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Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 11, 2015

At one time in my life, I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. I started ballet lessons when I was seven. I practiced faithfully. In high school, one of the teachers staged ballets. I wanted to be in them in the worst way and I was, but I never got to do anything dramatic. I was a rat in “The Nutcracker” and did some bit parts in other recitals. In my senior year, purely because of my persistence, I think, the teacher gave me a solo as a mother with a baby who dies in the cold. I didn’t wear a pretty costume, but I was happy to get the part. I took ballet in college too. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t be a dancer. I lacked the body type, I lacked healthy knees, having had two surgeries, and I lacked the talent.

Jesus tells the rich man that he lacks one thing to be ready to inherit eternal life. He needs to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and come and follow Jesus. The rich man could not do it. He was attached to his possessions and all they meant and he could not be the dependent one Jesus wanted him to be.

Jesus talks to his disciples about how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom. They carry many things and cannot let them go to open their arms to receive God’s gracious gift. They begin to think that they have gathered all they have through their own efforts and can do with it what they want. They may believe what the disciples believed – that wealth is a sign of being blessed by God and those people who use it well are sure to get into the kingdom. Bill and Melinda Gates are a good example of rich, socially responsible people. They give millions of dollars to good causes and have millions left over for themselves. Do they lack the one thing the rich man lacked?

It would seem like not everyone did because there were rich people who followed Jesus and supported him through their wealth. And he and his disciples needed that support because they had given up everything. There is a tension here. If all those rich people gave away everything to the poor, then they would be poor too and there would be no one left to support Jesus’ ministry. There is a story told about a couple who took homeless people into their house on a bitterly cold night and because of all the people they took in, they had to sleep outside and they froze to death. Now what would happen to the homeless people who had no one to turn to?

The rich man lacked the ability to give up his fortune to be ready to enter the kingdom. We may lack the same thing. We may have money or some other possession that we cannot give away because we are scared to give up control; we are frightened of being dependent on God. We may have relationships or prestige in the community or power or property or any number of things we feel tied to that are keeping us from being ready to receive the kingdom. We have to put them down. While not many of us are asked to give up all our money right now this very minute, we are called to give our money, which God gave us in the first place, to support God’s kingdom work. The biblical standard is the tithe, but we cannot all manage that, so we are called to give as much as we can to offer back to God in praise and thanksgiving for what God has done in Jesus Christ.

This is stewardship season, and the text is a good one for words on stewardship, but a willingness to give our money away may not be the only lack we have that we need to pay attention to. For example, we may have the lack of a heart for service. We may be so wrapped up in our own interests that we are detached from the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy in any way. We may have come by this trait through the way we were raised and don’t think twice about not doing service. Maybe we feel like we will be taken advantage of if we help someone out who doesn’t really need what we have to offer and is scamming us instead. Maybe there is so much need out there, we feel like we can’t fix the world, so we don’t try to help with anything. Maybe we think we ourselves are too sick or otherwise incapacitated to help someone. But Jesus calls us all to service to our neighbors. He asks the rich man if he has kept the commandments that have to do with relationships with neighbors. It is very important for Jesus that we love one another as he has loved us. Without a heart for service, we will end up with the goats and not the sheep.

We may lack a God who is big enough to do the impossible. In the 12-step world that is called the “tiny God syndrome”. Since the first of the 12 steps is to admit powerlessness over something, we have to believe that there is some greater power that can help us, that can do what is impossible for mortals. Jesus tells his disciples that the no one can get into the kingdom without God’s help in response to their cry, “But who then can be saved?” If God cannot do the impossible, we reason, then we have to do it all ourselves. We are unhappy about this, but we don’t see another choice. We wish our God were bigger and more expansive. Well, God is much more than we can imagine. God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and more importantly, God wants to help us out. Jesus showed us by his example that God had great power – God could heal the sick, exorcise demons, feed 5000 with five loaves and two fish, calm the storms and forgive sins. God showed God’s power in Jesus, especially in the gift of the resurrection. The power of life over death. None but a magnificent God beyond our understanding, but not beyond our faith, could do that.

We may lack the concept of a God who loves us. I used to be one of the ones who prayed frequently for others but not often for myself. Somehow I felt God loved those people out there, but God did not love me enough to help me with the things I needed. They were too unimportant. I was too unimportant. I was not good enough. What I didn’t know then, but know much more often now is that God loves us and accepts us as we are, good and bad, faithful and frightened, selfish and giving, anxious and calm. God loves every part of us, and we can love every part of ourselves, not using that as an excuse to do nothing but as a spur to ask God’s help to become all we can be.

The truth is we all lack something. There is at least one hole in our soul where we need God and something is blocking that hole, making it hard for Jesus to enter and sweep us up in God’s love and care for us. What can we do to remove the block from our hole or holes, so that we can come and follow Jesus? We can ask God for the willingness and the ability to do whatever we have to do to dissolve the block. The rich man was not willing or able to do this, although thinking and praying about it might have changed his mind. We can act as if we do not have the block and practice relying on God because that is what all of these lacks are about – a fear that God will not be there for us that keeps us selfish and trying to live life independently. Lacks are also about our unwillingness to open our hands and our hearts – to let things and ideas go so we can be open to God’s action in our lives. A good way to “act as if” is to be willing to part with our money in a way that is generous to God and God’s people. Money is such an emblem of security that parting with it is a symbol of the radical dependence we are called to have to be a follower of Christ. As with many of our lacks we may give them up a piece at a time, not all at once, but we are following Jesus’ directions and that is a good thing. Detaching from money frees us from self-centered fear, transforms our hearts to an attitude of abundance, where we can love and serve and give to others and to God, and gives us courage to believe in a God who can do the impossible and who loves us unconditionally. It is God who does the work of salvation but we have our part to play. What are our lacks? If we ask God, God will show us and if we let God, God will deliver us from them to be the dependent, loving, caring people God wants us to become.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker