“What salvation looks like” 03/01/2020 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Psalm 34 and Mark 10:17-31 

         When our kids were small, we had a going to bed ritual which included, reading a story and then saying prayers.   Whatever parent was tucking in that night would begin the prayer thanking God for the day and asking for God’s care.  And then we turn to the child we were tucking in to finish the prayer.    

        Very early on when our son was maybe 3 or 4 years old, he started ending his prayers in the same way every night.  After talking with God about this or that he started always ending his prayers by saying “And God, bless everyone that we know and everyone that we don’t know.” Amen.

        All these many years later, I still find that prayer so moving.  For it acknowledged that while we may divide the world into those we know and those we don’t know, God doesn’t.  Everyone is known to God and is deserving of God’s blessing. 

So let us pray, Holy One, please bless everyone we know and every one we don’t know, for all are known by you and in you all are blessed — for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

        In our scripture this morning we meet a young man who seems to have a burning need to know, he has a burning need to get his questions answered.  And so, as Jesus set out this morning, a rich young man runs up to him “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

        It’s an interesting question for the man to ask, because it seems that he is already doing everything that would be required.  He is righteous (he has been keeping the commandments since his youth), the truth of which is evidenced by how rich he is. 

        For you see in that time, it was understood theologically that material wealth, prosperity and success were clearly signs of God’s favor.  Wealth was the result of righteousness, a reward and blessing conferred by God.

        Many of the same assumptions are operating still in our day. Think about the language we use. When we ask about someone’s worth, we are inquiring about their financial portfolio. And there is the implicit assumption that those who have more worth are more worthy, right? They are to be given more respect, power and influence. They are afforded (again an interesting verb choice commonly used) a greater place of prominence in our society. 

        So it is interesting that the rich young man even asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life”.  He is doing everything right. The disciples see it. The disciples are probably waiting for Jesus to invite this prestigious young man to join him straight way.  Hoping he will say yes,  because this man would surely increase the status of the disciples in the eyes of the crowd.  If a prosperous and righteous man were to join them that could only be a good thing, Right? 

.       But Jesus seems to be operating outside of this prosperity paradigm.

        First, Jesus rejects the title of “Good” deflecting instead to that it is only God that is good.  Scholarship tells us that Jesus does so because Jesus does not want to be caught up within the mutual admiration society that convention prescribes.  You pay me a compliment and I am obligated to pay you one as well.  

        Jesus has no interest in the up-building of ego. “God alone is good” he says and then moves on.

        Jesus moves on to review the commandments, but when the man says he has done all that is needed, — well then it starts to get interesting. 

        For Jesus looks at this man and then he says this shocking and astonishing thing.  He says that this rich young man who is doing everything right is nonetheless — lacking one thing. It is worth noting that the Greek word translated as “lacking” has the resonance of being inferior in excellence or worth.  

        This is profoundly disruptive. How can this man be lacking – how can he be inferior in excellence or worth?  To say so is an oxymoron. For it not to be so, requires that that disciples and this man dismantle the prevailing paradigm of their day. This is what sends the man away grieving and sends the disciples into a tail spin.

        What is it that the man is lacking?  Did you notice that Jesus does not tell the man what it is that is lacking?  Is it humility? Could it be vulnerability? All Jesus says is go sell what you own and give the money to the poor.  Perhaps implying that it is through this action that he will discover what he has lacked.  Is it by getting rid of that which the young man thinks makes him worthy that he will discover his true worth in the eyes of God?

        For the teaching in this scripture for me this morning is that “what is lacking” may actually lie – right in the midst of that of which we are most proud. What is lacking may be hidden behind what we are celebrating as our biggest accomplishments and markers of worth.

        This makes me think about what is lacking in me?  What could be lacking in this gathered body of Christ?          What do we need to let go of? For our young man, I think, it was the pride of worthiness that he clung to as demonstrated by his wealth.  But let’s be clear it could anything. It a kind of pride disguised as  humility.  Or is could be a tendency to draw attention to how self sacrificing we are.  Or a need to be right above a need to be kind.  Or a host of other moves that we make.

        So I wonder as we enter Lent, what if our prayer could be for Jesus to help us to discover what is the one thing that we too are lacking.         Life of faith is about formation, it is growing and learning, we never arrive we are always on the way. Not just as individuals but as the gathered body of Christ, in this our life together as well.  Maybe our prayer could be show us how we too may discover the one thing that may impeding our ability to know the love of God that was made manifest in the Way of Jesus? 

        Now as a closing thought:  I find it noteworthy that all of the action of this story flows out of this young man’s desire to know.  But I wonder if what is behind his coming to Jesus is actually a deep desire to be known. To be seen and to be loved not for what he has accomplished but for who he truly is as a beloved child of God.

        This reminds me of a quote by Trappist Monk, contemplative and mystic, Thomas Merton who said:

“If you want to [know] me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

       And the good news of the passage lies in that the ma is in fact known.  He is fully known by Jesus.    In the midst of this exchange between Jesus and the young man, we are told that “Jesus “looking at him, loved him”.   Jesus saw him, he knew him and he loved him.  Jesus’ love was not contingent on if the man did as Jesus said.  Before the young man did or did not do anything, Jesus saw him and loved him. The salvation we seek is already is, before we have the courage to do anything that God may be asking of us. This is a deeply pastoral encounter.  It is an encounter marked by love not judgment.  This is grace.  God loves us fully, right now as we are, and yet, God loves us too much to let stay as we are for letting us stay as we are would for many of us mean missing out on the love that God has to share.    

        So in this Lenten season, let us too take the risky move that this young man was bold enough to take. He may not have been ready to relinquish that which possessed him (we may not be ready to do so either), but let us, like him, make the first move in doing so. Let us run to Jesus and put ourselves in the presence of love.  May this be our starting place as well. Thanks be to God.   Amen