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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Impossible!

Mark 10:17-31


Good News Translation


17 As Jesus was starting on his way again, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?”


18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; do not cheat; respect your father and your mother.’”


20 “Teacher,” the man said, “ever since I was young, I have obeyed all these commandments.”

21 Jesus looked straight at him with love and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22 When the man heard this, gloom spread over his face, and he went away sad, because he was very rich.


23 Jesus looked around at his disciples and said to them, “How hard it will be for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God!”


24 The disciples were shocked at these words, but Jesus went on to say, “My children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”


26 At this the disciples were completely amazed and asked one another, “Who, then, can be saved?”


27 Jesus looked straight at them and answered, “This is impossible for human beings but not for God; everything is possible for God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

29 “Yes,” Jesus said to them, “and I tell you that those who leave home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and for the gospel, 30 will receive much more in this present age. They will receive a hundred times more houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields—and persecutions as well; and in the age to come they will receive eternal life. 31 But many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first.”






I know a woman who is extremely detail oriented. Everything had to be just so, particularly her calendar. She scheduled everything – not only appointments, meetings, and activities, but sleeping, showering, drive-time, reading a book, meals, emailing, and watching TV. Every day was planned to the minute. She needs one of those calendars doctors used to use that had 15-minute time slots. She scheduled everything far in advance so she could put contingencies in the calendar. However, she was so sure of her future because of what was written in that calendar she didn’t know what to do if, suddenly, something changed.


Living such a life presents a challenge for her and for all of us who have expectations about how our day or week, or month should go. As we step into the future, as we move forward into the unknown, so to speak, beyond the calendar and all that is recorded in it.


We acknowledge that living into the future often means stepping out of our calendar driven life. Living into the future means realizing that real rewards, the ones that matter, requires embracing the unexpected, the unknown, and the impossible.


Anticipating that step into the future causes one to experience a variety of emotions. For some, it is excitement. They can’t wait to see what happens next as they move on to whatever is next. For others it might be confusion – the not knowing of which way to go, thinking, then, that staying put is a better option. Others may experience anxiety about the future. Knowing that life moves forward but becoming increasingly nervous about what that future holds. Still others experience fear. So much so that they may be afraid to even leave the house for fear of the unknown that may await outside.


For a moment let’s consider several examples of stepping into the future. A parent and child prepare for the first day of kindergarten. They purchase new clothes and school supplies – crayons, pencils, glue, and blunt edge scissors – and get a haircut. They meet the teacher ahead of time. Both may experience anticipation and nervousness as the day approaches. The day arrives. The child might be excited, practically running into their new classroom, or a bit of trepidation as they wait in line, or even separation anxiety, not wanting to let go of the parent’s leg. The parent may experience the day in several diverse ways. This is a big life change. My baby is growing up. She can’t possible be going to school already. Or a sadness at letting go. Angst, wondering if the child will be okay or fit in, or like school at all. Some are incredibly happy – I have freedom! (at least for part of the day).


A person preparing for a first date. Thoughtfully choosing what to wear and where to go. They want it to be perfect. Another is heading into retirement, walking out of the office for the last time with a box of their stuff. A retirement they had planned for years – traveling, taking up a new hobby, or moving closer to the grandkids. Someone else may be facing treatment for a life-threating illness, hoping that it will cure them. Or, being told to sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus.


We often think that we have all we need…until we realize that we don’t. We might have an epiphany of sorts when it hits us that there must be something more to life, something that our plans didn’t include. That internal or external realization that something is missing on the inside. Circumstances change the picture we had of our life.


That child who skipped happily into kindergarten refuses to go to school at all when he is in 7th grade. The love of your life you thought you met on that first date turns out to be untrustworthy or abusive. All that you saved for retirement turns out to not be enough. The treatment for the illness doesn’t work. You can’t bring yourself to sell everything and give the money away.


The “what ifs,” those small voices of pessimism or doom that hide deep inside emerge into our reality. The “what ifs” hit us on the head causing us to stagger into the future.


The point of this sermon could be turn to Jesus. He’ll fix everything. A glimmer of hope emerges. If he doesn’t fix it…or at least in the way we wanted it fixed…maybe there is something we missed or didn’t do right or stepped into the future incorrectly – we followed the Tuesday schedule on the calendar on Monday.


The point of this sermon is turn to Jesus. Give up our tools – the shiny hammer, the assortment of screwdrivers, the drill, the saw, and others. The things we would use to fix what we see as broken in our life and the lives of others. Instead, we are to go to Jesus’ toolbox. To use his tools – not those that are shiny and new but the ones that are well-worn from use.


Then we grit our teeth, sell almost everything, and give the money to the poor. Let go of what we see as important. The tools we picked from Jesus’ toolbox are the right ones to solve the problem in front of us because we picked out the ones we think we need. When we do this, Jesus will fix what is broken.


Then when Jesus fixes what is broken with the tools we have selected from his toolbox, our son will decide to try school again. Our spouse asks for forgiveness and promises to change. The stock market rebounds, our investments grow, and the money we put aside for retirement is more than enough. We are accepted into a promising clinical trial. An unanticipated and unexpected blessing occurs, something more than you hoped for.


The opening question in today’s text is “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Tell me the steps to take and the tools I need to use from my toolbox that will get me the ultimate reward I seek. Those that will eliminate all the “what ifs” before they have a chance to become a reality I won’t like. If I know that I have eternal life my life will be good and be the one I want. I won’t have to deal with those pesky “what ifs” because I will have all that I need.


The real question being asked is “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” How do I what is necessary to earn that inheritance?


By definition, and inheritance is something that can only be given. Rarely can one do anything to earn it. Even working hard and doing what we can to be in the good graces of the one we hope to receive an inheritance from won’t guarantee that we will be named in their will and receive what we think we have earned.


In this text we read the phrase that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven that for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. We may focus on the possibility of the camel going through the eye of the needle, trying to produce scenarios for that to work. The eye of the needle is really, really large or the camel is really, really small. Does the eye of the needle stretch enough for the camel to fit and then return to its original size? Or the eye of a needle is figurative, representing a phenomenon of space or it isn’t a camel at all but a millipede. We try to figure out how God would make that work. After considering the scenarios, we conclude that there is absolutely no way a camel can go through the eye of the needle.


We can get so distracted by the physics of getting a camel through the eye of the needle that we drift away from the real point: who can enter the kingdom of God? The real question is: who can inherit eternal life? Here is the crux of the Jesus’ words: our faith vs. the faith Jesus requires. Sell everything and give the money to the poor.


You may be squirming in your seat a bit about now thinking that you really don’t have that much – an old car, modest house, a small savings account. I live paycheck to paycheck or on a fixed income. Does Jesus really mean everything? After all, everything I do have are blessings from God. If I sell the little I have then I’ll become one of the poor.


What about those blessings from God? We may not think they don’t amount to much or at least as much as those others have received. The reality is that we all have much more than most people in the world. That may be true, we think, but we have essential needs beyond the basics for survival that come with living in a western culture. We need a cell phone and computer or tablet to be able to communicate with others and learn about what is going on in the world and who the poor are that we are supposed to support. We can’t get around outside of a big city without a car because public transportation is limited. So, we might conclude that this text isn’t all about money and possessions.


It is all about money, possessions, and relationships. About the attitude we have towards these things and how we use what we have.


Many years ago, I met a couple, Carl and Kathleen. They had an older car – a station wagon – and a modest house. I remember going to their house for Bible study and noticing that their car would be gone and another, smaller car would be in the driveway. I asked where their car was. They explained that the youth group needed a car with more seats for their weekend retreat. Other times quite a few people would be at the house because they needed a place to stay for a night or two. They would be sleeping on the couch or on the floor in sleeping bags leaving little space for their family. I learned a very important lesson from them. They explained that everything they had belongs to God, so it ought to be available whenever God needs it.


Even an attitude shift about our view and use of wealth doesn’t lead to receiving eternal life on its own. It is still easier for that camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who has a lot to get eternal life. It is almost impossible to completely let go of what we have – the money, possessions, and relationships – that matter to us.


I’m not sure that Jesus is saying that we should walk out the door, put the house on the market, sell the cars, have a garage sale, and say goodbye to our family and friends and disappear. Rather, Jesus is saying that it is time to reevaluate. To begin that process of letting go of what doesn’t matter. Those boxes in corners and closets that haven’t been opened for years, relationships that drag us down or pull us away from God. We are to look at what is important, not to us but to God. To ask Jesus to pick the tool from his toolbox that I need to fix what he sees as broken.


Life in the kingdom of God is about sharing and caring. Relationships are what matter. Jesus teaches us that we are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Connecting with others is the most important thing we are to do.


Life in the kingdom is not business as usual. This life is about transformation and character change, things that are extremely hard to do. In fact, these changes are impossible for us to do alone. We don’t have the right tools.


Jesus tells us that yes, it is impossible for us to change ourselves, but with God all things are possible. God transforms us and leads us into the future. When we trust God to do what we deem impossible we find that we don’t have to do it all, or even any of what it takes to inherit eternal life.


Amen.

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