WORSHIP October 2 2022 11:00 Traditional Worship Service

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Matthew 19: 16-22

Releasing our Resources

A long time ago, there was a man who lived in a village who repaired people’s shoes. He used to sing and live happily with the bit of money he earned. The man had a neighbor who worked in a bank. The banker had much money. One day the banker asked the shoe repairman how much money he earned in one day. The shoe repairman smiled and replied that he supported his family with what he earned. Hearing this, the banker said, “I don’t think you are happy with your insufficient income.”

However, the man replied, “This income is enough for me and I am happy with this money.”

A few days later, the banker came again. He wanted to help the shoe repairman. He brought ten thousand dollars in a bag and told the man to take it so that he could get rid of his struggles. The man was amazed but did not want to take the money. However, the banker told him that he could use this money if he got into trouble. He told the man he could hide it somewhere and save it.  Hearing this, the shoe repairman took the money and thanked the banker.

The repairman brought the money home. However, he thought to himself, where he would keep so much money. There was no safe place to keep it in his small hut. He finally dug a hole in his living room and put the money there. But, this money became a new concern in his mind. He always thought that maybe someone would steal it.  He could not sleep at night thinking that the money might be stolen. He even began to not be able to focus on any work. As a result, new problems arose in his life, and he became unhappy.  He had more money, but less peace of mind.  The man had been told a story about money by the banker that money could take away his troubles.  He had been told a story about money that it was to be put away and hidden, yet what the shoe repairman learned was that he couldn’t buy contentment.

No matter how many songs have been written about how money can’t buy us love, like the man in the story we can so easily fall into the thinking of our consumer society that tells us money can buy us happiness.  We can so easily fall into the belief that accumulating possessions will somehow fulfill our spiritual hungers—as if attaining peace of mind or meaningful relationships can be bought and sold like any other financial transaction.

The rich young man in the passage we heard about today from the book of Matthew appears to have fallen into this same mindset and it ends up bringing him sorrow.  The artist Lauren Wright Pittman depicts the young man in layers of dusty purples, muted greens and chalky blacks in her painting. She does so because when Jesus says the young man needs to get rid of his possessions and give to the poor, the Bible tells us the he went away grieving because he had a lot of stuff.  The artist writes that perhaps there is fear and loneliness in the young man because he seems to be uncertain about whether or not he has eternal life and he is desperate to find out from Jesus how he can get it.  He seems so focused on what can lead to his individual, personal salvation, however, that he may be missing the bigger picture.  The young man may have wealth, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  His wealth affects the lives of others—particularly those at the margins of society.

It is interesting to note that as Jesus is responding to the questions of the rich young man, he chooses to name commandments concerning interpersonal relationships.  Jesus offers the rich man freedom from his entanglement with wealth, and gifts him with belonging to the new kind of community that Jesus is ushering in.  The rich young man seems torn between the invitation of Jesus and the weight of the truth of what it means to respond to that invitation—what it means he will need to let go of.

Beyond releasing his resources, the rich young man may also need to release the idea that everything is transactional or that he can somehow earn his way into God’s favor.  The Bible tells us that the young man was a moral person.  Jesus lists off a bunch of religious laws and the young man responds that he has kept those commandments.  The young man believes he has been good in religion like he has been good in business. But he knows something is still missing.  He can sense something is not quite right and he is seeking to have Jesus give him some kind of assurance that he will have eternal life.  In his transactional mindset the young man believes he can give something for God then God will do something back for him.  He figures Jesus can tell him what this thing will be and so he asks, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”, as if eternal life is something he can earn and possess.

Jesus responds by questioning why the man thinks he can do something good enough to get eternal life.  He says there is only one who is good and that is God.  But if the young man wants to play the game of trying to prove is he good enough, Jesus will go along with it.  That is when Jesus starts listing some commandments and the man says he has kept them.  Then Jesus delivers the kicker where he says if the man wants to be perfect he needs to sell his possessions.  I don’t think the message was so much that Jesus was giving him the exact formula for eternal life.  Rather, I think Jesus was giving him an extreme command to make the point that the man could not be perfect.  That salvation was not a transaction. An eternal relationship with God was not something that could be earned with his own goodness.   It was more of a gift that would have to be received.

It reminds me of a ten-year-old boy who got the wrong impression about how he could get his dad to spend some time with him.  The boy’s name was Nick.  Nick’s father was a very busy businessman who could not spend time with his son.  He came home after Nick went to bed and was off to the office before Nick woke up in the morning.  Nick yearned for his father’s attention.  He wanted to go outdoors and play with his dad just like his friends did.

One day, Nick was surprised to see his father at home earlier in the evening.  His dad explained a meeting had been cancelled, but he had to soon leave to catch a flight. “When will you back?”  Nick asked.

“Sometime tomorrow night.”  His dad said. Nick was in deep thought for a while. Then he asked, “Dad how much do you earn in a year?”  Nick’s father was surprised by the question. “Well, it’s a very big amount and you wouldn’t be able to understand it.”

“Ok Dad.  Are you happy with the amount you earn?”

“Yes, son, I’m very happy, and in fact if I keep working overtime, I’ll be able to buy us a new car and maybe even a bigger house someday.”

“Ok. That sounds good.” the young boy said. “Can I ask another question?”

“Sure” said his dad. “Can you tell me how much you earn in an hour?”   This seemed like an odd question for Nick’s father, but he wanted to humor his son so he thought about how much his salary was per month, did some quick math and came up with an answer.  “It’s probably around $50 an hour,” he replied.  Nick ran upstairs to his room and came down with his piggy bank that contained his savings. After dumping it out and counting up the change he smiled and turned to his dad.

“Dad, I have $50 in my bank.  Can you spare an hour for me tomorrow?  I would like to go to the beach and have dinner with you.  Can you please put this in your calendar?”    Nick’s father was speechless.

The reason this story ends with the father being speechless is because no good parent would want their child to think they had to pay to spend time with them.  He hadn’t realized it, but Nick’s father had been teaching his son a certain kind of money story.  He had been teaching him that relationships were transactional only.  He had been teaching him that time is money and that if his son wanted his attention he was going to have to attached it to a dollar amount. He had been teaching him that possessions were the way to happiness.  In the end the father was speechless because these were lessons he had not realized he was teaching his child, and he would much rather have his son see his time and attention as a gift.

The other thing I think leaves the father speechless is the realization that he has placed his work and pursuit of possessions as a priority over his own son, which takes us back to Jesus and the rich young man. When Jesus lists all the commandments that the young man says he has followed, notice which one Jesus leaves out.  He leaves out the first commandment which is, “I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other God’s before me.”  This is the key commandment that the rich young man doesn’t seem to be following or he wouldn’t have walked away so sad. He is putting his pursuit of possessions as a priority over his relationship with God. I think Jesus makes the outrageous request of the young man because he wants to wake him up to what is really important in life.  He wants him to release his dependence on his own resources and turn this dependence upon God.

There are lots of messages the world sends us about our money and stuff that can lead to unhealthy perceptions of ourselves and others.  Messages like, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” “Money can buy you happiness.” “The more you have, the more peace of mind you can attain.” “The more you earn the more valuable you are.”  “The more perfect you are, the more lovable you are.”

This is why Jesus wants us to re-prioritize our focus and dependence upon God, because it is God who can free us from such false narratives.  It is God who reminds us that we are valuable because we are made in God’s image.  It is God who reminds us that we will never be perfect, but we are lovable anyway. It is God who give us release from the relentless pursuit of possessions, and it is God who gives us the power to release our resources, not as a transaction, but as a gift of grace.  Amen.

-Pastor Erik Goehner





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