“Serving is the Name of the Game”
October 14, 2018 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost – Year B
Carol was on a business trip. In the taxi on the way to the airport the driver asked her where home was. She said, “Toronto.” He replied that he had grown up there. He asked her what she did and she explained that she was a criminologist. “Oh”, he said, “Then you would be very interested in my story.” He went on to tell her how he had grown up in the roughest of places in the city. It was a tale of one tragic happening after another. His mother had been murdered. He had been separated from his brothers and sisters. The story sounded unbelievable and yet Carol knew it was true. Carol said to him, “Well, how is it that you managed to break out of all that and do so well for yourself?” And the cab driver replied, “My grandmother took me to church. I attended Sunday school and there was a teacher there who really believed in me. That’s how I made it where I am today.
I have a feeling that the man who ran up to Jesus, worrying about eternal life, might well have appreciated that story of Carol and the taxi driver. How wonderful to be so influenced by a Sunday School teacher! Perhaps the man questioning Jesus had also a good experience at Synagogue. He knows the 10 Commandments and has followed them since he was a child. Jesus loved the man. Looking at him, Jesus pointed out that there was one thing lacking. He was challenged to sell what he had and give all his money to the poor. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was to dispose of all his possessions! In doing that Jesus promised him that his treasury would be in heaven.
Just imagine if you were that man. You sincerely want to know about eternal life and instead are told to live in poverty. What a shock! How depressing! Jesus must be off his rocker. In order to achieve eternal life, Jesus reminds us that we must relinquish a focus on achievement. We must become a very different person.
In one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, he has a character standing in centre stage holding a coin up to the sun commenting “money obliterates the sun.” That line has haunted me for years. Money obliterates the sun!
Perhaps that is what Jesus is trying to teach us. This is not so much a stewardship message as it is a time to reflect on our priorities. What is it in our life that blinds us, prohibiting us from seeing the sun? Is it our quest for power and control? Is an addiction to gambling, or alcohol, or even prescription drugs restricting full life? Are we blinded by being busy being busy? Are we lusting after a certain amount of money in our bank accounts? Are we worried about an inheritance for our children?
In the Book “Country Preacher’s Notebook” Joyce Sasse states, “money is one of the most sensitive issues among people who know each other well, so we back away from discussing the subject lest we be thought to be presumptuous. Thus, while great segments of time are spent deciding what a Church Board can afford when it comes to installing new plumbing, we are often silent when it comes to talking about stewardship and what we “should give”. When I was a teenager, “stewardship” took on meaning for me when I heard our minister tell this story.
A member of the local Church Board was visiting a number of households, budget in hand, to give people an opportunity to make their financial pledge to the local church. Often he heard the groaning question, “Why does it always cost so much?”
In response, this man told about his son James, He told about how excited he and his wife where when they heard about the coming of their first child. “Things weren’t easy then”, he recalled. “My wife and I started with a bunch of dreams and little else.” Then he went on to say that “right from the time we knew our baby was coming, he began to cost us. There were bills for his mother’s check- ups. We had to pay for the doctor and the hospital when the baby was delivered. He needed clothes, and the right kind of formula. Later, we bought his hockey equipment and paid for him to go to hockey camp. When he needed braces for his teeth, and glasses, we bought those. And as you know, nothing comes cheap!”
The church visitor paused for a moment before he started talking about his boy registering at University. How proud they were, and how anxious to do what little they could to help him. “Then, when Jim was in his last year on campus, he went to a doctor to see about his headaches and blurred vision. They ran a few tests and soon found he had an inoperable tumor.
“Our Jim died last year! And you know what? That boy hasn’t cost us a cent since his funeral! My friend, he said, looking at his host square in the eye, “that’s the difference between having something that is living and something that is dead.”
He continued. “I find it is the same with the Church. If it’s alive and growing (like a teenage boy), sure it is going to cost us. It is going to cost in terms of dollars, and in terms of our time, and in terms of our involvement and commitment! It’s going to cost because it is alive! But, my God, it’s terrible to have it dead!”
Jesus was questioned about eternal life. His response led to a pointed message about holding tight to possessions. And yet Jesus’ dream for this sincere, good man was to set him free. Jesus loved him enough to let him go. Perhaps some other day the man would make a different choice. Jesus respected the choice the man made. With his very life, Jesus modelled that in order to achieve eternal life, one must relinquish their focus on achieving it. We are called to become very different people.
So, the man walked away from Jesus. He did so grieving what Jesus had to offer. Jesus had no harsh words for him. Rather, Jesus understood that to give up what one knows and is comfortable with, for that which one has not yet experienced is a great risk.
When we hold the coin up to the sun, the sun is obliterated. Let us not be blinded by devotion to money, power, information, or anything that prohibits full living. Instead, let us be extravagant and faithful in our giving. Share your time wastefully, loving God’s creation. Use your gifts generously. Live radically, knowing that your friends in this church love you with Christ filled compassion. May our faith be nourished through your sharing. Amen.