Ecclesiastes 5:1-11, Mark 10:13-22
November 5, 2006
Do you remember when you were a child? Think about that. I know some of us have to go back a little further than others. But I’m sure we all can do that. We all have pictures in our minds of that time. We have images, sights, sounds, even smells of those days long ago.
Think about what life was like for you in those days. Think about how it was different than life is now, as an adult. Try to remember for a moment what it was like before you became the one responsible for things like paying bills, earning a living, and keeping up with the maintenance of home, car, kids!
I was driving through my home town the other day. North Hills – right next to Glenside. I was thinking what life was like when all I had to do was keep track of school days and homework. I remember when I would come home in the afternoon and my friends and I would climb a tree, and stay there – till dinner time! The Edge Hill Fire company had a whistle – a siren. They would blow it for fires, of course. Because that was before the day of the pagers! But they would also blow it every day at 5:00. And we kids knew when we heard the “5:00 whistle” it was time to head for home.
One sad thing about our world is that many kids today don’t have that kind of childhood. In our world today, many of our young people seem to have a have a lot of the same kinds of pressures that adults have! I’m telling you! I wouldn’t want to have the schedule that some of our young people have today! It seems like so much of childhood is being lost. We’ve forgotten today that it’s important for kids to be kids! I think we need to find a way for childhood to be more like it was before, when days were simple, and kids didn’t have to grow up so fast.
Perhaps that’s part of what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter into it.” Sure, part of that mean receiving it with the “simple faith” and “simple trust” of a child. Children have to trust to others for everything in their lives. Sure it meant that. But I think Jesus also meant it in the sense of receiving the kingdom without the burden placed on us by all the cares and responsibilities of this life. Because too often, those things can get in the way of seeing that kingdom! I think that’s what Jesus was getting at here! For him, it was always about that relationship!
Almost to emphasize that, Mark tells us this next story. It’s often interesting how stories are linked together in the Gospels! They’re often meant to be read together. And I think these two definitely were! Jesus had just finished saying, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter into it,” when this man ran up to him and knelt at his feet.
He says to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “You know the commandments, ‘thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not etc, etc, etc…” That was a pretty standard answer. There was nothing earth-shaking there. And I think Jesus was intentional about that. He wanted the man to see that that kind of obedience and regimentation alone was not what the faith was about, but rather the relationship with God that those commandments represented. And his answer had that affect, because it doesn’t seem to satisfy the man – just like the commandments alone never do!
“I have observed all these from my childhood,” he said. But there was something more. What was it? So Jesus, having compassion on him, gave him the answer he really needed. The Gospel writer was very specific about that one line. “And Jesus looking upon him loved him…” Because Jesus had compassion on this man, this next part about “selling all that he had” was not some unrealistic, idealized statement by which Jesus was making some grand point. And it wasn’t a commandment meant for everybody. (I know you were worried about that during Stewardship season!) Jesus was telling this man what he felt he really needed!
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go and sell all you have, give to the poor, and come and follow me.” We know that really hit home because of the man’s reaction. Mark tells us, “At this saying, his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Jesus saw that this man’s possessions were getting in the way of him entering the kingdom like that little child.
That’s what we have to ask ourselves today. And we can’t be good Stewards unless we do! We need to ask ourselves, “what might be getting in our way of receiving the kingdom of God?” And part of that means asking, “What is our relationship to the wealth we have in this society?” You see, it’s not so much a matter of “do we have great possessions,” but “are those possessions getting in the way of our ‘receiving the kingdom’?” To put it in a colloquial way, “Do we possess things? Or do things possess us?”
I believe Jesus was much more concerned about that! Jesus wasn’t against wealth. He was more concerned with what wealth did to the individual who possessed it. He was concerned about how it effected that person’s relationship with God. And he is still concerned with that today! He didn’t saying “you shouldn’t have money.” But he did say, “You cannot serve God and money. Remember how Paul said later. And this is often misquoted! He told Timothy not that “Money is the root of all evil” but that “the love of money…” (I Timothy 6:10)
So, what does this all mean? Do we receive the kingdom as a little child? Are we able, in this crazy world, to see God’s kingdom apart from the burdens of this life? That’s tough! Jesus may have been right! It may be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. And by the way, that may have been a reference to a gate in Jerusalem that was so small and narrow that you literally had to unburden a camel before it could go through. We need to be unburdened like that!
I’ve entitled this sermon “Having Everything We Need,” and I want you to think about that. Do we have everything we need? If you had to write it down on a piece of paper entitled, “Everything I need,” what would you write? And in this world, which is telling us constantly what we ought to have, do we even know what we really need? Sometimes I wonder. I think we have a really hard time distinguishing what we really need from what we think we need?
Sometimes I jokingly say that I’m going to the store to “see if there’s anything there that I never knew existed, that I can’t live without!” Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t literally true for many people! And as we move closer to the Christmas season, this kind of message will begin to step on some toes! And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do all that gift buying and all. But before we get into all that, does it not seem to you that this is a time when we often lose sight of having what we really need? Think about it.
I believe God calls us to get perspective on all of this. And I think it’s so important at this time of Stewardship. We need to ask ourselves constantly, “What is the most important thing in this life?” Do we have everything we really need? And with that in mind, how can we be good stewards of all God has given us?
As we ask those important questions, as we seek that perspective, remember King Solomon. Solomon had it all! He literally had everything a person could ever want. Yet it got to the point where it all seemed empty somehow. It was a “feast for the eyes,” perhaps, but it left the soul “empty.” He began to see it all as “vanity” and “chasing after the wind.” This book of Ecclesiastes is powerful reading! And it’s a book that our modern, “consumer world” would rather we didn’t read!
In the part we read for today, Solomon compares all of that “striving after the wind” with the way we see ourselves in God’s kingdom. He tells us that all of our worldly pursuits are of much less importance than our spiritual pursuits. And I’m not saying worldly pursuits are not important. But how do they compare with our spiritual pursuits? How do they compare with this idea of making and keeping commitments to God? Solomon tells us that is so important! He would tell us that our “spiritual integrity” before God is one thing we really can’t live without! If that’s our priority, if we have our spirits right with God, then we have everything we need! “Because,” as he concludes, “he who loves money will not be satisfied with money…” That sounds like Paul’s words to Timothy, doesn’t it?
My friends, as we think about our commitment to the Church for the next year, and for the years to come, we need to know that what we do in our Stewardship efforts is much more than just pledges, and numbers, and red or black ink. It is part of our whole understanding of our place in God’s kingdom! It’s about our whole lives! It’s about our knowing what we really need in this world. It’s about having God in our lives and our lives in God. Everything else, no matter how important it is, is just secondary!
So, I ask you, “Do you have everything you need?”
Eternal God, we know we need you, though we don’t always acknowledge that. We don’t always want to admit it., but we do. Help us to see our lives more and more in terms of your kingdom. Help us to receive your kingdom as little children – as your children. Thank you for your everlasting love for us. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.