Tuesday, October 13, 2009

None Shall Pass...or something like it

Below is the sermon I preached Sunday on Mark 10:17-31. I had considered simply "performing" it, with no intro, feeling it would probably have more power that way, but in the end decided that speaking about my process and how the sermon came to me was good to share. The title of the sermon originally doesn't seem to quite fit anymore, but I haven't come up with a new one. This is a slam-poetry type piece (Google if you're unfamiliar with the style), although I didn't do it full-out because I wasn't sure how that would be received. In hindsight, I wonder if I should've just gone for it, if I am underestimating my congregation. Well, anyway, enough explaining--here it is!

Before I preach my actual sermon, let me give you a little intro. Perhaps some of you have realized by now that pastors cannot predict how the Spirit will move, and that however good our intentions or ideas or sermon titles, sometimes things don’t go exactly how we planned. A couple weeks ago Pastor Mike mentioned that he’d chosen his focus text because he didn’t understand it, and despite all his research, it hadn’t become much clearer by Saturday night.

A similar thing happened to me this week. I admit I chose the focus text partly because it avoided the whole wealth issue in passage. I figured I’d pushed enough with my words sermon, I might want to back off a little this month. I planned on addressing how hard it is for anyone to enter the kingdom of God, planned on talking about how the kingdom is here now and is yet to come. I thought my sermon title, “None Shall Pass!” taken from a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was clever.

But the sermon wouldn’t come, and wouldn’t come, and wouldn’t come. Usually when I’m wrestling with writing, it’s because I know what I want to say, and just haven’t figured out quite how to say it. This week it seemed I wasn’t even sure what to say. So I finally did what I’d neglected to do from the start: I prayed. Yes, sometimes even we pastors get so focused on getting things done that we forget important things like involving God in what we preach.

I decided not to just pray for help to figure it out. I prayed that the Holy Spirit might move through me and inspire me and that I would write what God wanted me to preach. Well, a word to the wise: prayer is not a toy, should not be used lightly, and those who use it better be prepared for the answer.

I wish I could stand up here this morning and tell you he didn’t really mean it.

I wish I could explain to you this morning that it’s all just a big misunderstanding:

That the Greek word for camel is very similar to the word for rope—

so maybe it’s just been mis-translated.

That some people say there was a small gate in Jerusalem

called the eye of the needle

And camels had to be emptied of just enough baggage to get through.

I wish I could assure you this morning that he didn’t mean us,

That his message was for people who are really wealthy

like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and the Queen of England.

I wish I could tell you this morning that maybe possession is a metaphor,

a way of talking about anything we hold onto tighter than God,

anything in our lives that puts a barrier between us and the kingdom,

not actually all the stuff we own.

I wish I could talk history and economics this morning,

share that in Jesus’ time there was only a set amount of money

and selling everything to give the money to the poor really would help balance the system

but now it wouldn’t make much difference anyway.

I wish, this morning, that I could make this Word easier to hear,

remove the discomfort

soften the message

give you a simple sermon

that would explain it all away

or at least make it uncomplicated.

But I can’t do any of those things.

Looking at you, I love you, and so I say:

This is a Word to be wrestled with:

to be poked

and prodded

and pondered

and percolated


Because, see, this is Jesus, the Word of God

Who preaches the Gospel

the Good News

And Good does not mean nice

or gentle

or fun

or easy.

This story is hard to hear,

hard to preach,

hard to ignore.

We get that knot in our stomach

that furrow in our brow

that squirm in our seat

because we get it.

We get the shock and grief and the sadness the man felt.

We don’t want to give up our possessions either.

We get the questions the disciples asked.

We want to know who can be saved, too.

We get that maybe we can’t explain it away

that maybe we can’t bring our stuff into the kingdom of God,

that maybe we can’t get ahead in this life

without falling behind in the next.

We get that maybe God doesn’t like it

when some have too much

and some not enough.

We get that maybe we can’t avoid Jesus looking right at us,

and we wish Jesus didn’t demand so much.

We wish following the commandments—which are hard enough—

was enough.

We wish we could just live as we have been since our youth,

and not wonder if we’re missing something.

We wish following Jesus wasn’t so risky

so bold

so counter-cultural

and that it didn’t seem so impossible.

Impossible for us, yes

but not for God.

Now, I don’t know:

Maybe he didn’t really mean it.

Maybe it is just all a big misunderstanding

and we got the words wrong,

missed Jesus’ real point.

Maybe his message is really intended not for us

but for the really rich.

Maybe “selling possessions” really does just mean

clearing our lives to focus on God.

Maybe the change in time and economic systems

really does make the action irrelevant now.


But Jesus, looking at us, loves us,

welcomes us,

challenges us,

invites us.

But Jesus, looking at us, offers us love,


eternal life,


But Jesus, looking at us, hopes that we find the courage

to wrestle

to question

to follow.

Let us pray: Redeeming Christ, you ask so much of us, and yet we know that you give your love and grace freely and abundantly, that we never have to earn it with the things we do. Build us up with that love, that we might have the courage to risk following you into God’s realm. Amen.

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