Monday, May 07, 2007

Changes: The Rich Young Ruler

Mark 10:17-27
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

"One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

A man runs up to Jesus. We know from the story that he is a person of great wealth. His basic necessities are taken care of and clearly a deeper hunger has emerged. This is often when we begin to seek, to search for greater meaning or awareness than we currently have. We’re dissatisfied so we begin searching outside of ourselves. This man embarks on that quest and runs up to Jesus.

He seeks to find good outside of himself, outside of the regular Holy Trinity of my wants, my needs and my desires.

That’s a big step for anyone to make, be it 2000 years ago in Israel or in present day Edmonton. We tend to live in a society and culture that says, “Don’t lay a value trip on me.”

Often spoken of as postmodern, where there is no absolute truth to guide us, to shackle us as some would say. Therefore we have this sort of freedom that hovers above a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and we get to decide what we want.

N'SYNC did a song on Sesame Street that sums up our culture's view of self:
Believe in yourself/Just believe in yourself/You can go where you wanna go/Do what you wanna do/Believe in yourself/Just believe in yourself/Some folks try to tell you there are things you shouldn't do/But what seems right to them quite often might be wrong for you/ Believe in yourself/Just believe in yourself/You can try what you need to try/No one should question why

There is a freedom hovering above ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and we get to decide our course of action. Don’t anybody else tell me what to do!

It can create a moral apathy, sort of a freedom to be indifferent, a freedom to choose what I want, when I want it with whomever I desire.

That kind of freedom isn’t how the Bible speaks of freedom, or how we regularly encounter life.

God created us because there was this love between the Father, Son & Holy Spirit that just had to overflow to a created order. When things went awry He valued us so much that He sent his son Jesus Christ to show us what life is really about; and this Jesus who in His death and rising gave us the power to be able to connect with God.

God has promised that he will never leave or deny us. One of His names is Emmanuel, “God with us”. He is the real Father to us, wanting us to know that above everything else we are His sons and daughters.

He gives us gifts, passions, and a place to share the love we have experienced with others and with a lost and hurting world. In not abandoning us, in telling us that we can be in a conversational relationship with Him, God is also saying that He will guide us, and grow us up into being a fully devoted follower of His way.

For a Christ follower we don’t see freedom as the ability to be able to be indifferent- just the opposite is true! To be indifferent is ultimately to be a narcissist- to be self-centred.

Historian and social commentator Christopher Lasch, nearly 30 years ago, diagnosed narcissism as the signal disorder of contemporary North American culture: the cult of personality; marketing to instant gratification; skepticism to moral codes and politics of victimhood.

Jesus didn’t come to bless the ideal of Narcissism- he came to obliterate it! Instead He gives us a freedom that binds us to others. For the indifferent person, objective rules, orders, and disciplines are problematic, for they are felt, necessarily, as limitations.

But for us who follow Christ, the guidance of God and of others is liberating. It is only when we discipline our desire that we can make true achievement possible.

Think of learning a language such as English as a youngster or as a second language. We obey the rules of grammar and spelling because they create a system of communication that enhances life and community. We discipline ourselves to make speaking effortless.

Think of Wayne Gretzky as he was learning hockey. He had an amazing innate ability to play the game, and a deep desire to improve. But how did he improve? He was taught, coached, practiced, learning how the game is played. He gave his ability over to a system of play on a team. We as Christ followers are learning to give ourselves over to a system for a team, the kingdom of God breaking into the society around us.

The same would be true of the greatest basketball player of all time- Michael Jordan.

Great athletes, those who are our role models learn the game, disciplining their own wants and desires to find the real freedom, the deeper freedom to flow, to attain their full potential. They submit to coaching, they remain teachable. They train their body and mind.

Now imagine you’re a coach of a sport, I coach James ball hockey team. What if I went to these boys and just said, “Kids, I want you to be free. I want you to decide how to play the game, where you should play, how hard you should try, and, all that stuff. You guys do what you want.”

That’s not coaching. As a coach we teach them, discipline them, so these youngsters can learn the game and call forth the best effort from inside of them. When they truly understand the game, and how they can contribute, they can summon strength they never thought was there to begin with.

What if you’re a piano teacher? You sit a young pupil beside yourself and say, “Today you get to decide musical composition rules and forms of playing. Go ahead, do what you want.”

Your parents would quickly be finding a new teacher for you!

Way back when in Genesis, Adam & Eve were the first to experiment with the old, “I get my way, and my choice.

A coach helps players eliminate these bad habits in a sports team. Almost every field has seen a proliferation of coaching, and yet in the spiritual sense we often think we should be free to choose our own course.

Paul said, “I am the slave of Christ Jesus” and “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” For the indifferent, the contrast of those two claims doesn’t make sense. To be a slave of anyone is not to be free to choose.

But for the committed follower of Christ, Paul’s words ring true. The more I surrender to Christ Jesus, who is the good teacher the freer I am to be who I am supposed to be. The more Christ becomes the master of my life, the more I am changed to be like Him, the freer I am to be a child of God, to respond lovingly and promptly to the call of the Father. That’s a subversive faith.

Because of the Virginia Tech tragedy some have again asked the question in the US about the right to bear arms, and how easy it is to get a gun. This is what Ben Witherington writes about that,

“It is interesting to me that even most American Christians, when they discuss these things, discuss them in terms of their Constitutional rights to bear firearms. They don’t ask whether the New Testament might have anything to say about Christian conduct in this regard.”

Our culture is in the process of teaching us to ask the wrong questions.

What Ben Witherington is getting at is the freedom to be indifferent versus the freedom to live excellently.

Romans 16:19 says, “Be excellent at what is good and be innocent of evil. And the God of peace will soon crush satan, yes God will crush Him underneath your feet.

Might the Bible have something to say to us?

When we ask, “Master, what can I do to play better piano?’ When we eliminate the “Don’t tell me what to do attitude” we awaken to the realization that anything we take seriously, anything we love has commandments that keep us free.

That is the nature of the Ten Commandments. Eliminate those things in your life that are opposed to love. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t covet, don’t lie…

Now the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and says that he’s kept the commands since his youth.

Was he bragging or showing off? I think he was genuine; he really wanted to know the source of eternal life.

It says, “Jesus looked at him with love.” That image is available to each and every one of us from the God of the universe, that when we come to Him, He will look at us with love and compassion and not judgment.

He came to Jesus with the attitude of a young high school athlete that was readying himself for the jump to college ranks, “Coach, what do I need to do?”

He asked the question like a young Sydney Crosby after getting drafted by Mario Lemiuex, “What do I need to focus on in order to succeed?” It was a learning posture.

Jesus says to go sell all his possessions. Become downwardly mobile. Now remember, this is the same Jesus who was still looking at him and loving him.

God is love. Love is giving oneself away. Giveaway your whole life is what Jesus said. Giveaway all of your possessions and then come follow me.

Instead of asking, “What have you done for yourself lately?” (Which most of us have done a lot of!) We ask God, “What do I need to give away, to give up?”

Who of us here thinks they’re rich? Who would say they know someone who’s rich? We usually never have enough. How much money do we need? Just one more dollar!

"The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us." William James

Jesus says ‘Walk in my footsteps. Come get in line with Bartimaeus and join my family, the local church of committed Christ followers.’

Jesus says in all of that to become His apprentice. When you were apprenticing as a painter you used to move in with the artist, the mater and watch him or her until you were ready.

In chapter one of John’s gospel Andrew and another start following Jesus and they ask, “Where do you stay?” Jesus says, “Come and see.” Become my apprentices and move in to community. Move into Jesus life, into church life.

We learn to move, and think and gesture as Jesus. We learn to give our life away, to give away love. We give it away indiscriminately, not with indifference.

There the rich young ruler went away sad because he couldn’t let go of his possessions because they possessed him. He must have been in pieces.

What are your possessions?

What are you clinging to?




The esteem of others?

Henri Nouwen said that life has three key deceptions, three obstacles that need to be overcome:
1. We are what we do.
2. We are what others say about us.
3. We are what we have.

Are you falling prey to those deceptions? What are you clinging to? That’s what is standing in your way from fully surrendering to follow Jesus.

If you feel sad or discouraged when you’re reading the Bible, you’re reading it the wrong way. This story isn’t a tragedy. Jesus concludes the story by saying,

"With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

"No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it."

God calls us into discipline in order that we live an excellent life that builds the kingdom.
Do we make mistakes as Christ followers? Yes. Any kid playing piano makes a mistake; any young boy or girl playing soccer makes mistakes. When we fall, we remember that all things are possible with God!

We beg of Jesus like Bartimaeus. We lift up our arms like a small child. We recognize that we are broken, healed and loved in Christ Jesus.


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