From Pastor Kenny's Desk
October 14, 2018
As he was setting out on a journey, someone came running up and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to share in everlasting life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: No killing. No committing adultery. No stealing. No bearing false witness. No defrauding. Honor your mother and your father.” The other replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my childhood.”
Then Jesus looked at the person with love and said, “There is one thing more that you must do. Go and sell what you have and give it to those in need; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me. At these words, the inquirer, who owned much property, became crestfallen and went away sadly.
Jesus looked around and said to the disciples, “How hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples could only marvel at these words. So Jesus repeated what he had said: “My children, how hard it is to enter the realm of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the Needle’s Eye gate than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at this and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible – but not for God. With God all things are possible.” Peter was moved to say to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”
Jesus answered, “The truth is, there is no one who has left home, sisters or brothers, mother or father, children or fields for me and for the sake of the Gospel who won’t receive a hundred times as much in this present age – as many homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and property, though not without persecution – and, in the age to come, everlasting life. Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
~ Mark 10:17-31
So … what if Jesus means it? What if it really is harder to enter the kin-dom of God when you are wealthy? What if the only ones who enter God’s kin-dom are the ones who, quite frankly, want to, even need to, because they have nothing else with which to secure their hopes?
Then who is given the gift of eternal and welcomed into the kin-dom of God?
For some of us this isn’t just the disciples’ question … it’s ours as well. If those who seem most blessed, most special, in everyday life will have a hard time entering the kin-dom of God, then it’s understandable that the disciples would ask who is given eternal life.
Many of us ask the same question, even if for slightly different reasons. For us the question isn’t simply about wealth, it’s about anything we might seem required to do. If those who are wealthy must give away their wealth to enter the kin-dom, then what must we do? I mean, if there are things required of us, is it still a matter of grace?
Which is where Jesus answer comes in: “For mortals it is impossible - but not for God. With God, all things are possible.”
Here’s our situation: none of us … by our own merit … can do anything to earn entrance into the kin-dom. Only God, as Jesus says right up front, is truly good. For us, it is impossible. We could never to good enough … even Jesus admits he is not good enough. Perhaps the gift of eternal life isn’t about being good. Yet for God all things are possible. God can and does offer eternal life to everyone. God can and does … welcome all into the kin-dom. With God … ALL things are possible.
This is the very core of what we believe as people of faith … that we are justified … that is, found to be acceptable … by grace through faith. It is not about what we have done, might do, can do … it is about what God has already done and is continuing to do in and through Jesus: namely, calling each of us beloved and acceptable out of love … just the way we are!
But doesn’t that introduce a certain tension? Isn’t there a way that this teaching erases what Jesus said earlier about it being difficult to enter the kin-dom, about wealth getting in our way? I mean, if we say it’s impossible for us but not for God, why do we even worry about questions of wealth? Doesn’t stressing grace sort of make us take Jesus earlier words less seriously or for granted?
These are important questions that Christians have wrestled with for a long time. And, to be honest, I’m not sure I have all the answers. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’m thinking at this point in my journey:
Yes, God accepts us not for what we’ve done but only and entirely because God loves us. In this sense, God is entirely like the loving parent Jesus calls God, a parent who accepts and loves their children not because of what they’ve done or not done … but simply because they are their children. They are loved because of who they are … period!
And, out of that same love, God desires that we not be tempted or fooled into trusting in wealth … or accomplishments or power or fame or whatever … rather than doing our best to trust God for everything … a kind of trust to know that everything in life … one way or another … will be okay. God sees how insecure we can be … and God sees our liking to put our trust in things rather than in God … and for these reasons God calls us away from these false promises. In the case of the wealthy in Mark’s story… we can conclude any and all who trust in their wealth … God calls us to give what we have to those in need to escape being possessed by our possessions and restore us to a deeper awareness of the meaning of life by drawing us back into relationship with our neighbors.
I believe all of this suggests that the kin-dom of God isn’t just something way off in the distant future. The kin-dom of God is here and now, all around us. But it is a different kind of kin-dom. It is a kin-dom where those who are in need are honored precisely because of their need, and those who have much are invited to discover their purpose and meaning in using what they have for the good of others. It is a kin-dom … as Jesus has said … where diseased children are admitted easily while the rich and powerful struggle to enter. It is a kin-dom, finally, where grace and love rule, where vulnerability is cherished, and where a peace born of justice reigns. In comparison to the kin-doms of the world … built always on control, power and violence … where people are disrespected, marginalized and abused by those with privilege … where injustice, sexism, ableism and degradation are a way of life … these are simply not of God and do not portray kin-dom living.
Yes, there is a tension between Jesus invitation for people to give of their wealth to the poor and follow him, on the one hand, and his promise that for God all things are possible, on the other. But it is the tension of the kin-dom of God. A tension … I think … that we cannot finally resolve but only embrace, living in it by treating others with respect, kindness, love and so much more … while also standing for justice and equality for ALL people … until this most peculiar of kin-doms comes once and for ALL. This my friends is kin-dom living!
Finally, it is in realizing what wealth really is matters. I believe wealth is an attitude based on gratitude of the abundance of love and hope realized in our relationship with the Divine. Real wealth has nothing to do with financial resources or possessions. Wealth within God’s kin-dom … here and now … is simply the means by which we give of ourselves … no matter who you are or how much you have to give … kin-dom living if what we do to make a difference in the lives of others … sharing the message of God’s love with ALL people. When we give what we have … freely, joyfully, even sacrificially … to those in need we don’t only help them, we help ourselves by entering into the fully humanity that God created us to enjoy together ... the kin-dom of God!