I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago for a course at McCormick. Minnesota to meet me. I d been to the Windy City only once before, but on that

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1 SERMON: The Stuff of Salvation TEXT: Mark 10:17-31 I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago for a course at McCormick Seminary and then a couple days of fun with my two sisters who came down from Minnesota to meet me. I d been to the Windy City only once before, but on that trip I didn t have any time to see the sights or walk the city streets. This trip, we walked. A lot. That is, my sister, Carole set the pace as if she were power-walking rather than sight-seeing, and Emily and I just tried to keep up. Plus, the sidewalks were crowded with people, and you had to go with the flow. We walked Michigan Avenue THE place for shopping with stores like Gucci, Bloomingdale s, J.Crew, and even Tiffany s. Our goals were less lofty, though: we just wanted Chicago-style pizza and Garrett s Popcorn, and I can t pass a Disney Store without going in. So everybody was carrying shopping bags with all their treasures, and soon I noticed that nearly everybody breezed past the homeless people that could be found on every corner. It was as if they were invisible; people didn t even glance their way. Most of these homeless were men, but women and children were also in the mix. Rarely did they speak to anyone, or even look at anyone; I m sure they

2 knew no one was looking at them. They just sat or stood with a ragged paper soda cup or coffee cup in their hands, hoping for someone to drop in some change, or maybe a dollar bill. One young mother was huddled up in a doorway with two children. Emily dropped a five in her cup, while an older woman started up a conversation with her. Is this difficult for you? we heard her ask. We shook our heads at the stupidity of the question. But on the other hand, maybe the mother felt a little more human just because someone bothered to speak to her, while thousands of others including me just walked on by. Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? That s what a passer-by asked Jesus one day. First Jesus reminded him of the commandments, but he replied, I have kept all these since my youth. Jesus, 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. When [the man] heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. He went away grieving, for he had many possessions. I feel his pain, don t you? Let s face it, we like our stuff. And gosh darnit, we deserve our stuff. We

3 keep the commandments, too, just like that guy in the story. We re good people. We try to be good Christians. What s wrong with having a few nice things? Besides, we get into heaven by grace, not by works. So, ultimately, God will forgive us. No matter how skilled we are at rationalizing our stuff and our wealth, Jesus isn t fooled. Jesus sees right through us. He knows how hard it is to let go of our stuff. And we know Jesus understands because he said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. But wait. Again, what Jesus said was that it would be difficult for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. And again, we know that our works do not earn us entrance into heaven. So we wonder, as the disciples did, Then who can be saved? As Americans we are all wealthier than most people in the world. And we place a high priority on our stuff. But what we fail to realize or admit, is that all this stuff becomes an obstacle on the path to Christ. We pray for God s kingdom to come on earth, but it can t happen when we can t see the forest for all trees.

4 There s a show on TV call hoarders, and I caught part of it once when channel surfing. The man in the story couldn t even get to his bedroom to sleep, and he had to climb over giant piles of stuff to get from the door of his apartment to the bathroom the only room that was accessible. Granted, hoarding is a terrible, psychological disease, and these people need help. But the more we collect, and the tighter we hang on, the greater the barrier between us and God and living a life of faithful service. Truth be told, had I not made my modest purchase at the Disney Store in Chicago, I could have given that money to help at least one of those homeless people on the street. It would have been a temporary help, to be sure. It would not have helped any of them find a safer place to sleep that night. But it could have provided a meal that they wouldn t have had otherwise. Well, even though I m feeling guilty, the purpose of this sermon is not to send all of us on a guilt-trip. Our stewardship campaign for the coming year is I Like Giving, so I want to make us feel good about what we can do, rather than feeling bad about what we can t do or don t do. But I also want us to put some thought into how we live and give.

5 I remember reading a story a long time ago. A true story about a family that didn t give their children presents at Christmastime. Instead, they involved the children in choosing a project they could participate in and give the money they would have spent on Christmas to that project. Because they didn t have to spend time shopping, the family had more time together, and the children came to really enjoy doing something that would make a difference in someone else s life. One year, the father asked his children if they felt like they were missing something because there were no packages to open on Christmas. The children now in their teenage years did not hesitate to insist on continuing the family tradition, because they received such joy from it. One commentary I read explained the passage in this way: Ultimately we all have the same problem of earning our way into salvation. It can t be done. What, then, is the answer? Gazing at his disciples, just as he gazed at the rich man, and loving them just as much, Jesus says, With humans it is impossible but not with God, for everything is possible with God. (v. 27) This is not a cheap grace solution that allows us to carry on with business as usual. Something still has to change for God s impossible possibility to be realized.

6 Let s go back to the rich man s question that initiated this whole incident: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? His question already hints at a deeper answer. What can anyone do in order to inherit anything? Inheritance is more about belonging to a family than earning something, and this explains what is going on [when Jesus explains the rewards and realities of following him]. Leaving everything and following Jesus, as Peter says the disciples have done, brings them into a new family. This household of God is an incredibly rich present reality, but one that is marked with persecutions. It is also a future reality characterized by fullness of life where first and last will no longer have any relevance. (Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, October 11, 2015) This is the STUFF OF SALVATION, friends: belonging to the family of God and of the world. Knowing that Jesus loves us, when we are faithful and when we re not. Being less concerned for our own eternal life and more concerned with demonstrating the Kingdom of God on earth, so that all may know the saving love of God. As we continue on the journey of faith, may all our camels become smaller and our needles become larger, that all may receive THE STUFF OF SALVATION to the glory of God! AMEN.

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