October 11, 2015

Pentecost – Proper 23

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90: 12-17; Hebrews 4: 12-16; Mark 10: 17-31


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

When the rich young man approached Jesus and asked Jesus what he needed to do to obtain eternal life, I don’t think he was asking Jesus how to get to heaven. That is the way I have understood the story for years, and that is probably the way you all have understood the story as well.  I was surprised to learn that the words “eternal life” in scripture do not necessarily mean “life after death” or even heaven, as some biblical scholars argue that the idea of heaven or even the concept of life after death was still early in its development during the time of Jesus. If those scholars are correct, then what does the phrase “eternal life” mean?

The phrase “eternal life” as it is used in the New Testament has less to do with the life after death, than it does with the quality of life that we live right now. In other words, perhaps the rich young man was asking Jesus not “what do I have to do to get into heaven” but rather “how can I live the kind of life that you and your disciples live? How do I get in on the joy and the love you guys obviously have so much of?”

The answer that Jesus offers the rich young man is simple – you give. You give to God in faith, trusting that whatever it is you give, God gives back, as God always does. That’s the way Jesus lived his life, and that is the way he encouraged others to live. And there must have been something about that life that the rich young man wanted, this person who had so many things, except what Jesus had.

Some think that what Jesus said to the young man was an impossible demand for any person to consider, young or old. Who can give away all their things and give their money to the poor?  I think it is safe to say that no one here this morning after hearing this Gospel is going to walk out the door, sell all their possessions, and give their money to the poor. If you all did,  we’d have to shut down St. Andrew’s Church because no one would be able to pledge money for our annual stewardship campaign (So perhaps this is not a very good reading for our stewardship season!).

I want to encourage you to think differently about this story. It’s helpful here to look at the language the New Testament was written in – Greek, because what Jesus says in the original Greek is different than what he says in our English version. In the English version, we have Jesus telling the young man to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” That’s different than the original Greek, in which Jesus says “sell what you own, and give to the poor.” Did you catch the difference?  In the original Greek Jesus doesn’t say “sell what you have and give the money to the poor.” He’s not absolute in saying give everything you own away. Instead, he simply says “give.”  

However you choose to interpret this story, the point is simple: when we give, we are being most like God, because giving is a blessing to us and to the person who receives. That’s what Jesus is saying – if you want eternal life, if you most want to be like God?  Give.

I recall an old story of a priest who called a member of his church who had not attended services in several months. The church member told the priest, “I haven’t been coming to church because when I do, all I hear is “give, give, give.” The priest was silent for a moment, and then responded, “Well, I cannot think of a better definition of Christianity than that.” And there isn’t one. As Christians we give, because God gives to us. And my gift to you is that this sermon is over! AMEN

July 13, 2014

Pentecost – Proper 10

Genesis 25: 19-34; Psalm 119: 105 - 112; Romans 8: 1 - 11; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

This past Friday, I turned 39 nine years old. Someone recently told me that I look pretty good for my age. I think they said “You really do look good for being 48 years old.” Age is a funny thing. A person that I used to work with at another church would tell everybody who asked her how old she was, that she was ten years older than her true age. If she was 57, she would tell people that she was 67. And people would always say, “Terry, you look so young, how do you do it?”

As our bodies age, there seems to be ever increasing pressure for us to make ourselves look younger. Billions of dollars are spent every year in an attempt to convince us that hair color treatments, make up, plastic surgery will help us to successfully ward of our inevitable demise. How interesting humans are – as children, many of us wanted nothing more than to grow up, and once grown up, we want nothing more than to reclaim our youth once again.

But a face lift, or for middle aged guys a new red corvette, do not obscure the fact that our bodies simply do not last. The ancient Greeks understood this. In their understanding, the body was something temporary, something that would one day be discarded upon our death. Because the body would age and one day be no more, what really mattered to the Greeks was not the body, because it was impermanent, but rather the Soul. The soul, Greeks believed, was immortal, far greater than the aging body that contained it. In their understanding, when a person died, it was just the body that gave out, but the soul lived on eternally. 

This belief strongly influenced the Apostle Paul, the author of our reading from Romans today, of which we heard a portion read this morning. In Romans, Paul writes that Christians no longer live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit of God.” Did you catch that? Paul 

is using that body and spirit language. But it also seems that Paul is somewhat hostile to the idea of the body. Listen to some of his words from our reading from Romans: “To set the mind on the flesh is death,” and elsewhere “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” What is Paul talking about?

When Paul speaks of the “flesh,” he is not talking about the body (our skin and bones). When Paul uses the word “flesh” in Romans, he is talking about a human life that has no contact with the life giving Spirit of God. In Paul’s writing “flesh” is not skin, rather Paul is describing a person who has chosen to live a life without God. A life without Spirit, a life without Soul. Such a life is primarily concerned with just physical stuff. This is a way of life many people choose, which helps to explain why the world is the way it is.

If we choose this life, a life as Paul calls “of the flesh” it means we are choosing a life where all that matters is ourselves, our resources, our money, our time. This kind of life, Paul writes, is not really life at all. It is a path of death, that no sportscar, facelift, or mansion can hide. Fortunately, Paul reminds us that there is another way. We can choose the Spirit. We can choose God, we can choose abundance rather than scarcity. A spirit-filled life is a generous life, bathed in forgiveness. It is a life in which death is broken. The life of the Spirit, Paul writes, is a joyful life, because with the Spirit of God within you, there is nothing that you lack.

This is the life that is worth living. But even if we choose the life of the Spirit, we will still age and one day we will still die. But we must forget that in our baptism, we already have died to the life of the flesh, and reborn into the life of the Spirit. Those baptized are experiencing right now the beginning of eternal life. And because we are in the midst of eternal life, age no longer matters. It’s a number, that’s all, because in the life of the Spirit, we will never age. You can be 21 as long as you want! AMEN.