Have you ever asked a question you just knew you shouldn’t ask? And when you did, you discovered you just volunteered for something?
I suspect we have all been there.
In this morning’s gospel lesson, I can almost hear Peter slapping his forehead and groaning, “Oh, now what?”
So let us set our scene: Jesus is out on the road, healing, doing miracles, teaching, attracting crowds of all sorts, in other words, doing what he usually does.
A rich man comes and kneels before Jesus. The man is respectful, reverent toward Jesus, and he asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus tells him to follow the Ten Commandments.
But the rich man is not satisfied with the answer. Anyone could have told him that; he wants to know more.
So Jesus loves him, and gives him an answer: Give all your possessions to the poor and follow me. Do something more with your life than simply amassing riches.
But the rich man, for whatever reason – we aren’t told why – is so bound to his possessions that he goes away grieving. He cannot give away his things.
Then Jesus uses this as a teaching moment to tell his followers they must get rid of their stuff if they want to find the Kingdom of God. And that pushes Peter right over the edge.
“Look,” he says, “we have left everything and followed you.”
What else do you want us to do? We’ve done all that.
Jesus tells Peter: Bring heaven to earth. Bring heaven to earth.
This story appears in the lectionary in the season of harvest, the season when we highlight stewardship, and when churches are trying to raise financial pledges for the new year. And we do need your pledges. I do hope you will provide the financial resources enabling us to carry out our mission in the coming year. We can do nothing without you.
But I’d like to go a little deeper with this story today. Jesus, after all, does not tell the rich man to give everything to the church. He tells him to give his riches to the poor. He tells him to do something with his life, not to buy space in heaven, but to bring heaven to earth.
Jesus tells the rich man to get rid of his earthly possessions that are getting in his way, and in the case of the rich man, it is all of them.
What stuff of yours gets in your way? What possessions block you from seeing the love of God in front of you? Give them away.
Not all possessions are things. Some possessions are the hurts and grievances we carry around with us, or addictions, or relationships that are unhealthy but that we cling to. Have a look at what blocking you, and step out with a little courage to give them away.
But what else would you have us do, Peter asks. We’ve done what you ask, what else should we do? We need to ask that, too.
Bring heaven to earth, Jesus tells Peter. Bring heaven to those places that are lonely and hurting and poor and in pain.
Jesus returns to that theme over and over. In what we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Bring heaven here. The purpose of life is not amassing possessions, or even earning your way into heaven in the sweet beyond. The purpose of life is bringing heaven here now by bringing healing and hope to a hurting world, and using all of our gifts God gives us to make heaven real now.
The world that hurts is outside. The world that hurts is also right here in the pews next to you. The world is not just out there; the world is in here too.
This does bring us full circle to this church. I can’t imagine going through life’s struggles alone. The word church means “the gathering,” and that is who we are. The word “church” doesn’t mean “organized religion.”
Nor does the word “church” mean “the institution,” though in its history, the church often acts as if the needs of the institution are greater than the people in it.
The word “church” means we gather together to hold each other up, to pray together, to support each other when we need it the most, to laugh together, to share and give, and to discover the work God gives us to make real “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven” with people who are not in this gathering.
How do we do that?
This church, this gathering, is the world’s oldest service organization, but it is a good deal more than that. This gathering is here to bless, to bless each other and bless the world around us.
I would like to suggest that in this time of stewardship, we think of this first and foremost as the stewardship of blessings.
We give our blessings by sharing our wealth, by providing as generously as we can for the poor, and by caring for each other.
In a few minutes, we will bless a young child in baptism. And then we will repeat an ancient Christian ritual of “passing the peace,” with a handshake or a wave of the hand. When you do, you will be passing God’s blessing to the person next you.
Our blessing can be as simple as just knowing each other.
Let me suggest that if you don’t know the name of the person next to you, ask, and introduce yourself.
When you “pass the peace” pass your name, too. In a church this size, it is impossible to know everyone, but it is possible to know the person next to you, or in front of you. To know someone is to bless them.
And then maybe help others know you by wearing your nametag. I know that is hard for some of you, but you accept the blessings of others by letting them know you.
Accepting and sharing blessings is at the heart of a life of faith. We have so many blessings to share here. What are yours?
Our gathering is connected by our blessings, connected by our baptism, and connected by the bread and wine of our Holy Communion. Share, give, gather, bless – that is who we are, that is what makes us church. AMEN
Painting of Jesus and the rich man in the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.