“Looked At In Love” Mark 10:17-31

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?

“More Than Paper Cuts” Mark 10:2-16

Today’s Gospel lesson brings us into one of those uncomfortable subjects.  It is fine to look at the scriptures in terms of generalities, nice quotable sayings to make us feel better.  There are a whole host of scripture passages and sayings of Jesus that could be quickly and easily put on a water-colored card like some Helen Steiner Rice poem to give encouragement.

This is not one of them.

What Jesus has to say about divorce is stinging and hard.  In fact, harder than we expect!   Jesus doesn’t cut anyone any slack here!   “Hardness of heart is why Moses wrote you this commandment.”   That’s a comparison to Pharaoh, whose “heart was hardened”.  God could get through to Pharaoh, but not to his own people on this matter!

“You commit adultery” when you remarry Jesus says, plain and simple.  Ouch!  Where is the compassion of Jesus?

In a day where the divorce rate continues to hover at around 50%, we wonder if Jesus’ views are just old fashioned or out of touch.

Surely Jesus would have a different attitude if he had known then what we know!  He probably didn’t know about things like abusive relationships, or irreconcilable differences.   I’m sure it was easier to be so direct back then.   We have a kind of “Ozzie and Harriet” mindset that says that somehow “back then” marriages worked out better.

I don’t think there was ever such a time.

The grand experiment that God undertakes with humankind is told in the book of Genesis, and what do we find there?   In Chapter one God creates everything.  In Chapter two, God creates humankind.  In Chapter 3, God and humankind are at odds already!   And the first “couple” are pointing fingers and blaming each other!

In the beginning, Jesus says, God’s design was for humankind to live together in relationship with one another and with God, and from the very beginning it has not been easy!    The creation story is itself a story of broken relationships!   Things have been hard for us from the beginning.

In Jesus’ day this law given by Moses concerning divorce was alive and well and deceptively simple, so it is rather interesting that the question of whether or not it is “legal” is one that would be lifted up.   Women were property.   You could dispense with them as you saw fit.  If you wanted to divorce your wife, you needed only to write on a slip of paper, “I divorce you,” hand it to her, and it was done.

Wife and family, women and children could all be turned out of a household at a moment’s notice and without recourse!

There were no procedures for appeal by women, no provision for care aside from going to the Temple to be put on charity, or to return to your family, where you were viewed as a failure and “damaged goods.”

This is the situation Jesus is asked about.  “Is it lawful to do that?”   We’re told this is a test put forth by the Pharisees.   I don’t know exactly what they are fishing for.  Were they hoping to trip him up into speaking against a law allowed by Moses?   Were they counting on the fact that Jesus’ compassion toward all would override the direct rule?

Or was this a test to see how they could justify their own actions, gain clarity on how the divorce rules could be better refined for their own convenience?

It’s not clear.   What is clear is that what Jesus does is move to intensify the debate rather than to diffuse it.

When you write one of these, you are acting just like Pharaoh.  That’s what he is saying.

When you remarry, you commit adultery, not just the man, but the woman too, the victim in this situation who got turned out without recourse. She is also is in adultery, or at least that is what it will feel like to her because she carries with her the scars of broken relationship.

Why does Jesus choose to turn up the heat?

When I was 4 years old, I was at my grandma’s house.   I knew which cupboard she kept the candy in, and so while she was busy with chores or something, I snuck into the kitchen, pushed a chair up against the counter, and climbed up to help myself without asking.

The Kitchen cupboards were old, heavily painted wooden doors, with sticky spring loaded latches, and took great effort to open.   My 4 year old self set to the task, yanking  and pulling, until the catch finally released and BAM!   The cupboard door caught me squarely in the cheek just below the eye producing a gash and stream of blood.

I probably should have had stitches, but that did not happen.

I bear the scars of my choice that day, to this day.

If I had asked for the candy, I probably would have gotten some. But no, my decision was to go get it for myself without regard to my relationship with my grandma.

Why do I tell that story?   Well, it’s all about the scars that we carry into life.

Why does Jesus intensify the debate?  Why does he turn up the heat?  When Jesus talks about divorce and tells us about hardened hearts and committing adultery, he is simply describing the way things are.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, gentlemen (he is, after all, talking only to the Pharisees here, the men.)  This is not just a “paper cut” we’re talking about that this piece of paper produces.  Hardened hearts and broken intimacy cannot be made all better with a piece of paper!

Is it lawful?  Sure.  But let’s be real.  You cannot undo what has been done once those words are scribbled!  The relationships will never be the same, and the next relationship that each party enters into will have to carry the scars of this!

In this world there are no simple solutions, no easy answers to the matters of broken relationship.  Whether that is broken relationship between husband and spouse, or issues of immigration, or gun control, or between parent and child, or between ethnic communities or nationalities.

We all long for simple solutions, a piece of paper to make it legal, to make it clear, and to lay it all out and to explain it all away.

But the truth is, when relationship is broken no legal document can erase the pain felt, or take away the scars, or make everything all better.

It may be legal.

It may be lawful.

But it doesn’t take away the reality of relationships broken, trusts betrayed, words exchanged, memories both cherished and nightmarish….and all the ongoing  consequences  that have come from that broken relationship.

God intended wholeness from the beginning of creation.

God intended for our relationship with him to be so close that we would never have to experience things like loss, separation, or brokenness.

But, that’s not how things turned out.  Sin entered the picture, and from that moment on in Genesis 3, human history has left a trail of broken relationships, shattered promises, and scarred people.

So, Jesus says by ramping up the ante….let’s not kid ourselves into thinking a piece of paper can make something all better, or that there is a simple solution to things.

And, lest we think that this lesson only has to do with marriage, let’s be honest about what it means to commit adultery. That’s not a sin reserved just for married people and for sex, but can refer to anything that involves my whole emotional being in terms of my relationship to God and others.

The first commandment, Luther said, was the key to keeping all the others.  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  Luther’s explanation was simple “We are to fear, love and trust God above anything else.”    You do that, and everything else falls in place.

We commit adultery in a sense whenever we break that primary relationship with God, for God is the one to whom we have all been promised in Baptism.  God is the one who has given God’s self to us irrevocably in Christ Jesus.  Is it not the case that Jesus is referred to as the Groom, and we, the church, are the bride?

Whenever we go after money, or personal time, or take a self-righteous attitude that says, “I know what’s best for me!” leaving out the needs or wishes of the neighbor, we commit adultery in our relationship with God.

Whenever we pursue our own goals and dreams instead of listening to God’s word and catching a vision of the dreams and goals that God may have for all of us as God’s people, we commit adultery.

Each time I sin, each time I refuse to forgive my neighbor, my brother, my sister, my father, my mother, my wife, even myself…..Each time I put something else besides my relationship with God at the center of my life, I commit adultery against the God who looked at me in love and who, in the waters of baptism; chose me as his own precious child!

This is the truth, and I feel the guilt and pain that it causes, no matter how hard I might try to justify myself, or what perfectly legal or logical arguments I might come up with to try to defend my actions.  The truth is; in seeking my own needs and comfort first, I abandon you, God.  And when I do, it feels like I’m sleeping around.

I carry the scars of what I have done.  I wonder when I’ll be “found out.”

But now, see what Jesus does in the face of the hard reality that he spells out.  The very next thing Jesus does is to open his arms wide to take in the children, and to promise them the kingdom.

My relationship with my grandmother was broken, and I will forever bear the scars of what I did, but still and all, when I cried in my pain and brokenness, I found her arms ready to enfold me.

So it is with God.

“Let the children come to me…”  God does not revoke the promises made to us in baptism.  As often as we turn, we find God’s waiting arms outstretched, for God does not have a hardened heart, like we do… but an open one.

Oh, the relationship between us may never be quite the same.  You will bear the scars, and you will have to live with the consequences of the choices you have made in life.

But, we aren’t the only ones who bear scars!

See now, the outstretched, scarred hands of Jesus promising the Kingdom to you.

For you, Child of God, Jesus was crucified, died and is risen.

For you, he opens wide those nail pierced arms of welcoming you to the Kingdom, no matter what you may have done, or may have been forced to do.

Let’s not deceive ourselves.  A piece of paper doesn’t make things all better, and broken relationships are more than simply paper cuts.

Only the promise of God can heal, forgive, finally restore, and set creation right.   And to do that, Jesus calls things what they are, and then he welcomes the scarred, the sinners, and the adulterers — you and me, one and all, into his Kingdom