I recently heard a riddle that I could not figure out the answer to. It had me stumped! Here it is: “What’s better than God, worse than the devil? Rich men want it, poor men have it, and if you eat it, you'll die?"
What’s the answer?
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard! Right? Nothing is better than God, nothing is worse than the devil, rich people want nothing – and poor people have it. If you eat nothing you’ll die.” There you go.
Except that, according to the gospel reading today, it’s not exactly true.
The rich young man – as it turns out – he did want something. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
it’s an odd question, if you think about it. I mean, what do you DO to inherit anything?
Nevertheless, there is something that the rich man feels that he lacks – and Jesus begins by reminding him of the commandments.
He has kept the commandments, since his youth, he says. And Jesus must sense that this is not bragging but a sincere answer – so he looks at the young man with love and says,
“Well all right. There’s one more thing. Sell, all of your belongings, and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me.”
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard!
In fact, it should be easy, shouldn’t it?
That’s what I told my dad once. He was sitting in his wheelchair at the nursing home, and was suddenly worried about salvation. Eternal life. What if he wasn’t good enough? He thought.
Dad, do you trust Jesus? I asked.
Yes, he answered.
Well…. “You mean it’s that simple?”
That’s what I told my dad.
But Jesus told the rich man, “Go, sell all of your belongings, and give the proceeds to the poor)
And you know what? I think I know how he felt.
And it makes me think back – to when I went to be a missionary in Japan.
And no one said that I had to sell everything I had and give the proceeds to the poor, but, truthfully, I could fit everything into two suitcases and one trunk that I sent ahead.
It was easier to go, because I didn’t have so much.
And after I graduated from seminary, and was called out to rural South Dakota – two farmers came up to my mom and dad’s house with their pick ups and hauled everything I owned to the parsonage.
It was more than I took to Japan, but it was still not a lot of stuff.
This last move though – this one was hard
A whole house full of stuff. A whole office full of books.
And even though no one told me I had to give up everything, I knew I couldn’t take everything. And I grieved.
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard!
Trust Jesus! They said. It’s so simple! They said.
But the truth is, when you follow Jesus, when you trust Jesus, there is grieving involved.
There’s something else as well.
I think perhaps the young man thought he could follow Jesus – but just sort of keep all of his possessions on the side for when they returned from the journey.
Selling it all and giving it to the poor – that’s so permanent. There’s no security in case things don’t turn out the way you planned.
There’s nothing to go back to if you have sold everything and given it to the poor.
It’s just like that old camp song we used to sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus…. no turning back, no turning back.”
And it’s an invitation to journey with Jesus, an invitation to life, an invitation to trust him –but don’t kid yourself that there’s no grieving involved.
Because trusting Jesus involves trusting him with – everything. Trusting Jesus involves trusting him with your soul and trusting him with your work, and trusting him with your relationships, and trusting him with your …. Finances. Your wealth.
And you wouldn’t think it would be so hard.
There’s another side to Jesus’ hard saying.
When he tells the rich young man to sell everything, and give the proceeds to the poor – Jesus it not only inviting him to transform his life – he’s inviting him to transform the lives of the poor too.
And he is creating a connection between them, between his future and their futures, his life and their lives.
And that is what “eternal life” is about – it’s not simply about a secure future “after you die” – but it is a life worth living, right here and now, a life where we are walking with Jesus, and where
– whatever we have left behind – we have gained in a wider and more abundant community, a life of purpose, and where we have eternal value.
It’s the promise of Jesus to his disciples, who have given up everything.
Jesus promises that whatever they have given up – they will receive back 100 fold – in the abundance of family and relationships and the abundance of wealth. What kind of wealth?
Well, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that it is the wealth that comes from belonging to a community of believers with a shared mission of transforming the world around them.
That’s treasure in heaven.
But there’s grieving involved.
Whether you turn away, like the rich man, or whether you are all in with Jesus, there is grieving involved.
The grieving involves realizing that everything you thought you owned – was never yours to begin with.
The grieving involves leaving behind things you thought were important.
Because Jesus is looking at each of us with love, and every single day he makes the invitation, “Follow me.”
He makes that invitation to us as individuals – and he also makes that invitation to us as a congregation.
He makes an invitation to us as individuals to be all in – to trust him and to follow him with our whole lives.
And he is making an invitation to our congregation to do the same. Feed the hungry. Give Shelter to the homeless. Give hope to those who are on the edge. Nurture the children.
Share the Grace of God in our community.
“Trust Jesus.” That’s an invitation to stewardship – which is to entrust our WHOLE lives to him – the one who loves you so fully that he went to the cross for you.
At Grace we’re a small part of God’s BIG mission – and so every October we ask you consider your gift to Grace as a small part of your total commitment to following Jesus.
Because through this congregation you have experienced the Grace of God – and because through your giving, we can continue to embody the love of Jesus, and share his invitation with others, so that they can see his love and follow him as well.
And what do we want our neighbors – our community – the world – to know – through our lives – and through our giving?
The answer to the riddle – “Nothing” – that “Nothing” can separate us from the love of our generous God – in Christ Jesus our Lord.