Barriers to Serving I

Part 1 of the Barriers to Serving 3-part series with Rev. Doug Bouws.

Mark 10: 43-45 (17-23) 

Subject: The barriers to life eternal and immediate 

Complement: Following Jesus with all your heart 

FCF: We are too attached to our wealth 

Vision of God: That we will leave everything to follow Jesus 

Some people can not follow Jesus because they have a real hard time reconciling the mysteries of God with reason and logic. Like what do you do with a virgin birth? And what do you do with someone who’s raised from the dead? How do you make sense of a person (Jesus Christ) which the church claims is 100% human and 100% divine? Isn’t that a contradiction of everything logical, systematic and true? 

Some people cannot follow Jesus because they have a real hard time understanding how a good God can allow so much suffering, pain, and evil. There are lots of good theodicies out there, explanations for such things. But some people honestly know suffering, see suffering, read about suffering in the Bible and say, if that’s who God is, then count me out. Even if he does exist, I want nothing to do with him. 

But some people cannot follow Jesus, because to them, Religion especially--but even Jesus himself, appears to be a meddler. Yes, a meddler. Jesus is too interested in my personal, private life. He’s interested in our personal, private lives in all kinds of ways— in our morality behind closed doors when no one’s looking, in the thoughts we keep in our head, in the ways we run our family. But as important as these meddling reasons are, I’m not sure that they are the main reason people cannot follow Jesus. Because Jesus meddles even further into our lives. He’s concerned about our finances, our money and our stuff. And when Jesus starts to meddle, the things he says do not make us comfortable. 

For starters, Jesus says extraordinary things like, he who wants to find his life, must lose it. If someone wants to be first among you, he must become last. Or like our theme verse for this series, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mk 9:35  Mt 20:28 The Holy Bible: Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mk 10:43-45). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 

And all of this sounds good in theory, and we like to teach it to our kids…Johnny, don’t be selfish, we say. Share your toys. But the reality is that for most adults, sharing our money and our possessions…well they’re ours, we earned them. And we’re inclined to keep them. And so when Jesus starts talking about our money and our stuff, we say that teaching…it’s too hard. Or we say that teaching…that’s deeper than I care to go. That’s my checkbook he’s talking about and it’s not necessary to go there. 

Last week we talked about Jesus becoming indignant about people who reject the least of these, people who reject children. Jesus shows us that children are good at receiving, and unless you can humble yourself and “receive” God’s gifts, the kingdom of heaven will not belong to you. 

Immediately following this section on the children, Mark introduces us to a man who comes to Jesus in earnest seeking answers to the ultimate questions of life. Will you stand for the reading of this passage? It comes from Mark 10:17-23. 

Mark 10:17-23 (TNIV) 17 As Jesus started on his way; a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Let’s begin by making some observations about this man. If you can picture this story…imagine Jesus getting up. He has just rebuked his disciples for keeping the children away. Then he took the children in his arms and blessed them. With nothing left to say on that topic, Jesus got up to go on his way. And as he got up, a man, possibly who had just witnessed this blessing, couldn’t keep it in any longer. He’d been standing and watching, all the while holding onto this question that was burning inside him. Do I ask, he thinks, and risk getting rejected, or finding out what I really don’t want to hear? And in a moment of anxiety and needing to know, he runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Good teacher? Maybe just a polite form of address. But Jesus seeing the earnestness in this man takes him seriously. Hey, why do you call me good? Only God is good. Do you really think I’m good, because if you do, then you’ll have to accept that I am God. And if you accept that I am God, it’s probably in your best interest to take my answers to heart. Can you bear the cost of what I’m about to say?… But Jesus doesn’t wait for his answer. Instead, he gives back to this man, what he knows already. “You know the 3 commandments.” Of course he would. Any good Jewish boy would know the Torah, the law. 

All of these the man responds, I have kept since I was a boy. Probably a reference to his bar mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. That was the point in Jewish life when a child was considered old enough to take responsibility for his actions. So we all ought to be saying. Well, what are you worried about, right? 

It’s worth noting the commandments Jesus chose to recite for this man. For the most part they look like the 10 commandments—well at least a portion of them. With the exception of “do not defraud these commandments come from the last 6—traditionally called the 2nd table of the commandments. These were the commandments that dealt with how to treat your neighbor and fellow man. Jesus does not mention the first table of the 10 commandments. These are the ones that deal with a person’s relationship toward God. You shall have no other God’s before me, no graven images, not take my name in vain, remember the Sabbath. 

When Jesus sums up the law and the prophets in the New Testament with the greatest commandment he says, love the Lord your God with all your… (this is the first table) and a second is like it (love your neighbor as yourself--this is the second table). That Jesus would focus on the second table with this man is ironic because of the one thing he purportedly lacks. Sure he has kept all those laws perfectly since he was a boy, but he lacks the desire and ability to use his money and possessions to help the poor. Something here doesn’t add up. 

Go sell everything you have and give to the poor. 

Remember last Valentines Day. Guys, how many of you went out sold everything you have and gave it to your Valentine. Now there’s commitment, eh? Ooh but wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy. Yea, that’s easy. Because that’s it, that’s all I’ve got to do. Sure that’s costly, but at least it’s clear. It’s black and white. I might want to really be sure she’s the one and she’s worth all that, but at least I know what to do. 

Agh, but we all know it’s not that simple. Right, because if you sell everything you have and give the money to your valentine, well, chances are for many of us that you own a lot in common. And she just might not be so pleased to know that you have just taken it upon yourself to sell the family car or the house or the TV or the cell phones. No, it’s not that simple because she doesn’t just want you to sell it all for her. She wants your heart and that’s a totally different story. 

Ok, but even if you we’re not tempted to sell everything you have. You probably still thought about at least buying flowers or chocolate. But hey, you can buy that any day of the year. And regardless of what day of the year you bought it on, there’s also this sense that all your expenditures come out of the same pot. That is to say that, flowers for Valentines Day comes out of the gifts-budget category. And sure if you go out and spend $1000 or more on nice jewelry, the question would be something like, how can 4 we afford that? Or even if you can afford it, the sense of “cost” is hard to figure out. What does it cost me to buy my valentine a gift? With joint checking, not a whole lot.

A pastor I know tells of the time early in his marriage. He had picked up some odd jobs, “taught a class at a seminary and got paid for it. Did some extra weddings, a few funerals, picked up a few extra preaching gigs. Yea, that’s how it is, you know, for a poor preacher. Pick up a few preaching gigs and earn some bucks. Well this pastor guy decided that within a year he would surprise his wife by kidnapping her for a weekend and giving her a new wedding ring. The one given at the wedding had a diamond in it, but only visible through a microscope—a step below the rings you get in a cracker jacks box. For next 12 months he stashed away this extra income. When the weekend finally came, he arranged for the kids to stay with the grandparents, then whisked her to the airport and flew to the coast to a fabulous hotel. Then he had her new ring hidden in the cherry tomato of her salad. I’m not sure how he kept her from eating the ring. Nonetheless, as he watched her find the ring he realized that as much joy as she got out of the weekend, he got even more. It’s really true what Jesus says, it’s better to give than to receive. We pastors must get all our ideas from the same book, because early in our marriage, I got the idea that it would be fun to give my wife a piece of diamond jewelry. Cashed strapped I also was not sure where this money would come from. Moreover, I wanted it to really count. Each of us maintains a separate account where we stored money from extra income, for me it was mainly from… yep picking up preaching gigs during seminary. The money was for me…for special stuff, for ski gear, tools, tech gadgets, etc. But one year, for her birthday, I announced that we we’re going to buy a diamond something and it was coming out of my special account. Shopping for this gift, helping her pick it out and seeing it on her was so much fun. Not only that, but the looks I got from her sisters’ husbands (like thanks for setting the bar so high) gave me a pleasure and joy of the darkest kind. 

But both of us learned the true cost of this gift two weeks after we bought it. The clasp came loose somewhere and the diamond was missing. We had been eating out and planned to go to a show downtown that evening. Thankfully, we had planned lots of extra time, because I spent the next 45 minutes in the women’s bathroom with my hand up a toilet, trying unsuccessfully to fetch out a diamond that we weren’t even sure was there. All that while, my wife was trying to keep from crying as she warned “would-be” potty goers that her husband was in the women’s bathroom. 

When we give casually, we receive casual joy, but when we give full of effort, thought and creativity, we get immense joy. So much more so when the gift is lost. Because, then we experience the cost even more. We know it came from the heart. 

Go sell everything you have and give to the poor. This young man had kept all the commandments perfectly, but his heart was somewhere else. This man was as Mark Twain would say, “good in the worst sense of the word.” He’d gotten it all right but 5 missed the point. And the point here was the cause for sadness. For the rich young man loved his stuff more than he wanted to follow Jesus and he knew it too. 

Jesus looked on him and loved him. 

Did you notice that short little phrase? Then Jesus looked on him and loved him. Jesus says, in John 10:10. I have come that you may have life to the fullest. This is the same Jesus who says, the first shall be last and the last first, the same Jesus who says, he came not to be served, but to serve. Maybe, just maybe there is some connection between the two. Could it really be that Jesus really loves us when he tells us to give it all away? Could it really be that radical generosity is a key part of joyful living? Could it really be better to give than to receive? Could it be that Jesus who looked at this man and loved him knew the cost of giving himself away because he did it himself? He gave his life for the joy of every human being. 

Psychology professor Martin Seligmann engaged his class in a debate about whether happiness comes more readily from acts of kindness or from having fun. He gave them a unique assignment: engage in one philanthropic activity and one pleasurable activity and write about both. The results we’re life changing. The afterglow of the pleasurable acting (hanging out with friends, or watching a movie or eating a hot fudge sundae) paled with the effects of the kind actions. He writes, “When our philanthropic acts were spontaneous and called upon personal strengths, the whole day went better.” 

Conclusion: 

Sometimes people ask of this text. Was Jesus answer true for everyone or just for this man in particular? The answer I think is easy. This answer applies to anyone whose checkbook shows he cares more for himself and his possessions than he does about caring for other people. How many of us will leave today sad because we have great wealth and this feels like meddling? How many of us will remain sad because the joy of being radically generous is a choice we choose not to make. How many of us will miss the point, because we are so caught up in our own achievements that we are unable to receive the kingdom like little children. 

In 1994, South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. The photograph that brought him fame depicted an emaciated Sudanese child crawling toward a feeding center—under the hard stare of a nearby vulture. The image, which so powerfully captured the horror of famine-stricken Sudan in the early 1990s, drew international attention to both Sudan's suffering and to Kevin Carter's career. But with Carter's acclaim came the questions. People wanted to know—what had happened to the child? After snapping his camera, what had Carter done to help the dying child? 

Painfully, Cater admitted that after spending about 20 minutes framing the shot, he had simply walked away. Within two months of receiving journalism's most coveted award, the 33-year-old photojournalist took his own life. 

Kevin Carter had been raised in a devoutly religious home, but he had long since left his upbringing behind. Now he'd seen too much of the world's suffering, and he could no longer cope. "I'm really, really sorry," he said in a note left on the seat beside him. "The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist...." How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Today the Sudan is still in turmoil, ravaged by a brutal civil war that has lasted more than 20 years and killed more than 2 million people. But Dr. Warren Cooper, a Christian, works as a surgeon with Samaritan's Purse in southern Sudan. The suffering Warren has seen among his patients is indescribable. And yet, after 9 years in a hospital that has been called "a living history museum of pathology," he has no plans to leave. How does Warren Cooper cope?... the field of medicine allows him to live out his Christian faith—not just in word, but in deed, in giving it all away. 

Let’s pray