so much more for us! God urges us to be generous not because God wants something from us, but because God wants something for us. God takes even the smallest gift we give and uses it to transform our lives. God calls us into deeper, fuller, richer lives, resplendent with healthy relationships and freedom from fear and addiction.
I hope that you aren’t hearing me say that I am not as involved in systems of addiction and consumerism as anyone else. Every time I contemplate my giving I have to face how much I want to be comfortable, how much I want the next newest thing, and I love, I really love my truck! I love hopping in it and being able to go anywhere I want at any given moment. I love being able to haul what I need from point a to point b and sometimes it makes me feel that I am able to contribute more so I tend to justify having a truck and driving myself instead of carpooling.
I know that standing with the people of Standing Rock might impact my driving around and the freedom I feel in being able to do that relatively cheaply. If I really want change, if I want spiritual fruits to bloom in my life, I must see how I am implicated in the very systems that would prevent it. I must see how I am captured by sinful systems, systems of addiction and consumerism, systems that promise me comfort if I would only, please, not challenge them. “Bow before me and I will grant all your wishes,” This is the invitation Satan gave Jesus and which is still proffered to us.
I, like everyone else, will reap what I sow. And I, like everyone else, am a total mixed bag of good and bad and I wish I could be better and I’m really trying to work up the effort and courage to do so. Please understand that a significant part of my stewardship process myself is becoming aware of what a grasping, frightened person I can be and discovering that healthy, good stewardship is a journey of increasing freedom as I go. I’m not there yet, but I’m on the path, just like all of you.
What fruit do you want to see in your life? What seeds are you planting? The good news is that God takes even our meager gifts, our messy efforts and makes great things happen through them.
Being freed from the flesh, from worldly concerns, frees us to recognize the connection we share with one another, it frees us to live for God and live lives of love and freely giving of ourselves and our things without regard for what the world thinks, without regard for our social standing and our keeping up with the Joneses.
We don’t have to accomplish this freedom from fear all by ourselves. We don’t have to transform and can’t, by ourselves, but God will work with us, to the extent that we are able to step forward in faith, God moves us further than our own efforts can.
God does not force us, but does extend an invitation, an invitation to a broader, richer, fuller life than we can possibly imagine! It is God who turns the tiniest seed planted in the largesse of trees which give shelter to birds and animals, which bear fruit in abundance.
If we live our lives in fear and in grasping for ourselves we come to see others as rivals for limited resources, hence the grasping and biting, the fighting one another off, the getting while the getting is good. But we are called to so much more! We are called to a greater freedom!
We are called to be freed from a center of gravity around our needs, wants, desires, freed for community. Our text today is not about a personal salvation, a solitary, individual sense of salvation, but about a community. It is about who we are together and how we can live out lives of love and promise right here, right now!
The vices and virtues that Paul lists in this letter are those that impact the community. It is not about the self but about us. This is about God’s Spirit that creates community, that is pentecostal. We were created in relationship for relationship. We belong to one another, and trusting in this we are moved body and spirit, our hearts are pulled, and we give because we long for the fruit of the spirit.
In our text today flesh is our insecurity through which we are led astray. It is our anxiety and our indulgence. It is our tendency to go through life half asleep and unseeing. What is our ultimate good? Imagine a different kind of living out of a freedom to love and serve others for the good of the whole body of Christ
Those whose way of life is characterized by these the vices Paul lists are inherently separated from the way of God. They are not evil, they are separated from love, from community, from God. And to a certain extent all of us feel this separation ourselves and it is for this reason that we are called to give of ourselves and all that we are. We give to be a blessing to others, in order to grow spiritually which is God’s delight.
This is not about flesh-spirit dualism, remember we have a faith that was brought to us by God being incarnated, God enfleshed. We do not have a God who hates the
flesh but one who lived into it. Flesh, in this instance, is that urge to self preservation, that urge to get mine even at the expense of your wellbeing.
What marvelous seeds we have been given to sow, and how sad it would be to see our future compromised by our caution. We have stories to tell, seeds to sow, stories of a God who has called us into this beloved community, that draws us into the lives of people all around the world, that fills our hearts to overflowing with love, with compassion! We have stories of a church which welcomes all people, which shares community and reaches out to others, which is an abundant expression of love.
If we do not plant seed, we will have no growth, but if we do plant the seed God has given us, it will grow, inch by inch—mustard seed becomes a tree.
Giving sparingly, whether out of fear or any other cause, results in spare growth. We are asked to give faithfully, trusting that God will use what we give. If we do not plant seed, there will be no growth, but if we sow what we have generously, it will grow and God will do great things with it.
We are freed from requirements of the law and I do not want to place any new requirements on you. God asks that we give not as a requirement that we be loved or be worthy, but that we can experience even greater freedom. Some of you might be thinking what more can I give? I’m tapped out!
But we can give, and we need to give! We need to give if this means dedicating 15 minutes a day to earnest prayer. We need to give if it means joining a committee and holding that committee to prayerfully fulfilling its purpose. We need to give if this means finding one person in this community or another community and supporting them with friendship, love, and compassion. We need to give because our soul needs it. God doesn’t need it and God won’t love us any less if we don’t give. We need it. We need it because we need to be freed from our addictions and our consumerism, from our anxieties and our fears.
God invites us to give of ourselves that we might know freedom, that we might be released from anxiety and fear, that we might be transformed and made new. God does not ask us to give for God’s sake, but for ours. We are freed to a new way of life, don’t pick up the old, imagine new, great possibilities, and live into them!