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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

What Must I Do?

Luke 18:18-30

What Must I Do?

Rev. Dr. Susan Cartmell

Pilgrim Church, Harwich Port

Sunday October 16, 2016

This month our sermon series is all about stewardship. On the first Sunday of the month we talked about the loaves and fishes and the miracle of abundance. Where people saw scarcity, Jesus saw a hidden abundance. Last week we talked about the Parable of the Talents, and how easy it is to sell our own opportunities short and fail to do what we might do with what we have been given. Today we look at a story about a rich man who comes to Jesus seeking the meaning of life. Curious about Christ’s teachings, this man bares his soul and confided in Jesus that he would like to know how to find salvation- how to find the way to a life of purpose and possibility, how to find a faith that is so strong you don’t worry about time and so you have eternal life.

This story is so important that it was included in three of the four gospels; Matthew Mark and Luke give a version of it. It is a story about an intimate conversation where a man is vulnerable. He comes with his heart on his sleeve. He reveals his worry, his wonder, his hope.   When he asks if Jesus can help him find salvation. I don’t think he is seeking just a slot in the heavenly choir. He is looking for more. He is seeking the meaning of life. He is seeking spiritual wisdom. He is looking for meaning, for God’s values. He is seeking the answer to life. How do you face death without fear? What Jesus says to the man was so vitally important that people are pondering it still.

Let’s take a closer look at this conversation and see what it might be saying to us.

 

In the first place, Jesus tells us to live with integrity.

Come clean. Jesus starts right in on the man. He is coaching him from the get-go The man is nervous about being so vulnerable so he flatters Jesus. He couches his question in a compliment. He calls Jesus “good teacher”, and Christ flicks off that compliment. He sees it as flattery, nothing more. He says the path to spiritual truth starts by rigorous honesty, so I will remind you that I won’t be easily flattered. I am not impressed with your compliments.

Then Christ starts in on the basics. Where do you stand on the Ten Commandments.  Most of us would never think to start there, but Jesus often did. He never writes these 10 guidelines off as passe or old fashioned. No. He recognizes the profound wisdom of the ancient laws. They are as relevant today as they were when Moses penned them and Jesus referred to them. The Ten Commandments challenge us to live our faith out loud. They challenge us to have integrity. They are specific enough to remind us that faith without action is hollow.

The Bible says - You may say you love God but if you take God’s name in vain – then your love is not very deep. You may come to church on Sunday but if you trash God’s name the rest of the week, all that reverence on Sunday is mostly a show for others. It does not have integrity.

The Ten Commandments are so straight forward. Don’t cheat on the people you love. If you made a covenant to your spouse, then honor it. Don’t steal from others.  Keep good boundaries and don’t take more than you deserve. Don’t kill anyone. Life is a gift you did not give and cannot resurrect.  Don’t say things that are not true because even your words carry weight. Jesus says the path to happiness is all about integrity. 

Don’t just talk the talk; you need to walk the walk.  Why? For your own sake. You cheapen your existence every time you proclaim your faith but do things you know are wrong. Hypocrisy pulls you down. Integrity lifts you up. It makes you a better person.

            Then the man says I have been a faithful follower, my whole life. I take faith seriously. Jesus commends him and likes him. He is drawn to him so he gives him the hard advice. Like a coach who sees potential in his player, Jesus pulls him in close and puts hi arm around his shoulder and tells him he is close to the winning combination in life. Only one thing stand in his way – his money is a distraction. He is so close to finding the meaning in life all he needs is to deal with his money. He has it all and he has lived an exemplary life. One thing remains. This does not need to be important in a lifetime of faithfulness. Your money distracts you. You depend on it, instead of depending on God. So deal with that and you are good.

Sell everything and give it to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. The man is flummoxed because he is rich. In truth, he also loves his money. 

Now Christ’s suggestion gets everyone upset. Other disciples start to worry they have not done enough. They are all in an uproar.  Jesus talks a lot about money because that is where the rubber hits the road. Apparently, his money was important. In the end, it defined him. It was also his downfall.

Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback, a mega church in Orange County CA. I heard him give a sermon about stewardship that I won’t forget. Your money says more than you realize about what your faith. He said that your gift to the church reflects your commitment to God. Then he told a story that surprised me. He was approached by a man who was out of work. The man wanted to know what he should do in terms of a pledge to the church. The man did not have much money and was seeking his pastor’s advice. Can I postpone pledging this year because times are tight?  Warren replied, “You cannot afford not to pledge this year. This is the very year when you need to remind yourself how deep your faith is and how important God will be in your job search. You need to start making a pledge to the church for your sake, because you will be in a better place when you look for work.” Let me be very clean.  Warren told this story about the man’s need for God and how his money could be an obstacle to his faith, at a time when he needed to have faith.  You will need God to help you find employment. Make God a priority more than ever.”

Finally, Jesus invites us to a life of faith. He invites the man to let go of his money and come on the journey of faith. He does not judge this man. He urges him to take the next step. Like a Sufi master Jesus pulls this man in – “you have come a long way, but if you want to go the distance grasshopper, then you will need to deal with your money.” I don’t expect you to be perfect. I don’t judge you for what you have or haven’t done. I believe in you. That is why I am explaining how happy you can be if you let go of the only thing in your way.

Remember Steinbeck’s classic, “The Pearl”? A poor couple from Latin America were barely getting by but they were happy. Then the man, a fisherman, found a pearl of great value. He thought his life would suddenly change for the better. It was everything they had hoped and thought they were praying for. But greedy people suddenly preyed on them, and they fell on hard times. They lost all that made them happy. In the end the man knew that this pearl had come at too high a price. It had sucked the life out of their family and their souls were destroyed by it. He talked to the ocean and threw it back.

There was a terrific story this week in the Washington Post about some college students who stumbled onto the meaning of life and richness you find in sharing it. The students at Georgetown are idealistic and bright, but they can also be pretty entitled and self-involved. Often they did not see the people who worked around them to clean the school or feed them at the cafeteria. One business student settled into the lounge every night with his soda and chips. The janitor, a young man his age would start his shift dusting the lounge and cleaning the windows. The student never saw the immigrant from Jamaica. One night the student nodded and the next evening they spoke. Before long the 22-year old Febin Bellamy, himself an immigrant from India who transferred into Georgetown as a junior, had long talks with the janitor about both being immigrants, about politics, dreams, music. Pretty soon Bellamy started to notice other workers. They he had a brainstorm, get to know these people and tell their stories on Facebook in a feature he called Unsung Heroes. Students learned that the janitor hopes to own his own chicken joint someday. They learned that one of the cooks in the dining hall, Jose Manzanares, saw his family killed in El Salvador, and escaped as a teen. The discovered one of the maids in the library often asked students about the meaning of English words because he was from Ghana and studying for her citizenship test. They discovered that the crossing guard smiles at them each day because his own father was killed in a crosswalk. They raised $5500 for the man who runs the cash register in the dining hall – so Suru Ripai can go home to South Sudan and see his family after 45 years. It would have been easy for these students to continue ignoring people who have so much less, but instead they use their riches to reach out, to transform their university experience, and change lives.

Our challenge is to respond to Christ's invitation, because he keeps inviting us. He comes in the faces of different people and hopes we will see the opportunities he often presents, to live more generously and find the key to the richest of life's blessings is right here in our midst, all around us everyday. 

Posted: Sunday October 16, 2016

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