Barriers to Serving II

Part 2 of the Barriers to Serving 3-part series with Rev. Doug Bouws.

Mark 10: 26-31 (17-25)

Theme: Serving as cosmetic idea or serving as core to character/person.
Subject: How does a Jesus follower think about possessions?
Complement: To remove all obstacles to following/cross bearing.
FCF: Trusting in wealth. Accomplishments. Own piety.
Grace: Remove obstacles and point toward child like dependency and

Impossible! Unfeasible! Unattainable! It can’t be done. How many ways are there to say, “There ain’t no way.” Quite a few, as it turns out. Every culture has ways (idioms) to say impossible. Ask an engineer when an impossible project might get done and they might say, “When pigs fly." It’s an idiomatic way of saying that something will never happen. Pigs are heavy animals, without wings, and cannot possibly fly. Someone might use the phrase for humorous effect to scoff at someone's intentions to achieve or carry out something beyond their previous efforts and accomplishments. The idiom is derived from a centuries-old Scottish proverb. Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, "Thinking again?" the Duchess asked, with another dig of her sharp little chin. "I've a right to think," said Alice sharply, for she was beginning to feel a little worried. "Just about as much right," said the Duchess, "as pigs have to fly...."

Centuries ago Roman’s used the Latin expression ad kalendas graecas (to the Greek

Kalends) for indefinite postponement. The Greek calendar had no calends. The French say, “à la Saint-Glinglin (on Saint Glinglin's day). Glinglin is a nonsense rhyme for saint or they say, quand les poules auront des dents (when hens have teeth). Spanish speakers say, "Cuando las vacas vuelen" ("when cows fly"). Their variations slightly fallen into disuse include "cuando las ranas crien pelo" (when frogs grow hair) . The Dutch say, "met Sint-Juttemis, als de kalveren op het ijs dansen" (usually shortened to just "met Sint-Juttemis"), meaning "on Saint Juttemis day, when the calves are dancing on the ice". Saint Juttemis day is an actual day (the 17th of August) and this makes saying just "on Saint Juttemis day" ironic "when the calves are dancing on the ice" is what makes the phrase impossible, because it never freezes on the 17th of August in the Netherlands. A Russian speaker might say "когда рак на горе свистнет" (kogdá rak na goré svístnet) - "when the crawfish whistles on the mountain". For Persians the expression is " و) "vaght e gol e ney) - "when the reed plant blossoms". Another way to say it in California is “you’ve got a snow ball’s chance in hell.” One day a spiritually interested person run to Jesus and asks a question (deep) in his heart. He’s earnest, faithful, and even pious. Jesus (soft and mild) answer has the affect of a stun gun. This pious man is shocked and crushed. He wilts and walks away. Maybe he asks your question, “How does a person get to heaven?” What does a person need to do to inherit eternal life? Feel the force of Jesus words, “A rich person gets to heaven? That will happen when pigs fly, when chickens grow teeth, when the crawfish whistles on the mountain. Or to use Jesus’ own variation on a Hebrew phrase at the time that will happen, “When a camel goes through the eye of the needle.”


Let Jesus’s phrase sink in: It is impossible for rich folks to get into heaven. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. {Can a rich person go to heaven? Does a snow ball have a chance in hell? Will the pope ever be Polish?} Jesus saying was as controversial when he first spoke it, as it is today. The first sermon in this series taught about/context as rich young ruler. Today we’ll focus on Jesus startling Response/statement/saying.

Hear Jesus context/saying: SAY TEXT
What’s your reaction? Maybe you find yourself a bit happy? Some of us find it hard to like rich folks. Jesus saying makes us feel a bit smug and satisfied? I never like the rich anyway. They have better hair and better cars and homes and clothes and I get so tired of competing with them. Maybe you think, “It doesn’t bother me they can’t get in! It’s no skin off my nose.” (e.g. Duke and Rape case. Read book called Until Proven Innocent. My Friends from tougher section of Sacramento took the jacket off the book because did not want to be seen as pro-Duke/rich white kids). Some think—great! That’s not how disciples (who were not affluent as a whole) reacted. When Jesus calls into question whether this man has eternal life, they aren’t relieved. They don’t say, I never like those smug folks anyway not say—great. They’re shocked! If he can’t, who can? This young man was more than rich. (Matthew and Luke—told young and ruler). Some times we can think that anyone who has wealth has cheated folks. Sure some (many?) people believe it is impossible to accrue great wealth without doing injustice to people. Sure, other folks judge that even holding wealth (with all the human need out there) is an injustice. But look what Jesus does. First he goes down the list of the Ten Commandments. Do you defraud? Do you misrepresent in business? Lie? Have stolen? Taken from folks what is theirs? When the man says, “NO, in all my accumulating wealth I have never sinned.” Jesus accepts it! Doesn’t say Liar! (Clemens and HGH). The Disciples see (believe) that a person can accumulate wealth through vice but also through virtue: through discipline and skill and wisdom and investing. And this is a person of terrific virtue. After all, the Bible has many wealthy folks who get applauded: Abraham, Job, Lydia and … So the disciples see this young man and think, “If he’s not worthy of kingdom of heaven, who is?” So Jesus has no ideological problem with having or making money. Money is not wrong in itself. But still, Jesus says, “it is easier
for camel…” saying. Folks have been so shocked by Jesus words, so choke on his call to deal swiftly with money (lordship of Jesus) that try to whittle down Jesus saying (often in funny ways). If you’ve been around the church a bit, you’ve heard a couple of these attempts to soften Jesus words: (one way to deal with his forceful words)

1) There were these little gates in the city wall (not the main gate). And they were very  narrow and it was hard to get camels and sucked it up. It was really hard, but it was possible. They’re referencing a small opening in city wall (smaller than main city gate). If you dismount from the camel, you can get through. If a camel kneels, you can get through. Charming explanation is of relatively recent date…no evidence. 181, Bruce

2) Others say the word used for “camel” is really the word for twine. Through eye of needle but suck on it and… Others point out Greek word (kamilos) meaning “cable” very similar in appearance and sound to (kamelos=camel). A rope is difficult to get through eye of needle—more appealing to western readers? Doubtful! Should be recognized as an attempt to soften the rigor of the statement. In Jewish rabbinical readings phrase often elephant pass through eye of needle—figure of speech for sheer impossibility.

But clear (vivid metaphors—snow ball’s chance in hell). Very hard! That is what it is saying! It is hard/impossible for rich to follow Jesus. (nuance). Not because wealth is wrong. Not because it’s a sin to be rich. But because (context on discipleship) following is about self-denial, take up their cross and follow me. Jesus says it is not easy for anyone to enter kingdom of God—Matthew 7 and “narrow is the gate…” Still entering Jesus kingdom is most difficult for the rich. Verse 24 says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Riches aren’t bad in themselves. But according
to Jesus’ teaching it is very hard for folks with riches not to trust in them. What about riches makes it hard to be a Jesus follower? We rely on them. (think of upcoming recession). Frederick F. Bruce in his book The Hard Sayings of Jesus says, “There is no saying of Jesus which is “harder” in the western mind today than the saying about the camel and the needle’s eye, none which carries with it such a strong temptation to tone it down.” (conclusion? Live this? Or tone it down. Make excuses. Soften it?)

Today we still want to make excuses for this phrase. To soften it. To down peddle its demands. We make Alternative excuses for giving and discipleship. Most excuses in Jesus following. Wonder how many non-Christians would LIKE to see Christians live this out! OK, people how is your life/your spending any different than mine? Stories: pool. New car. Fine things. But invitation/call to discipleship. (on one hand not DO anything capable. On others DO follow)

Sharp demands of Jesus. Challenge. Fierce love. Asking for childlike dependency (in world of accumulation and props/idols). Money has a power to blind us spiritually that so great that anybody with any money will be blind to God and so no one with money saved unless direct intervention, unless grace from God we will not get free. Without direct work of God. Money blind us to God—great power to do that. If this feels extreme, well…Interview with historian of world Christianity at Princeton Andrew Walls. No slouch. On one hand world religions where begin, still center. Islam. Buddhism. Not Christianity. Center is always on pilgrimage. Jerusalem but unwashed  barbarians (gentiles) so embraced with such force that center moved to Alexandria and North Africa and Rome. Then unwashed barbarians—Northern European—Franks and Germans and Celts—so took hold of Christianity—became white European. 20th Century Latin America and Asian—growing at ten times population. In last decade more than 50% of Christians in world live in southern hemisphere. US 2.5 Episcopalians. Nigeria alone 17 mill. Uganda. 8 mill. (16 countries in Africa with
Episcopal churches). How did this happen? In 1900 Africa 1% Christian and now 50%. In next decades center of Christianity will migrate again. Andrew asked—why? The heart of the gospel is the cross and the cross is about giving out power and pouring out resources and serving. And so when Christianity is in place of power and wealth for long period of time the radical message of sin and grace on cross begins to get muted. We make it easier. We tend to dilute it until it becomes a nice religion where people do good to each other and nobody dies. The center of Christianity is always moving to the margins, away from wealth and power. In the original hey day of Christianity out in colonies—poor. Missionaries going from Africa to wealthy places in wealth. When Christianity not white European religion—no one own it because heart of it is cross. Money and power have such ability to blind us to the gospel—that unless we respond to the gracious intervention from God we will be lost. Jesus saying harder for camel than rich…that’s the fact! (Twenty years all kinds of folks say I have problem with sex. I have problem with relationships/loving neighbor. I have problem with forgiving. Never have one person say, “I have a problem with greed/money.” Why is that so? Jesus is counseling this troubled person. On the outside he looks great. He’s rich and young
and good looking—hard not to be good looking with other two! Virtuous! Fisherman may not naturally like rich folks, but there is something so attractive about this guy. Has all together. But knows something is missing. What must do to inherit eternal life? Every Jew of the time knew the answer. Rabbis were always asking this. Pose question and teach. The answers were always the same: obey the statues of God and obey all sin. All rabbis knew this. Jesus has one answer. Wonder if something missing—overlook. Something seems to be missing. Of course! Anyone doing and accomplishing to get eternal life find emptiness-how know if have enough. They put huge resources into covering it. Look close enough at anything see deformities. Here is a guy you should recognize in CA already making million dollars and so young. All going so well and yet, seeking out gurus and rabbis and ministers and saying still missing something. Really saying he needs one more thing to do—ready to open spiritual category on my palm/I pod. Willing to go to church and learn meditation tech.

Jesus tells him Not concerned about bad things. Of course shouldn’t disobey the laws. But if you repent of sins, just be Pharisee. If really want eternal life, change how relate to your good things. If want to be religious, leave the bad things in life. To be Christian change how relate to your good things. If you go to Jesus—one way or another he will say to you, “How are you dealing with own inner sense of failure?” This man’s money and economic status is alienating him from God. God is his helper and boss and not savior. So Jesus counsels him, “Imagine—life without money (great idea as counselor). Imagine no trust funds and no house on beach. Just shmoo. All you have is me! Then what? Word=NIV =sad. KJV = grieved is closer. The other place the same word of Jesus—in garden of Gethsemane in Matt 26 Jesus went to shock and sweat blood grieve deep distress. The word. Ultimate dislocation—losing the joy and core of his life—his Father. His significance and father. He touched the young man’s center and core and value. To lose money loses self, sense of identity, ability to cover his deformity. One thing to have God as boss or sugar daddy, but if savior then replace what looking to cover up your failure, Yes, need to repent of sins, but to be Christian always lose way use your good things to fill the gaps in your life. Folks in Suburbs (hip urban folks) tend to evaluate success based on home and décor and car (what you driving these days?). For every one time talk about sex or romance Jesus talks 10 times about money. Money is the main way we evaluate, our ability to go to nice restaurants and neighborhoods and vacations—main vehicle in our culture to establish wealth. The way we know this is an idol for us, that we have placed our trust in it? That we can’t give it away in amazing proportions, that we can’t stop our anxiety about it. Because money is your savior. That’s why money—though not intrinsically evil—is main power to keep you from Jesus The reason money is so dangerous. Not financial wealth that problem but moral wealth—that only people saved is those who know nothing easy about it –complete miracle. Jesus saying all looking to something like that. Financial wealth—intense spiritual trust in this area. Grace! End with good thought. Context on discipleship. On heels of receiving the kingdom of God like little children. Money way out of dependence on god. Jesus suggesting he get back to a place of dependence (tithing and giving can be way of living in dependence). Not earn kingdom. Not earn through achieving and signs of achievement. Through appearance and nod of approval. What drive and where live and where vacation. 

How live this command? Go and give everything away ourselves. Is this command to all believers of all times? Want me desperately to say no. The answer is yes. And no. yes. Everything belongs to Jesus. Pray that often with offering. With man this is impossible. Root idea is (child like) trust and dependence. If we are going to keep money from keeping its power. With God this is possible. About receiving. (seismic shift in life from gathering and status to receiving like a little child. He’d rather walk away). Jesus left incomprehensible glory and wealth and power, we can’t. Need Jesus to free us. Impossible on our own. So act of God in us when generous. Sign of God alive in us! (start reading Bible, start serving, start giving in ways folks don’t notice). Jesus gave it away. Possible with him! Jesus gave his ALL to love you, why don’t we give our little “all” to follow me. Jesus is the ultimate rich young ruler to give away ultimate wealth. When that moves you, when it thrills and amazes you and makes you weep— that’s how you deal with the root of the power of money. That’s what makes money only money. So get free from worry and envy. Freedom with money. Give it or keep it. Whatever is the best thing at the time. Be willing to change all attitudes to get me to deal with attitude toward money via gospel. Jesus is Lord, is to acknowledge that everything we have is his. The basic ideas of following Jesus, of living with the cross at the center of your life (in response to grace):

1. Lordship: Belongs to him (more on this next week in verses 28-31). How can tell if living with Jesus as your Lord, instead of money as your Lord? One way: attitude. Envy: find folks make more money and happier though you work harder—money too important to you. Worry about it—always anxious about it. Still under money’s power if not have it. Do have clear bias—people in your economic status and above—if so then problem. Do you find buying new cool, things is disproportionately valuable to you? Do you tend to shop when you get depressed? Let Jesus Lordship replace the Lordship of money in your life (true freedom). Jesus loved this person! Wanted him to live free.

2. Stewardship idea. Just take care of what already given to us. We hold Jesus wealth. What DO? Rich man earning way to heaven. Works dependent. Jesus pointing back to little Children who have nothing told kingdom is theirs. And then, after hear this, Jesus say, go back to doing/living. NOW he must DO something. So he can possess everything. Full adherence to law. Goodness, not substitute for following Jesus. Obedience follows discipleship. Jesus offers himself as a substitute for
possessions Take action with your money. You can’t say, “Money’s not important to me” without changing how you deal with your money. If your attitude (Lordship) changes, then your actions change too. (It’s easier to say that Jesus is Lord/or that the Important thing is how feel about money, not what I do with money—alternative to shrink radical claim of Jesus here.)
Practical things: the poor! If sinner saved by grace will care about the poor. Some Christians go crazy about idea of 10%. Questions about on gross or net? Jesus words here forget legalistic idea of percentages. Give away EVERYTHING! Much simpler than 10%, don’t you think? 

In the gospel of Luke Jesus calls Zaccheaus to give away 50% of all his possessions to the poor. Reading in Luke gets percentages away? Not get hung up on %. Start with a tithe, and that’s fine. Should be straining and working to give away all that you can. The context here shows the real way to know how generous you should be is in this gospel—it is the cross. Give until you know you are sacrificing. If what you are giving has no impact on where live or the clothes you buy or where you shop or how you travel—then you are not yet sacrificing, you are not yet “taking up your cross” in the discipleship of giving. The idea of followers of Jesus is not to give (a little) out of our surplus but to go to the bone. More money you have, greater discrepancy between lifestyle have and chose to have. 

Give and live sacrificially. Example? College student and give to building. Jesus moves toward people giving away money and power. Move to where Jesus is going. I know that every time church talks about money raises suspicion. There they go again. But cross following/childlike trust at center here. You don’t HAVE to give? Jesus let’s this man walk away. He loves him, but not forces him. Still true. Emphasis on commitment to Jesus. Not forced—invitation. !!! Not attempt to run after man. Conditions have been set. Evangelism does well to copy Jesus? Conclusion: language of hyperbole. Exaggeration. Impossible! But not with God. He can save! Jesus reflection on the incident: How difficult to hold riches and enter the kingdom. In their society, idea of excluding the rich, unthinkable. If those who know how to succeed in life, how much the rest of us? Answer: only God can save!

Disciples are not possessed by their possessions. Last word not gloomy—God can do what humans cannot. 

Alt conclusion: maybe you’ve noticed that poker championships on TV are the current rage. Thanks to invention of poker cams—mini cameras that allow TV audience to see players concealed cards and follow every player’s strategy. But the moment that captures every viewer’s attention is when player declares “all in” and pushes her/his chips (often amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars) to center of table. That’s the same way it is in the gospel of Mark. A Widow in mark says “all in” and gives her last coins. A Boy brings loaves and fishes says “all in” and gives entire lunch. Missionary Gladys Aylward (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness movie)—all in and goes even after rejected by mission board. The disciples and next text—left everything! All in. Jesus asking rich young ruler –all in. Through story he’s asking us. Have you ever pushed everything you have in your life from your side of the table to God’s side of the table/center and said “all in” that’s what disciples did? That’s when adventure takes off. Christianity boring? True giving away all that you have! Mother Teresa—person who rich very poor, unless use that wealth for the good of other people—then very rich. (Life on loan, pg 153)