Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture Passage: Mark 10:17-31
Our lesson this morning comes from the 10th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Starting with the 17th verse.
“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and ask him, good teacher. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments, and 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. He said to him, Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. Jesus looked at him. Loved him and said you lack one thing. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me. When he heard this, he was shocked. And he went away grieving for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples. How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.
And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. They were greatly astounded and said to one another. Then who can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said, for mortals, it’s impossible. But not for God. For God, all things are possible. Peter began to say to him, look, we’ve left everything and followed you. Jesus said, truly, I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive 100 fold now in this age? Houses, brothers, sisters, mother and children. Fields. With persecutions. And in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last and the last will be first.”
Friends, this is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
He’s not named in scripture, but we all describe him the same. He’s the rich young ruler. He’s got everything that our culture says is important, first of all, he is rich. Now he’s made his wealth off of his daddy’s land because that’s the way it happened in Jewish culture. He took part of his daddy’s land and grew a bumper crop and raised money. And then he had an opportunity to invest money and his investments grew. And he was judicious and smart and intelligent. And he. Grew the investment and grew the corpus, and he’s rich. He’s young. Aw man, he’s young, his eyesight’s 20/20. His ear site, he can hear his wife when she’s in the bedroom closet in the back of the closet, and he’s at the kitchen sink with the water running. He has the ability to hear everything is crystal clear for him. He’s just young and vital.
You know when I discovered I was old. I was home one day watching Perry Mason. Yes, I can tell you on the old Perry Mason’s within 30 seconds, who’s going to get killed and who did it, because I’ve seen them all. And I was watching Perry Mason in one of these commercials came on for the the thing-um-a-flotcher you wear around your neck. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. I was watching that commercial, and you know what, that lady had fallen. She is pretty good looking. So I called Tamara said, Hey, Tamara, I need to tell you something. The lady on the commercial who’s fallen, and she can’t get up. She’s pretty good looking. Tamara said, you must have gotten old, Doug de Graffenried.
So I’m no longer young man. I’m you know, I can’t go with you young folks. And this guy’s a ruler. He would be an influencer today, but because of his wealth, because of his youth, because he’s made it to the top of the heap so quick, he’s listened to. People seek him out for advice. People seek him out for wisdom when he says something. He’s got credibility. He has everything we are looking for in church life and in culture. This guy’s got it all. He is the rich young ruler and, he’s moral.
He says to Jesus, I know the commandments. I know which ones are important and I’ve kept them all. You know, Jesus has hit him with the second tablet. You shall not murder, not commit adultery. You shall not steal. Don’t bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and mother. Those are the second five. He says, I’ve kept every one of these for my youth up and Jesus loved him. He had done it. He was a good, rich young ruler, moral guy, he’s perfect.
And according to the Jews, he’s blessed of God because Jewish theology in the time of Jesus. And probably American cultural theology right now teaches that if you are financially well off, God has blessed you. The Jews believe this if you had money, if you had wealth, if you had land, you were by virtue of your wealth. Blessed of God. And the converse for them was also true if you were poor. God was cursing you. For either your sin, or your parents’ sin. Interesting economic system that is set up, the rich young ruler was moral, and he was blessed. He bebops up to Jesus knowing he’s got it all. He’s got everything. Culture says so. The synagogue says so. His reading of the Old Testament says so. There’s nothing this guy needs. And he comes up to Jesus and says, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Now, before you say that this is just an exercise in exegetical speculation, I want to affirm something. You’re rich. You’re rich. Compared to this guy. Come on, man, you can get on an airplane, you can go any place you want to go. Just takes you a few hours to sit there. Right now, in your pocket or in your purse, you have more computer power than all that NASA had putting people on the moon. You can communicate with that grand baby by just holding that television studio up to your face and talking back and forth. You are rich. You have penicillin, for heaven’s sakes. I had cold will take you out. So that’s where we enter the parable, the story, the saga of the rich young ruler as people who like him are wealthy; who are self-sufficient; who really sing I’m not a slave anymore because I’ve got a 401k. Or I’ve got an education. Or I have a house.
And Jesus said to him, yes, you’re moral, you’re decent. I affirm your life, I love you. Now, if you want eternal life, go and sell all you have. Give the money to the poor and come and follow me. And the man goes away grieving after he gets over, being shocked because he’s just been told by this Jewish rabbi, get rid of the things that show your blessed of God. Get rid of the things that you depend on. Get rid of your idol. That’s the sin here is idolatry. In the Old Testament, they keep throwing up Baal Poles and Ashura Poles, and we don’t have Baal Poles. We don’t worship Baal. We worship Ben We worship Ben and Abe and Andrew and everybody that’s on those bills or we worship American Express or. And Jesus says, get rid of it and come and follow me, and we go, wait a minute, Lord. Hold on. Do you know what you’re asking of me? I got all this stuff. I don’t want to let go of my stuff. Besides Jesus, I come to you with a theological problem, and you hit me with money. Oh, just like a preacher isn’t it. But the problem is money. The man has made his stuff his God.
Our stuff’s important to us. If over the last 20 years, you had investments in either security systems or storage pods. You would have not lost any money in your investments because those investments are just skyrocketing. Why? Because we get so much stuff. We need storage places. To store our stuff and then we need alarm systems to watch our doors to make sure somebody is not getting our stuff. Jesus says to the rich young ruler and us. You lack one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor. You have treasure in heaven then and then come and follow me. Jesus says it to this man because it’s his problem.
You can’t make this a universal truth right here. Jesus never condemns money. Jesus never condemns stuff. This is not some economic diatribe. This man has a spiritual problem with idolatry. He tells Nicodemus, you must be born again. He tells the woman that the Samaritan woman at the well. Go get your husband. We’re going to talk about your personal life. He tells the woman caught in adultery, go and sin no more. He tells the man born blind in John nine. Look, go show yourself to the leaders in the temple. He tells Mary and Martha, look, you need to have faith. I am the resurrection. I’m the. The way the truth and the life. Jesus wants to get at our spiritual need. And for each one of us in this room, it’s different.
We all need Jesus Christ, but the way that need gets expressed, he is going to handle uniquely. I want to say to this man before he walks off. Hey, you need to listen to what Jesus is about to say.
The disciples are confounded by this because they, too, believe if you’ve got possessions, you’re blessed of God and Jesus tells the disciples it’s hard for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. And then he says it again. He says to them again, children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. Do you remember last week some preacher was talking about the need for childlike faith? I remember that preacher talking about the need for childlike faith and childlike faith is loving, joyous and curious. And I want to add another one to it. Childlike faith is loving, joyous, curious, and generous. And if you’ve got your Bible, you need to circle the children in chapter in chapter 10, verse twenty-four, and draw an arrow over here to where Jesus is blessing the little children.
Those two sections of scripture are intentionally connected by the use of the word children. Jesus is talking about something extremely important; he calls the disciples and those listening children. It’s hard to get into the kingdom of God. Jesus has already said it in the Sermon on the Mount enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction. And there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Why is it so hard to get into the kingdom of God? Because you’ve got to divest yourself of your life. And trust Jesus with your life. What does he say? Those who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their life, for my sake, will find it, you go, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute.
Wait a minute. Hold on. I can love Jesus and still have all these economic blessings. Absolutely true. Yes, you can. And I’m glad you do. But if you’re trusting them. To save you. You’ve just committed the sin of idolatry. It’s a personal fine line. What do you trust in to save you? Jesus tells this man who’s trusting in his wealth. Trust me. Trust me.
John Wesley had a formula for it as his movement took off in England. He told his people, called Methodist to earn as much money as you can. Just don’t do anything that harms others or harm yourself. Wesley was. He didn’t like people who charged excessive interest on loans, he didn’t like people who made hats because they were exposed to lead and mercury. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with people who brewed adult spirits. He said other than that, make all the money you can make and save all the money you can save. Wesley believed in living a frugal life. And then he says, give all the money you can.
It’s a good way to make sure you’re living in such a way that demonstrates you are trusting God. Do you trust God? Do you trust God to take care of you? When we prayed the prayer, Lord, give us this day our daily bread, do you live it? Man, that’s an easy prayer to pray when you’re checking account is full. It’s tough to pray when you wonder where your next meal’s coming from. Do you trust God? And the man we call the rich young ruler trusted himself, and his wealth. And Jesus said that’s a problem.
The first church I ever pastored was the Kenner Methodist Church. By the time I arrived as the pastor in, good grief, 1985. How old were you, Chris, in 1985? Chris was six years old in 1985. Now I’m feeling ancient. I followed a man pastor that had a problem with moral turpitude, so the church was a little anxious. They were a fast-growing young adult church out in the suburban area of Kenner. And in 1968, they had their kerfuffle with the minister and the church kind of split and the decline started and it became precipitous.
And by the time I arrived there. Well. They got me and it was my first church by myself. I would get paid on Thursday. And the treasurer would say, now, preacher, you can’t cash your paycheck until after we’ve counted the Sunday morning offering, because right now your paycheck isn’t any good. That happened several times. The air conditioning system was named Wheezer. Because that’s what it did. It tried, God bless it, but it didn’t cool. You ever been in New Orleans without air conditioning? You ever been in a worship space without windows, without air conditioning?
We spent the whole summer, 1987, sweating for Jesus. I mean, it was just terrible. So the young preacher decided what the church needed to do. A church that many times couldn’t pay him because they didn’t have financial resources. He decided we needed to have a great campaign. To raise enough money to replace all of the air conditioning and fix one or two other things that have been broken since the mid 60s. Church needed to raise $70,000, which for them was all the money in the world.
We did a campaign complete with brochures, letters, mail outs. We did everything you can do to raise money in a Methodist church. We had potlucks. We had testimonies. We. This is how much I love my church. We just we went all out, raised trying to raise seventy thousand dollars. And we prayed because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re doing that. Right. And the Sunday of the campaign, everybody brought their pledge cards up to the altar and the financial secretary opened all the pledge cards and. She called me about 2:00 in the afternoon, she said, well. I don’t know about air conditioning, but we raised enough money, preacher, you can go buy an Icee. A large Icee. I said really that bad. She said, we’ve been telling you we ain’t got any money. I say, but I’ve been praying. I’ve been praying that God would do something. Well, preacher, maybe your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.
And so that Sunday afternoon, God and I had one of those conversations that preachers sometimes have with God. I was pretty much letting him know if I was running the universe, it’d run a whole lot better than it was running right now, that he just needed to give me control. Monday morning arrived, and I don’t know if you know this about Methodist ministers, but we pretty much know when we’ve made a mistake. You don’t have to come tell us. We knew it two days ago, and I am feeling the Monday morning I have made a mistake saying I am blue, I am not happy. I’m hot and sweaty. I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to tell the church the next Sunday.
I got a call from one of our church members, Paul Kurtzweil Paul was in his mid 80s about this time, Paul called and said, Preacher, I need to come talk to you. I said, Yes, sir, Mr. Paul, I’m right here at the office. You come on. Paul Kurtzweil and his wife, Nadine, lived in the middle of New Orleans International Airport. It didn’t start out that way, but they’d had their house since the 1940s and the airport had just grown up around them. Paul taught botany at Delgado Community College for years and years and years. Just a pole is about six foot four inches. He had not bought a new suit since 1955. His lapels were about that wide. His ties were equally as narrow. His suits were threadbare. His wife, Nadine same thing. She’s tall, tall lady. They lived a frugal, simple life. They were there every Sunday. They were praying for their church. They loved their church. Paul came to my office and he sat down in the chair and he said, Well. How did it go with the money raisin? I said, Paul, if I bought you a glass of iced tea, that would finish off the money we raised. He said that bad was it? Said Yes, sir. So what are you going to do?
I said, I’ve been praying to God, I don’t know what we’re going to do, Paul. I guess we’re just going to be hot and sweaty. Paul reached in pocket of his old suit. Pulled out a folded-up check and handed it to me, said, here you go, look at this. Unfolded the check. $35,000. I said, OK, God, I’m starting to get the picture here. Amen. Paul, thank you for this, this is so generous. I appreciate it. He put his hand up, said, wait a minute, Doug.
You need to know something. What’s that? Nadine and I had a fight last night. We don’t fight with each other. We’ve been married nearly 50 years, and I can only remember one other fight we’ve had. It was a terrible fight, Doug. Paul, I’m sorry. What did would you and Nadine fight about? And he reached in the other pocket of his suit, and he pulled out another folded check, said, we thought about this. She wanted to do this, and I didn’t think we needed to do this because we’d already done enough.
This is what we fought about, Doug. Open the check, I could immediately see that Nadine had signed the check. It was another check for #35,000. I said, God, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trusting you, was I. Do you?
God has blessed us with so much. He’s made us, we’re a room full of rich people. But when it comes down to it. Do you trust what Jesus said? Salvation is impossible for mortals. But not for God. For with God. All things are possible. My prayer is that as individuals and as members of Trinity United Methodist Church and as Jesus followers. We would learn to live in such a way that we are completely and radically and shamelessly trusting in God to take care of us.
Would you stand and pray with me? God, we like trusting in ourselves because we trust us. We know what our assets are. We know what our resources are. We know what our limitations are.We know what our boundaries are. And we know that sometimes you call us beyond all of those. that you call us to walk in faith, not by sight. Not by financial planning, not by accounting. But by faith. Oh, God, give us the grace and the faith. To do that. To trust you wholly and completely with all we are and all we have. We pray in Jesus name.