Sell Your Stuff… Give to the Poor (Sunday Sermon)

17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19 You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25 It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

26 They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”

28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

29 Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news 30 will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” (Mark 10:17-31, Common English Bible)

               Your soul, not to mention your budget, is in mortal danger as you approach the grocery store checkout line.       

               You ask, “How?”

               You’ve carefully filled your cart with the needed outlined on your list. You patiently wait in line, always seeming to pick the one that’s slowest. Yet somehow, by the time the checker starts tallying the items in your cart, it has suddenly filled up with a pack of gum, a box of Tic-Tacs, a new TV Guide, a four pack of 9 volt batteries, three candy bars, a publication for inquiring minds, and a partridge in a pear tree.

               If your five-year-old is along, you may also have accumulated a Pez dispenser, a Mylar balloon with a Disney character on it, a plastic “cellular” phone filled with tiny pieces of bubble gum, and a children’s book.

               Stores purposefully pack this kind of junky, funky, consumer gunk into the narrow gauntlet, we must run to get to the check-out register. Things we would never intentionally have gone searching for are now right there at our fingertips. They are inviting us, no, insisting to us that we grab them and take them home.

               Although impulsively buying a pack of gum or a candy bar hardly seems earth shattering or soul-threatening, the truth is that the increasing voracious appetites of this consumer culture are being methodically nurtured and stimulated by a crass and crushing consumerism. The worldwide ramifications of such little things as a checkout gauntlet are ominous.

               After a bad day, some would sigh, “The world is going to heck in a hand basket.” Today we can sigh even more deeply on a daily basis that the whole world is going is “going to heck in a shopping cart.” For an increasing number of people, self-identity and life-purposes are summed up by the mantra, “I shop, therefore I am.” Raging consumerism has left Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am” sitting in the dust. Consumer culture has never even heard of, much less considered, God’s revelation to Moses, “I am who I am; therefore, you are.”

               Like the rich young man in today’s lesson, we know ourselves, we identify ourselves, we define ourselves, by our possessions, our things, our “stuff.” This young man was so possessed by his “stuff” that he couldn’t unstuff himself, neither for the sake of the poor, nor for his own sake and his quest for eternal life. Faced with the choice between his old secure, in control, in charge self and the unknown possibilities of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the rich young man clung to his human illusions of power and control.

               Who or what controls your life?

               I’ve spent some time contemplating that question. Of course, I would like to say that God does and at least most of the time that would be true. But, the same time, it is also true that I am accountable to other people. I am accountable to varying degrees to all of you. I am accountable to a district superintendent and a bishop. Though I have spoken to the various bishops in our conference, at least while they were still serving as a bishop, in only brief conversations over the past nine plus years, make no mistake, I am accountable to the bishop.

               I also know that while society may say I am the head of my household, I am also accountable to my wife. Let me spend too much money in the wrong place and the wrong time and I can promise you I will hear about it. And friends, you do not want to see her go redhead. It isn’t pretty.

               I am also accountable to various people that expect me to pay my bills. If I fail to pay my bills, it won’t take long before they are coming to me or calling me wanting to know when they can expect payment and if I don’t pay they don’t hesitate to let me know that there would be consequences coming my way in pretty short order.

               All of that led me to think, what would I do if somehow, someway, I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that God was calling on me to sell all my stuff and give the money to the poor. My brother-in-law told me Cindy and I could come and live with him and my sister.  I’m not sure that would be such a good idea. Anyway, I digress. Before a few years ago I think I would have answered that question without hesitation, “Yes, I would do what God was telling me to do.” But then after one move, Cindy had an incredibly difficult time finding a job. Having to live on less money than we previously had in a long time and seeing how difficult it could be to live that way, now, I’m not so sure. To be honest I rather enjoy the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed. While I am sure we could live on less, I don’ really think I want to. So now, when I am honest with myself, I would have to answer the question, “I am not sure what I would do if God called on me to sell my stuff and give to the poor.

Jesus put rich young man on the spot. Though he obviously didn’t live in our consumer culture, the rich young man had the mindset of many of us today. He had the Jones virus, as in, “I’ve got to keep up with the Jones’.” Mark tells us what Jesus was asking was a big deal to the young man. Further, Mark goes so far as to tell us why. He had a lot of stuff. He saw himself in the things he possessed. We don’t know what he had. Perhaps it was nice clothing or jewelry. Maybe it was horses and oxen and a nice wagon or a chariot. Then again it might have been a three-bedroom two bath house with an attached two car garage. Oh wait, that would be us. I know those kinds of houses didn’t exist in those days, but you get my point. What he had may have been a nice house, more than a single room, with a barn to keep those horses and oxen. Or, could it have been that he had all of that and more?

Could it be that the rich young man had gotten used to a lifestyle where he walked out and got on a horse and went for a ride instead of walking everywhere, he went as most people did during that era?

If you stop and think about it, Jesus’ instruction to the rich young man is radical, even for that day. For most people back then, non-Romans living in a place controlled by the Roman Empire, they had little. The government wasn’t going to let most have much so the rich young man was an exception to the rule.

This young man was more attached to his stuff than he was to God’s promise. He wanted his stuff. He wanted to be in control of his life and what he had and he could not, would not let go.

I think the good news for us in this lesson is, I really don’t think God is calling on us to dispose of our stuff and give all the money away. Wesley did say, “Earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.” Most of us put priority on earning. A few less would apply the saving part to the equation. Unfortunately, not too many of us, not even we Christians have that giving part down the way we should. This sermon isn’t a sermon about giving. It is a sermon about priorities, but earning, saving, and giving should be a priority for all of us. I am reminded of something I wish someone had gotten through my thick head when I was a lot younger. It is called the rule of 80 and I believe it is both Wesleyan and would fit our priorities. Take your household income. Save 10 percent. Give 10 percent and live on the 80 percent. I puts everything a lot closer to where it should be.

It seems to me we miss a lot in life. We miss a lot because we don’t give. I believe God blesses cheerful givers in ways beyond what most of us can imagine. We miss a lot in life because we don’t always save as we should. For many of us, particularly when we are young. Saving just isn’t a priority. And, we miss a lot when we get caught up in the consumer culture and we are caught up in all our stuff. Always remember, it is just that, stuff.

Whales are some of the most amazing creatures God made. Fin whales can easily hear the bleeps of other fin whales 4,000 miles away, some scientists argue up to 13,000 miles. Humpbacks like to sing in rhyme, and the songs they sing are always changing while at the same time, they are passed from male to male, so that in any one season all the whales of a single ocean will be singing the same song.

In February 1928, a female blue whale who roamed freely throughout the Antarctic for decades was killed. From measurements taken at the time, some scientists are convinced she was the largest creature ever to live on Earth – bigger than any known dinosaur or leviathan.

But the people who had the privilege of seeing her never saw her. They were in such a hurry to harvest her blubber and find other family members of her huge species so they salvaged nothing – not a single picture, not a single bone. Nothing.

What are you missing in life because of the blubber? What part of God’s kingdom are you not experiencing because of the rush to make a living or just accumulate one more item of stuff? What good is “stuff” without the stuff of eternity? Will you give up the chaff for the real stuff… the stuff of life… the stuff of eternity.

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Seeking the Genuine,
Keith

Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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