Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Radical Generosity, Prosperity and Grace

Sermon Sunday October 11, 2009

“If I were a rich man…” (sung) What WOULD it be like if I were a rich man?
The Telegraph, a major London newspaper, reported this in 2007:

A brain scan study has shown that no matter how wealthy you are, money is most rewarding if you have relatively poor friends, peers and colleagues.
Several studies by sociologists have looked at whether the effect of money on happiness results largely from the things money can buy or from comparing one's income to the income of others and concluded the latter is most important.
As if to underline this difference, one economist even referred to the "shocking fact" that people in the West have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite being healthier, wealthier and better traveled.

I have to wonder who put this lectionary together – last week was divorce and this week it’s money! Just as I struggled last week so I struggled this week. Look, we all agree that in common social situations we don’t talk about religion or politics. And even among our close friends we tend to talk about income or money in only very general terms like, “my retirement plan took a big hit with this recession.” No one would ever ask, “Oh really? What is it down to?” We would simply nod our head understandingly and voice our agreement.

But in today’s Gospel, Jesus tackles money and possessions head on. And, let’s face it; some of the things that he says are surprising if not shocking.

Often when we read this text, we shake our heads condescendingly at the foolishness of this young man who walked away from Jesus because he couldn’t follow Jesus’ instruction. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Does he not know what he is doing???

One commentator said that this story is “untamable!” But you see, I want to take it and shape it and tidy it up and make it into something that I can live with.
But I think that Jesus is saying to us, “Dear children of mine – don’t you GET it!!”
What is it that we don’t get?

There are three things that this text addresses pretty clearly. First, we are called to radical generosity. Second, what we own is a huge stumbling block to our life in the Kingdom of God. Third, with God, all things are possible.

First, radical generosity. Earl and I often speculate about what we would do if we won the lottery – if we won millions we would have a terrific time giving millions away! If only… But Jesus said to this sincere, humble, faithful, follower of the law – this is what you need to do. You need to GO, SELL, GIVE, COME, FOLLOW. Sell all your possessions, sell all that burdens you, sell all that gets in the way of your coming and following me. But don’t just sell it and put the proceeds in the bank for your retirement – give the proceeds to the poor. Radical generosity. I don’t know exactly what that means for me and I resist it, truth be told. But Jesus’ words are clear.

This is not a call to slim down, to simplify, to do with less. Jesus’ words are a call to radical generosity. This is not a call to a simpler lifestyle – it is a call to a whole different lifestyle. One in which the poor benefit from our surplus, one in which those in need can rest knowing that they are cared for, one in which we are relieved of the burden of our possessions so that we can serve.

That is a segue to the second part of this text – what we own or cling to can be a huge stumbling block to our life in the Kingdom. Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Now, I know that some folks have tried to understand this teaching by watering it down, by trying to explain it away in any number of ways. Friends, none of these are persuasive. Jesus said what Jesus said. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – it is easier for a huge animal to pass through a very tiny space – than for a rich one to enter into the kingdom of God.

But doesn’t this beg the question of who it is who is “rich’? I don’t feel rich. I would certainly know if I were rich, wouldn’t I? I don’t know that I am rich. And then I come across comparisons of our life in the United States of America with those in developing countries and I read this:

If you have a bank account, money in your purse or change in your pocket, you are among the wealthiest 8% in this world.

Let there be no confusion, we in the United States of America are benefactors of radical prosperity. We may feel that our security is uncertain, that our future is unknown, that we will never have the health care that we need. Yet, my friends, we are far more rich, far more abundant in possessions than millions of people around the world. As we struggle to simplify, to have lives that are less encumbered by physical possessions, our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are in deep need. They do not have clean water to drink, do not have mosquito nets to protect them from malaria, and do not have food. We live in radical prosperity while they live in radical poverty and need. We need to hear Jesus words of Go and Sell and Give. These words of Jesus are imperatives, directions, mandates.

Finally, we are drawn into the family of God through God’s radical grace. “With God, all things are possible.” This rich young ruler thought that it all depended on what he did. But Jesus spoke across this. Jesus said, it is not what you do. In your human perspective, the camel can’t get through the needle’s eye. Instead I want you to know that I do what you can’t.

Who needs the touch of the people of Grace the most? Radical generosity
What do we cling to too tenaciously ? Radical prosperity
Who do we depend upon most? Radical grace
Radical grace, experienced every Sunday, day after day, meal after meal , prayer after prayer.
All of us gathered together around this Table. All of us mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world.

May it be so.

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