Oct. 10, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

1Job answered [his friend:]
2“Today also my complaint is bitter;
  [God’s] hand is heavy despite my groaning.
3Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
  that I might come even to his dwelling!
4I would lay my case before him,
  and fill my mouth with arguments.
5I would learn what he would answer me,
  and understand what he would say to me.
6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
  No; but he would give heed to me.
7There an upright person could reason with him,
  and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

8“If I go forward, he is not there;
  or backward, I cannot perceive him;
9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
  I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
16God has made my heart faint;
  the Almighty has terrified me;
17If only I could vanish in darkness,
  and thick darkness would cover my face!”

Psalm 22:1-15

1My God, my God, why have you for- | saken me?
  Why so far from saving me, so far from the words | of my groaning?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you | do not answer;
  by night, but I | find no rest.
3Yet you are the | Holy One,
  enthroned on the prais- | es of Israel.
4Our ancestors put their | trust in you,
  they trusted, and you | rescued them. 
5They cried out to you and | were delivered;
  they trusted in you and were not | put to shame.
6But as for me, I am a worm | and not human,
  scorned by all and despised | by the people.
7All who see me laugh | me to scorn;
  they curl their lips; they | shake their heads.
8“Trust in the Lord; let the | Lord deliver;
  let God rescue him if God so de- | lights in him.” 
9Yet you are the one who drew me forth | from the womb,
  and kept me safe on my | mother’s breast.
10I have been entrusted to you ever since | I was born;
  you were my God when I was still in my | mother’s womb.
11Be not far from me, for trou- | ble is near,
  and there is no | one to help.
12Many young bulls en- | circle me;
  strong bulls of Ba- | shan surround me. 
13They open wide their | jaws at me,
  like a slashing and | roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water; all my bones are | out of joint;
  my heart within my breast is | melting wax.
15My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue sticks to the roof | of my mouth;
  and you have laid me in the | dust of death.

Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

  14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31

17As [Jesus] 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.
  23Then 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.”
  28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler  —  Heinrich Hofman, Riverside Church, New York, NY

Sermon – Pr Meggan Manlove

Following Jesus is radical. It is counter cultural. His message is sometimes downright shocking. It does not get any more radical than this morning’s gospel text. Convenient as it might be, this teaching is not just for the Jeff Bezoses of the world. It is not even just for the rich. This scripture passage, which I fully admit is uncomfortable to sit with, is for all of us who are trying to be disciples, followers of Jesus. 

The passage is full of interesting and important details, which illumine the scene and give us clues about discipleship. Let’s start with the rich man himself. First, we know that he is a deeply religious man. He has kept all of the commandments. Yet he knows that there is something more. There is something about this man Jesus. He is the way to abundant life. Jesus will guide the man he supposes. The rich man wants to become a true disciple. So the man runs when he sees Jesus.

As he reaches Jesus, he kneels down. We have seen this posture before. Picture other instances when people knelt at Jesus’ feet. A leper came to Jesus, kneeled and begged for healing. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Jesus to heal his little daughter. And now here comes yet another man who believes that Jesus can give life. This man is breathing fine and does not need any physical healing. Still, he comes and kneels at Jesus’ feet and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“You know the commandments,” Jesus says. He lists them for the man. “Teacher,” the man says, “I have kept all these since my youth.” This man knows he is still lacking. 

The gospels more often show rather than tell us about Jesus’ love. We see Jesus’ love again and again through his actions. But here, we read specifically, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing.” Jesus’ instruction is paired with his love, even when the teaching will be difficult to hear. Keep in mind Jesus’ love for the rich man in this moment.

Jesus’ precise instructions are also significant. Jesus does not tell the rich man to burn the possessions and walk away. Instead, Jesus tells the rich man to sell the possessions and give the money to the poor. He instructs him to redistribute his wealth among the poor. Jesus calls for more than a change in the man’s bottom line. He calls for a relinquishment of his possessions for the sake of those people who are poor. What could the results of such actions be? Jesus is telling the rich man to change his relationship with the poor. At its heart, this entire passage is all about relationships.

The man is “shocked.” He cannot do what Jesus has told him. It is so radical. The costs are too great–financial, social, and political. And so the man who had run to Jesus, wanting to be a disciple, turns and walks the other way. The man goes away grieving. 

Jesus’ disciples have watched this whole encounter. After the rich man leaves, Jesus then looks at the disciples and says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”

It is impossible for us to hear Jesus’ words as his first disciples did. In their time and place people viewed the wealthy as blessed by God. Put another way, they believed God blessed people with wealth and riches. And so, if the rich, who have seemingly been given their by God, cannot enter the kingdom of God, then who can? The disciples ask one another, as we might, “Then who can be saved?” 

This last part of our passage sometimes gets overlooked. The disciples have already renounced much of their lives, security, and identity to follow Jesus. Peter does not boast but speaks out of panic. “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus explains that he does not call people to severe simplicity. He calls people into a new community with an alternative richness. Again, Jesus points to changed relationships.

Listen to the two lists Jesus gives. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.” 

The lists are not identical. Fathers is missing from the second list. At the very least, this is a nod to the fact that the kingdom of God is led by Jesus’ Father, the creator of the universe. This loving father has invited us all into a relationship of adoption–to be children of God. This new family might include all or part of the family you were born into, but it will certainly including new family members. It is expansive and as radical as Jesus’ vision of the reign of God.

You might be wondering [Don Juel], “Is the call to follow Jesus a call to abandon the world?  Is there no way to follow Jesus and also live in the world in such a way that one can be involved with such ordinary and essential matters as property and possessions?”

Yes, there is a way, “Jesus’ response heads off any notion that discipleship requires … abandonment of the world.  It also affords a glimpse of community life among Jesus’ followers…To those who have suffered the losses attendant upon following him, Jesus promises, not simply rewards in the life to come, but concrete rewards in this life: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.”  

The early Christians were not impoverished.  For the homeless there will be homes; for those who have abandoned families there will be new families.  New social units will take the place of the old.  Jesus’ words sketch a vision of a real community of believers prepared to live in this time.  Implementing the ideal is hardly ever easy.  In the end it is life giving.  The potential for community is immense.  There is strength and new life when everyone has enough.

The man whom Jesus loves cannot free himself to follow Jesus. His possessions hold him fast. His survival depends upon being freed to spend himself on his neighbor—and that means spending his money. He is unable to get himself free.  Jesus tells his disciples, “With God all things are possible.” Our own captivity might look different. It might be wealth, or the desire for wealth. We might be captive to something else, like individual freedoms or complete security or a vision of a career. 

Rather than condemning the rich man’s “sin,” Jesus confronts the man with his weakness, his captivity to possessions that prevents him from living into the full life of the reign of God. Jesus here names the “power” that holds the man captive and invites the man to step into freedom.

Although we are freed once and for all in the waters of baptism, the truth is that we struggle with captivity daily. It’s one reason we confess our sins together each week and gather at the table to receive forgiveness and new life. And, importantly, we confess not alone, but communally. And we share the bread and wine together.  

In today’s passage, Jesus promises that those who have spent themselves and suffered for the sake of the gospel will not have to wait until the age to come for full life. He promises new family, fields, homes, and friends, “a hundred-fold in this age.” God does not intend that we live solitary, empty lives. Discipleship involves discovering a new family.  

Hard as it is to swallow, I am grateful for Jesus’ vision. Before my mom and my vacation to Oregon last week I will admit to being quite weary. My heart was broken from so many things–big and small, local and global. But what was worse was that my imagination was cloudy. I was having trouble imagining, visioning. The beauty of Crater Lake, the Umpqua River, the Central Oregon Coast helped a lot to restore my imagination. 

But the beauty of the natural world is not enough. Fortunately, scripture is full of visions and dreams of what the world could look like, of what we need to watch for, of how to catch a glimpse of the reign of God breaking into the here and now. One interpretation of scripture that I’ve leaned into off and on the past year is the song “Beautiful City” from the musical Godspell. I assume that composer Stephen Schwartz had, as his inspiration, the passage from Revelation 21, in which we see the holy city.

The second verse goes, “We may not reach the ending. But we can start. Slowly but truly mending. Brick by brick. Heart by heart. Now, maybe now. We start learning how. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can, yes, we can. We can build a beautiful city. Not a city of angels. But we can build a city of man.”

Prayers of Intercession

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.Uniting God, you call forth different gifts in those who follow you. Encourage us to welcome the diverse benefits and blessings of the whole church in teaching, preaching, prophecy, healing, and more. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, you bring forth crops from the soil and bounty from the trees. Increase the produce of the land and bless all who toil in fields and orchards. Provide for good working conditions and keep them safe. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Empowering God, you offer compassion for those who are overlooked or forgotten. Open the hearts of local, national, and world leaders to show such compassion and love for their neighbors. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Sheltering God, in Jesus you travelled among us without a place to lay your head. Provide safe places to sleep and rest for those who have no place to live. Sustain ministries that offer food, clothing, and peace of mind (local ministries may be named). Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Renewing God, you bring life out of death. Help us part with those things that are no longer beneficial to us and open our hearts to see where new life is budding in this congregation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.Eternal God, we thank you for the lives of those who have died (especially). Make us confident in your promise of salvation and support us in our own journey of faith. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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