If ever there was a text that was self-explanatory, this is probably it. Wealth is a problem. The man kneeling before Jesus is a respectful, God-fearing, commandment-obeying, church-going believer. Jesus acknowledges that, but also tells the man that to inherit the kingdom of God he lacks one thing. Sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, then follow Jesus.
Who here has done that? Like the man in this text, we leave grieving because we have many possessions. This is one of those texts where the meaning is pretty clear, even though parts are exaggerated; we pretty much nudge it off to the side. It’s a spiritual thing, we say. It’s not literal, it’s about discipleship.
That may be true, but it is clearly about money. Wealth is often a problem for rich people who follow Jesus. So our tendency is to immediately skip over to Jesus saying that those things that are impossible for humans are entirely possible for God!
Whew! Maybe everything will be OK. Maybe God will make things good for us who have a lot of possessions. Maybe God will smooth the way. Maybe our wealth will no longer be a problem. Maybe we can continue as before. Because with God, all things are possible! Right?
Except that’s not exactly where Jesus is taking this. He’s not letting us off our wealthy hook. He’s telling us that with God, it’s possible to eliminate those things that stand in the way of our following Jesus. Even our money and our possessions. When he says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, he’s not saying that because of God, a camel no longer has to go through the eye of a needle. He’s saying that with God, a camel can pass through the eye of a needle. God doesn’t keep things the same; God changes everything.
That which is possible for God and impossible for us is a change so deep within us that we are willing to give up possessions for the sake of the poor. That’s what Jesus came to reveal: that God is changing the world that profoundly–changing us that deeply. With God that actually is possible.
So the question isn’t how much money you give away. The question is how much are we being changed—revealed by how much we give away? What impossible thing is God doing in our hearts and in our lives? What obstacle is God eliminating to draw us into God’s kingdom?
For those who are rich, wealth can be a problem. That’s pretty much all of us. Which is why we have worked so hard as a congregation to give away 11% of everything that comes through the offering plates right off the top. And when you factor in staff time, neighborhood partnerships, and parts of other ministries, we’re actually investing about a third of our income outside our walls. We subsidize Lutheran Family Services, government advocacy for the poor, congregations that deliberately minister in neighborhoods of high poverty, to name a few. Missionaries, world hunger, disaster relief. More!
Some of us say, “Really? A third of my offering isn’t invested in this congregation? We’d have no struggles if we kept that. Take care of things at home first, then start looking outside.” It’s tempting for those who are rich to say “let’s emphasize our own Christian education, upgrade our building, take care of our property, hire our own youth staff person first, then consider the poor.”
Then Jesus looks around and says to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!'”
But Jesus, we say, we need to educate our kids and teach them to pray and make sure they obey the ten commandments!
Jesus looks at us, loves us, and says,”You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” This text is annoyingly clear. Ministry outside our congregation is absolutely necessary as disciples of Jesus. In fact, that is our priority as disciples of Jesus.
Perhaps another way to look at this is that it’s great that a third of our offerings help the poor and others in our world. Wouldn’t it be better if it was half? And not just because more of the poor Jesus loves would be helped, but also because if we were to invest half of our offerings in ministry outside of ourselves, that would reveal God doing an impossible thing. That would be God getting a camel through the eye of a needle. That would be a rich congregation entering the kingdom of God. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
We are beginning a budgeting process for 2016. The council will be preparing a budget to propose to the whole congregation for approval. Hold us, as council, accountable. When you look at the proposed budget in a few weeks, check how much will be invested outside of ourselves. See whether our congregation is being changed by God. See if we are being part of God’s kingdom in the world or simply keeping “all the commandments.” Make sure we are following Jesus and not “lacking one thing.” When we approve a budget, let us be sure we will have “treasure in heaven” and not “grieving because we have many possessions.”
Good Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life? . . . You know the commandments. . . Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. . . You lack one thing; go, sell what you own and ive the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.