Tag: freedom

Made Free

44898913_347591266047355_59580177172135936_nRomans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Freedom is never wholly free. There’s conditions. Limits.

We say we are the Land of the Free in America because we are free FROM things our ancestors were not. Free from kings and queens; free from religious persecution; free to congregate, and so forth. But we’re not wholly free because full freedom is an illusion.

You’re not free to murder someone in America. There are consequences for breaking laws like that.

You’re not free from gravity no matter where you live on Earth.

You’re not free from the need to eat, to sleep, to breathe.

You’re not free in many ways.

I wish we were free-er in some areas. I wish we had the freedom of health care like Canada does. I wish we had freedom from racism, and sexism, and agism.

But I also wish we weren’t as free in other areas. The freedom businesses have to move companies here and there wherever labor is cheapest hurts us. The level of freedom given to pollution is a great peeve of mine. I’d like us all to care for our earth much better. And the freedom we give to cruelty, to indifference, and to apathy deeply hurts me.

Jesus’ phrase today, “The truth will set you free,” is not about whole freedom from everything and to do anything. It’s not about how freedom is the end and goal and holy purpose we Americans like to hold it up. Freedom has to be FROM or TO DO something. What does Jesus mean here?

That’s exactly what his fellows ask him, “What do you mean, ‘Be made free?'”

Freedom changes depending on who is hearing or viewing these words- and the text given to us has several lenses we can use.

First – “In this text Jesus is engaging the “Jews who believed in him.” Doesn’t that strike us as a bit odd? Were there many non-Jews who believed in him? Certainly, by the time of the gospel writer, there were Gentile Christians.” (( Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan)) No one sat down and wrote the Gospels as they were happening. They were wrote decades – even a century – after Jesus died and were based on oral traditions. So by the time we get this story in John there are Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and Roman Christians and so forth. Our first lens, therefore, is the author of the scripture – a Jewish Christian – writing about the past where Jesus the Jew spoke to other Jews about Jewish conflicts on Jesus’ identity.

John, the author, and his community “believed in Jesus, believed that he spoke the truth, and believed that their freedom lay in walking the way of Jesus. But for that they had been cast out of the synagogue. They no longer had their “place in the household.” Their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.” ((Hogan)). They lost their identity as Jews – for the synagogue and Jewish community kicked them out. They lost family. Friends. Property. Status. They were confused – how could our fellows not believe? How could they be slaves to the old way of thinking and not welcome in the Messiah?

So John wrote this story about when Jesus felt that same rejection. This is the second lens  – the one of when Jesus still physically walked the earth, this story is about the idea that the prophesied messiah had to come from a certain lineage. The Messiah had to be a descendant of King David – and Jesus is just some nobody from Galilee. This is why so many of our gospels have long lineage charts – trying to PROVE Jesus is related to David. And Romans makes a contorted argument that the high priest can be from this lineage instead of that. To us, today, we don’t really care. Then, at that time, this was a huge deal. John frames Jesus’ rejection in this issue.

But the message is the same whether Jesus says it to his disciples in the scene, or his disciples living decades later rejected from their communities, or the third lens which is us, today.

If you continue to abide in me, you have a place in God’s household.

It doesn’t matter if the synagogue or community or church have kicked you out. You’ve gained freedom – a lack of ties – but you’re not groundless. You’re grounded in me. One of mine. Still one of the Chosen People of God.

Think what this meant to Martin Luther! “Freedom was crucial for Luther. Where was the truth, freedom, new life to be found? Luther argued that it was not to be found in the medieval pietistic accretions, the indulgences, that marked the Christians life at that time. Rather it was found only in belief in Jesus Christ. (Hogan)

It didn’t matter that the church, the community, the country called for Luthers’ death, and excommunicated him. Said he was Satan or at least hell-bound. Said he was evil. He was free from the sins he saw gathered into the church at that time. He’d seen the truth of how money and power was being abused. And seen the truth that Christ, alone, is who saves. No church can say whether you are going to heaven or hell. Only Jesus can judge.

It was pricey freedom, again, but it reformed our faith – both those who remained orthodox to the church and those who formed the Protestant denominations. All sides experienced new life, and transformation, and a fresh breath from the Holy Spirit.

Our forebearers who came here were seeking freedom to worship and believe in God as they felt called. They, too, lost family and friends and land but remain in God’s household. They, like Luther, like the early Christians, like Jesus, heard the Spirit of God speaking a new truth – reinterpreting our old traditions in new ways for the context of now, today – and that truth set them free to follow the law of their faith.

We’re at just such a crossroads now. What has been for the last 501 years of the Reformation is not what will be. The truth of church as we know it – meeting on Sundays, in a designated building, passing on the music and songs and traditions of the last centuries – is not the truth of our youth.

And this is good.

Good!

The Holy Spirit is breathing upon our faith again. It is awakening us to a new revolution, a new way of being. It is taking our faith which has grown stagnant and blowing the doors open to set hearts on fire in a brand new way.

The comic “The Naked Pastor” drew a comic with Jesus standing with other Jewish rabbis of his time. And Jesus says to them, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

Yes! This is true in Jesus’ time, and in John’s, and in Luther’s, and in the formation of America, and now.

Scripture tells us how to love… but love is contextual and changes. No two people are alike. No two people love the same things. No two times are alike. And what was once very important – lineages, who is or isn’t related to a priest – later is no longer important. What once was not important –officials using marriage and sexuality to establish dominance – later becomes very important.

Those who are orthodox use scripture to determine what love means. Love means, according to scripture, marrying your dead brother’s wife.

Those who live into orthopraxis use love to determine what scripture means. Love is caring for one another. Marrying your dead brother’s wife was loving her by providing for her. Today, it is more loving to not marry her but to provide for her with finances, hugs, and a listening ear.

Each time our faith explodes into new life it is because orthopraxis – living love – challenges orthodoxy – traditional love. Each time we come to new truths for our faith it is because we realize how our needs have changed, and we see the truth, and Christ releases us to be free to love as Christ loves.

But it’s not freedom from everything or freedom to do anything.

It is freedom from stagnation and sin. It is freedom to love God, your neighbor, and yourself.

Can you feel the Spirit active in our faith? Can you feel the tension between those who cling to old ways of understanding scripture and those who welcome in new ways of interpreting scripture through love?

Can you feel the tension among Christians? That same tension Luther felt. The same tension Jesus awoke among Jews.

Something beautiful is being brought forth out of us. A new church. The next reformation. Out of these growing pains will rise new life to classical churches like our own – with pews and hymns and a building – and the new churches just beginning – on streets, and in coffee shops, and online. Maybe our own Saint Michael’s won’t be a place we go to – but a place that comes to us. A bus, that picks us up in our post-driving years. And we sing hymns on the way to get our weekly groceries together. And are a congregation the whole way there and back. I don’t know!

I do know it is a beautiful time to live! It is a marvelous time to be Christian! It is an interesting time – a painful time – a changing time – and a time where we have been placed to discern, to live, and to walk together into the liberating truths Jesus provides.

Go and be the church known for its love!

Amen.

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They Who Conquer the World

1 John 5: 1-6
John 15:9-17

00-muslim-helping-old-lady-in-london-underground

Jesus gives only one commandment. He teaches much. He asks of us things. He commissions. He appoints. But he commands only one thing:

Love one another.

Love one another as I have loved you.

When asked what the greatest commandment is in the Bible out of all of them, Jesus says it is to love God – but the second is to love your neighbor.

Love one another.

If we love one another, we’re told, we live in the love of Jesus.

Jesus lives in the love of the God-Our-Parent.

Therefore, if we love each other, we live in Jesus, and we live in God. The Holy Spirit testifies to this truth. Testifies that God loves us so much, the very Son of God came in the waters of the womb, the waters of baptism, and shed the waters of his blood, loving us enough to wholly pour out his life for others. To lay down his life for his friends.

Those people who keep his commandment to love each other — those are his friends.

Not his servants. Not people who are just learning how to love.

But his friends – people who you can point out in any group – known by their love.

They will know us by our love.

That is what Christianity MUST be known for.

Not crosses. Not fish. Not the right radio stations or right books or right movies.

But love.

Not for voting the right political party, or being behind the right stance on hot button issues.

But love.

Love that is so strong, a person is willing to give the shirt off their back for a stranger.

Love that is so extravagant, a person is willing to share their hard earned money with people who may, or may not, deserve it.

Love that is so bold, a person is willing to violate social taboos, cultural lines, even break the law to show love to another.

Love conquers the world.

A conqueror doesn’t listen to the local rules. They are actively leading a revolt, actively resisting a government, and a people, and a way of doing things.

Our memory is scant of conquerors, but some of us remember: some of us remember the invasion of Poland, or Normandy. The rules are what the conquerors make them. Nearly all of us remember our own country in 2001 invading Afghanistan. We forcibly changed the government from the Taliban to popular elections. We changed the rules, and the ways of doing things, for people there.

But the Bible says all of these governments are passing. These are kingdoms built on pillars of sand. Only one thing will conquer the world – love.

Love is the rock.

Love is our God.

God alone is eternal.

You see, wars breed future wars.

Violence begets violence.

Consider, we attacked Afghanistan because of the 9-11 attacks on us.

A child who grows up in Afghanistan and sees his country bombed by the USA will likely grow up to hate the USA, and cause more violence here as an adult.

An American child who witnesses violence here from that Afghani adult will likely grow up to do violence to those who look Middle Eastern.

And so racism gets generational. Fear of the other becomes cultural. What happened between grandparents, or great-grandparents, affects what is happening between future generations.

Violence begets more violence…. we can trace this violence, world wide, generation to generation, all the way back to Cain killing his own brother Abel.

How does the cycle end?

How does a child learn peace?

What snaps through and stops pain for pain?

Love.

Love wins.

Love conquers hearts.

When Jesus refused to use a sword on his attackers, he freed us from the chains of revenge violence. When he chose to forgive the woman accused of adultery, rather than stone her, he freed us to forgive instead of blame. When he died, instead of using lightening to strike down everyone who opposed him, he freed us to choose peace instead of violence.

Jesus is our liberator from the cycle of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Like Gandhi said, when we follow that creed, the whole world ends up blind.

Jesus is sight for the blind.

Release for the captives.

Freedom for the slaves held in chains by generations of violence.

We are to love one another.

We are the end of the violence. The end of retribution. The end of revenge. The end of tit-for-tat.

To lay down our own pride, our own wealth, our own lives – even – is to shock and awe the world. It is to conquer the world by changing hearts, and liberating others. It is to be Christian.

The only way we are to be known is by our love.

Love one another.

Amen.

Rest on Grace

John 3:1-17jesus_nicodemus_2
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Paul’s writings are thick, complex, and wrote in a style of rhetoric, argument, that we don’t use much anymore. So let’s break him down into little bits today. First, let’s replace Abraham in our scripture with George Washington. Think: What then are we to say was gained by George Washington, our ancestor according to the flesh? Or rather, why do some people brag George Washington is their great-great-grandpappy? Does that make them more American than those not related to George Washington? In other words, it’s great to have grandpappies who did great stuff… but God doesn’t care who your grandpappy is… just like your American Citizen status doesn’t rely on being related to George Washington.

Next, Paul argues Abraham didn’t work for God, and God didn’t pay Abraham his due. This wasn’t an employee and store owner relationship. Instead, God -granted- -reckoned- -gifted- Abraham righteousness in return for Abraham’s trust. Paul even calls Abraham ungodly. God gifts grace to people who haven’t even turned their lives around towards living faithful lives. Faithful lives doesn’t win you God’s grace. God gives it freely. So, God doesn’t care who your grandpappy is… and God doesn’t require living a sinless life to receive God’s love.

If we’re going to use our American analogy, it would be that your citizenship to America doesn’t depend on being related to George Washington… and, it doesn’t depend on you speaking English, dressing in jeans and a tshirt, and being Christian. You can be American and speak Spanish, or wear a hijab, or pray at a Synagoge.

Why is this important to Paul? Because he’s writing to ancient Jews who had always been taught that their literal ancestor – Abraham – is what made them Jewish, and made them God’s people. These new converts to The Way of Jesus (seen as form of Judaism at the time) are NOT biologically related to Abraham. How can they, too, be God’s children?

Sorta like… many say that to be an American citizen, you have to have been born here. Raised here. OR act, look, speak and pray like you were raised here. But what about people born abroad to American parents, but due to the military, are raised in a foreign country and speak a foreign language and hold dual citizenship? Are they Americans? People who immigrate here – are they Americans? What about the Amish – are they Americans? We’ve got a lot of people who don’t wear tshirts, jeans, and speak Midwestern English. So what is the criteria for being an American?

Paul’s churches are asking – what is the criteria for being Christian?

He argues if being a child of God means being a literal descendant of Abraham… we have no reason to follow God. None. Born Jewish? Bam! You hit the jackpot. Automatic inclusion. Born Greek? Chinese? Sorry. You’re not loved, and even if you convert, you still are excluded. This way of thinking doesn’t promote faith. It doesn’t even promote living a good life style. It just promotes keeping a strict genealogy record so you can prove you’re related to Abraham, and so got your golden genetic ticket to God.

Instead, Paul argues that Abraham existed before there was really a Jewish people or Jewish faith. There wasn’t even a Torah, a Bible, at the time. So… being Jewish or following the Torah doesn’t include or exclude people from God’s children. Abraham was loved before the Torah and before Judaism. Instead, God’s children, Abraham’s heirs, are all of those who follow his faith. All of those people who trust God. And all those people – regardless of their biological ancestor, or their depth of knowledge of religion, or how little or how often they sin — none of this makes or breaks your relationship with God. Instead – you’re a child of God – just as you are, who you are – because God loves you.

What do you call this? It’s called grace. Unmerited favor. God loves you because God loves you. There’s nothing you can do to gain more love or to lose that love. To be Christian is to accept that love as reality with faith. With the belief in things unseen, not wholly proven, but chosen to be accepted. Paul writes, “God gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Biologically, you’re likely not related to Abraham… but you are his descendant through things that don’t exist. Living faith flows from him to you. You are Abraham’s heir. You are God’s child, too.

In our American analogy, you’re likely not related to George Washington, but you are his political heir. The spirit of democracy, freedom to speak, freedom to worship in your own way, freedom to influence your government is known to you. You’re an American child too, regardless of where you were born or what language you speak or how you worship.

Spiritual heirs are what Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about.

Nicodemus is walking a faith like our own, and like many of those whom Paul wrote to. In John’s gospel, light and dark, day and night, mean a lot more than just how much illumination there is. It also means whether or not someone is understanding Jesus, or if they’re misunderstanding Jesus. So Nicodemus comes literally at night and figuratively in misunderstanding. He thinks he knows who Jesus is: a great rabbi from God. Jesus tells him, “Bingo… and more. But to see more, one has to be born again or born from above.” The word used here in scripture means both — both again and from above.

Nicodemus is in the dark. He misunderstands and takes the literal translation — born again. He gets caught up in the literal – and starts picturing himself trying to get into a womb to be born again. SO not possible.

For our American analogy, it would be like saying Americans are those who are born American. But what about all the immigrants? Even if they get their greencards and are full citizens, are they still not Americans? They can’t be literally born again here. People don’t have two births.

Jesus explains – spiritual birth. The Spirit of God moves here and there, people here and there are reborn with it.

In our analogy, some people are spiritually born as Americans and come here with that spirit, that love, of liberty from wherever they were biologically born.

You just can’t predict who is going to faithfully vote and faithfully attend church based on their birth certificates. There are people born in America who never vote and there are people born with Christian parents who never attend church. Just as there are people born in Middle Eastern countries who move here and never miss voting, and there are people who have atheist parents who never miss time to pray.

Biological birth is not the same as spiritual birth.

Nicodemus, like many of us, still can’t get his head around it. He wants a clear checklist of what it means to follow Jesus. Sorta like we want a clear checklist of what it means to be American. But Jesus won’t give it to him. Grace isn’t earned. Grace — God’s love — is just given. Faith isn’t something to testify and be good for all time. Faith is lived. It is a verb.

Nicodemus asks for more help. He’s a scholar, he knows his religion, he’s affluent and educated and clearly devoted to understanding and practiving his faith. Jesus replies look – you disbelieve me about these earthly things. You know I’m doing miracles, but you still question. I told you God’s love is for more than Abraham’s biological children, but you didn’t believe. How am I to explain heavenly things to you? God loves you. God is saving the world through God’s son. God is giving new life — full life — life to the depressed, the lonley, the outcast, the foresaken, the poor, the ignored, the hopeless. God is welcoming in the “huddled masses” and “wretches refuse” and “temptest tossed.” God isn’t condemning them, isn’t condemning the world, but opening the door of welcome wide to all.

Have you ever pictured yourself back in ancient Israel? Like, say you woke up one day and you’re back there — 2030 years ago — and you actually meet Jesus in the flesh. I’ve always thought I’d instantly recognize him. I’d not be like Nicodemus and be sneaking in the dark. I wouldn’t be the religious leaders and spit on Jesus. I would know my Lord and drop everything to follow him.

Professor Karoline Lewis posed these questions that made me pause: “Do we really think that we could have understood Jesus any better than [Nicodemus?] this well-versed, well-educated Pharisee? And if we do, what makes us think so? What makes us so sure? Because we have two thousand years of Christianity under our belts? Because we have more theological insight? Because we have more faith?”

Nicodemus has more than two thousand years of Judism education under his belt. He’s literally speaking with Jesus in the flesh before him. He’s risking his reputation, his job, maybe even his life to speak with Jesus. Do we have more faith than that? And yet – here he is, misunderstanding because he is carrying so many expectations of who Jesus is and what God is doing.

… I might be carrying those too and stuck to my misconceptions more than God’s reality.

Jesus’ words are that whoever does good to the most wretched has done good to him. Whoever has spat on others has spat on him. Where did I see you Lord?

I don’t need to time travel back to ancient Israel to see Jesus in the flesh. Jesus is attempting to get his kids to school around Immigration Customs Enforcement agents. Jesus is sitting in a 103 tent watching her son slowly starve to death and praying the money comes through to get him help and out of this refugee camp. Jesus is the last survivor of a capsized boat in the Mediterranean.

In reality, I am Nicodemus. I get stuck in the literal. I get stuck thinking I’d recognize Jesus in the flesh 2000 years ago when I don’t even recognize him in the flesh today.

I try to follow Jesus. I try to understand, but I often look at the world with literal eyes and ignore the spiritual. Nicodemus shows up twice more in our gospel. He defends Jesus before his peers… and he helps bury Jesus. Nicodemus walks a faith life that goes into periods of darkness and light. Periods when he is attuned to the way God views the world, and Nicodemus does much good. And periods when he is confounded by God, and Nicodemus flounders, messes up.

That is why Paul’s argument and Jesus’ argument is so important to us during Lent: being a child of God, being loved by God, is God’s gift to us. We don’t earn it. We don’t lose it. We choose to respond to it.

We do wrongs individually, and collectively. We hurt others intentionally and unintentially. We miss seeing Jesus in others. We choose not to see Jesus in others. But God still loves us… even as we hurt God. Even as we take God’s child and shame him, torture him, murder him… God still loves us. Today, we still take God’s children of all backgrounds and shame them, torture them, murder them often by just ignoring them. But God still loves us.

And from that love, offers forgiveness. Offers us to begin again. Offers us a new life where we live more Christ-like and extend not condemnation, but salvation, to others. Out of God’s love for the whole world — not just Americans, not just Christians, not just Abrahamic faiths, but the WHOLE WORLD, Out of God’s love for the WHOLE WORLD, Jesus is given. Forgiveness is offered. We are given a new chance at peace, embracing each other, and living in harmony.

Amen.

Possessed!

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

Have you heard George Carlin’s act “A place for my stuff?”

It goes a bit like this:

I would have been out here a little bit sooner…
…but they gave me the wrong dressing room…
…and I couldn’t find any place to put my stuff.
And I don’t know how you are…
…but I need a place to put my stuff.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing back there…
…just trying to find a place for my stuff.
You know how important that is, that’s the whole…
…that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it?
Trying to find a place for your stuff.
That’s all your house is…
…your house is just a place for your stuff.
If you didn’t have so much […] stuff…
…you wouldn’t need a house.
You could just walk around all the time.
That’s all your house is, it’s a pile of stuff…
…with a cover on it.
You see that when you take off in an airplane and you look down…
…and you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff.
Everybody’s got their own pile of stuff.

And when you leave your stuff, you gotta lock it up.
Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff.
They always take the good stuff.
They don’t bother with that […] you’re saving.
Ain’t nobody interested in your fourth grade arithmetic papers.
They’re looking for the good stuff.

That’s all your house is, it’s a place to keep your stuff…
…while you go out and get more stuff.
Now, sometimes, sometimes you gotta move…
…you gotta get a bigger house.
Why? Too much stuff.
You’ve gotta move all your stuff…
…and maybe put some of your stuff in storage.
Imagine that, there’s a whole industry based on keeping…
…an eye on your stuff.

[…]

Now, now, sometimes you go on vacation…
…you gotta bring some of your stuff with you.
You can’t bring all your stuff, just the stuff you really like…
…the stuff that fits you well that month.
Let’s say you’re gonna go to Honolulu…
…you’re gonna go all the way to Honolulu you gotta…
…take two big bags of stuff…
…plus your carry on stuff, plus the stuff in your pockets.
You get all the way to Honolulu and you get in your hotel room…
…and you start to put away your stuff…
…that’s the first thing you do in a hotel room…
…is put away your stuff.
Now I’ll put some stuff in here, put some stuff down there…
…here’s another place some stuff here…
…I’ll put some stuff overthere.
You put your stuff overthere, I’m putting my stuff over here.
Here’s another place for some stuff.
Hey, we got more places than we’ve got stuff.
We’re gonna have to buy more stuff.

And you put all your stuff away, and you know that you’re…
…thousands of miles from home, and you don’t quite feel…
…at ease, but you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…some of your stuff with you.
And you relax in Honolulu on that basis.

That’s when your friend from Maui calls and says “Hey…
…why don’t you come overto Maui forthe weekend…
…spend a couple of nights over here?”
[…]
Now what stuff do you bring?
Right, you’ve gotta bring an even smaller version…
…of your stuff…
…just enough stuff for a weekend on Maui.
And you get over, and you are really spread out now…
…you’ve got [stuff] all over the world.
You’ve got stuff at home, stuff in storage, stuff in Honolulu…
…stuff in Maui, stuff in your pockets…
…supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.
But you get over to your friend’s house in Maui…
…and they give you a little place to sleep…
…and there’s a little window ledge…
…or some kind of a small shelf…
…and there’s not much room on it but it’s okay…
…’cause you don’t have much stuff now.
And you put what stuff you do have up there…
…you put your imported French toenail clippers…
…your odor eaters with the 45 day guarantee…
…your cinnamon flavored dental floss…
…and your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you know you’re a long way from home…
…you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you relax in Maui on that basis.
That’s when your friend says…
…hey, I think tonight we’ll go to the other side of the island…
…stay at my friend’s house overnight.
[…]
Now what do you bring?
Now you just bring the things you know you’re gonna need…
…money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hankie, pens… […]
Think of Carlin’s words — “that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.”

Protecting it from rain and weather.

Guarding it from robbers.

Paying others to guard your items.

And accumulating more and more stuff all around the world, and then finding a place for it.

Carlin is so extremely funny because he speaks truth to us in a way we hadn’t heard it before. We’ve heard Jesus’ message about stuff too often for it to really hit home – so Carlin repeats it in a new way. But it’s the same old story!

Who is possessing whom? Do you have possessions or are you possessed?

The young man who comes to Jesus is a good young man. He’s following the Torah very diligently. He comes to Jesus not to catch Jesus in a word trap, like so many others, nor to ask for a healing – no, he wants to know, how can he inherit eternal life?

Jesus tells him to follow the commandments of God. The young man says he already is doing so.

“Jesus looked at him, LOVED him, and said ‘You lack one thing… sell what you own and follow me.'”

And the poor man goes away in grief. In sorrow and agony “because he had many possessions.”

We always assume the man doesn’t sell everything and follow Jesus because he leaves in sorrow. But the text doesn’t say that. Perhaps the man left in grief and sorrow because he HAD SO MUCH STUFF! So much to sell, to organize, so much to say goodbye to… but maybe, someday, he did get released from his possessions and followed Christ.

I am guilty of being possessed by possessions. Some of them I’m holding on to because you know, I might need that some day or I think I’ll get around to fixing them. It’s half a can of paint, but you know, the moment I donate it to the ReStore, to Habitat for Humanity, is the day I’m going to need just a little dab of paint. And yeah, I have two sweepers – the old one just needs a new belt rotor. I’ll fix it some day. It’s only been broke… for four years. So there it is, in my closet.

Other things I’m holding on to because they are fond memories or are just cool. I’ve got my kindergarten coloring book and I smile when I see it. It means nothing to everyone but me. It’s marks on big bold pages from some kid. But to me, it’s days sitting at my aunt’s house and great-grandma’s. There’s also a stack of wedding invitations from all my friends who have gotten married.

And the cool things — like this magnifier glass that folds into a leather case — but I digress. I hold on to all of this. I move it, from this apartment to that, and now to a home. I haven’t used any of these in years — almost decades — and yet they stay on.

Stuff.

I think, I feel like if I get rid of the stuff, I also get rid of the memory.

It’s like, I don’t want to throw away my key to those memories by throwing away the invite or the book. So I carry them on. I don’t want to forget Katie’s wedding or lunch at Great-Grandma’s. I don’t want to lose that special feeling I have when I think about those times.

And yet — here, I just recalled to you those memories without the items physically in my hand. I can access those memories without a physical key. I don’t need the old coloring book or wedding invite to remember, to feel the emotions, to smile…

… If Jesus had told me to sell all I own, give the money to the poor, and follow him… I would go away grieving too. Even if I eventually did just that – it would feel like Jesus had asked me to give up all my memories.

… and that is not at all what Christ is asking.

Christ is asking that we own possessions, rather than being owned by them.

Asking that we hold on to our items with lose hands, so that we share what we have easily and quickly.

Asking us to not be the person in Carlin’s skit who feels stretched thin with stuff all over, but to be a disciple of Christ who owns only what they can possess and use… nothing that possesses them and uses them.

If I donate my paint to Habitat and find I need a dabble, I bet one of my neighbors has some I can borrow. I can rely on my community. If I asked my community, I bet someone even has the part for the sweeper or wants mine for parts.

Jesus comes preaching freedom to the captives. He preached freedom to this captive rich young man — freedom from stuff — but the freedom price was so heavy. It was the weight of houses and storage units, stuffed garages and boxes. And fear.

Jesus especially preaches freedom to the richest nations, such as ourselves. Freedom from bigger houses and places to store stuff, freedom from going into debt for more stuff and more places to put stuff, freedom from fretting over what stuff to buy this upcoming Christmas season. We have more than we ever will need already.

We have but to hold on to our stuff more loosely.

And to not fear letting go.

To trust.

To follow.

Jesus speaks to us in this rich nation specifically today. “How hard it is for Americans to enter the kingdom of God! It’s as hard as driving a F150 through the eye of a needle. Impossible – but for the grace of God.”

And why us specifically? Because the more stuff you have, the richer you are, the harder it is to share. The harder it is to let go. The harder it is to freely follow Jesus rather than to be labored with, burdened with, caring for, organizing, working to afford, and housing stuff.

Stuff is stuff, I think Jesus would say. Stuff doesn’t matter.

People do.

Don’t ignore people for stuff.

For the kindom of God is made out of people… not forks and spoons, houses and cars, clothes and books. The kindom is people.

All this stuff you’ll leave behind. What you take is what’s in you. Memories. Relationships. Loves. Invest in those, not more stuff.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio 10-11-15