A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “True Riches”

“True Riches”

October 10, 2021

come-share-in-god's-joy

We all have met or know some people who seem to have everything the world could offer – including wealth beyond imagining – and yet are still unhappy, even miserable. We also have likely met or know others whose primary pursuit in life is wealth – people who put the acquisition of material comfort over all else – in whose presence we feel unimportant, unless we have something to offer them. The rich young man in today’s Gospel exemplifies the conundrum of those whose priorities are askew, who don’t yet fully understand the true riches God offers them here and now. As Harvard scholar and UCC pastor Matthew Myer Boulton writes, “for Christians today living in a world riven by increasing economic inequality, this challenging, haunting story pushes us to confront just what the economic dimensions of the Gospel might look like in our lives. In short, the church is called to be not just a “holy” community, not just a “moral” community, but a decidedly economic community as well, a movement following a savior who insisted again and again that faith and money are sides of one coin, not two (separate coins).”

In the Gospel of Mark, there is no one quite like the rich young man. In spite of his wealth, this man is still profoundly struggling in some way that makes him feel desperate enough to run to Jesus.  Like many others who are in need of healing, he approaches Jesus as one would, on his knees. 

Unlike the disciples, who in a recent story were unwilling to bring their questions to Jesus, this seemingly earnest person asks his, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The worldview of this young man appears transactional. He is looking for what he can do to get what he wants. He is not asking Jesus, how he can be of service for what God wants. 

After Jesus reminds him of the steep demands of the commandments, we see that he is also full of hubris.  As Timothy Ross points out, “In Jewish wisdom tradition, it was said that only three men in history had kept the law in its entirety: Abraham, Moses, and Aaron. Standing before Jesus was a guy who thought he just might be the fourth.”  

Pious and earnest as he is, he’s nevertheless self-centered, oriented away from both God and neighbor; concerned first and foremost with his own salvation. 

It seems likely that Jesus already knew this young man – because when Jesus recounts the Commandments to him, he does so with a twist saying, “You shall not defraud” rather than “You shall not covet.”  Perhaps this young man – so concerned with inheriting eternal life – achieved his wealth in part through inheritance and in part through defrauding others. 

And yet even with all these seeming flaws -his desperation, ego-centrism, hubris, unethical business practices, and also likely slave holding (which would have been standard for the wealthy of those days), someone whose priorities seem to all be in the wrong places, Jesus clearly knows him well,  listens to him, engages with him and still, most importantly, loves him. 

It is out of love for him, that Jesus offers a clear, surgical prescription for his healing, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have and give it to those in need, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” This was clearly not what the rich young man expected or wanted to hear.  Like those of his time, and many in ours, he would have believed that his riches were a sign of being blessed by God, not a cancerous obstacle to his life in God’s kingdom. 

The cure that Jesus offers the rich young man is the same gift he offers us – his presence. It is a gift that we access more fully as we give to those in need. 

At the time of Jesus, when so few were rich, holding on to his physical wealth would likely have meant an isolated and lonely existence. (Watching the Chosen? Matthew.)

To enter the Kingdom of God is to be part of a community where we share what we have with others in need. To enter the Kingdom of God is to make a shift from “What’s in it for me? To how can I help others in need?” 

Last week, my stepson, Alex, negotiated a higher salary with his new employer. In a group text exchange, his mother, Michele, wrote, “Next time, dinner is on you.” In response, Alex, who has been on the receiving end of family giving more often than not    typed, “That was the idea all along.  I want to be the one to do the treating.” Alex gets it.  The purpose of wealth is to share with others. 

On Thursday night, a dozen of us in this community who are exploring the meaning of Communion, watched a video about the principles of  Indigenous people around food.  At one point the narrator said, “It is through giving, not through acquiring money or things, that we become truly wealthy.”  Tomorrow as many of us celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, we would do well to take to heart this foundational principle.

The rich young man’s wealth fell short of giving him what all of us need – the peace of mind and well-being that come from sharing what we have with others, especially those in need. In Jesus’ vision of the beloved community – it’s not just that some give, while others receive – which can perpetuate inequalities. The kind of healthy community Jesus wants us to build, enables all to be both giver and receiver.

The rich man had Jesus’ love.  He will always have it. And so will we.  Even though he is the only person in the Gospel stories who turns away from Christ’s offer of discipleship, we do not know the end of the story. As Jesus reminds the disciples, “For God, all things are possible.” Maybe the rich young man wasn’t ready in that moment to follow Christ fully.  But, we don’t know how he grew over time.

Reflecting on this story, I couldn’t help but think of Jud Gale, someone who also grew up as a rich young man with servants, who had all the benefits of a Harvard education, reaching the top ranks of the corporate world and more.  To hear the stories of Jud’s life last weekend, I was moved by how much he grew over the course of his life.  As a younger man, he could be stern and as his brother Jeb’s story indicated, he could certainly be focused on money. But, something clearly shifted over the course of his life. Jud became one of the most generous people any of us will ever meet – giving to his family, the community, those in need, and this church not only of his wealth, but of his time, his attention, and his love. 

Though we are told that he has much property, we do not know exactly why the rich young man walks away from Jesus.  What keeps him from being unable to share? What about us? In a world so full of distractions, where we often feel that we are busier than we can manage, and it is tempting to turn away from the invitation of the Gospel, the questions for us are these: How are we living God’s priorities for our lives? How willing are we to share who we are and what we have, including our money, with those in need? How can we graciously receive what God (and others) want to give us? In what ways may we become more focused on what we can do for God, rather than what we hope God will do for us? What do we need to let go of so or share that we can more fully enter the Kingdom of God right here and now? 

In the presence and love of Christ, God has already given us everything, the true riches, we need. We just need to be open to receive and share the gift of God’s love. As Steve Garnaas-Holmes understands, “Faith is the blessed leap from what we leave to what we receive.” Amen.