Saturday, September 4, 2010
Despite our tough economic times, we are still a nation of incredible wealth. We have our poor and our unemployed and we should continue to pray for them but our poor still does not compare to the desperate poverty that exists for most of the world.
I have been blessed by God to had the opportunity to travel and I wish that more of our people had the chance to see the poverty that exists in the world. You don't have to travel far. Just across the border in Mexico, are hundreds of thousands of people who are hanging on to survival. While almost all of our poor have access to food, water, even medical care; for millions of people around the world - every day is a struggle to survive.
Yet in our abundant blessings, also lies some of our greatest obstacles to our relationship with God.
That is why this week’s readings from Luke 14:25-33 is one of those that cause most of us to tip our head and wonder, “Is Jesus serious?”
When Jesus says, "Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."
It makes us squirm a bit. Renounce all my possessions - but I have a lot of stuff.
It is a natural human condition that as you acquire more stuff, the idea of giving it all away becomes harder.
And so the idea that you have to give up your possessions to follow God is a shocker to us.
Give up everything? How will we work, how will we live? We rationalize Jesus must have been speaking in hyperbole. He couldn’t be serious.
So we walk away, shaking our head, that this is the price of salvation. Like the young wealthy man who asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved in Matthew 19. Jesus told the young man that he had to follow the Commandments and the young man answered:
20“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, 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.”
Just like the young man in the story - we are rich, and so it is hard for us to give all that up. Don't believe you are rich? Look around you. There may be more wealthy people than you but compared to the beggar in Mexico or the refugee living in the camp in Pakistan - we are surrounded by wealth. Most of us have far beyond the basics - a much bigger house than just shelter, TV, radio, computer, internet, cars, a fridge full of food - an abundance of leisure time to sit and read and rest or play.
We are rich.
But what hope do we have then? The apostles asked the same question.
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Just like them, we can’t do it alone but only through the grace and help of God.
OK – but is Jesus serious? About giving up our stuff?
Yes. There is no sugar coating here, or back pedaling, or parsing – Jesus said it and he meant it. You must renounce your possession and your relationships here on earth and commit that God comes first! You must pick up your own cross and carry it and follow Jesus.
That is the price of admission - to be a disciple of God.
But we don’t have to be like the young wealthy man and walk away from God just because we can’t do it.
What we can do is pray for a change of heart. We should ask ourselves what is holding us up from renouncing our possessions to follow God?
If this is the price of admission into the kingdom, what is it that causes us to hesitate?
Perhaps, we have reached the point where we no longer own our possessions but they have become so important to us that they own us.
Consider the warning not to store our treasure on earth but in heaven because where our treasure is so will our heart.
In our heart, have we replaced God with our big screen TV? No? Then why is it so hard to give it up?
Have we replaced God with our relationships? No? Do we schedule everything ahead of church? Soccer games, dance, recitals, scouting events, vacations? Do we schedule meetings on Monday even though it means we will have to travel on Sunday? Are we afraid to cross ourselves and say grace before we eat when we are in the public? Are we afraid that people will know that we are Christian and think less of us? If your spouse or children don’t want to go to Church – do we go along?
And with this change of heart, maybe we will discover something about ourselves and God. Maybe we don’t need that 75 inch big screen TV when a 19 inch will do. Maybe that difference of several thousand dollars can be spent instead on the poor. Maybe you don’t need that great-deal of a laptop to replace the one that still works. Maybe that $500 can be spent on something else – maybe even reducing your debt.
Because despite our great wealth, we as a people are drowning in debt. Many people have multiple credit cards that are on the maximum credit limit, are in a home that they cannot afford, have creditors calling them to threaten legal action. Finally, some people just try to walk away from their debt because they know they can never pay it. Only to start again.
Because they have to have this stuff. They don’t want to wait because the promise of our society is that you can have it all – just put it on credit.
But in the end it is all a lie. All part of the seduction of this world.
Sooner or later, the bills must be paid and we lose our freedom. When you owe someone else money – you work for them to pay the debt. You become their slave.
When really what we really needed was God. We needed Christ to fill our lives. The money we spent on stuff that we didn't even need could have been spent on our brothers and sisters in need.
Sooner or later, each of us must come to our own conclusion about God. Do we believe that there is a God, or is this all a random combination which all happened to work?
And if you conclude that there is a God behind it all - then shouldn't this God occupy the top shelf in your life?
Stuff will break. Human relationships will disappoint because we are human. The only certainty is that God does not disappoint. That our loving God will reward you even more if you keep Him first. That if we renounce our relationships and possessions to declare that God is first then we will truly be His disciples.
Do not be afraid!
God will not disappoint. All your stuff came from God in the first place. God just does not want you to be distracted because it is easy for this world to distract us from God.
We must remember God loves us and wants the best for us. From Luke 11:
11“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Do not let your relationships or possessions stand between you and God. God does not care about this temporary world that will eventually turn to dust but in the permanent relationship that He has with you that will last even beyond death and that will never decay.
And we should too!
In the end, God does not care about full hands - but clean ones. It is finally in the act of letting go that we are free!
Let go and be free!