21 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr B Oct 14 2018 Audio
Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and fifteen years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, no more "if I do this God I'd like you to do that," but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.
Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "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." The truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.
And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, "who can be saved?" And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible." What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this rock together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no checklist for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But all things are possible for God. The invitation is to live as God's beloved.
So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. This is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, this is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.
So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? One of the answers is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.
So here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.
Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.
Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of my people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.
Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.
You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love. How do you respond to God’s love in your life? Many of you give of your time, you give of your talent. Many of you give to non-profits like Habitat, you give to public radio, or the salvation army, or to the GIFTS Men’s Shelter, and so many other fine place. I know Rick and I do. I want you to be giving to your church as well, your church, Trinity, needs to be one of the top three non-profits you give to. What ever it is, however much it can be, find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are and all that you have to bear God's reconciling message, the Good News of God's love. For nothing is impossible in God. Amen.