Sermon preached on October 14, 2012
Scripture [Lect28b]: Mark 10:17-31
click above for audio (includes gospel reading and audio from video clip below)
The sermon begins with portions of this recent viral video clip:[youtube http://youtu.be/vN2WzQzxuoA]
First world problems! Now that’s something I can relate to!
If you are someone who uses Twitter, you see the pound sign and recognize it as a “hashtag.” Hashtags are lists that form on Twitter around a common topic. Each person who contributes includes the common hashtag in order for their tweet, their contribution to be included. I was taking a look at #FirstWorldProblems this week, and it gave me an opportunity to simultaneously laugh at myself (and some of the things I convince myself are problems) while at the same time being challenged to rethink my priorities a bit. Here’s some of my favorites from the tweets I came across:
- Too many TV shows tonight. I had to use both DVRs. #FirstWorldProblems
- The tag on my new shirt makes my neck itchy. #FirstWorldProblems
- My laptop is dying, but the charger is downstairs. #FirstWorldProblems
- Starbucks is out of pumpkin muffins. #FirstWorldProblems
Maybe you can relate to some of these? I know I can relate to some of them! If we’re really honest about it, we are all prone to get hung up on “first world problems.”
Staring into the toilet…
I recently came face to face with the struggle of following Jesus right into the world and having to take a closer look at “first world problems.” I met a young man named Taylor Hammrich. Taylor is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He also recently returned from spending a year in South Africa,thanks to a program for young adults made possible by our church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Returning home from the town of Masealama, South Africa, the thing that Taylor noticed the most was water. He shared about coming home, and just staring at the water in the toilet. This was the result of living for a year without running water. What he had was a large water drum that holds 50 or 60 gallons of water. To fill the drum, Taylor would borrow a wheelbarrow and plastic containers and take them to collect water from a water tower, which may or may not have water available that day. A hot shower required heating just enough water yo fill a small bucket to pour over himself–water that would be collected and reused for cleaning and, eventually, for flushing the toilet.
Taylor came face-to-face with real “first world problems” such as thinking that water from the tap tasted funny, or complaining about a shower that wasn’t hot enough, or having to hold the handle down until the flush was finished. “What I should have been thinking,” Taylor said, “is how thankful I am for having clean water to drink, water to shower with, and a toilet that flushes.”
How shall we live with what we have?
I’m not saying anything that all of us doesn’t already know when I say that we are fortunate people. We have more than we need. We have more than the overwhelming majority of people that are alive today–and even throughout all of history. Every one of us, in one way or another, is faced with the question “how we will live with what we have?”
And as we wrestle with that question, God speaks to us through a story:
a man ran up and knelt before [Jesus], and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” [Mark 10:17-23]
Now, if I stand up here in this pulpit this morning and give you any reason to walk out of here not fully impacted by the challenge of these words from Jesus, you should send me packing by tomorrow morning. That would be either incompetent or cowardly of me as your pastor. Jesus wants us to live differently than what is considered “normal” by this broken world in which “First World Problems” are given more attention, energy, and resources than they truly warrant.
Let me be clear, though: there is no condemnation in this story. Jesus does not condemn the man. The story tells us that Jesus, looking at him, loved him. Jesus words’ about selling what he owns and giving the money to the poor were not words of condemnation. Jesus didn’t accuse him of being “the one percent”–Jesus loved him. Jesus didn’t condemn him for his wealth. Jesus loved him.
Instead of condemnation, Jesus offers an invitation. Jesus invites the man to do something that will bring great blessing. Jesus invites him to do something that will change his life, but it involves incredible risk. Jesus invites him to invest his entire portfolio in “the kingdom of God”.
Jesus and “the kingdom of God”
Jesus uses the phrase “kingdom of God” quite a bit. I’d even say it’s the heart of what Jesus taught about. Jesus came to introduce a new reality–a new way of living–in this world. If we think of “the kingdom of God” as something that only exists after this life, we miss the experience that Jesus came to make possible.
The very first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.” Another translation of the Bible in English says “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came to introduce a new reality–a new way of living–in this world. Eternal life begins right here and right now. This truth is reflected in the words Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus invites the man to risk everything to be a part of the kingdom of God, but he goes away shocked and grieving because he couldn’t risk the portfolio that he trusted in for the sake of the kingdom of God and the promised returns it brings. The promised return that another world is possible: a world where the poor are cared for, a world where the last will be first. A new reality in which we relate to, and treat, our neighbor differently.
As Taylor Hammrich made trips to the water tower in Masealama, South Africa, he acquired more than a wheelbarrow full of water. He also acquired more than a new perspective on his “first world problems.” He acquired neighbors. He gained relationships that changed his life. He gained relationships as he lived side-by-side with the people there. They accompanied each other and experienced the kingdom of God together. I am so glad to be part of a church (The ELCA) that made that possible!
I am so glad to be a part of a congregation here at St. Luke that makes that possible, as we will next summer by sending a group of youth to Appalachia for a week of service and hard work–a week building the kingdom of God!
We, too, are called to invest in the kingdom of God: right here and right now. What will you risk? If you walk out of here without being fully impacted by the challenge of these words from Jesus, I need to find another vocation. Jesus wants you to live differently. What will you risk to build the kingdom of God?
There is no condemnation in these words; only an invitation. An invitation into a new way of life that changes the world. An invitation into holy relationships with neighbors near and far. An invitation into freedom from “first world problems.” An invitation into the good news of the gospel. Amen.