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Sermon by Rev. Mark Covington, Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Quitman, Mississippi
April 15, 2012
(First Sunday after Easter)

Topic: Do I Really Have to Give Up Everything? (Mark 10:20-26)

I like Buffets! The food is spread out before you inviting you to eat until you are stuffed. I think what I like most about them is that I can eat what I like and leave what I don’t like.

That is the way that we “preachers” do with the Bible sometimes. We all have our favorite passages or stories that are always good for a sermon. We have whole books that we prefer over others. For instance, who wouldn’t chose Matthew over Leviticus?

Particularly I think we tend to leave certain passages alone because they are hard to deal with. Maybe the message that Jesus was conveying is difficult and we don’t want to study that much that week. My experience is that the Common Lectionary tends to stay away from them as well.

So what I propose to do in the next four weeks is to take some of the “Tough” sayings of Jesus and look at them. I hope that both of us will understand them better.

I invite you to submit other passages that you don’t understand and later in the year I will do another series and maybe deal with one of yours.

To kick things off a bit I want to look at: Mark 10:20-26 (NRSV)

20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
21 Jesus, 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.”
22 When 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!”
24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
25 It 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.”
26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

“Do we really have to give away everything in order to follow Jesus?”

Monday night, December 31 of this year I was standing on a dock in Orange Beach Alabama talking to a couple of friends. Four other couples walked up. One of them was the son and daughter in law of one of the people I was standing there with. The others I did not know.

So the Father of this young man started to introduce me to them. He said, “Everybody, this is the PREACHER.” And that was it. I extended my hand and said that my name is Mark, and let it go.

I hate being introduced that way. I don’t introduce others by their occupations. That would be absurd. “Barber, this is chicken farmer.” “Mechanic, this is contractor.” “Banker, this is plumber.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not ashamed of what I do or that I don’t want others to know what I do. It’s just that it is not who I am. I am not my occupation.

I wonder if the central character in our story felt that way. He was introduced to us as “rich . . . young . . . ruler.” We traditionally call this the parable of the rich young ruler. Only Matthew calls him young. Only Luke calls him a ruler. All three call him rich. Since it is obviously one story thus we ascertain that this man was “rich, young, ruler.”

Obviously a whole lot of his identity was tied up in that title. He probably even liked being introduced that way. It must have been central to who he saw himself as.

Rich comes first. He must have been one of those people who have money and like for others to know that they have money. He probably flaunted it.
Wore the best robes, rings on his fingers, you know the type.

Next comes young. So he had in some way amassed wealth while still young in years. Maybe he had inherited it. Or maybe he was the Bill Gates of his day, and struck on an idea that made him wealthy at a young age.

Then comes ruler. Maybe because of his business acumen he had been appointed to a position of power. Perhaps he had inherited the position with the wealth. But he must have had some office that gave him power.

What more could a young man want than wealth, health, and power?

But there must have been something that had lead him to Jesus on this particular day. He may have heard Jesus talking with others or preaching a sermon. He may have seen a miracle Jesus had performed. It could have been that someone who had seen or heard had told him about this man Jesus.

And he doesn’t just come. We are told that he runs up to Jesus and that he kneels before him. This is significant because rich people, and rulers of people, never ran anywhere. It was seen as beneath them. Second, if this man were a ruler he would not kneel before anyone except a ruler of higher rank that himself.

So this “rich, young, ruler” is anxious to see him, to show him respect, and to ask him a question.

Whatever the reason, he had come to Jesus with a question.

“Good teacher,” he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

AAAhhhhhhh, every preacher’s evangelistic dream come true.

Jesus does what we do not expect. We would expect him to pronounce the rich young ruler saved. Instead he says: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

The word that the man used for “good” is a word for something that is intrinsically good. That is, it is good in and of itself, not because of what it has done or the value society has placed on it. It was a word that used most often for God himself. So when this “rich, young, ruler” uses that word it means that he has recognized Jesus to be more than a man, he has recognized him the be God.

Jesus then tells the man that he must follow the law and even begins to list the 10 Commandments when the man interrupts him. “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

In the world of Jesus this young man is doing the things that are believed to please God. But he knows that even with that, something is still missing.

Jesus says to him, “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.”

Uh oh, he hadn’t expected that one. We are told, “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

So is it necessary for us to give up everything in order to be followers of Jesus?

First I want to look back a little further than our text. If we do that we see that just before this Jesus has the incident where the disciples want to send little children away. But Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Then, as Mark tells it, this “rich, young, ruler” runs up, kneels down, and this whole story begins. Could there be a clue to the answer to our question in the positioning of the two stories?

Second, before I attempt to answer the question, I want to point out to you how it seems that our whole theological system is tied up in “Salvation by faith and not works.” Yet it seems here that Jesus is telling this young man that there is something that he must “do” in order to be saved. The thing he must “do” is to give everything up.

What’s up with that? Is it “salvation by faith” or “salvation by doing?”

So what is the answer? Does God, in order to give you eternal life, demand that you give up everything in order to follow him?

The answer is . . . NOT NECESSARILY! How is that for an ambiguous answer?

Tucked away and overlooked is a statement that I believe holds the key to the passage. It is in the 21st verse.

Jesus, 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.”

Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus told him what HE must do.

We want to turn that passage around backwards. We believe that the love of God is contingent on us doing something. But here, Jesus tells us that it is just the opposite of that.

You see, God loves us before we do anything. God loves us before he tells us what he wants us to do. He loves us before we are disciples. He loves us if we give up everything to follow him. He loves us if we don’t give up anything and chose not to follow him.

God loves us first and there is nothing that we can do to change that. The passage didn’t say that the man went away grieving because he had many possessions and Jesus stopped loving him. It says, Jesus looked at him and loved him. (Period, Dot, end of story.)

Now, lets answer the question.

This man knew how people defined him, how they saw him. “Rich” “Young” “Ruler”. That is obviously how the man defined himself since he could not give up being “Rich, Young, Ruler” in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus wanted him to give up being “Rich, Young, Ruler” and be defined as “Disciple.” He could not give up being one for the other.

I had not thought of it until I started this. But for a time I had to give up being “preacher”. That was my identity. That was who I was. That was how I defined myself.

I don’t think of myself that way anymore. I think of myself as one who is trying to be a disciple trying to lead others to discipleship.

Jesus needs us to strip away, to give up, the things that we define ourselves by so that we come to think of ourselves as “disciples.”.

But even if you cannot do that, he still loves you.

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