You’ve got to wonder how long he had been waiting for Jesus to come by. Here he was carrying a question that was burning inside his soul, so you know he didn’t happen to bump into Jesus, he must’ve been waiting. Now here’s his chance. Now he hears his own voice shout: Jesus! Good Teacher! Quick question. Tell me… What do I need to do in order to inherit eternal life?
Jesus heard the question and grumbled an answer about only God being good. Anyway, you know what the commandments are. Follow the law.
But you better believe this man was not going to let Jesus off the hook! He stopped him again, Look, I’ve already been keeping the commandments. There’s got to be something else I can do! Just tell me what it is.
What happened next was Jesus looked at the man, and he saw him. Then he said, Go sell what you own, give the money to the poor, then come follow me.
And I’m so sorry.
What Jesus just asked him to do was impossible. All through the Gospel, people come to Jesus longing for life, desperate for healing, and Jesus heals them, and they go away rejoicing. Not this man. Not this time. The Bible says the man was shocked, and he went away grieving.
What happened next was Jesus looked at the disciples, and he saw them. He shook his head and said, How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle!
Now the disciples are the ones who are shocked. Jesus looked at them again, and he saw them again, and he told them the truth. Nobody can save her own life. For humans it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible.
There is something about this story that cuts us to the quick. —Even if we try to convince ourselves it’s the rich man’s fault, if we try to reassure ourselves by saying, Well at least I’m not as rich as the man in the story, I mean probably not, I mean there are richer people in the world, so I’m okay, right?— Whether you are wealthy or not, whether you think of yourself as wealthy or not, there’s something in each of us that can relate to this sorry sorrowful man.
All of us know what it is to have our lives get threatened by forces that are not God. Your job might try to take up your life, or your drinking, or your hoarding, or my scheduling every minute. Money might try to take our lives; or maybe it’s worry that’s consuming us; maybe it’s our worry about money.
And we could have a whole discussion about whether we’re intending to give our lives to these forces or whether they’re taking our lives from us, like it or not, but I’m pretty sure. All of us know what it is to see our lives start to slip away to forces in this world that are not God.
I’m absolutely sure. All of us are harboring a shimmering impulse deep in your soul that’s yearning toward life. Like the grieving man in the story, all of us are longing to come back to life.
The scary part is what Jesus does. In the story we just heard, three times, Jesus looks at the people and he sees who they really are. He sees their truth, and if he can see theirs, you know, he sees our truth too. Jesus sees exactly which forces have laid a claim to my soul. He sees what I’m giving my life to, whether I mean to or not. Jesus sees my deep shame. And you and I know, this is the scary part of the story, but it’s not surprising. It could be, we’ve always been afraid of this.
Could be, nobody needed to come to church to hear this. We already know our own shame, all of us do, and as long as it’s our own secret, that’s one thing. When somebody else can see our shame, when Jesus can see your shame and mine, it becomes a lot more difficult to deny. It somehow makes our shame all the more real once somebody else can see it. This is the scary part of the Gospel, but it’s not surprising.
The surprising part is that Jesus doesn’t just see our deep shame; he sees our truth. When Jesus looks at you, he sees the shining mercy of God, the glimmer of light longing to come back to life. The spirit of Christ meets the spirit in you. The resurrection of Christ notices the resurrection in you. And can you imagine if we began to see this in each other…
You and I know we live in a world that is all too eager to exploit our shame. The world tries to sell us a standard story made of heroes, and victims, and villains, as though there’s anybody who isn’t all three. The world says your brokenness is all anyone can see; your deep shame is what matters most about you; and somebody needs to speak up and say back to the world, No! That’s not true.
Imagine if we made it our business to notice people and see their truth, if we could see the shimmering mercy of God inside them. When someone else can see our mercy, it becomes a lot more difficult to deny. It somehow makes our life all the more real once somebody else can see it.
Nobody can see his own truth by himself, we’ve got to help each other. Nobody can save his own life.
Here in Rock Island, the organization Clock Inc is devoted to the work of welcoming our LGBT Plus neighbors. LGBT Plus stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and more. Founded by Chase Norris, Clock Inc is a community center for LGBT Plus individuals. It offers counseling and support groups along with education and training for allies.
The message of Clock Inc is clear. Who you are is not a sin —no matter what you are hearing from the churches, no matter what you are hearing from the whispers of ghosts that haunt your conscience. We see your life and your truth, and you matter. Now we can see, Clock Inc is doing the work of Christ.
In light of our Year of Caring and Service, our Lenten program will feature community leaders who are our partners in the work of compassion. On Wednesday, Chase Norris will be coming to speak to our church. I hope that you will be here too —for at least two reasons.
First, we have something to learn from the work that Clock Inc is doing. Even if you might be feeling a little nervous, I encourage you to join us. I know you will be blessed by hearing Chase. When you see his truth, I really believe that your fears will be relieved. Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.
The second reason to come is just as important. Not only are we showing up to learn about Clock Inc, but Clock Inc is coming to see us. I already told Chase that we are Open and Affirming; he included Church of Peace on their website, now we have the chance to prove it true. It could be that Chase is nervous about meeting us! But when he comes and sees our truth, when he sees who we are as a church, his fears will be relieved.
In the Gospel story, the rich man might not seem like he should be a sympathetic character. We know Jesus takes the side of the poor. He calls us to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It would make a certain sense if Jesus were to condemn this wealthy man for trying to save his own soul, if Jesus were to make an example out of him for the rest of us.
But here’s where that idea falls apart. Somehow this story made it into the Gospel of Mark, which means there’s some likelihood that whoever put this story into the Gospel was there and watched the whole thing go down. According to this account, when Jesus looked at the rich man asking to get his life back, Jesus saw him and loved him. And if the first miracle is that Jesus loved this desperate man, the second miracle is that somebody saw this happen.
The Gospel writer witnessed Jesus noticing the mercy of God in this frightened, rich man. All I’m saying is please don’t miss how powerful this is. The world has been changed by less.
Now for centuries, preachers do not get to shame the rich man for his self-indulgent self-reliance. We do not get to stand in the pulpit and make him into the villain of the story. We don’t get to because somebody was watching Jesus and they saw him look at this man and love him.
Where there should have been judgement, there was love. Where we were expecting to see shame, instead we see the shining mercy of God.
Imagine if we could do this for each other, because there is good news. Nobody can save their own life, but for God all things are possible. You’ve got some of God’s life in you. In the moments when you’re not so sure that’s true, because we all have moments we’re not so sure that’s true, in those moments, you can believe us. We can see it. We see the power of God’s grace shining in you. Amen.