The text for our
reflection this morning, as we continue in the 10th chapter of the
gospel of Mark (which we
began last week), this morning's reading is verse 13-27:
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘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.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
My favorite quote of
Mark Twain, that I know I've used before, but seems so applicable to
this text: "It's not the parts of the Bible I don't understand
that bother me, it's the parts of the Bible I do understand that
This is one of those
'bothersome' texts. Who doesn't get a little nervous when they
hear Jesus say "Sell everything you own, give it to the poor, come and
I've always wondered
why people who read the Bible literally, who believe in 6-day creation,
believe in the flood that covered the whole earth, the virgin birth, and
everything else, suddenly lose their nerve when they get to this text.
Who, me? No, Jesus wasn't talking to me.
Well, don't think
that just because you don't take it literally that you are off the hook.
It's precisely because we do read the Bible seriously (but not
literally) that we see this as a text not directed at one specific
individual but as a text that has implications for all of us. And
if we're honest, we'll admit that those implications make us nervous.
Why is that? If
someone asked you if you wanted to have a life of eternal bliss and
happiness, are you going to ask 'How much is it going to cost me?'.
Am I going to trade, you know, my car, for eternal life?
Would it be helpful
if we simplified the message to two questions: do you want to have
eternal life? And have you turned in your estimate-of-giving card?
Better yet, we might
ask how much you've put on those estimate-of-giving cards, right? :)
[this is part of the annual stewardship campaign at First Christian]
70 families, households, that have turned in those cards, hoping for
another 20 or so to get us to our budgetary goals for next year.
The range of the gifts is anywhere from $100/year to over $10,000/year.
But no one, not one, put down "everything I own". I've been
preaching for 25 years, not once has someone come to me and said
"Pastor, I want to give it all". Now, maybe that reflects more on
my preaching than it does on the audience :).
But I have seen some
widows, put in their last 2 cents. We had a gentleman off the
street, just a week ago Sunday, came up with a handful of coins and said
"Pastor, is this enough?". It is. It is.
This is a tough
passage for those of us who live comfortably, have secure jobs and a
good income. As a preacher, I'm always looking for a new way to
preach a familiar story, to find some new profound insight that will
grab folks, inspire people, but not scare them off. And it's hard
to do with a text like this. I mean, even Jesus couldn't do it --
he scared off that rich man. So if Jesus couldn't do it, who am I
to think I could do any better?
The truth is, the
gospel sometimes demands a lot of us. And sometimes it just seems
unrealistic. So I went back to this text with a single prayer:
Lord, give me a different message. Give me a hopeful one, an
uplifting message, heaven knows we don't need any more downers in this
economy with schools, and governments, and churches, and non-profits,
and people on the street, and everybody sticking out their hands and
saying "give me more, more more".
Frankly, that's what
many sermons on this text sound like, isn't it? You know, just
give more to the church, and then you'll find happiness.
So I pulled out my
pew Bible that I keep behind my desk that I keep -- you might want to
pull out your pew Bible as well. I pulled it out, and I usually do
my studies in a study Bible, the Oxford Study Bible, as sometimes it
helps to look at a different text. And even though the pew Bible
is the same translation (New Revised Standard Version), for some reason
I pulled it out. And I looked at the text, and suddenly, something
grabbed me. When I looked at that text that was in that pew Bible
there is something there that is not in my study Bible. The
publisher added something. Did you know they could do that?
You can't add something to scripture, can you? The publisher did,
they do it all the time, we're not even aware of it.
What did the
publisher add? Look in your pew Bible, what did they add?
sub-titles. Those aren't in the text, they're not in the Greek.
That's an addition that the publisher makes to make it easier for us to
We're all familiar
with Jesus and the little children. And we're all familiar with
the Rich Man sent away very sad. But we think of those as two
different stories because we put in titles (if not literally, then
mentally) to break it up into digestible little units by themselves.
When in reality, it's one text.
And here's the
interesting thing: Matthew and Luke have the exact same stories,
together, only Matthew adds the story of the parable of the vineyard
before the story of the children, and Luke adds the story of the
Pharisee and the tax collector (praying) and puts it after the story of
the rich man.
In other words,
Matthew and Luke look at these two stories as a single unit. They
do not break them up as we do in our minds.
Now, if you're a
literalist, you say 'well, that's because God arranged it so. God
sent the parents with their children, and then God sent the rich man'.
Now, if you're not a literalist, you say 'well, it may have happened
that way, it might have been two events months apart that Mark has
combined into a single story'.
So whether the
arrangement is Mark's gospel or it's God's doing, the point is the same:
it is not a coincidence that this rich man comes immediately after the
blessing of the children. There is a connection between these two
stories that either God or Mark or both want us to see. What's the
It's a connection
that reveals the deeper message of this text that applies to all of us
regardless of our age or our wealth. Both stories are about what?
They're about entrance into the Kingdom of God.
In the first story,
Jesus says whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will
never enter it. Now, Luke's version is even stronger yet. In
Luke's version, it's not the children that people bring to Jesus, it's
their infants. Their babies, in swaddling clothes.
It's of these infants that Jesus says "To such belongs the kingdom of
Now, think about that
for a moment. Does an infant believe in Jesus as the son of God?
Does a child keep the 10 commandments (you can't even get them to keep
their room clean :)? Do babies feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
visit those who are in prison or sick? Do little children proclaim
the good news to the poor, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed
free? Do they love their neighbors as much as they love
themselves, or make disciples of all nations?
You see, all those
things that we associate with being a good Christian are meaningless
when it comes to small children, to babies.
So, then, what does
it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a child?
The second story, the
rich man, with his question about eternal life, I'm suggesting is an
answer to that question. And note that Jesus doesn't answer the
question directly about what he has to do to have eternal life.
Instead, Jesus changes it from a question of eternal life to a matter of
entering the kingdom of God, the realm of God as God would want us to
be, to live here on earth. Thy will be done on earth as it is in
So what do small
children have in common with someone who gives up their entire wealth?
Complete, utter dependence.
The invitation of
Jesus is not 'come with me for a couple weeks on a tour of the holy
land', and then go back to your nice comfortable home, it's an
invitation to turn over ones life, possessions and all, to follow the
way of Jesus. The way of the kingdom of God. It's an
How many of us are
ready to take that offer?
Great story of St.
Francis. After living a life of leisure, of wine and women, was
moved by the message of Jesus to begin using his personal wealth to aid
the poor. Started giving money away to anyone who needed it.
Only problem was, it was his father's money. His father seemed to
approve more of his life of debauchery than this just giving money away.
So he hauls him into court to account for this money of his that he has
given away. What does St. Francis do? He takes off all of
his clothes, lays them at the feet of his father, and there before God,
and the town's witnesses and the judge, and his father and everyone
else, says "Everything I have from my father I give back to you.
You are no longer my father, now I only have one Father, God in heaven.
That's the one I will serve".
Goes out of that
courtroom buck-naked, just like he came into the world, to serve God by
serving especially the poor.
Now, before we take
up an offering of clothing here :), literalizing such stories as this
story in Mark's gospel as instructions for how we are to live our lives
can lead to disastrous results. Just ask people in our
Samaritan Ministry, they hear all the stories of these people on
these great adventures to get from point A to point B in their 1963
Valiant with 350,000 miles, trusting God will get them there. And
of course, what happens? They end up stranded in Eugene, need
someone to bail them out of their predicament, and they come to us.
And we try.
So how do we take
this text seriously? How do we live with that kind of child-like
dependence on God that does not leave us dependent on charity?
Should we renounce our wealth, our pension, sell our homes, quit our
jobs, give away our 401k's and IRA's? Jesus may want it all, but
we're only asking for 10% :). What a bargain :).
Jesus makes it pretty
clear, doesn't he? Forget what you've heard about a small gate in
the wall around Jerusalem where a camel might squeeze through if
they tried hard enough. That's just another attempt to explain
away a very hard saying of Jesus. And the point is, it's no more
possible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God than for Trojans to
win at Autzen Stadium :) [Ducks beat USC the day before this sermon].
The wide of despised
former dictator of the Philippines, Marcos, gave the ultimate definition
of wealth. She said "If you know how rich you are, you are not
rich. But me, I'm not aware of the extent of my wealth, that's how
rich we are". And you could add "arrogant".
And of course, you
remember when the Marcos regime fell and they entered into the Marcos
mansion and went into the closet, what did they find? How many
shoes? 3,000 pairs of shoes! Well, she denied it. She
said "I didn't own 3,000 pairs of shoes. I owned 1,060". Oh,
You see, by that
standard, few of us will have to worry about being confused with the
wealthy. So maybe we're off the hook.
that foolishness of Imelda Marcos with the wisdom of Plato who wrote
"The greatest wealth is to be content with little". And that of 1
Timothy who writes "Love of money is the root of all evil". And
note that Jesus tells the rich man not to give his wealth to whomever he
desires, but specifically to the poor.
I would suggest that
the problem is not wealth per se but the distribution of it. The
real problem is when wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few,
and then it becomes a means to control and openly oppress the poor.
ultimately is really nothing more than a tool. And like all tools,
it can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. Entering the
kingdom of God with child-like dependency is to trust God. That
when we use our wealth, regardless of how little or how much we may
possess, when we use it in ways that benefit God's world, in ways that
support God's way of sharing, God's way of life, showing our love for
God and our love of our neighbors, then we will benefit as well.
We will discover that eternal bliss and happiness.
I have time for just
one example. I found it in this month's
magazine, the publication of our denomination, I commend it to you,
excellent publication, well worth receiving. You can get your
subscription from Patty in our office. In there is an article from
the Reverend Nathan Wilson writing about his experience of a global
leadership conference at the famed Willow Creek church pastored by Bill
Hybels. At this conference, they lined up all kinds of global
stars, people like Prime Minister Tony Blair, and my favorite theologian
Bono, from U2. Bono had the greatest 1-liner in the conference, he
said: "Love thy neighbor is not advice, it's a command".
Well, in the article
on leadership, the Reverend Wilson says the gem of the
summit was not any of those big names, but
a 33 year-old entrepreneur, Jessica Flannery. And like so many
entrepreneurs, the nouveau riche of this time, she co-founded a startup
company using the Internet that has literally taken in millions of
dollars. Only none of that has gone to Jessica, or her co-founder.
It's a non-profit that she established which raises money for
micro-loans to be given to home-grown businesses in developing
I just want to show
you how it works. It's called KIVA.
you sign in, you create an account with a password to protect your
stuff. You then make loans to whoever you choose. [Dan then
gave a demonstration of providing a small loan to people in developing
countries -- he has given to a store-owner in Palestine, and an extended
family group in Bolivia working to support themselves. There's a
map that shows where all the money has come from, and you can develop a
relationship with those you are supporting. He then demonstrated
how to give a loan to a group of women in Afghanistan seeking a loan of
$625 in order to help in their business repairing electrical equipment
-- Dan loaned $25 toward their goal].
Why would you loan
the money instead of just give it? Because in loaning the money,
you are helping someone help themselves, and you are multiplying your
gift, because they pay it back. It's a very low-interest loan, you
actually don't get any interest, but they have to pay some interest for
the cost of the loan. When it is paid back, then you have that
money to loan out again. And again. You may not have $100
you can take out of your account and give away, but you have $100 you
could lend if you know you can get it back in whatever time you need it.
And so you can lend
it over and over again. The terms are for 12 months. Over 5
years, you would have loaned that money out 5 times, to help out these
little, small-businesses so that they can support themselves.
It's described a
little bit more in Disciples World. Why did Jessica start this
company? She attended a previous global leadership event at the
Willow Creek church while she was in college. And she dedicated
herself to working to alleviate global poverty. On a trip to
Africa, she learned about these kind of micro-credit loans. And
saw how it enabled people to work their own way out of poverty.
And so she and a partner setup the infrastructure (her partner worked at
PayPal, knew how all these things functioned), and they began with 7
borrowers in 1 country. They all repaid their loans, and they grew
Since then, this
article just came out, and it says $61 million dollars has gone through
this organization. I checked online right before this service, and
it's now up to $100 million dollars. That's how fast it's growing.
98% of those loans have all been paid back -- better than what you'd get
at most banks.
Here is what Jessica
says about her work: "Sacrificial giving is different because it
changes the giver and the recipient. When we truly believe in the
potential of each other, actions will be taken to solve problems to make
Now, I don't know if
Jesus really wants us all to sell everything and give it to the poor.
I don't even know if in the long run that will make that much
difference. But I do know this: when we give all we have,
when we put our whole selves into loving God and loving our neighbor, it
truly does change the world.