The Pious Rich, Young, Ruler
One of the things they teach you to never do in a sermon is to merge the gospels, to conflate Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is from such conflations that we get too-busy Christmas Scenes—mangers with Magi and Shepherds and Angels tripping over one another. That’s always the danger in conflating Gospels.
But, it is worth breaking that rule occasionally. Today, it is worth conflating the descriptions of this man who kneels before Jesus in Mark’s Gospel with those of other Gospels. When details from Matthew and Luke—that he is young and a ruler—are added, and those details are rounded out with his admission that “I have kept all these since my youth.”
Let us conflate all of this in order to end up with a more complete idea of who this man is and what this man is giving up, let us think of him, at least for today—at least for the next 10 minutes or so of sermon—think of him, as The Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler.
Just before this Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler plunked down before Jesus, Our Lord had let it be know that the Kingdom of God must be received like a child—receive the Kingdom like a child.
To this, the Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler responds, “What must I do.”
Hear this brothers and sisters.
“I buy into the system of buying and selling, of earning
—coin and credit for good and service. What can I do to earn this inheritance?
Might I build a magnificent building of inescapable opulence. Might I purchase a piece of that pie in the sky with long nights, skipped Sabbaths, and bone weary business?
How might I earn an inheritance?
Hear me again my siblings in the faith.
“I am young, filled with so much life. It seems like, by sure willpower, by my strength, by my plucky idealism I can wrestle from the hands of God this great prize, eternal life—that I’ve been told I will receive.
After all I’m so full of life that I’m half way there already, I’m so optimistic, so naïve, that I believe I’ll never quit, I’m already eternal. Yes, with my great vitality I can wrestle away those things that you ask me to receive.
“From my position, from where I stand, as a man who is in command, I just want to know what words I must say, what order I must give, that I might be captured by God’s promises?
I’ve seen Pharaoh order men to bury themselves in his tomb when he died—and he died and they did it. Yes, rulers know how to get things done, how to be in control, how to be in charge—yet this thing you offer—it captures me!
One last time—in case you’re not hearing me.
“I am a very religious man. Dotted every I crossed every T. I’ve been more Pious than Peter, more zealous than Paul. My Spirituality has more practice than an Olympic athlete—yet the Kingdom of God, all of this, is simply provided!
I can quote line and verse, speak with the tongues of angels, have the Bishop on speed dial, and pray so hard my knees bleed—yet at the end of the day, God simply provides—Providence provides!”
Yes, all those things we invest ourselves in
—all those things that become the building blocks of our identity
—our possessions, health, power, and piety
—they mean bupkis
—they don’t have anything to do with inheriting the Kingdom of God
—receiving relationship with God our Father
—being captured by God’s amazing grace
—having it provided to us because we are beloved children and our loving parent knows we can’t do it on our own.
Inheritance is always unearned,
you can’t wrestle away what you’ve already received,
you can’t command when you’ve been loving captured,
and practice does no good when the perfection you seek is already provided.
Face it brothers and sisters, all those things we strive with and for—they’re puffs of smoke.
We are left naked before the face of God. Stripped of all our pretentious and brittle armor/
we come face to face with God, and are surprised to find that we are already clothed with Christ.
That alone is of any import
—that alone, Christ’s work for us
—Christ alone is our identity
—alone our center, core, the soil from which meaning grows.
Found in him and with him, defined only as Christians, only as followers of The Way
—we are brought to a new place, threaded, like some blended camel, through a needle, through the power of Christ.
From this new place everything is different
—we are richer in our poverty,
healthier in our sickness,
powerful in our weakness,
and pious in our ungodliness.
Wrapped in Christ all those things we lost are gained:
House and family and livelihood transformed into
—Siblings in the faith gathered, our only Father God, our only job mission.
And coming through that needle will happen again and again, because we are stubborn and those things we’ve left behind, those things we ‘ve said are of secondary importance will pull and tug at us
—Idols don’t like it when they are smashed.
Yet we are pulled through
—pulled through the needle by the loving God we find in Christ Jesus to a wide life,
a whole family spread open before us,
wide with a God we can address as Abba,
wide and long the path we follow,
following after Christ.