The Rich Young Man
Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
~ Matthew 19:16-22 (NRSV)
So many people, when they hear today’s scripture, think that is just about money; but the truth is, it’s not. It’s about the things that stop us from experiencing true joy. Before starting my vacation last week, I spent two days downstairs cleaning out the CE closet. Now it is far from perfect at this point, but at least you can walk in the door. And I now have an idea what is actually in there.
Last fall when we were starting Household Huddle, I was looking for a few pairs of scissors, and I found a couple, but not as many as I really wanted. After two days of emptying out baskets and boxes and drawers with a package of crayons, a few pairs of scissors, and a bottle of glue in each one, I found that we have about two hundred pairs of scissors, lots and lots of glue, and tons of crayons! (Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the message.) We also have more straws, pom poms, feathers, construction paper, foam sheets, craft sticks, colored sand, paint, paintbrushes of all kind, poster board, and basic office supplies than we could use in several years. The crazy part is I bought most of those things last year to use in Household Huddle, not knowing that we had a plethora of them right downstairs!
The part that really got me, though, was the glitter. We have pounds of glitter downstairs, and some of it is in unopened packages dating back to the early 1960s! One of the boxes that caught my eye was a maroon box with handwriting on the top. It said “Lydia’s silver glitter.” Now for those of you that don’t know who Lydia was, Lydia Reeves was the Sunday School Superintendent when I was Sunday School. I opened the box and sure enough, it was filled to the top with silver glitter! I actually sent her a picture of it on Facebook with the words, “Do you think it’s been a while since we clean out the CE closet?” To which she replied, “That’s my mother’s handwriting!”
Friends, why do we feel the need to hold on to things for so long? I know we might use them at some point, or they might tell a story that is meaningful to us, but they also take up space—space not only in our closets, but in our minds and in our bodies. I have to tell you that I have been dreading going into that CE closet for years because there is so much stuff in there that it causes me anxiety. And the truth is there is some good stuff in there—stuff that we might use someday, but unfortunately, it gets lost in the mix and it only adds to the chaos and confusion.
That’s exactly what Jesus was trying to teach the rich young man in our scripture reading today. Sometimes, to truly experience joy, we need to let go of our baggage and the things that weigh us down. Because if our hands and hearts and our closets are already filled with the things that we think are important to us, then we have no way of receiving any more. Jesus wasn’t upset that the rich young man had money and possessions. He could see that the money and possessions filled the man with worry and fear and anxiety, and because of that—because he was so afraid of losing what he had—his hands and his heart were full and he couldn’t receive the freedom and joy that Jesus had to offer.
There is an old story about two traveling monks who reached a town where there was a young woman who had arrived home from shopping and was waiting to step out of her horse-drawn carriage. It had been raining hard, and the rains had made deep puddles everywhere. The young woman couldn’t step out of the carriage without spoiling her beautiful clothes, so she stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She began yelling to her attendants to help her, but their hands were full of the packages that she had just purchased, so they couldn’t help her across the puddle. The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up, put her on his back, and transported her across the water, putting her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk; she just shoved him out of the way and departed. As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!” “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?” (adapted from “Zen Shorts” by Jon J Muth.)
Friends it’s not only material things that fill our hand and our hearts and weigh us down. It’s also our feelings, our emotions, our relationships and the negativity that we allow in. And it doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you have or what you do for work. When we allow the things of this world; our possessions, our relationships, our opinions and our attitudes, to get between us and our faith. We quickly lose sight of what is truly important. Forget about worrying about eternal life, we lose sight of what matters in our everyday lives. And rather than leaning on Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, we get wound up in the clutter, and in the drama, and in the chaos and in the mess that is all around us.
I have to be honest, folks. As I told you earlier, just before my vacation, I worked to clean out the CE closet. The physical work, the removing of things that were not necessary, and the organizing of things that we have helped me to feel as though the chaos was a little more contained. But then, during vacation, I took some time to re-center myself, because even pastors lose focus sometimes. I realized that I had been letting the things of the world get in the way of my
relationship with Jesus. I was feeling tired and overwhelmed, and because of that, I was losing my patience. I was getting frustrated, and I was making some pretty poor choices.
The good news today, my friends, is that Jesus invites us to his table. This is a place where we can come as broken and as hurt and as confused as we are. It’s a place where we can leave our burdens and let go of the chaos and the clutter around us. And it’s the place where we can always begin again, fresh and new. Friends, know that Jesus welcomes you here. Know that he is here to hold you in your brokenness, to forgive your missteps, and to fill you with strength and healing and wholeness.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you come to the Table today, and then as you go out into your busy week ahead, let go of the baggage that you are carrying. Let go of the hurt and the struggle and the pain. Focus on your faith, and allow Jesus to show you another way. Because life is short, and the choice is yours as to how you’re going to live it. Folks, it’s my hope and my prayer that you might all meet Jesus at the Table today, that you might all refine your focus and let go of the physical, emotional, psychological, financial and relational baggage that you are carrying. Because it’s only then that we’ll be able to be a community that works together for the good of the gospel, truly loving and serving others in Jesus’ name.
May it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!