I have an important question to ask you. How many of you are here today because you hoped to be looked at in love by Jesus? Come on, let’s have a show of hands?
If you’re hand isn’t up I’m assuming that maybe you came here to be judged, or to be scowled upon by an angry and judgmental God, so let’s have a show of hands for that. Who needs a good brow beating?
No, well then I think we can all agree that we came here in the sure hope and expectation that Jesus would look upon us with love.
But, as this Gospel shows us, such a look does not mean that we are not challenged!
In the Gospel this day a man comes to Jesus with a fascinating question. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit Eternal life?”
It’s a fascinating question, because on a certain level it is nonsense! How do you do something to get an inheritance??
Oh sure, we might talk about sucking up to Aunt Elsie or being nice to Uncle Tom in hopes of being more likely to appear in their will, but the point of an inheritance is that it is a gift, and you get it because of who you are not because of what you do! Whether you are nice or nasty, the gift comes your way first and foremost because of a relationship that is already established. So just why is this man asking this question?
We get a glimpse into that when Jesus questions him back. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…,” and then Jesus lists the commandments, and the man affirms to Jesus that he has kept all of these commandments since his youth.
Now, this is the point at which we kind of glaze over and aren’t paying really good attention. Our mind shifts to automatic pilot and we fail to hear what is really said, so to make sure we have that down, let’s take a closer look at these commandments that Jesus lists here. If you need to, you can look at Mark 10, Verse 19 printed for you in the bulletin again.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness.
You shall not defraud, or covet, — two commandments related about getting things from your neighbor by hook or by crook.
Honor your mother and father.
Now let’s see, that’s 7, and how many were there again? I have a vague memory of there being 10!
So, what do we make of this? Didn’t Jesus know the commandments?
Or is the point here that it is the man who doesn’t really know the commandments, even though he says he’s kept them since his youth?
Or, is there something else going on here. Which commandments are missing from this list?
I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
The list is missing the first three! And, if you remember your catechism, you might remember that those first three are all about our relationship to God, sometimes called the “first table of the law,: and commandments 4 through 10 are about living with one another in community, how we are to live in relationship to one another – or the second table of the law.
Is this what Jesus is doing? He looks at this man, and loves him, and in a sense sees right through him! Here is a man who has indeed lived a good life.
Here is a man who has been doing very well in treating others fairly.
Here is a man who by all outward appearances has everything together.
But, here also is a man who isn’t so sure about what the future holds. Is this all there is? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“You lack only one thing.” Jesus says with that look of love. Here the man stands, looking God in Christ Jesus in the face, and what he is getting is a look of love, make sure you understand that, see that, Oh people of God!
This is not a scowling face of a Jesus who is upset with the man or with his actions.
This is not a disapproving face of a Jesus who judges this man for what he has done, or has left undone.
No, this is the Jesus looks at him, and loves him; but who goes on to say, “You lack only one thing….the thing that is found in the first three commandments, attention to your relationship with God.
And now, here is an opportunity to have that. “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
This is where we get distracted again. It sounds like Jesus is asking him to give up everything!
Jesus does not say that. Jesus doesn’t say “sell everything.”
What Jesus does invite the man to do is to follow him, and in order to do that, he will have to take a hard look at what is standing between himself and that relationship with God, the inheritance that is his all along.
What is in the way?
His “stuff” is in the way.
The comedian George Carlin used to have a routine that he does on “Stuff.” In a way that only a comedian can, he makes us laugh at ourselves and recognize the silliness of our preoccupation with our possessions. I would run the clip of that for you to laugh at, but Carlin was also the comedian who had the 7 words you can’t say on the radio or television and uses a few of them in the routine, so I can’t play that in church. Let me just recap it for you. Or you can watch it here. George Carlin Stuff
What are our houses after all? Carlin says, they are just a place for us to store our stuff. We make a pile of stuff, and then we put a roof over it.
And, then, when we get too much stuff, we need a bigger house for our stuff.
When we run out of room there, we rent storage for our stuff. Imagine that, a whole industry designed to help us with our stuff!
When we travel, we take our stuff along! Not all our stuff, just enough stuff to make us feel at home. But we never really feel at home when we travel. Why? Because we don’t have all our stuff, and when we travel there’s no place to put our stuff because someone else’s stuff is always in our way. There’s no place for my stuff!
Ever notice that our stuff is always “good stuff” but other people’s stuff is “junk?” Where did they get this stuff???
Pretty soon we have our stuff spread out all over the place, and we have a hard time keeping track of all our stuff.
By the end of the routine, Carlin makes the confession. “I started out having all this stuff, and now all this stuff has me!”
This is the plight of the man in our Gospel. His eyes are set on the things of this world. Oh, he has kept all the commandments since youth that relate to his neighbors, and probably has done that exceedingly well!
But what he lacks is a relationship with God that can give him the assurance of a life that is more than just “stuff” and his attention to the “stuff.”
What keeps him from receiving that gift from God ends up being the stuff itself!
So Jesus looks at him, and loves him, and says, “you lack only one thing.”
Sell your possessions, do what you already know is good to do, which is to give to the poor, to help your neighbor. You already know about those commandments! And then, with the stuff out of the way, come, follow me!
Get rid of the stuff that keeps you from walking with me!
And we are told that that when he heard this, the man was shocked and went away grieving, and why? “For he had many possessions….”
The stuff got in the way.
You didn’t come here today to be scowled at by an angry God.
You didn’t come here today to listen to some guy who gets paid plenty well stand up here and tell you that you should sell everything you have and give it to the church, or to the poor.
You came here today to be looked at in love by Jesus.
So did I.
But the look of love from Jesus requires all of us to look at the stuff that has a sneaky way of getting in the way of our relationship with a loving God.
Whatever it is; your stuff, my stuff–possessions, long held convictions, and presumptions about what the bible says or doesn’t say but should… Whatever it is that keeps us from seeing the look of love in the face of Jesus, that is what we need to get rid of today.
We don’t have to do anything to inherit eternal life. That is a gift given by a gracious and loving God.
But seeing Jesus look at us in love is meant to prompt us to do some things because of that relationship.
Because God looks at me in love, I can let go of my stuff for the sake of the one who is in need.
Because God looks at me in love, and looks at others in love as well; I will put away my pre-conceptions about what others should or should not do, or be. That is a matter for them to resolve with the God who also looks at them in love.
Because God looks at me in love, I am free to give, free to live, free to love and free to serve.
I don’t do these things to earn or inherit anything.
I do them because of that look,– the one that Jesus gives me, that invites me toto consider and remember that relationship with God, so that I can follow where God would lead.
Beloved in the Lord, you are this day, looked at in love by Jesus, and with that look there still comes this invitation.
You are free to follow.
What stuff will you dispose of, so that it won’t get in the way of that one thing that we all truly desire?
What stuff will you give up, so that you can go where Jesus leads the way?