With God all things are possible: even the changing of your heart to let go of all things and follow Christ in love for God and neighbor.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 28 B
Text: Mark 10:17-31
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Do you dare to ask God to change your heart?
That’s your question today. For weeks now in our Gospel readings we’ve walked between Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death and we’ve heard Jesus call us to follow in drastic terms: Take up your cross. Lose your life. Be last, not first. Serve everyone else. Chop off whatever trips you up from following. Sell everything you have, give it away, and follow.
But hard as those actions are, drastic as they sound, impossible as they might seem, Jesus gives great hope today: Whatever seems impossible for us is possible for God.
So – do you dare to ask God to make the impossible possible?
If you hear “take up your cross, lose your life, let go of everything,” and don’t get nervous or anxious about what that would mean for your life, hoping for unchallenging ways to understand Jesus’ description of the path of Christ, you might emerge from these weeks of Gospel readings unscathed. But probably not faithful.
That’s our great challenge. We’ve learned to hear Jesus’ drastic calls and put them in a box called “Sayings of Jesus” that we occasionally open, but only to admire them, not be challenged by them. You could go through these thorny bushes of what Jesus says it means to follow him and avoid ever getting your clothes caught on the branches. You can hear Jesus and not be changed, or concerned about your life.
The rich man today didn’t take that option. He heard Jesus exactly as Jesus intended, and knew he was being asked to let go of everything he owned if he wanted to follow. No exaggeration. No metaphor. And he had enough integrity to say “I can’t follow you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
If you dare, things will change. This man knew that.
We make Jesus’ calls comfortable by imagining Jesus is talking about getting to heaven with God when we die, not about this life. We hear Jesus say today it’ll be hard for rich people to go to heaven, rather than hear him call you and me to let go of all we have to follow him.
Today Jesus is clearly talking about God’s reign now, in this age. The disciples left family and friends, their homes, their fields and work, for the sake of following Jesus. Jesus says they are receiving all that back in abundance right now, in the community of those who follow Christ alongside them. All the family, home, wealth, and work they need they have in each other.
But that’s why following Jesus is hard for people with wealth. Like us. The more you have to lose, the harder it is to let go.
When we shift Jesus’ clear words from this life to the next, we utterly change the intent of God coming among us.
If the Triune God’s only goal in Christ was to end the power of death and bring all whom God loves into life after death, God could have done that any way God wanted. God created the universe.
But if the Triune God’s goal in Christ is to draw all whom God loves into relationship with God and with each other, a relationship of love that transforms lives and the creation, then God had to finally become one of us, speak our language, show us a face and a voice we could hear and trust and learn from.
Even in today’s Gospel Jesus promises life with God after we die. It’s just a separate thing from his call to lose everything to follow him. It’s a question of who can do what. Only the crucified and risen Christ can give you and me life after we die. You and I can do nothing to make it happen. We can only trust Christ’s promise to do it.
But only you and I can live the life of Christ here, in our lives, today, and so change the world. Learn to love God and neighbor with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
So what do we do with today’s call?
The question might not be whether today you divest all of your retirement, or sell your house, or take your Social Security check, and give it all away. We could argue that if everyone sold everything and gave it away, who would grow the food, make the homes, if everyone has nothing? The question really is whether you listen to Jesus with enough seriousness that his call makes you squirm. Causes you discomfort. Makes you wonder if you are actually being faithful.
So, you could start to ask, every day, what you hold that keeps you from loving God and neighbor fully. It could be everything. But start somewhere. It might be wealth that holds you back, and you decide to give away a lot more than you have before. It might be habits that harm others, that you decide to change. It might be ways of thinking, prejudices, fears, you try to get rid of.
But you and I would do better to share the integrity of this man today and walk away if we’re not willing to consider what we need to lose, let go of, cut off, for the sake of God’s Good News reaching all.
But also remember: God makes what seems impossible possible.
You and I hear these calls and know it’s going to be really hard to know what to do. Even harder to have the courage to try. Hardest of all, to fail and have to start over again.
But, do you dare trust Jesus’ word and ask the Triune God to change your heart? To make possible in you what you think is impossible? Because God will. The Spirit is in you right now, pulling you as you hear Jesus’ words, waking you at night with calls to love and care for your neighbor. God’s ready and willing to change your heart and so change your life. If you don’t walk away in sadness but give God a chance, you will find all you need to follow Christ faithfully. Even with stumbles and sins along the way.
And remember this, too: Jesus loved this man, even as he called him to risk everything.
Even as he walked away. Jesus loved the disciples even when they struggled on this path.
And Jesus – God-with-us – loves you as you are. You are God’s beloved child, a precious gift in God’s eyes. The God who loves you says, “Follow me. Let go of what keeps you from it. Even if it’s hard. And let me make it possible for you to do it.” That’s the joy of this path.
And that’s what God’s reign is all about. God’s beloved children living in love with each other and God, learning to let go of all that prevents that love, to embrace losing everything for each other in order to find everything in each other. So the whole creation can be healed.
Do you dare to ask God to make you a part of this?
In the name of Jesus. Amen