“Rich D. Young”
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 8, 2018
University Baptist Church
When I think about this scripture reading, my mind goes back to a song my brother wrote 30 years ago. He and a bunch of other Bethel-ites founded a musical theater group called the Refreshment Committee. They toured the country with their band of happy evangelicals to give fresh voice to Biblical stories. So, Mike wrote little ditty about the rich young ruler, whom he called Rich D. Young. The setting is a 60’s style office building with women and men fawning over the Rich young ruler.
The women would sing: “If I had a date with him I’d be the envy of just all of my friends. Isn’t he just the cutest thing that you’ve ever seen? Isn’t he a dream ooh wee what a dream. He would buy me furs from Macy’s and a diamond ring from Sacks and it would be just swell. If I had Rich D. Young….” I know, it’s just a little sexist.
Not be outdone, the guys would sing, “Oh to have a wallet big enough to hold New York and all the clout to have somebody else do all the work. If I had his pinstripe suit I’d scream oh, I could look as smooth as Valentino. Life would be so grand, if I were Rich D. Young…:
By now you might be thinking, did I come to the wrong church this morning? You might even be planning your exit strategy.
No need to fear, that’s the extent of my sermon singing.
Today is commitment Sunday. In a few minutes, we’ll come forward with our offerings for today and our pledges of our time, talent and treasure in the coming year. We’ll end by standing in a circle surrounding the sanctuary and we’ll sing a verse of blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
Giving is central to the life of a Christian. And it’s one of the things I like to do the most. It puts my money where my mouth is. It puts my talent and time to good use.
This little manifestation of the Kindom of God cannot function without our time, talent and treasure. I know you have been filling out these cards and forms. The Council will take the information on these pledge forms and develop a budget and a slate of leaders for our next year that starts on July 1. We’ll vote on it at our annual meeting on June 3rd. Most of you received a budget in the mail. It includes a continuation of our present program, plus a new position to help us address the many responsibilities surrounding our very well-used and well-loved building. This budget calls for a 17% increase in our giving. Kim is finally blessed with work that approaches full time, so this year, we are increasing our pledge by 15%. I know some of you cannot afford to do that. I also know that some of you can do more than that. While you are thinking about this, let’s get back to our scripture reading.
Throughout the Bible, God calls the community of faith, be it the family, the church or synagogue, be it people who are caught in slavery, be it people in exile, be it the people in persecution; God calls all of God’s people to be different than everyone else—to reverse course if the course has become destructive. But like a deer in the headlights, we meet head on our resistance to change.
For first world Christians, there can be no more offensive a scripture than the one we have today. It is offensive because it cuts at our economic core. It exposes our addiction to possessions and power. But if we examine it and ourselves, we might just find the way to eternal life.
Consider the man in today’s scripture. He so much wanted to be a part of the family of God. He did everything that he thought he should, but yet he still found that being a part of the movement of Jesus was a bit more than he bargained for.
This story is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew and Luke, the story is about a rich young ruler. We have had plenty of rich old rulers run our country and some rich young rulers who were born on 3rd base thinking they hit a triple. We have never had a poor ruler rise to power—not yet anyway. They could never do so because of the cost of a campaign.
When Jesus confronted him and called him to reverse the inequity, the rich young ruler went away sad. He did not want to play Robin Hood. He did not want to sell all he had and give to the poor. I wouldn’t be surprised if the friends of the rich young ruler didn’t call Jesus’ words class warfare.
But according to Mark, he is not young or old, a ruler or a peasant. He is simply a man, a man with possessions. In other words, he could be just like you or me. See if you can see yourself in this story. The man ran up to Jesus and knelt down before him and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus had plenty of people ask him the same question. His answer we can assume was pretty rote. You’ve read the book. “Keep the commandments”.
“Yes, yes, I have done all of that since I was a little tyke, but I want more.” Perhaps he was saying, “this old-time religion just isn’t doing it for me like it was before. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wanted more, more, more.
Many of you know that I left the church in college when I discovered politics. I cynically looked at my well-off suburban church upbringing as a forum for supporting my prejudices. I was passionate about social justice and the church didn’t seem to have a voice in this struggle, except to retain the status quo. Oddly, it was sitting in a poor Baptist church in Managua, Nicaragua that brought me back to the church. There I saw a called-out people confronting the inequality and injustice with a power and conviction I had never seen. They read the gospel stories like they were happening today. They taught me that these stories ARE happening today. All we need to do is wake up. Wake up, and don’t forget that God is on the side of those that are awake.
Jesus looked at him, the scripture says “with love”. He is the only one in the entire Gospel of Mark that Jesus explicitly loves. Jesus expressed his love by saying, “if you want to get serious, we’ll get serious.
If you really want to have eternal life;
If you really want to know what real living is all about;
If you really want to know what God is all about;
If you really want to know what faith is all about;
If you really want to be a part of my family, then sell all you have, give to the poor and then come follow me.”
That shut him up.
Now, why was Jesus so hard on this man?
Do we want him to be so hard on us?
Is that what we need to do in order to have eternal life?
Is that the only way to become a part of Jesus’ family?
The disciples asked Jesus, “then, who can be saved?” There’s a telling question if I ever heard one. The disciples assumed that only people of means could be good followers. I mean, our possessions are signs of blessings from God, right?
Remember, back in those days, it took “riches” in order to be “religious.” Remember that the only people who were allowed in the synagogue or the temple were people who were ritually clean, had the proper attire, could afford the right number of animals and grains for the sacrifice. It took money to be religious. But it does not take a cent to be faithful.
In Mark’s Gospel, the faithful, the good soil are the poor, the outcast, those without monetary wealth. The rest of us are choked by the thistles of wealth and possessions like the man in today’s gospel reading; or like the disciples we turn tail and run at persecution because we have no depth.
Jesus identified with those who were left out of the religious and economic establishment: the lepers, the widows, the blind, the lame, the diseased, the disadvantaged, the outcast. He welcomed them into his family. Jesus said to the man with many possessions, “sell all you have, give to the poor then come and follow me.”
The man was so blinded by his possessions that he had substituted repentance with piety “I have kept the ten commandments since my youth.” Who among us can say that? But as Karl Marx once said, “material life determines consciousness.”
Jesus said, in essence, the man must get rid of that which he has that was gained through malice. Repent. Otherwise it will kill you. And give to the poor, make ammends. Then you are ready to come and follow me. And then you will have all the life you have ever wanted and more.
The man in today’s scripture wanted to inherit eternal life, just like he had inherited everything else. Inheritance is about what you can get. That was not a category in which Jesus traded.
The family of God is not something we inherit. It’s more than saying “I believe.” It’s saying, “I believe, help my unbelief”. It is something we can achieve only when we are willing to do the hard work of repentance of all that has blinded us from one another and built up barriers to God. We then do the work of reparation, that is what the reign of God is all about, building a new community under new rules—no longer being defined by the ways of this world. And that is eternal life. It is eternal because it is defined by God’s purposes and not by earthly power and domination. It is predicated upon equality and community, not division and vanity.
It is for that reason that Jesus said this blunt, tough statement: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, then for one who is wealthy to enter the reign of God.” That’s a pretty hard thing to do.
You know when he said, “Sell all you have, give to the poor and then come and follow me,” I think he was saying, “it’s not about what you do and how you get to heaven, your get out of hell free card. It’s about how you live your life here. If you give away your wealth, then you will see something different. That may well make you a better person.” That’s what Jesus was interested in.
Way back in the 1920’s John Rockefeller was a member of Riverside Church in New York City. He wanted a lasting legacy. He helped fund the building of that great church, but he also endowed the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of the ABC. He sought to have his wealth mean something. He got this from his colleague Andrew Carnegie who sought to give away his fortune before he died. That’s why we see so many Carnegie libraries across the world.
UBCers who came before us gave us this grand old building and the endowment that makes it possible to stay in such good shape. They wanted this church to continue to thrive and be a place of refuge, inquiry and beauty for years to come.
Friends, when we do the work of reversal, when we address our addiction to stuff, then the words of Jesus make sense: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields---with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
That is what it is like to be part of the family of God. There will be a hundred-fold more siblings, parents, homes and resources at your disposal. That is the good news.
What must I do to inherit eternal life is the wrong question. Faith is not what you get, it’s what you give.
Jesus’ challenge to the rich young ruler is really hard for those of us with a modicum of wealth.
So what does this have to do with us on Commitment Sunday? Just this, what we give is a reflection of who we are and who we seek to be. Because of you, this church stands as a beacon of hope to our neighborhood. It’s where students and activists find community and welcome. It’s where artists celebrate their gifts. It’s a place where people seeking refuge might find welcome and sanctuary.
So join me in not only keeping this movement alive, but in being a part of the movement of spirit that reverses the worst in us and enhances the best in us. That’s abundant life. That’s what we seek and what we find here at UBC.
So come forward. Place your pledges of time, talent and treasure here in one of the offering plates here. You can put your morning offering there, too. It will all get mingled together and sorted later. And then join hands around the sanctuary. Thankful for this community and the vision we share.
For together we are a formidable force. A force for good. A force for hope. A place where people are heard, respected, celebrated and where we are strengthened to get even better. That’s why we give. That’s why we’re here. It’s to not only to get eternal life, but to give life that is worth living, not only for us but for our whole community. So let’s commit to that project.