Sermons

Trusting God in the Deep Grief of Letting Go

August 4, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard Series: Mark Your Summer

Topic: Letting Go Scripture: Mark 10:17–10:31

In her book Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt writes, "The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.”

Here we are, the first Sunday of this new month. Starting a new month which for many means change is afoot. New schools, new places to live, new people to meet.

As we face these days, let’s turn to Mark 10:17-31 and think about it in terms of our own lives, it’s a full story, see what speaks to you today, it is packed, listen for the Word of God…

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments:

‘You shall not murder;

You shall not commit adultery;

You shall not steal;

You shall not bear false witness;

You shall not defraud;

Honor your father and mother.’”

20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words.

But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is [b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another,[c] “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, “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,[d] who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Let us pray:

God,

Today might we open our tight grasp.

Today might we hear You speak in our lives.

Today might we be salt and light in the world.

Today might we follow You more closely.

Amen.

----------------

When you’re a seventh-grade girl, you can have great focus. My best friend, I’ll call her Lindsey, she and I had great focus. We were going to try out to be 8th grade cheerleaders. Sure, I couldn’t do a back handspring, and my roundoff wasn’t fabulous, but I thought I could make up for it with spirit! We went to camps, practice sessions, you name it. We practiced in her backyard, we practiced in my backyard. We knew these cheers inside out.

Cheerleading tryouts were done in pairs.

Lindsey and I were changing in the dank locker room, to get ready to try out together in our P.E. clothes. I had my back to her as we’re changing, but I could sense something. I turned around, and she was changing back into her street clothes. She grabbed her stuff and ran out the door, away from tryouts, away from our dream. I got dressed and tried to follow her, but she was long gone.

Long gone. She hadn’t explained. She hadn’t said a word. She simply left. I made the team, and it was awesome….and I never mastered a back handspring, and it wasn’t as fun as it would have been with Lindsey. What does it mean to turn and walk away from something you desire so very much?

A man was setting out on a journey. He’s going somewhere, sees Jesus and runs, not walks, but runs to him! He kneels before the Holy One in his midst and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Good Teacher - what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” What do you suppose this man wanted Jesus to say? I wonder that. What was he expecting of Jesus?

Did he want Jesus to say, “Well done good and faithful servant, go enjoy yourself?”

The man is comfortable. He’s not ill, not coming to Jesus for healing. He’s been living a “good” life all his life, since his youth. He tells Jesus this. Jesus replies, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Jesus’ words to him shock the man. The man is disheartened, the Greek is stygnetos, as when "self-revealed failure" is apparent even to the perpetrator of a crime (see White, EGT, 4:198)], it means to be disheartened, it describes people who actively hate good things, find good things loathsome.

The man can’t let go. He’s lived a life leading up to this point and now? Now, on this precipice, on this threshold? He walks away. Grieving. A complex grief we can only guess at.

When I think of this man, I think not only of my awesome cheerleading story but also of this visual image.

Chinese Temple:
In China, as in most Asian countries, many temples have high thresholds as you enter them. There’s etiquette about these thresholds, they have a sacred quality, so you don’t sit on them, and you don’t step on them. You step over them. You are actively stepping into the temple.

The phrase about crossing the threshold has actually become part of the Japanese culture in that “Shi kii ga Takai” means the threshold is high. Jesus wanted the man to actively step into his faith. The man had been living a good life, following the rules, now Jesus wanted the man to follow him, and the man walked away.

In fact, he’s the only one in all the Gospels who does this, who encounters Jesus, and is called by Jesus to follow, and who refuses, and instead of stepping into this deeper faith, he steps away grieving. Instead of entrusting his life to God, for eternity, he trusts in this life here, with all his stuff.

His grief stood out to me. Ly pou menos or deep grief

λυπούμενος, in fact it’s such intense emotional pain, it’s even used of the pain of childbirth lypéō 

But our story doesn’t end here. Peter wonders if a rich man with all the power and money and prestige, who has followed the law, the rules, all this life, if he can’t be saved, then who can be? Jesus says: For mortals it’s impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible.

As Protestants, protesters, (watch the movie Luther sometime with Joseph Fiennes if you want to value the Protestant Reformation).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." -Ephesians 2:8

The rich man was asking what he could do to inherit eternal life. But, when he’s told what he can do, he can follow, and trust God with the outcomes that proves too much for him. He likes the security of the life he already knows over the life of trusting, the life of faith.

Isaiah says, “You made barriers so you could not see God.”

Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden God’s face from you
    so that God does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2 NRSV)

We were born into this world empty-handed. We leave this world the same way. Friends, in the meantime, in the ordinary time, in our days, Jesus calls us to trust, to follow, to be okay with not knowing what’s next in our lives because we follow a Living Lord who will not leave us comfortless, who will be present, in our lives, through people around us, for with God all things are possible. All we have to do is step in.

To God be all Glory, Honor, and Praise.

Hallelujah.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:

Mark 10:21 Gk lacks the money

Mark 10:24 Other ancient authorities add for those who trust in riches

Mark 10:26 Other ancient authorities read to him

Mark 10:29 Or gospel

More in Mark Your Summer

September 1, 2019

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August 25, 2019

The Weight of Darkness

August 18, 2019

An Open Table
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