Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Must You Give Up?

January 17, 2018 - Antony
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

Could you do it? Could you sell everything you own and give it all to the poor in order to follow Jesus? In Mark 10, a young man comes up to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus' response is a rehearsal of 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." But the man already knew all of that. He had been keeping those since his youth. But the man could tell that something else was missing. The man came to Jesus because he was desperate. He had done all that had been asked of him since he was a boy, yet still he knew that he needed more.
There are several different ways to hear this encounter. Sometimes, when I read this lesson, it feels like the man is being boastful: "Teacher, I have kept all of these since my youth!" But today that's not how it sounds to me. I don't think the man was trying to show off. Instead, I hear the man's earnest plea. Like the rest of us, he needed salvation and was having a hard time finding it. And what about Jesus' response? Was he trying to intimidate the man by naming something so difficult that he could never do it? Was he making an example out of him for his disciples and everyone else? This time, perhaps because I feel a bit of the man's desperation, too, I don't hear Jesus trying to show the man up or scare him off. Jesus wasn't trying to lose would-be disciples but to attract real ones--the kind that would give up everything to follow him. I think this story is about one man and his search for heaven, and I think Jesus saw the one thing that stood between this man and his salvation. When Jesus looks at you, what does he see? What's the one thing that stands in between you and heaven? What is it that keeps you from following Jesus with your whole heart?
Preachers sometimes get accused of asking for money all the time. We do talk about money often, and I'm sure that many preachers are in it for themselves. But most of us talk about money because money is usually the thing that stands in the way of our getting to heaven. Money is power, and salvation means yielding all power. Money is control, and following Jesus means giving up that control. Money is self-reliance, and getting to heaven means depending on God and not yourself. So that's why I talk about money all the time. Most of us, by finding the right balance between what we have and what we give away, can serve Jesus without too much distraction. Some of us, however, cannot. Some of us have to go the extra step. When Jesus looks at some of us, he sees that we are so attached to material goods that if we hold on to any possessions at all we cannot also hold on to him. And so he says to the man and to a few other would-be disciples, "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow me."
Antony was that kind of disciple. One day, six months after his parents died, he was in church, and he heard this reading from Mark. When he heard it, he heard Jesus searching the depths of his soul and speaking directly to him, "Sell all that you have and give it to the poor." So he renounced his family's estate and sold most of what he owned and gave it away. But still that was not enough. Something was missing. So he sold the rest, put his sister in a convent, and moved out into the desert, where he did battle with demons and was ministered to by the angels.
Have you ever felt like you've done all the things you were supposed to do but still feel that something is missing? I remember meeting and caring for a woman who was in her eighties and approaching the end of her life. As she looked back on her decades, she remarked that, when she was around twenty, she heard God calling her to be a missionary in Africa but ignored that call. When I asked her about it, she was not overly sad or despondent. She had come to accept that she had missed her calling. She didn't regret her life but could also see how her lack of courage (her way of describing it) had left a hole that she was never able to fill. Maybe the discovery of that hole is the path that leads to salvation.
What happened to the young man? On St. Antony's day, we don't hear how the encounter ends, but we remember that the man went away grieved. But what happened after that? Did he sell what he had? Did he wrestle with that dissatisfaction for the rest of his life? Had Jesus exposed the hole in his soul that only God could fill? By hearing Jesus name what was missing, did he discover a new way to pursue the transformed life that Jesus was offering? Over time, did his relationship to possessions change until they no longer had control over him?
We don't know what happened to the man, but we do know what has brought us to this point, and we can probably guess what lies ahead of us. Come to Jesus. Let him see what is missing. Let him see the thing that has you trusting in yourself instead of him. Will you be able to give it up? Almost certainly, the answer is no. None of us is able to give up that one thing we cling to most tightly--be it money or family or career or affirmation or celebrity--at least not without God's help. Let God expose the hole in your relationship with him. Stare into that void. Come to Jesus on your knees and ask him to help you find what is missing. And, through your prayers and by God's grace, find what only he can give you.

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